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Medical Marijuana Update

It's mainly news from California this week, with DEA and LAPD raids leading the way, but also snippets from Colorado and Montana, and the DEA head on the hot seat. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, DEA administrator Michelle Leonhardt ran into tough questioning (go to 47:15) at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on DEA oversight. After Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) repeatedly and fruitlessly asked her whether meth or heroin is worse than marijuana, the best she could come up with was "all illegal drugs are bad." Nor would she concede under repeated questioning from Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) that marijuana causes less harm than meth. Cohen also went after Leonhardt on medical marijuana.

"Have you ever seen a person who had cancer and used marijuana to alleviate their condition?" Cohen asked. "I have, and would you agree it has some benefit for somebody who is dying, that marijuana is the only thing that makes him eat and smile according to his 80-year-old mother?"

"That's between him and his doctor," Leonhardt replied.

"Then why does the DEA take the position that medical marijuana is wrong?" Cohen asked before Leonhardt got a reprieve because his time was up.

California

Last Thursday, the DEA raided the G3 Holistic dispensary in Upland and federal prosecutors issued indictments for six people in connection with the raid.The folks behind G3 had operated three dispensaries, but shut down two after being warned to close by the feds eight months ago. Three operators of the chain as well as three workers involved in an Ontario grow warehouse that supplied it were taken into custody. All are charged with  conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, possession of pot with intent to distribute it, and maintaining a drug location. They all face up to life in prison if convicted. The defendants were due in court in Riverside today.

As of last Thursday, there are no more dispensaries in Whittier. Whittier Hope Collective shut its doors after receiving a threat letter from federal prosecutors June 5. The Whittier City Council on a 3-2 vote in October 2009 approved a conditional-use permit allowing Whittier Hope Collective to operate. Nearly a year later the dispensary opened. The collective even joined the Whittier Area Chamber of Commerce. Now, its 5,000 members will have to go elsewhere.

Last Tuesday, Lake County supervisors directed county staff to draft an interim urgency ordinance restricting medical marijuana cultivation in unincorporated areas of the county. Staff will take under consideration comments from the Board of Supervisors, the public, and the Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Board. The supervisors are expected to consider the draft ordinance next week.

Last Friday, the IRS announced it had seized the bank accounts of a Sacramento dispensary. The DEA had raided the El Camino Wellness Center earlier in the week. The IRS said it seized $870,000 from bank accounts in what it described as a money-laundering investigation. The seizures underscore efforts by federal authorities to crack down on dispensaries by employing laws traditionally used to target money transfers by narcotics traffickers. The IRS referred to the dispensary as an "illegal marijuana store." El Camino opened in 2008 and last year became the first Sacramento dispensary issued a permit under a city regulatory program for medical marijuana outlets. The city is still collecting voter-approved taxes on local dispensaries, amounting to $1.1 million between July 2011 and March of this year.

Also last Friday, a Shasta County medical marijuana collective threatened to sue the county over its ban on dispensaries. The Medicine Man Collective Spiritual Center Corporation filed a claim earlier in the week saying the ban will have robbed them of $17.2 million by 2013. It is demanding a meeting with county officials to revise the rules, and says it will seek that amount in court if the county doesn't comply. The collective claims it had served some 20,000 patients in the past. County supervisors passed an ordinance banning pot collectives indefinitely in the unincorporated part of the county in December, and they also passed the county's first-ever ordinance limiting growing. The county counsel has 45 days from the date the claim was filed to accept or reject it.

On Monday, a San Diego initiative to regulate dispensaries failed to make the ballot. Citizens for Patient Rights and the Patient Care Association needed to gather 62,000 valid signatures to qualify, but collected fewer than 20,000. Proponents said the federal crackdown and prosecutions by San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis had depleted dispensary ranks and impeded the flow of money needed to raise the signatures. The same groups last year collected more than 40,000 signatures to successfully repeal a city ordinance that medical marijuana dispensary directors and patients believed was too restrictive. They plan to pursue another initiative or to work with the new city council and mayor to pass regulations after the fall election.

Also on Monday, activists in Del Mar asked the city council to adopt a dispensary ordinance after collecting signatures from well over 10% of Del Mar voters. The Patient Care Association led the signature drive and hopes the council will immediately pass the Compassionate Use Dispensary Regulation and Taxation Ordinance in order to serve medical pot patients in Del Mar sooner rather than possibly later. But Del Mar officials opted to instead receive a report on the measure. By doing so, the council will have the choice to either adopt the ordinance within 10 days of receiving the report, to be issued by mid-July, or order an election. The Patient Care Association expects to qualify ballot measures in Solana Beach and Lemon Grove by the end of the week and in Encinitas by the end of the month. The proposed compassionate use dispensary ordinance would impose a 2.5 percent sales tax on medical pot to benefit the city's general fund.

Also on Monday, the Oaksterdam Cannabis and Hemp Museum announced plans to relocate. The museum, which is affiliated with Oaksterdam University, is being forced out of its present location by the April DEA and IRS raids on Oaksterdam properties, and must relocate by the end of the month. The relocation is a result of concerns raised by the City of Oakland about having the publicly accessible museum in a shared space with a downtown Oakland medical cannabis dispensary. The museum has been closed since the raids.

Also on Monday, the San Francisco City Attorney filed a brief defending the rights of local governments in California to issue permits authorizing medical cannabis collectives to serve their patients, urging the state Supreme Court to reverse a Court of Appeal holding that such regulation is substantially preempted by federal law. The amicus brief authored by Dennis Herrera and joined by Santa Cruz County Counsel Dana McRae argues that discretionary permitting, an integral element in planning and land use policy, is particularly essential for local regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries. The appellate court's October 4, 2011 ruling in Pack v. Long Beach, Herrera and McRae contend, wrongly hinders the ability of local governments to protect public health and safety effectively, and to enact policy innovations tailored to local needs.

Also on Monday, the San Leandro City Council again punted on regulating dispensaries and grows. The council agreed to take up the issue again next month. A moratorium is in effect until September 30, but city staff has warned the council it should have an ordinance in place before then. The council has been hesitating, waiting to see what happens with a dispensary regulation bill in Sacramento.

On Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors voted to oppose a statewide dispensary regulation bill over fears the regulations could limit local control of marijuana dispensaries and grow sites. The bill, Assembly Bill 2312, sponsored by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would require commercial marijuana growers to register with a new Board of Medical Marijuana Enforcement, and counties and cities could tax marijuana if local voters agree. It passed the Assembly last month, and is set for a Senate committee hearing next week.

Also on Tuesday, the LAPD raided two dispensaries in Woodland Hills because of "illegal sales" of marijuana. Witnesses identified the dispensaries as Green Joy and Green Magic, both on Ventura Boulevard. The raids were carried out by the Topanga Narcotics Division. The LAPD has been busy in the San Fernando Valley, with the department claiming that it had wiped out all cannabis stores in its Devonshire Division.

Also on Tuesday, Long Beach police raided a downtown dispensary just hours before the city council was to hear a report on enforcement of its four-month-old dispensary ban. Hit was THC Downtown, which had applied for a permit through a lottery process (while the city still handed out permits), failed to win the lottery, but opened anyway. Police said three employees and two security guards would face misdemeanor charges of violating the city's ban on dispensaries that were not permitted.

On Wednesday, patients and activists rallied in Sacramento to protest last week's raid on the El Camino Wellness Center. "The Obama administration is betraying patients and lying to the public," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), one of the groups organizing Wednesday's protest. "The president and the attorney general have said publicly that the Justice Department is not targeting state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries, but that's exactly what it's doing." Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the House Judiciary committee that, "We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity with state law." However, by all accounts, El Camino was acting in full conformity with local and state laws.

Colorado

On Monday, the Commerce City City Council approved regulations under which medical marijuana businesses must apply for a conditional permit, and then for a business license. The program goes into effect July 1. License applicants must sign waivers that release the city from any liability for injuries or damages if state or federal agencies seek arrest or prosecution. The ordinance creates rules for regulating dispensaries, cultivation facilities, production and manufacturing of medical marijuana products.

Montana

Earlier this month, state Democrats added support for medical marijuana to their party platform. The new plank says that, because voters approved the use of medical marijuana, the Democratic Party supports "the right of qualified patients with a medical condition where marijuana is appropriate (to) have safe access to medical marijuana." Party spokesmen said the measure didn't spark much debate at the party convention. Some 61% of voters approved the Montana Medical Marijuana Act in 2004, but a combination of federal raids and changes by the Republican-led state legislature have left the program in tatters.

NY GOP Kills Marijuana Decriminalization Reform

New York decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, but New York City police continue to arrest 50,000 people a year for pot possession after stopping-and-frisking them, then tricking them into emptying their pockets and revealing their baggies of weed, triggering the misdemeanor offense of public possession of marijuana.

March 2012 protest of NYC stop and frisk violations
In a bid to end that practice, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the Democratically-controlled Assembly moved to reform the decriminalization law by removing the public possession provision with Assembly Bill 10581, but Monday night, Republicans and their Conservative Party allies in the Senate effectively killed it.

The Senate Republicans caved under pressure from Conservative leader Mike Long, who threatened to not allow any Republicans who supported the bill to appear on the Conservative Party line. The Senate then refused to take up the bill. That means the mass arrests, predominantly of young people of color, for what should, under state law, be only a ticketable offense, will continue, costing the state tens of millions of dollars each year.

The Republican failure to act comes in the face of widespread law enforcement support for the reform, including NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the district attorneys in all five New York City boroughs and suburban Nassau County, and even the New York City Patrolman's Benevolent Association. Kelly called the reform "a balanced approach," while Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance said it would bring greater "safety and fairness" to the criminal justice system and it was "the right thing to do."

"The Senate Republicans have single-handedly decided to continue ruining tens of thousands of lives -- mostly those of young people of color -- every year. Opposing law enforcement and the clear political consensus in the state is not just heartless -- it's a political miscalculation that will come to haunt them," said Dr. Divine Pryor, executive director of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions.

"Even Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have come out in support of this legislation. So what's holding up the Senate from passing smart reforms that will eliminate the tens of thousands of unlawful arrests taking place in the city every year?" said Alfredo Carrasquillo, community organizer with VOCAL New York.

Last week, the New York City Council passed a resolution by an overwhelming margin calling for an end to racially biased, costly, unlawful arrests. The resolution, introduced by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Oliver Koppell, was cosponsored by a majority of council members. The resolution came a day after hundreds of community activists went to Albany to deliver thousands of signatures to demand the New York State Senate pass legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession in public view.

"The New York Senate Republicans are doing what Republicans do best at the federal and local level -- they are obstructing progress and paralyzing government. The Republican Conference in the State Senate is completely out of touch with our communities of color in New York City and because of their inaction, tens of thousands more of our young people of color will be arrested before the end of this year, saddling them with a criminal record," said Mark-Viverito. "The governor, our mayor, the police commissioner, the city council, five district attorneys and criminal justice advocates are all on the same page here. Marijuana was decriminalized in 1977; all we are trying to do is close the 'in public view' loophole that is allowing thousands of unjust arrests of black and Latino youth in our communities."

"It wasn't too long ago that we referred to the 'three men in a room' when discussing the leadership structure in Albany. Now when we talk about leadership in the Senate, we should talk about 'one guy in Brooklyn,' said Gabriel Sayegh, New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "While we are disappointed by the lack of action, we're not going anywhere. This campaign for reform has already scored a major victory by bringing this issue to the attention of New Yorkers and the entire country. We cannot and will not accept a situation where the laws are applied differently to different people based on their race or ethnicity or where they live. We'll keep pushing for reform, for fairness, equality, and justice. Given the overwhelming support by law enforcement for this proposal, I think Majority Leader Skelos and even Mr. Long will come to do what’s right."

Albany, NY
United States

Chicago Mayor Says Decriminalize Marijuana

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said last Friday he backed a city council proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The council is set to vote later this month on an ordinance that would decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams of pot.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D)
Fifteen states, including Rhode Island, whose governor signed a decriminalization bill into law Tuesday, have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, as have several large American cities.

Chicago police arrested more than 18,000 people on small-time (less than 10 grams) marijuana possession charges last year. Each arrest involves about four officers -- two to arrest and two to transport -- said a statement from the mayor's office.

"These arrests tied up more than 45,000 police hours," Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in the statement. "The new ordinance nearly cuts that time in half, which equals an approximate $1 million in savings, while freeing up cops to address more serious crime."

Under existing law, people caught with small amounts of marijuana face up to six months in jail. If the ordinance is approved, they would face only a citation and the loss of their weed.

Emanuel had originally been lukewarm on decriminalization, saying when the topic was broached last year only that he would ask the police to do an analysis. Now, that analysis is in, and Emanuel is on board.

"The result is an ordinance that allows us to observe the law, while reducing the processing time for minor possession of marijuana -- ultimately freeing up police officers for the street," Emanuel said.

The move on decriminalization comes as Chicago faces a long, hot summer. There have been 185 homicides through May 13, up from 116 during the same period last year. And the violence has continued since then, with 22 more people killed this month. Freeing up police resources by decriminalization could be seen as helping to address the violence problem.

The ordinance will likely go for a vote before the City Council on June 27.

Chicago, IL
United States

Rhode Island Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) last Tuesday signed into law a decriminalization bill passed by the state legislature. Rhode Island now becomes the 15th state to have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Rhode Island State House, Providence (wikimedia.org)
Rhode Island now joins its its northeastern neighbors Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania is choosing to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of pot. Nationwide, 14 other states have decriminalized, the first wave in the 1970s and the second beginning with Nevada in 2001 and picking up momentum in recent years.

The measure, Senate Bill 2253, makes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of $150 for most offenses. Under current Rhode Island law, pot possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.

"Gov. Chafee's signature is the culmination of a years long effort to put some common sense back in our marijuana laws," said Sen. Josh Miller (D-Cranston), lead Senate sponsor. "Rhode Island will now address marijuana use among our youths with education and treatment, as opposed to incarceration, increasing our chances of stemming the abuse of drugs and alcohol."

"This change means that a youthful indiscretion will no longer prevent a responsible adult from finding gainful employment," said Rep. John Edwards (D-Portsmouth, Tiverton), lead sponsor in the House. "A dumb mistake can no longer be used as grounds for withholding federal student aid or jeopardizing future employment. Everyone in Rhode Island benefits from this change in law."

"Gov. Chafee’s approval is yet another concrete example of the mainstream support for sensible marijuana policy reform. Two-thirds of the Rhode Island public supports this proposal, as does more than two-thirds of the Rhode Island General Assembly. Support for marijuana policy reform is real and growing every day. I commend Gov. Chafee and his team for supporting policy that is both popular and reasonable," said Robert Capecchi, legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). MPP led the lobbying and grassroots effort in support of the legislation.

The law will go into effect April 1, 2013.

Providence, RI
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

After a brief hiatus, the DEA wrecking ball was back at work in California this week. Also, an important court victory in Colorado, a couple of court losses in Oregon, and Vermont is accepting dispensary applications. And there's a whole bunch more, too. Let's get to it:

California

Last Wednesday, Kern County dispensaries said they would try to overturn Measure G, a ballot measure approved by 69% of voters a day earlier. Measure G will require dispensaries to move to unincorporated areas of the county and also specifies that they must be a mile away from schools, churches, public parks, daycares, and each other. Dispensary operators said they are weighing their options for a legal challenge.

Last Thursday, the Humboldt County Planning Commission voted to revoke the permit for a Myrtletown dispensary. City planning staff said the Humboldt County Collective had failed to meet certain requirements outlined in its conditional use permit, including failing to widen a driveway and to provide financial information proving the collective is a nonprofit. The April arrest of collective president Bill Byron, 42, in Pennsylvania on suspicion of marijuana trafficking also didn't help. Byron has since stepped down as president. Now, the matter moves to the county Board of Supervisors.

Last Friday, an LA City Council panel gave its approval to the "gentle ban" that would shut down dispensaries all across the city but allow patients and collectives to have gardens. The council's Public Safety Committee voted 3-1 to recommend the proposal by Councilmen Jose Huizar and Mitch Englander to shut down dispensaries pending a state Supreme Court decision on the legality of permitting them. The panel also voted against a competing measure from Councilman Paul Koretz that would have allowed 100 dispensaries to stay open under strict regulation. Next comes a vote of the full council, but a date for that hasn't been set yet.

Also last Friday, Imperial Beach activists handed in signatures for a Safe Access Ordinance initiative in the city. Activists from San Diego Americans for Safe Access and the LGBT non-profit Canvass for a Cause handed in 1,555 valid signatures, or roughly 15% of all registered voters in the community. They collected more than 2,600 signatures, then verified their authenticity internally.

On Monday, DEA agents raided the El Camino Wellness dispensary in Sacramento. The dispensary was among a group targeted by the US Attorney in Sacramento last fall, and the owner of the building in which it was located had been the recipient of a letter from federal prosecutors warning her property could be seized. The DEA raiders were jeered by protestors who mobilized on hearing of the raid.

Also on Monday, a Lake County board approved a motion recommending guidelines for the number of plants allowable on small parcels. The Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Committee Monday approved a motion recommending allowing no more than three two plants uncovered outdoors for parcels smaller than a quarter of an acre, and up to six uncovered plants for parcels between one-quarter and one-half acre in size. The measure was approved on an 8-1 vote and now goes to the Board of Supervisors.

On Tuesday, the Lake Elsinore city clerk announced that an initiative campaign was underway to seek the legalization of dispensaries in the city. Backers of the initiative published a public notice last month, so signature gathering should get underway soon. The petition asks residents if they want an election to be held so voters could decide whether to approve an ordinance that would allow a limited number of medical marijuana dispensaries. The proposed ordinance would establish how such medical marijuana operations, also referred to in the petition as cooperatives, would be taxed, regulated and monitored. The city imposed a ban on dispensaries in 2010. An earlier initiative campaign fell short.

Colorado

On Monday, an El Paso County jury acquitted a medical marijuana grower of drug cultivation charges. Elisa Kappelmann, 52, had been looking at up to 12 years in prison on state charges after being arrested by Colorado Springs police in connection with a grow she was operating. Police said she was not in compliance with Colorado Department of Public Health documentation requirements. But defense attorney Robert Corry argued that Kappelmann had physicians' recommendations and caregiver forms for each of her 22 patients and was within her plant count even under the strictest interpretations of the laws. After six days of deliberations, the jury voted to acquit. Corry called the trial a "failed political test case" and urged El Paso County prosecutors to rethink their interpretation of the medical marijuana law.

Also on Monday, the Dacono City Council voted to ban medical marijuana businesses. The 4-2 vote will close three dispensaries, which have a little more than six months to leave town. Dacono has regulated dispensaries since 2009, although it's had a moratorium barring new ones since 2010. Angry dispensary operators and patients berated the council and vowed to file initiative petitions to get the ban overturned.

Massachusetts

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of medical marijuana opponents who argued the likely November ballot question was misleading. The Massachusetts Prevention Alliance had filed a petition against the question in May, but it was rejected by Attorney General Martha Coakley's office. Now Coakley and Secretary of State William Galvin must rewrite the "yes" section of the ballot question and get the new wording approved by the court. Opponents had challenged even the use of the term "medical marijuana," arguing that it isn't recognized as medicine under federal law, but the high court was okay with the term.

New York

On Wednesday, the New York Assembly passed its medical marijuana bill on a vote of 90-50. That's the third time a medical marijuana bill has passed the Democratically-controlled Assembly, but it has always been blocked from a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. This year is expected to be no different.

Oregon

Last Wednesday, a Washington County dispensary operator pleaded guilty to unlawful delivery of marijuana for payment and was sentenced to probation. Local police arrested Terry Spaunhorst, 54, the operator of Serene Dreams Medical Greens in Hillsboro. Prosecutors said Spaunhorst sold marijuana, a clear violation of Oregon's medical marijuana law. Last year, authorities raided another Washington County dispensary, Wake 'n Bake Cannabis Lounge in Aloha and convicted its owner on similar charges with similar results. A third dispensary, the Human Collective in Tigard remains open.

Last Friday, a Grants Pass man became the first registered Oregon grower to be convicted on federal drug trafficking charges. Jason Nelson, 36, was one of four medical marijuana growers from Southwestern Oregon who pooled their harvests and made monthly shipments from Portland to Boston in pods loaded with furniture bought from Goodwill. The other three faced state charges. Federal prosecutors crowed over the conviction and said they had "one more bit of evidence out there so people can be thinking critically whether or not this is what they want in their communities."

Vermont                   

Last Thursday, the Department of Public Safety announced that dispensary applications are now available. The department will authorize up to four medical marijuana dispensaries throughout Vermont based on a competitive scoring process. Applications are now being accepted, and the closing date to apply is June 22, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. A $2,500 non-refundable application fee must accompany all applications. To view the rules for the Vermont Marijuana Program (VMP) and to obtain a dispensary application, go to the Vermont Criminal Information Center.

Washington, DC

On Tuesday, city officials announced that all four dispensaries are free to pursue building and other permits. All four had previously advanced through the city licensing process, and three of the four have already won necessary approval from Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. But it will still be months before patients are able to obtain their medicine in the nation's capital; medical grows approved earlier have not yet planted crops, and the dispensaries will not have any product until the grows harvest.

AG Holder Accused of Lying About Medical Marijuana Crackdown [FEATURE]

US Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday and defended his Justice Department's crackdown on medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. Holder told committee members the agency was only targeting only those medical marijuana businesses that were "acting out of conformity… with state law."

Eric Holder
That had medical marijuana defenders up in arms at what they called his falsehoods. Advocates pointed to numerous dispensaries and other medical marijuana-related enterprises that were operating in compliance with state laws and with the support of local elected officials that have been raided by the DEA or subjected to other federal enforcement actions.

Holder's comments came in response to questioning from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who pointed out that during his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama had promised that he wouldn't use "Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue."

Holder agreed that the Justice Department had broken with Bush administration policy and promised not to go after people operating in compliance with state laws. But large-scale growers and dispensaries have "come up with ways in which they are taking advantage of these state laws and going beyond that which the states have authorized," Holder added. "Those are the only cases we've being going after."

Nadler pointed out that since 2009, the DEA and federal prosecutors have raided almost 200 dispensaries and growers and indicted more than 60 medical marijuana providers on federal drug charges and again asked Holder to clarify.

Holder responded that the Justice Department is only going after "those individuals (and) organizations that are acting out of conformity... with state laws."

Holder added, however, that in some cases, mainly in Colorado, the department was also targeting dispensaries located "too close" to schools. Those enforcement actions were taken not because the dispensaries were violating state laws, but because they were inside the 1,000-foot range specified by an enhanced federal sentencing statute.

Holder "lied to the House Judiciary Committee" in saying the Justice Department was only going after dispensaries and growers that were not in compliance with state laws," California NORML (CANORML) retorted bluntly. "The Justice Department's bad faith seriously impugns the credibility and competence of Attorney General Holder and his administration."

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), was only slightly more politic.

"What he said to our congressional representatives should be alarming not only to medical cannabis patients, but also to policymakers and the general public, because, based on all of the available information we have, it surely must be a lie," she wrote on the Huffington Post.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) was a bit more diplomatic.

"The problem with Holder's statements is that the federal government's determination of compliance with state law is still fairly ambiguous, even arbitrary," MPP spokesman Morgan Fox told the Chronicle. "This makes it difficult for medical marijuana providers to know if they are safe, creating a chilling effect on the entire industry and resulting in pain, suffering, and potential danger for patients forced to resort to the illicit market."

The states should decide whether a dispensary is violating state law, he added.

"At the end of the day, it should be state authorities who determine if operators are in compliance with state law, not federal prosecutors who view the entire industry through a filter of illegality," Fox said. "Beyond that, using any federal resources to interfere with medical marijuana in states where it is legal is an inexcusable waste when there are far more serious problems that need attention."

CANORML was quick to point to a long list of California medical marijuana facilities that had been raided, threatened, or driven out of business by federal enforcers despite having sterling reputations, local official support, and complying with state laws and local regulations. Among them are many well-known and -respected operations including the Berkeley Patients Group, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, Richard Lee's Oaksterdam University and Blue Sky Coffee Shop, Mendocino County's Northstone Organics, and at least five San Francisco dispensaries, including  the Vapor Room, Hope Net, Divinity Tree, Shambhala, and Medithrive.

CANORML noted that in all of those cases, local officials denounced the Justice Department enforcement actions, "but US Attorneys have insolently disregarded community sentiment."

And that's just in Northern California. US Attorneys in other parts of the state have been equally -- if not more -- active in going after medical marijuana providers. Just one day before Holder addressed the committee, federal prosecutors in Southern California announced a crackdown on Los Angeles County dispensaries, with the DEA raiding two dispensaries and federal prosecutors sending threat letters to 34 more.

The statewide crackdown has been ongoing since last October, when the state's four US Attorneys jointly announced their campaign to rein in the industry. According to ASA, the federal actions have forced more than 300 medical marijuana operations to shut down.

"It's simply not believable that all of these taxpaying businesses were operating in violation of state law," Sherer noted, before asking a series of pointed questions. "If they were, why didn't the state take part in the raids? Why didn't the state or local authorities issue arrest warrants? Why would state and local politicians stand up for businesses breaking state and local laws?"

And stand up they have. Local elected officials, state representatives, state officials, even California Attorney General Kamala Harris have all urged the feds to butt out. Harris wrote to all four US Attorneys in December, telling them the federal government was "ill-equipped" to interpret and enforce state medical marijuana laws.

The fight continues. On Wednesday, the same day the feds announced a new phase of their offensive in Southern California and the same day President Obama visited the Bay Area on a fundraising trip, three San Francisco supervisors wrote an op-ed asking him to "keep the commitment he made to stop the federal government's attacks on medical cannabis."

For medical marijuana advocates, listening to Attorney General Holder saying he is only targeting operations in violation of state laws is bringing back memories of that old country and western music song: "Who are You Gonna Believe? Me or Your Lying Eyes?"

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Bill Goes to New Hampshire Governor

In conference committee votes as the legislative session ticked down Wednesday, the New Hampshire House and Senate gave final approval to a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 409, and sent it to Gov. John Lynch (D). Lynch earlier this year indicated he will veto the bill.

That has bill supporters scrambling to come up with a veto-proof majority or to persuade Lynch to change his mind. They need 16 Senate votes to override, but only got 13 on Wednesday's vote. (One bill sponsor was absent.) The House overwhelmingly approved the medical marijuana bill earlier this year.

"Most senators now agree we have a moral obligation to protect seriously ill patients from being arrested in our state," said Sen. Jim Forsyther (R-Stafford), who vowed to continue to seek additional support in the Senate for an override if necessary. "There is no excuse for maintaining criminal penalties against patients in our state when Vermont, Maine, and 15 other states have created exceptions under state law for medical use. New Hampshire truly deserves better, and if there's any way to get SB 409 passed into law, I will continue doing my best to make that happen."

"Over the years, we have convinced many legislators to support this critical reform," said Rep. Evalyn Merrick (D-Lancaster), a cancer survivor who credits medical marijuana with easing her struggle. "With support either from Gov. Lynch or from two additional senators, this bill can finally pass and patients will finally have legal access to medical marijuana."

"SB 409 has earned strong support in both the House and Senate, and soon Gov.Lynch will have an opportunity to do the right thing and sign it into law," added Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Now, it's all eyes on the governor.

Concord, NH
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds strike again in California, Connecticut becomes the 17th medical marijuana state and New Hampshire could be 18th, and localities in various medical marijuana states continue to try to keep a lid on the green medicine. Let's get to it:

California

Last Wednesday, a new dispensary opened up in Eagle Rock just a day after an LA City Council committee voted to advance a new ban on dispensaries in the city. The Together For Change dispensary is at the same location as the American Eagle Collective, which was raided and closed by LAPD narcotics officers on May 2. It is supposedly under new ownership, but has the same décor and even the same security guard as American Eagle.

On Tuesday, researchers reported that dispensary neighborhoods have no higher crime rates than neighborhoods without dispensaries. The research, which will appear in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, examined 95 neighborhoods in Sacramento in 2009. The researchers found no evidence that neighborhoods with a higher density of medical marijuana dispensaries had higher rates of violent crime or property crime than other neighborhoods. But the authors added that further research is needed because they looked at neighborhoods at only one point in time. A neighborhood's crime patterns could change over time as more medical marijuana dispensaries open.

Also on Tuesday, CANORML reported that California elections brought mixed results. In Butte County, a measure that would have restricted patients' rights to cultivate on their own property lost 55% to 45%, but in Kern County an ordinance sharply limiting the location of dispensaries passed with 69% of the vote and in Lake County, a grower-led measure to regulate marijuana like agricultural crops was defeated by a margin of 66% to 33%.

In Los Angeles, LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, a staunch nemesis of medical marijuana, failed in his bid to run for District Attorney. That means the contest will be between Jackie Lacey, who believes medical marijuana sales are illegal, and Deputy DA Alan Jackson, who has been more friendly to the cause.

In San Diego, stridently anti-medical marijuana DA Bonnie Dumanis was crushed in the mayoral primary, getting only 13% of the vote. The November election will feature a choice between medical marijuana foe Carl Demaio (32%) and medical marijuana supporter Rep. Bob Filner (30%).

In the 33rd Congressional District, LA NORML Director Bruce Margolin came in fourth in the race with 4.5%, followed closely by Libertarian Steve Collett with 4.3%. Both had made marijuana reform a centerpiece of their campaigns against long-time incumbent Henry Waxman, who was leading with 45%.

In the race for US Senate, where veteran drug warrior Sen. Dianne Feinstein faced a field of 32 unknown opponents, David Levitt, who had campaigned on drug reform and other progressive issues, got 1.6% of the vote;  while Libertarian Gail Lightfoot got 2%. Feinstein's opponent in November will be Republican Elizabeth Emken.

On Wednesday, federal authorities announced a crackdown on LA County dispensaries, with the DEA raiding two dispensaries and federal prosecutors sending warning letters to 34 more. While the feds didn't target the city of Los Angeles, the crackdown seeks to wipe out dispensaries in the cities of Santa Fe Springs, Whittier, South El Monte, La Mirada, Diamond Bar, Artesia, Paramount, South Gate, City of Commerce, Agoura Hills and Malibu. The two dispensaries that were raided Wednesday were the Tri-City Patient's Association and the Canna-America Collective (a.k.a. Organic Way Collective) in Santa Fe Springs. The two dispensaries were also hit with federal civil asset forfeiture lawsuits. The warning letters give the operators and landlords 14 days to come into compliance with federal law or risk potential civil or criminal actions.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Garfield County commissioners set a June 18 deadline to approve land use regulations for medical marijuana growers in the county. A two-year moratorium on grows expires July 1. One commissioner proposed that the commission require a 1,000-foot buffer zone between grow facilities and schools, parks or churches, in accordance with state law. He also proposed that growers be restricted to commercial zone districts and banned from rural zones, because of concerns about ease of enforcement. He also proposed that Garfield County growers be allowed to sell their products only within the county. But the proposed ban on rural grows and on selling products outside the county drew opposition.

Connecticut

Last Friday, Connecticut became the 17th medical marijuana state after Gov. Dan Malloy signed into law the bill passed by the legislature. Patients will obtain their medicine from dispensaries run by licensed pharmacists.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court ruled that state law allows an affirmative defense for patients even if they haven't registered with the state. The ACLU of Michigan called the decision a victory for medical marijuana patients throughout the state. In one case ruled on by the court, Owosso resident Larry King, who suffers from severe and chronic back pain, was issued a medical marijuana card in 2009 by the state after being examined and approved by a doctor. He grew 12 marijuana plants for his own medical use. The Shiawassee County prosecutor charged him with manufacturing marijuana, a felony, because some of his plants were being grown outside. Drug charges against King initially were thrown out because he was a medical marijuana patient. But the Court of Appeals reinstated felony drug charges against him because it held that King would not be permitted to raise a medical defense at his trial. The higher court's decision reverses the appeals court.

Also last Thursday, the New Baltimore City Council extended a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses that has been in place since 2009. While in the past, the council had extended the moratorium for six months at a time, this time it was only for two months. The council is hoping some clarity will emerge this summer after the legislature finishes dealing with a package of medical marijuana bills.

Last Sunday, the Flushing Police announced they were reporting to the federal government medical marijuana users who were seeking to buy firearms. Police Chief Mark Hoornstra said his department began doing so about six months ago after an FBI training seminar. And it's not just gun buyers. Hoornstra said his officers report any interactions with individuals identified as medical marijuana patients to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, even if they are not committing a crime or violating the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. He said his department has reported about ten patients so far.

On Tuesday, patient and dispensary advocates threatened to sue the city of Jackson if the city council approves an ordinance saying patients and primary caregivers can only use and grow their medicine in their homes. A council committee voted later that evening in favor of the ordinance. There are already at least two dispensaries in Jackson, and they would be forced to close if the ordinance passes. The Jackson City Council likely will consider the ordinance next Tuesday.

Montana

Last Wednesday, the state Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging a new medical marijuana law passed by the legislature last year. That law bans the commercial sale of medical marijuana. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association challenged it. Chief Justice Mike McGrath said the issue is not whether marijuana has medicinal value, but whether there is a right to sell a drug that federal law labels a Schedule I narcotic. A key component of the 2011 law was to make it illegal for marijuana providers to be compensated for their services and to limit them to three patients each. Supporters said that provision was necessary to end the business of marijuana and to ensure the drug was used as voters intended --to treat the neediest patients. An appeals court judge ordered an injunction that prevented the sales ban from taking effect, saying it would harm people's right to seek health care.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, the state legislature gave final approval to a medical marijuana bill, which now heads to the desk of Gov. John Lynch (D), who earlier said he would veto it. Supporters are scrambling to either persuade Lynch to change his mind or come up with a veto-proof majority. They're not quite there yet.

Washington

On Monday, the Pasco City Council voted to ban collective medical marijuana grows. Five council members decided to end their year-long moratorium and amend Pasco's zoning code to say the city won't allow anything that violates local, state and federal law. That includes the issuing of a building permit or business license for a collective garden, where authorized patients would grow cannabis plants together. The legislature in 2011 passed a law allowing collective gardens, but Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) vetoed parts of it. The city had enacted successive moratoria on grows while waiting for the legislature to act this year, but got tired of waiting.

On Tuesday, the Kent City Council voted to ban dispensaries and collective gardens. The 4-3 vote came after more than 150 people at the meeting pleaded with the council not to enact the ban. Now, the Cannabis Action Coalition says it plans to sue the city.

Rhode Island Legislature Approves Marijuana Decriminalization

Both chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly voted Monday evening to approve marijuana decriminalization bills. Each measure now faces only a procedural vote in the other chamber before the bill goes to Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I).

Rhode Island State House, Providence (wikimedia.org)
Chafee has so far declined to say whether he will sign it or veto it. The Marijuana Policy Project is urging its Ocean State supporters to contact the governor now to urge him to sign it.

If Chafee signs the bill into law, Rhode Island would join its northeastern neighbors Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania is choosing to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of pot. Nationwide, 14 states have decriminalized, the first wave in the 1970s and the second beginning with Nevada in 2001 and picking up momentum in recent years.

The measure passed easily in both houses of the General Assembly. The Senate approved the bill, Senate Bill 2253, by a vote of 28-6 and the House approved its companion bill, House Bill 7092 by a vote of 50-24.

The bill would make the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of $150 for most offenses. Under current Rhode Island law, pot possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.

"I am proud of my colleagues for voting to replace a criminal penalty and possible jail time for marijuana possession with a more sensible civil fine," said Sen. Josh Miller (D-Cranston), one of the bill sponsors. "This unique policy change is something our state can do to immediately help our citizens. It will still punish marijuana use, while avoiding the harsh collateral consequences that come with a criminal conviction that can ruin Rhode Islanders' job, education, and housing prospects. It will also save our state millions in enforcement costs and help to educate our at-risk youth."

"Now that the legislature has acted, I urge Gov. Chafee to sign this bill without delay," said Rep. John Edwards (D-Portsmouth), another sponsor. "It is unfair to label nonviolent and non-destructive citizens as criminals simply because they possess a small amount of a substance that has been proven safer than alcohol. Additionally, allowing law enforcement to issue a simple citation for marijuana possession -- as opposed to having to make an arrest -- will give our state law enforcement more time to devote to policing, preventing, and solving crimes of violence and against property, ultimately making our streets safer."

The bills have strong public support. A Public Policy Polling survey in January showed that 65% of likely voters supported decriminalization. Support came from across the political spectrum, with 73% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans, and 60% of independents in favor of the measure.

"At a time when Rhode Island municipalities are laying off police officers and experiencing severe budget problems, it makes no sense to waste scarce resources arresting simple marijuana users," said Robert Capecchi, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "By signing these bills into law, Gov. Chafee can take a significant step toward increased fiscal security, public safety, and sensible justice. Rhode Islanders deserve to be treated as fairly as their neighbors when it comes to marijuana policy."

The not-so-hot-potato is now in the governor's lap. If those poll numbers are to be trusted and the will of the legislature is to be respected, Chafee has an easy call.

Providence, RI
United States

NY Pols Call for Marijuana Decriminalization Fix

The New York Times reported Sunday that Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) would come out Monday in support of legislation that would halt the NYPD's practice of arresting people for public possession of marijuana after stopping and frisking them and ordering them to empty their pockets. By Monday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly both agreed, throwing their support behind the proposal.

New York actually decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of pot back in 1977, meaning people caught with small amounts of marijuana would only be ticketed -- not arrested -- but beginning with the administration of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the NYPD began violating the spirit of the law (if not the letter) with its policy of forcing people it stopped to pull out their baggies, then charging them with the arrestable misdemeanor of public possession of marijuana. That meant an average 24-hour stay in the city's jails for people who should only have been issued a citation, as well as a criminal record.

Police in New York arrested a little more than 2,000 people a year for marijuana during the 1980s and through the mid-1990s, but as the city's stop-and-frisk campaign began under Giuliani and accelerated in the wake of 9/11, those numbers skyrocketed, averaging more than 40,000 a year since 1995. Last year it was more than 50,000, nearly nine out of 10 of them black or Latino.

Mayor Bloomberg had previously opposed efforts to revise the law to prevent abuses like those practiced by the NYPD, but in a Monday statement, he changed his tune. Because the proposed changes would still allow arrest for actually smoking or selling marijuana, they "strike the right balance," the mayor said.

The legislation the governor and the mayor are getting behind is Assembly Bill 7620 and its companion, Senate Bill 5187. Those bills would standardize penalties for marijuana possession by striking the language about "in public view" and "burning" from the state's marijuana law. But Cuomo and Bloomberg don't want "burning" to be decriminalized, so some haggling is likely to take place.

It's about time, said activists from the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, and VOCAL, a group representing people affected by AIDS, drug use, or exposure to the criminal justice system. The three groups have been spearheading the effort to get the bills through the legislature.

"Governor Cuomo has demonstrated real leadership and with his recognition that the NYPD is unlawfully arresting tens of thousands of young people; this is a tremendous advancement to ending these egregious police practices," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We cannot have laws applied differently to different groups of people when the dividing line is race. The legislature must now act and reform these policies, and only then will New York fully realize the intent of the 1977 marijuana decriminalization law."

"Governor Cuomo's call is well appreciated and welcomed by a growing coalition of faith and civil rights leaders who have been working to ensure a jail-free future for our youth by investing in community development and resources that are far more effective at guiding our youth in the choices they make towards fulfilling their best potential," said Kyung Ji Kate Rhee of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives.

"By taking up this issue Governor Cuomo is taking a major step forward to ending the criminalization of young men of color. This shows great leadership by our governor to address racially biased practices and restore the relationship between communities of color and our government," according to Alfredo Carrasquillo, community organizer for VOCAL New York and former victim of illegal marijuana arrests.

Those three groups, as well as others, are preparing a big push in the next two weeks to get the bills passed. Plans include an online media campaign and a mass rally in Albany on June 12. Stay tuned.

Albany, NY
United States

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