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Medical Marijuana Update

The medical marijuana scene is hectic! Bill passing, raids happening, local officials pondering, and California dispensaries dwindling. Let's get to it:

California

On May 21, the Lakeport city council gave first approval to a cultivation ordinance that would require grows be conducted within detached structures on residential properties. The council will hold the second reading of the ordinance at its June 18 meeting. The document before the council on Tuesday night also prohibits outdoor cultivation and requires grows to be contained in accessory outdoor structures. However, it also puts the emphasis on complaint-driven enforcement.

On May 22, the Earth Choice Collective in Fresno closed its doors after a local TV station blew the whistle on the below-the-radar dispensary. Undercover narcotics officers served Earth Choice Collective with a notice to vacate several weeks ago, but it had remained open until the TV station aired its report.

On May 25, Anaheim authorities reported that 10 of 11 dispensaries had complied with orders to close their doors. Anaheim ordered all dispensaries to close in the wake of the California Supreme Court ruling upholding the ability of localities to ban them. One remained open and was facing fines of up to a $1,000 a day.

Last Wednesday, San Bernardino police shut down another dispensary. They, too, were acting in response to the California Supreme Court ruling. More than 100 mason jars filled with marijuana were seized at the SBPC dispensary, and several workers and customers were detained temporarily.

Last Thursday, DEA agents and San Bernardino County deputies raided two dispensaries and five homes associated with them. Targeted were the Green Oasis Collective dispensaries in Yucaipa and San Bernardino. Five people were arrested on a variety of charges, including possession of pyrotechnic explosive devices, possession of meth, and various marijuana offenses.

Last Friday, police in Garden Grove began fining medical marijuana delivery services. The move came after the services sprang up in the wake of the city's ban on dispensaries last month. They are fining the delivery businesses $1,000 a day. One dispensary, OrganaCann Wellness Centers, switched to delivery mode after the ban and reported receiving $3,000 in fines, but is vowing to vigorously defend itself.

Also last Friday, Stockton dispensary operator Matthew Davies pleaded guilty to federal marijuana charges. He had argued that his store in Stockton operated in accordance with California laws, after working extensively with accountants and lawyers before opening the business. He faces a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence.

Also last Friday, a statewide dispensary regulation bill failed to advance, but its sponsor, Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said the bill lives and he is talks with members of the Senate to advance it.

On Monday, the Healdsburg city council voted to form a task force to study cultivation issues. The task force will consider whether outdoor grows will be allowed, or whether they should be confined indoors. Police Chief Kevin Burke had proposed guidelines in response to neighborhood complaints about backyard grows, and the Planning Commission had recommended allowing patients to grow up to 12 mature plants and 24 immature ones, but limited grows to indoors and not within 300 feet of schools, churches, hospitals, child care and youth centers. But after the guidelines were publicized, they met harsh criticism, thus, the task force.

District of Columbia

As of Monday, DC medical marijuana patients were still waiting to get their medicine. Two dispensaries and three grow operations have been approved by District officials, but the District Department of Health has yet to give doctors the authority to recommend marijuana to their patients. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said marijuana dispensaries would likely open in the middle of June.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, medical marijuana supporters held a press conference in Detroit to publicize the imminent imprisonment of several Michigan patients and caregivers. One, Jerry Duval, a kidney-pancreas transplant patient with coronary artery disease, has been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and must report next week. Three other Michigan cultivators, Dennis Forsberg, 59, his son Lance Forsberg, 32, and Ryan Basore, 36, who were sentenced to 3-4 years in prison surrendered last Thursday. They were all convicted in federal court without being able to present evidence that they were complying with state law.

Montana

Last Wednesday, federal prosecutors appealed the sentence of a medical marijuana provider because they thought it was not stiff enough. They appealed the two-year prison sentence given to former University of Montana quarterback Jason Washington, who was convicted on federal charges for his role in a dispensary operation legal under state law. Prosecutors have also appealed the sentences of three other medical marijuana defendants out of 33 convicted in the wake of the 2011 federal crackdown in the state.

Nevada

On Monday, a medical marijuana dispensary bill passed the state legislature. The Assembly approved it the previous week, and the Senate approved it Monday. It now goes to the governor. If he signs it, up to 66 dispensaries will be allowed in the state, with up to 40 in Las Vegas and 10 in Reno.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, the Senate approved a medical marijuana bill, but with amendments designed to placate Gov. Margaret Hassan (D) that advocates say will make the bill unworkable. The Assembly had already passed the bill; now a conference committee must try to reconcile the two versions.

New York

Last Thursday, more than 600 New York physicians came out for pending medical marijuana legislation. They signed a statement affirming that doctors should not be punished for recommending the use of marijuana for seriously ill people, and that seriously ill people should not be subject to criminal sanctions for using marijuana if the patients' physicians have told them such use may be beneficial. The bill also has the support of the state’s leading medical organizations, including the New York State Nurses Association, The Hospice and Palliative Care Association, Pharmacist Society of the State of New York, among others.

Last Friday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg trashed medical marijuana, calling it "one of the greatest hoaxes of all time." The former pot-smoker's comments came as the legislature is considering the medical marijuana bill.

On Monday, the medical marijuana bill passed the Assembly. It now goes to the Senate, where three previous medical marijuana bills approved by the Assembly in recent years have died. But the pressure is on.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, the sponsor of a medical marijuana bill testified on its behalf, but acknowledged that it is going nowhere in the Republican-controlled legislature. Instead, Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) is urging support for a constitutional amendment on the issue.

Oregon

Last Thursday, DEA agents and local law enforcement raided four southern Oregon dispensaries. Raiders hit the Greener Side in Eugene and three Medford dispensaries. Several people were arrested.

Also last Thursday, the state legislature approved adding PTSD to the list of ailments for which medical marijuana can be used. The Oregon House passed Senate Bill 281 36-21, following a 19-11 vote in the Senate.  The bill awaits Gov. Kitzhaber's signature.

South Carolina

On May 23, an attempt to legalize medical marijuana in the state failed in the House. Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) tried to amend a bill dealing with controlled substances to add marijuana to the list of drugs that doctors could prescribe, but his amendment was ruled out of order.

Washington

On Monday, it was revealed that the DEA has sent threatening letters to 41 Seattle-area dispensaries that have effectively closed some of them. At least one Spokane dispensary has also received a threat letter, but from the US Attorney, not the DEA.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Spending Cuts Hurting Cocaine Interdiction, Admiral Says

Spending cuts imposed by sequestration are devastating efforts to block the flow of cocaine into the US, the director of the Joint Interagency Task Force told the Defense Writers Group in Washington Wednesday. Some 38 metric tons of cocaine that otherwise would have been interdicted will make it to US shores, claimed Coast Guard Rear Admiral Charles Michel.

Some, including the analysts who wrote a major report on drug policy for the Organization of American States (OAS) last week, wonder if it even matters.

Joint Interagency Task Force South headquarters, Key West, Florida (jiatfs.southcom.mil)
Three South American nations -- Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru -- produce the world's coca and cocaine supply, creating about 1,200 metric tons a year of the marching powder. About 500 tons of that are estimated to head for the US.

Michel said the joint command interdicted or disrupted about a third of cocaine shipments to the US last year, but that he expected that figure to drop to between 20% and 25% this year. Both figures are unusually high; the heuristic is that interdiction normally accounts for about 10% of drug trafficking.

"It breaks my heart to see multi-metric-ton cocaine shipments go by that we know are there and we don't have a ship to target it," Michel said. "Once it gets on land, it becomes almost impossible to police up."

Michel blamed not only sequestration, but also a history of declining support within the Defense Department. The task force depends on the US Southern Command for support, and even though that has "always been an economy-of-force theater," more ships and aircraft were devoted to the mission in the past.

"With sequestration, as well as other Department of Defense cuts, those resources become scarcer," he said. At his interagency group based in Key West, Fla., resources have been on a "multi-, multiyear downward trend," Michel said,"particularly for aircraft and vessels. There is more intelligence out there on the movement of cocaine than there are surface vessels to interdict this product," Michel said.

The task force covers an areas 12 times the size of the continental US, but only has a handful of assets, Michel complained.

"Right now… on any given day, I’d estimate that for US capital ships I have about three or four" and a like number of major aircraft assets such as P-3 Orions, he said. "Go back 20 years and we would have multiple times the number of ships and aircraft. It is difficult to resource this mission set, and sequestration has been devastating to it," he said.

Not everyone sees interdiction as a panacea. In last week's OAS report, The Drug Problem in the Americas, while analysts noted that interdiction successfully stopped some drugs from making it to consumer markets, producer countries were more likely to want to use their limited resources elsewhere. They also scoffed at the resort to interdiction in general.

"Interdiction is a joke. At most it will net you 5% of the drug flows, and this is seen by the traffickers as just a cost of doing business," they say in an unattributed quote include in the scenarios section of the report. "They will find another route. It's like just stopping up one mouse hole -- there are not enough resources to stop all routes. "

Washington, DC
United States

The IRS War on Medical Marijuana Providers [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by investigative reporter Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Dispensaries providing marijuana to doctor-approved patients operate in a number of states, but they are under assault by the federal government. SWAT-style raids by the DEA and finger-wagging press conferences by grim-faced federal prosecutors may garner greater attention, but the assault on medical marijuana providers extends to other branches of the government as well, and moves by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to eliminate dispensaries' ability to take standard business deduction are another very painful arrow in the federal quiver.

The IRS employs Section 280E, a 1982 addition to the tax code that was a response to a drug dealer's successful effort to claim his yacht, weapons purchases, and even illicit bribes as business expenses. Under 280E, individuals involved in the illicit sale of controlled substances -- including marijuana, even medical marijuana in states where it is legal -- cannot claim standard business expenses on their federal taxes.

"The 280E provision which requires certain businesses to pay taxes on their gross income, as opposed to their net income, is aimed at shutting down illicit drug operations, not state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access." Nonetheless, the Obama Administration is using Section 280E to push these local and state licensed facilities out of business."

The provision can be used to great effect. Oakland's Harborside Health Center was hit with a $2 million IRS assessment in 2011 after the tax agency employed Section 280E against. Harborside is fighting that assessment, even as it continues to try to fend off federal prosecutors' attempts to shut it down by seizing the properties it leases. Similarly, when the feds raided Richard Lee's Oaksterdam University that same year, it wasn't just DEA, but also IRS agents who stormed the premises. Lee said it was because of a 280E-related audit.

The attacks on Harborside and Oaksterdam were part of an IRS campaign of aggressive audits using 280E to deny legitimate business expenses, such as rent, payroll, and all other necessary business expenses. These denials result in astronomical back tax bills for the affected dispensaries, threatening their viability -- and patients' access to their medicine.

"Should the IRS campaign be successful; it will throw millions of patients back in to the hands of street dealers; eliminate tens of thousands of well paying jobs, destroy hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue; enrich the criminal underground; and endanger the safety of communities in the 17 medical cannabis states," said Harborside's Steve DeAngelo as he announced the 280E Reform Project to begin to fight back.

It's going to be an uphill battle. In the last Congress, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) introduced House Bill 1985, the Small Business Tax Equity Act, designed to end the 280E problem for medical marijuana businesses, but it went to the Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee, where it was never heard from again.

Still, something needs to happen, said Betty Aldworth, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, which this year is working with members of Congress to try to find a fix for the 280E problem.

"When Section 280E was created in the 1980s, no one imagined state-legal marijuana providers," Aldworth told the Chronicle. "Whether or not it is part of a larger effort to curtail the development of regulated models for providing marijuana, which is a model that is clearly preferable to leaving this popular and relatively safe medicine (or adult product) in the underground market, these onerous tax rates have severely hampered the development of the regulated market."

It's a brake on the overall economy, Aldworth said.

"Not only has it resulted in stymieing job development, but it also curtails other economic activity such as reinvestment in business and the rippling positive effects of that spending," she argued. "And in many cases, it has created a tax burden that is simply unbearable: many providers have had to close their doors and lay off their staffs because the tax burden was simply too great."

Because of this unintended application of 280E, medical marijuana providers are paying overall taxes at a rate two to three times those of other small businesses, Aldworth said.

"It's important to note that just as they want to apply for licenses, follow regulations, and otherwise participate in the legal business community, state-legal marijuana providers also want to pay their fair share of taxes," she pointed out. "Most small businesses pay an effective tax rate of between 13% and 27% on net income, according to the Small Business Administration. State-legal marijuana providers pay an average effective tax rate of 65-80%. An industry that can provide thousands of jobs is being held back by these crazy tax rates."

While the lobbyists look to Congress for a fix, one academic tax law expert thinks he has hit upon a novel solution, but not everyone agrees.

Benjamin Leff, a professor at American University's Washington College of Law, raised eyebrows at a Harvard University seminar this spring when he presented his report,Tax Planning For Marijuana Dealers, where he suggested that dispensaries get around 280E by registering with the IRS as tax-exempt social welfare organizations, known as 501(c)(3)s or 501(c)(4)s.

The IRS has already ruled that medical marijuana providers can be exempt under 501(c)(3) because its "public policy doctrine" does not allow charitable organizations to have purposes contrary to law, but in the paper, Leff argued that "a state-sanctioned marijuana seller could qualify as tax-exempt under 501(c)(4), since the public policy doctrine only applies to charities, and 501(c)(4) organizations are not charities."

The organization would have to be operated to improve the social and economic conditions of a neighborhood blighted by crime or poverty, by providing job training, employment opportunities, and improved business conditions for commercial development in the neighborhood, just like many existing community economic development corporations that run businesses.

"When taxes get too high, you can drive compliant dispensaries out of business," Leff told the Chronicle.

Americans for Safe Access' Hermes would agree with that, but he's not so sure about Leff's idea.

"The concept of medical marijuana dispensaries registering with the federal government as a 501(c)(4) in order to sidestep section 280E is novel and may be hypothetically valid," he said. "However, the IRS will refuse to grant tax-exempt status to a business that the agency believes is violating federal law. Perhaps, it would be possible for a dispensary to obtain 501(c)(4) status under false pretenses, but such status would not very likely withstand an IRS audit."

There are better ways, he said.

"A much more realistic and sensible approach -- pending a change to the federal classification of marijuana for medical use -- is to amend the tax code to exclude state-lawful medical marijuana businesses from Section 280E," Hermes recommended. "This is the kind of legislation that Congress should pass in order to allow states to implement their own medical marijuana laws, without undue interference by the federal government."

"I agree with everything he said," Leff replied. "But it's not just the Obama administration that is using 280E this way. The Supreme Court has held that there is no exception to the Controlled Substances Act for state-level legal marijuana sales, and since 280E makes references to Schedule I controlled substances, it applies to legal marijuana unless Congress changes the law. I totally agree that Congress should amend 280E to exempt marijuana selling that is legal under state law. Congress could also amend the Controlled Substances Act to remove marijuana from it, which would probably also make sense," he added.

Whether it is by act of Congress, internal policy shifts, or creative thinking by law school professors, some way has to be found to exempt state-permitted medical marijuana providers from the clutches of 280E and its punitive tax burden aimed at dope dealers, or there may not be any medical marijuana providers.

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds stay on the attack in California, and fallout mounts from last week's state Supreme Court decision allowing local dispensary bans. There's news from other states as well. Let's get to it:

California

Last Monday, US Attorney Melinda Haag moved to seize a building housing a San Francisco dispensary. Targeted is the Shambala Healing Center, a city-approved dispensary. Under federal pressure, Shambala's landlords earlier sought to evict it, but failed because it complies with state laws. While Haag has moved to seize buildings in Oakland, Berkeley and Marin County because they housed cannabis dispensaries, this is the Justice Department's first forfeiture action against a San Francisco landlord. Shambala was one of eight San Francisco dispensaries whose landlords received asset forfeiture threat letters starting in the fall of 2011.

Last Tuesday, the city of Garden Grove told dispensaries in the city they must shut down. The city sent out a cease-and-desist notice to dispensary operators, warning they must close this week or face $1,000 a day fines. The city had banned dispensaries in 2008, but turned to a registration process in 2011, then stopping registering dispensaries last year as it awaited the state Supreme Court's ruling on whether locales can ban them. After the high court upheld local bans, Police Chief Kevin Raney sent out a letter calling on all of the more than 60 dispensaries within Garden Grove to close no later than Tuesday. Dispensary owners who do not comply could face criminal charges, the letter said, as well as fines or civil lawsuits.

Last Wednesday, US Attorney Melinda Haag defended her use of lawsuits against dispensaries. Lawsuits against landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries and letters threatening the landlords have been reasonable and are supported by educators, addiction specialists, police officers, clergy, parents and others who are "negatively affected by marijuana," Haag said in a statement. "The marijuana industry has caused significant public health and safety problems in rural communities, urban centers and schools in the Northern District of California. Because some believe marijuana has medicinal value, however, we continue to take a measured approach and have only pursued asset forfeiture actions with respect to marijuana retail sales operations very near schools, parks or playgrounds, at the request of local law enforcement, or in one case, because of the sheer size of its distribution operations."

Also last Wednesday, the Berkeley Patients Group vowed to fight Haag's efforts to shut it down. "We intend to vigorously defend the rights of our patients and the citizens of Berkeley to be able to obtain medical cannabis from a responsible, licensed dispensary," said Sean Luse, the chief operating officer of the Berkeley Patients Group. The previous week, Haag filed suit against the dispensary's landlord seeking to seize the San Pablo Avenue retail space. Haag had previously forced the Berkeley Patients Group to move by threatening to seize its old locale because it was too close to a school. The Berkeley Patients Group, founded in 1999, is the oldest  continuously operating medical marijuana dispensary in the Bay Area and  serves more than 10,000 patients.

Also last Wednesday, a Thousand Palms dispensary shut down after last Monday's state Supreme Court ruling. The ruling upheld the right of localities to ban dispensaries, and the owner of the Hazy Colitas dispensary said he was closing his doors on his attorney's advice -- before Riverside County sheriff’s deputies did it for him. In nearby Palm Springs, the owner of the CCOC dispensary said he feared he would have to close his doors as well. Palm Springs is the only city in Riverside County that allows dispensaries, but it limits the number of city-approved permits to three. Plans to allow a fourth are on hold. The city has already shut down 12 non-permitted operations and will continue to work on closing five dispensaries still operating without proper permits, said Palm Springs City Attorney Doug Holland. CCOC doesn't have a permit.

Last Thursday, San Bernardino police raided and closed one dispensary and raided a second only to find it had already shut down. City officials reported that 18 of the 33 dispensaries in the city had already shut down in the wake of last week's California Supreme Court ruling. The city had ordered them to close last Tuesday. City officials vow to shut down the rest, too.

Also last Thursday, the Stockton city council took its first step toward banning dispensaries just three years after it moved to allow them. The council moved after city staff warned that by allowing dispensaries the city could leave itself open to federal enforcement measures. At the Thursday meeting, the Planning Commission voted 5-2 in favor of the ban. One already permitted dispensary may be allowed to stay open.

Last Friday, San Bernardino police raided a dispensary that had previously been ordered to close but had quietly reopened, staying closed during the day, but doing business in the evening. City officials said they weren't interested in making arrests, but in closing down dispensaries.

On Monday, the Riverside County Democratic Central Committee passed a resolution calling on state legislators to "enact statewide regulations and licensing requirements that will provide for the safety and concerns of local communities as well as fulfill the mandate of Proposition 215... 'for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.'" The committee said strong community support is needed to boost statewide regulation efforts at the capitol in Sacramento.

Also on Monday, San Diego's draft law on dispensaries was given to the mayor and city council. The proposal builds on an ordinance passed two years ago. Medical marijuana advocates considered the zoning law component too restrictive, however, and collected enough petition signatures to get it rescinded, but ended up with dispensaries being made illegal in the city. Mayor Bob Filner has made getting regulated dispensaries back in the city a priority. The newly drafted ordinance would allow dispensaries to operate legally for five years under a conditional use permit. A 100-foot buffer would be required between dispensaries and residential zones. It also forbid dispensaries within 1,000 of public parks, playgrounds, child care centers, schools, churches, municipal libraries, residential care facilities and other pot shops.

Illinois

On Sunday, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon came out in favor of a pending medical marijuana bill, saying that testimony from seriously ill veterans and other patients helped change her mind. The bill has passed the Illinois House and awaits a Senate vote. The bill would allow patients with more than 30 medical conditions to seek recommendations for medical marijuana, but also requires background checks of both caregivers and patients, limits patients to purchasing 2.5 ounces at a time, and bars them from growing their own. They would have to go to state-regulated dispensaries.

Maine

On Monday, a dispensary workers union filed a complaint against Wellness Connection of Maine, the state's largest dispensary operator. The complaint filed by the United Food and Commercial Workers with the National Labor Relations Board accuses the company of subjecting employees to unfair labor practices, including retaliation for participating in union activity. The NLRB’s regional director in Boston will investigate the claims and determine whether they should lead to formal action.

Massachusetts

Last Wednesday, the Public Health Council finalized medical marijuana regulations. They are set to go into effect May 24. The regulations leave the determination of appropriate medical marijuana use to doctors and patients, rather than restricting it based on an arbitrary list of conditions, restricts patients to 10 ounces every two months (but allows doctors to recommend more), allow patients to visit doctors other than their primary care physician for recommendations, allow patients to use multiple dispensaries, and sets a financial hardship threshold at 300% of the federal poverty line. Dispensaries are set to open next year.

Michigan

Last Friday, Attorney General Bill Schuette ruled that parents who use medical marijuana aren't disqualified from child custody or visitation. That immunity isn't absolute, however, Schuette clarified. Judges can determine if use presents unreasonable dangers to children, but they can't independently decide if a parent is qualified to use medical marijuana. Schuette's opinion came in response to a question from a state legislator.

On Monday, it was revealed that the state Medical Marijuana Review Panel was dissolved after the state admitted it erred in setting it up. "After a careful review of the Medical Marihuana Act… the make-up of the current Medical Marihuana Review Panel does not meet the administrative rule requirements… As a result, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs will be appointing a new panel that complies with the law. No further meeting of the review panel will be held until the new panel is appointed," the state said.

Medical Marijuana Update

Marijuana rescheduling is headed for the US Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court upheld local dispensary bans, the feds strike again in Berkeley and Washington state, and there is action in state legislatures, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last week, Americans for Safe Access announced it was appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the DC Court of Appeals' ruling upholding the DEA's refusal to reclassify marijuana out of Schedule I. ASA's appeal to the Supreme Court asks that the DEA be required to apply the same standard to evaluating cannabis that it uses for other substances. The DEA claims there are no "adequate and well-controlled studies" that show cannabis has medical use, despite the many clinical trials and peer-reviewed scientific studies that show cannabis to be a safe and effective medicine for treating a wide variety of conditions.

Last Wednesday, a Fox News poll had support for medical marijuana at 85% nationwide. The figure included 80% of Republicans and is the highest level of support for medical marijuana ever in the Fox News poll.

Arizona

On Tuesday, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill that will allow medical marijuana research on university campuses. Brewer had last year supported successful legislation that banned even medical marijuana on state college and university campuses, but the ban aimed primarily at students had the unintended consequence of blocking serious academic research being undertaken on medical marijuana and PTSD by University of Arizona psychiatrist Sue Sisley. The new law allows medical marijuana on campus for carefully controlled and approved studies.

California

Last Wednesday, prosecutors in Tuolumne County dropped marijuana trafficking charges against the owners of a local medical marijuana collective. Charges were dropped in the case of the Today's Health Collective, which had been raided in May 2011. Prosecutors complained that "inconsistencies in opinions from different courts have required a shift in the focus of law enforcement and jury instruction" and "the cumulative effect of evidence collected in 2011 has been weakened by this development."

On Monday, the state Supreme Court upheld the right of localities to ban dispensaries. Some 200 California towns and counties have already done so, but others had held off because of uncertainty over the legality of bans. The ruling means that patients' access to medical marijuana will depend in part on where in the state they live.

On Tuesday, the dispensary operator in the Monday Supreme Court case said he had closed his shop. Operator and medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow said he would comply with the high court ruling and shut down Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center.

Also on Tuesday, federal prosecutors filed an asset forfeiture lawsuit against the landlord for the Berkeley Patients Group, one of the most well-respected dispensaries in the state. The feds already forced BPG to move last year, saying it was too close to a school. The dispensary relocated to a site even further from schools, but US Attorney Melinda Haag filed the forfeiture suit without warning anyway.

Also on Tuesday, the Yuba City city council adopted a marijuana cultivation ordinance requiring people growing medical marijuana at home to register with the city and trim their plants out of public view. They also have to install security fences and carbon filtration systems to reduce odor. The ordinance had been in place on a temporary basis since March 2012, but became permanent with Tuesday's 3-2 vote.

Illinois

On Wednesday, a hearing on a medical marijuana bill was underway in the Senate Executive Committee. The bill would allow residents with serious illnesses, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, to access and use medical marijuana if their physicians recommend it. If approved, the measure will be considered by the full Senate. It received approval from the full House of Representatives on April 17.

Maryland

Last Thursday, Gov. O'Malley signed a medical marijuana bill into law. The measure, House Bill 1101, will allow patients to qualify for protections from arrest and prosecution if they are enrolled in a program administered by one of Maryland’s teaching hospitals. The law takes effect October 1. But it's not clear how many of the state's teaching hospitals will participate.

Massachusetts

On Wednesday, the Public Health Council approved medical marijuana regulations. The regulations include requiring doctors to complete a full clinical checkup before issuing a recommendations, recommendations will expire after one year, and patients will not be allowed to use medical marijuana at dispensaries. The regulations approved today will go into effect on May 25. They allow the department to establish a competitive application process for non-profits seeking certifications that will permit them to operate. DPH is required to certify at least 14, but no more than 35, medical marijuana treatment centers to open by January, 2014.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters outlined their bill, but conceded that no action on it is likely until next year. The measure dictates the amount of marijuana someone can possess, the types of health conditions that would permit use and the rules medical professionals must follow when issuing prescriptions. It would continue to bar smoking of marijuana on school buses and school grounds, on public transportation, in the presence of a child and while operating vehicles, boats or other transportation equipment.

New Hampshire

On Monday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Human Services approved a medical marijuana bill, but not before removing PTSD as a qualifying condition and removing a home cultivation provision at the insistence of Gov. Maggie Hassan. Other changes to the bill reduced the number of authorized dispensaries allowed statewide from five to four, added a requirement that patients get written permission from a property owner before using medical marijuana on privately owned land, and eliminated protections for out of state medical marijuana patients traveling with marijuana in  New Hampshire. The measure had already overwhelmingly passed the House. Medical marijuana advocates are continuing to fight for a better version of the bill.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd said two more dispensaries will likely open soon. Years after medical marijuana was legalized in the state, only one dispensary is open. The first dispensary opened in Montclair, Essex County, in December, but is limiting its clientele to North Jersey residents. A second dispensary operator is renovating a former warehouse in Egg Harbor, Atlantic County, and plans an opening in September. A third dispensary operator is renovating its location in Woodbridge, O'Dowd said.

Washington

Last Wednesday, news broke that the DEA had sent cease-and-desist letters to 11 dispensaries. The agency complained in the April 29 letters they were within 1,000 feet of schools. The DEA told recipients of the letters to stop distributing marijuana within 30 days or face property seizure and forfeiture.

No Thank You

Some bizarre news today:

An Idaho man charged with attempting to assassinate President Barack Obama by shooting at the White House practiced with his weapon for six months and may have been upset about the country's marijuana policy, prosecutors said in a newly filed court document.
 

Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez is currently awaiting trial for the 2011 shooting, which didn't injure anyone but left more than five bullet marks on the executive mansion.

[AP]

Assuming it's true, no thank you to Mr. Ortega -- not the kind of help we need.

Medical Marijuana Update

Lots of action in California this past week, including more raids and more threat letters, plus action in various state legislatures and elsewhere. Let's get to it:

California

Last Wednesday, local law enforcement raided three San Bernardino dispensaries. City Attorney's office officials, and police, fire, and code enforcement officers served search warrants and issued demands that they cease and desist from allegedly unlawful activities. The dispensaries hit were Trio Holistic Center, Berdo Medical Center, and THC First Time Patients. San Bernardino authorities banned dispensaries last year. In February, they raided three other dispensaries.

Last Tuesday, the Vallejo city council approved a 45-day moratorium on new dispensary applications. A number of dispensaries already operate in Vallejo without the city's permission, although voters last year approved a 10% tax on their sales. The city quit accepting business license tax applications for dispensaries in January. City officials said they need time to sort out the confusion. Now, the city must move forward to either regulate or ban dispensaries, although the moratorium could be extended another two years.

On Wednesday, Vallejo police returned marijuana to two dispensaries raided last year. Nearly 60 pounds of medical marijuana and hundreds of dead plants were returned to Better Health Group and the LES collective. Police gave the property back after a judge dismissed the criminal cases against the two dispensaries. Police last year raided numerous Vallejo dispensaries, but have lost every criminal case they have brought, and prosecutors have dropped the charges in others.

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee. Senate Bill 439 is described by its sponsor, Sen. Steinberg, as a placeholder, "a vehicle to engage stakeholders" in the process of legislating statewide regulations. Steinberg said he is in close contact with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who has introduced companion legislation, Assembly Bill 473, and that it could take one to two years to complete the process.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee refused to pass a drugged driving bill that could impact medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 289, would create a zero-tolerance drugged driving offense, but the committee was skeptical. It did, however, leave the door open for the bill to be amended.

Also on Tuesday, word emerged that federal prosecutors have sent out more dispensary threat letters. They were issued by the office of US Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag and target the landlords of dispensaries in San Jose, San Francisco, and Ukiah. The letters warn landlords that the facilities are operating too close to a school or park. In addition, the letters warn landlords that they are liable for forfeiture under USC Title 21, Section 881(a) 7. Unlike some previous letters, they do not threaten immediate prosecution or set a deadline for compliance.

Colorado

Last Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that employers can fire medical marijuana users who fail a drug test. The ruling came in the case of a quadriplegic telephone operator for the Dish Network, who was fired after failing a drug test. He argued that he shouldn't have been fired because his actions were legal under state law, but the court held that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the state law he cited did not apply.

Hawaii

On Wednesday, two medical marijuana bills were approved by the state legislature. House Bill 668 transfers control of the medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Public Health, while Senate Bill 642 increases the amount of medicine a patient can possess from three to four ounces and allows patients to have up to seven plants, but also amends the law so that only a patient's primary care physician can recommend marijuana.

Idaho

On Monday, Idaho medical marijuana activists fought back after authorities seized their children. The children were taken from a Boise couple and a Boise single mom who are leading Idaho activists after a child at the school their children attended fell ill and marijuana was blamed. Police and child protective services workers went to the home while the parents were on a retreat and took the kids, as well as some marijuana and paraphernalia. One set of kids has been returned, the other two remain in foster care.

Maryland

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley confirmed he will sign a medical marijuana bill. The formal signing is set for Thursday. The bill allows academic medical research centers to establish programs to dispense marijuana to sick patients.

New Hampshire

 

On Tuesday, Gov. Maggie Hassan said she wants home cultivation stricken from a pending medical marijuana bill. Bill supporters said they were disappointed and that patients with terminal conditions couldn't wait the 18 months to two years it could take for dispensaries to get up and running. The governor "shares the concerns of law enforcement about the state's ability to effectively regulate a home-grow option," spokesman Marc Goldberg said in a statement. Hassan voted for a medical marijuana bill in 2009 that included a home-grow option. The proposal is now being rewritten in a Senate committee.

New Mexico

On Tuesday, the state Department of Health agreed that PTSD should remain a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The move upheld a recommendation by the Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board, which had faced an effort to withdraw PTSD as a qualifying condition.

 

Mexico to Rein In US Agencies in Drug War

In a sharp break with the policies of his predecessor, recently installed Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is moving to restrict the open relationships US law enforcement, intelligence, and security agencies have developed with their Mexican counterparts as the two countries attempt to repress violent and powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels.

The US-Mexico border (wikipedia.org)
The move was hinted at broadly in the Washington Post Sunday and confirmed by the Associated Press Monday. The AP cited deputy foreign secretary for North American affairs Sergio Alcocer as saying that all US law enforcement contacts with Mexican agencies will go through "a single window," the Mexican Interior Ministry.

Mexico has had a historically prickly relationship with US drug law enforcers, but under former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose term ended in December, US law enforcement and security cooperation with Mexican agencies expanded dramatically. The DEA, as well as the FBI, CIA, and Border Patrol, had agents working directly with units of the Mexican Federal Police, the army, and the navy.

US law enforcement and security agencies worked closely with their Mexican counterparts on a strategy that aimed at arresting or killing top cartel figures, and managed to eliminate dozens of them, but at the same time, prohibition-related violence only mounted, with the death toll somewhere above 70,000 during Calderon's six-year term. The incoming Pena Nieto administration has previously signaled that it wants to shift away from high-profile target strategy to one centered on crime prevention.

The Pena Nieto administration also represents a reversion to governance by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had famously ruled Mexico as "the perfect dictatorship" for most of the 20th Century before falling to conservative National Action Party (PAN) presidential candidate Vicente Fox in 2000. Like Fox, Calderon ran under the PAN banner and cultivated closer relations with the US, especially on drug enforcement, than the PRI ever had. The PRI's relationships with US drug enforcers could be characterized as one of mutual suspicion and distrust, with occasional bouts of cooperation.

As the Washington Post reported, high-ranking incoming PRI officials who met with US DEA, CIA, FBI, and other security representatives in December were stunned and "remained stone-faced as they learned for the first time just how entwined the two countries had become during the battle against narco-traffickers, and how, in the process, the United States had been given near-complete entree to Mexico's territory and the secrets of its citizens."

Now, the Pena Nieto government is moving to get a better grip on the assistance it gets from its neighbor to the north. It was in the interest of Mexico to do so, Alcocer said. "The issue before is that there was a lack of coordination because there was not a single entity in the Mexican government that was coordinating all the efforts," he told the AP. "Nobody knew what was going on."

The DEA and other agencies declined comment, leaving it the State Department, which said it looks forward to "continued close cooperation" with Mexico. President Obama flies to Mexico City Thursday for a meeting with Pena Nieto, whose administration says it wants to expand its bilateral agenda with the US beyond drugs and immigration, as well as shift from dramatic law enforcement actions to crime prevention and public safety.

"For us the security theme is one of our top priorities, but it's not the only one," Alcocer said. "The relationship has issues such as the economy and trade, advanced manufacturing, infrastructure, energy."

Mexico City
Mexico

GAO Says ONCDP Not Achieving Drug Goals So Far

Just a day after the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released its latest annual national drug control strategy, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report finding that ONDCP has fallen well short of goals enunciated in its 2010 national drug strategy.

In the report, Office of National Drug Control Policy: Office Could Better Identify Opportunities to Increase Program Coordination, GAO noted that ONDCP and the federal government "have not made progress toward achieving most of the goals articulated in the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy." In some areas, including reducing teen drug use, reducing drug overdose deaths, and reducing HIV infections from injection drug use, GAO found, ONDCP was not only not making progress, but sometimes the numbers were moving in the opposite direction.

For instance, under the broader goal of "curtailing illicit drug consumption in America," ONDCP had set use reduction goals to be achieved by 2015. It sought to reduce last month drug use by teens by 15%, but has achieved no movement. Similarly, it sought a 15% reduction in past month use by young adults, but has achieved no movement. It also sought to reduce lifetime use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco by 8th graders by 15%, and was making progress toward its goal with alcohol and tobacco, but not with illegal drugs.

Likewise, under ONDCP's broad goal of "improving the public health and public safety of the American people by reducing the consequences of drug use," ONDCP identified goals of reducing overdose deaths, drug-related hospital emergency room visits, and drug-related HIV infections by 15% by 2015, but showed "movement away from goal" between 2010 and 2012.

Drug czar Gil Kerlikowske is talking up a "21st Century Approach" to drug use with a heavy emphasis on treatment and prevention, but the latest national drug budget still allocates 58% of funding to law enforcement and interdiction. And those remaining funds for treatment and prevention are "fragmented" across 15 federal agencies, with much overlapping. GAO reviewed 76 federal drug treatment and prevention programs and found 59 of them overlapped.

GAO did note that while ONDCP was not showing progress in most of its goals, it had implemented 107 of the 112 "action items" contemplated to meet those goals. The auditors noted that "ONDCP officials stated that implementing these action items is necessary, but may not be sufficient to achieve Strategy goals."

Washington, DC
United States

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