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Vermont Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill

The Vermont House voted 99-44 last Thursday to approve a bill that would allow for the creation of four medical marijuana dispensaries to serve the state's hundreds of patients. The Senate, which had passed the bill in April on a 25-4 vote, gave final approval to changes made by the House the following day.

It looks like the Green Mountain State is about to get a little greener. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The measure now goes to the desk of Gov. Peter Schumlin (D), who is expected to sign it. He authored a similar bill in the Senate last year.

The bill, Senate Bill 17, would expand Vermont's medical marijuana law and improve patient access by allowing the sale of marijuana at dispensaries. The four dispensaries would be licensed and regulated by the state Department of Public Safety.

The vote to approve dispensaries came in spite of a letter from the state's US attorney warning that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That letter was part of a stepped-up campaign by US attorneys in various states to intimidate and rein-in large-scale medical marijuana cultivation and sales.

Supporters argued that the state's existing medical marijuana law is lacking because it forces sick people to grow their own medicine. Requiring sick people to do so "is expensive and difficult and unlike anything else we require anybody else to go through to relieve their pain," said Rep. Eldred French (D-Shrewsbury) in remarks reported by the Vermont Digger.

"We did not provide them with a way to obtain the marijuana that they need to ease their suffering," French said. "And if we can't provide them with a way to do that without insulting their dignity and them involve themselves in what is a criminal activity in the state of Vermont, by going out and trying to buy it elsewhere, if we can't provide that, I think we've failed our duty."

Republican opponents cited the warning from the US attorney and the fact that marijuana remains legal under federal law. But one went so far as to accuse his colleagues of "aiding and abetting" criminal activities.

"I'm also concerned that we are, under the definition of aiding and abetting, becoming aiders and abetters of criminal activity," said Rep. Duncan Kilmartin (R-Newport). "We hear these slicing and dicing words on this floor, claiming we're not doing that, but we are. You know something; we're cowards, because my words now, the votes which I will make in a few minutes, even if it favored this bill, are absolutely immune from any consequences except the electorate turning me out next time. That's it. So we hide behind an immunity with our winks, our nods, and our..."

Kilmartin was then interrupted by Rep. Richard Marek (D-Newfane), who took umbrage at his remarks in a point of order question. "Mr. Speaker, I've listened to this presentation, and I'm afraid it has stepped over the bounds of attacking the integrity and motives of members," he said.

The point of order was "well taken," said Speaker Willem Jewett (D-Ripton) after a brief consultation at the podium. "While every member has right to challenge the actions of the body and to express an opinion in opposition to the body, that right has limits when we speak in a derogatory or an insulting way, either towards individuals or towards the group," Jewett said.

And Vermont is set to become the next dispensary state.

Montpelier, VT
United States

Florida Legislature Passes Welfare Drug Test Bill

A bill requiring Florida welfare recipients to undergo drug tests passed the state Senate last Thursday. A similar measure has already passed the House. The bill was supported by Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is expected to sign it into law shortly.

(image via Wikimedia.org)
"It’s fair to taxpayers," Scott said after the vote. "They're paying the bill. And they're often drug screened for their jobs. On top of that, it's good for families. It creates another reason why people will think again before using drugs, which as you know is just a significant issue in our state."

Scott has already signed an executive order mandating drug tests for state workers. But Republican senators this week fended off bipartisan amendments that would have imposed drug tests for anyone working for a company that receives public funds and schoolchildren in the Bright Futures program. Those amendments were designed to sabotage the bill by spreading the net uncomfortably wide.

If Scott signs the bill into law, it is almost certain to face a constitutional challenge, and the challengers would have a strong case. The only other state to pass a suspicionless drug testing bill for welfare recipients, Michigan, saw its law thrown out by a federal appeals court in 2003 as an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against warrantless searches. Arizona has a welfare drug testing law, but that law requires probable cause before a drug test can be demanded.

The bill, House Bill 353, requires all adult applicants for or existing recipients of federal cash benefits -- the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program -- to undergo drug testing at their own expense. If they pass the drug test, the cost of the test is reimbursed by the state. The tests would screen for all controlled substances and recipients would have to disclose any legal prescriptions they have.

If recipients test positive, they lose their benefits for a year. If they fail a second test, they lose their benefits for three years. Children whose parents lose their benefits could still receive benefits if another adult is designated the payee on their behalf.

The bill is set to go into effect July 1, provided Gov. Scott actually signs it and no legal challenge has been filed by that date.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

NYC Mayor Bloomberg Discusses Drug Legalization

In a radio interview on WOR-AM last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unexpectedly brought up the subject of drug legalization. Responding to a question about medical marijuana tweeted by a listener, Bloomberg seemed to realize he was stumbling into a minefield. "I'm sort of reticent to bring it up," he said, "What's up with medical marijuana in NYC," he continued, reading the question aloud. "Is it going to be okay soon? Need to know by this weekend," he read, inspiring mayoral laughter.

Mike Bloomberg
"We don't allow medical marijuana in this state," he replied. "They do in California…"

Then, apparently very much in the moment, Bloomberg turned from medical marijuana to drug legalization: "The argument is that the only way you're going to end the drug trade is to legalize drugs and take away the profit motive," he said. "And that the corruption funds enormous dislocations, like Mexico, where thousands or tens of thousands of people have been killed in the wars where the government tried to crack down on the drug dealers..."

Good start! Mayor Bloomberg, uncharacteristically for a prominent mainstream US politician, had articulated two of the core arguments made by legalization advocates. But then, perhaps realizing where he had gone politically, Bloomberg fumbled. "There is no easy answer to these things... There are places where they've legalized drugs, and whether it destroyed society or didn't is open to debate."

Actually, no country has legalized drugs. There are countries, however, that have embraced drug policies less reliant on repression via law enforcement, such as the Netherlands, with its tolerance of cannabis coffee shops and personal possession, or Portugal, which decriminalized drug possession a decade ago.

Both countries still exist and seem to have actual few ill effects as a result of their liberal approaches. The Netherlands has marijuana use rates similar to other European countries and lower than in the US. There have been problems with organized crime involvement in cultivation and supplying the cannabis cafes, but those problems are artifacts of an incomplete legalization. The Dutch liberalization does not provide for a legal supply for the cannabis cafes, thus, the so-called back door problem -- partial prohibition.

As for Portugal, Glenn Greenwald has done a comprehensive review for the Cato Institute. Bloomberg might want to read it. Greenwald found that "judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success."

The experiences of both countries could hold valuable lessons for a man who presides over a city that spends $75 million a year arresting marijuana users, according to a recent report from the Drug Policy Alliance. In fact, New York city accounts to close for 10% of all marijuana possession arrests nationwide, and this in a state that has decriminalized marijuana possession. [Editor's Note: That's only possible because the NYPD has a practice of stopping and frisking young men of color and ordering them to empty their pockets, then charging them with possession in public, a misdemeanor. You do not have to empty the contents of your pockets.]

While these NYPD practices originated under Bloomberg predecessor Mayor Giuliani, whose tenure saw a quick ten-fold increase in marijuana arrests -- primarily of African Americans and Latinos -- they have continued unabated under Mayor Bloomberg. Given the understanding the mayor evidently has of prohibition, he should act to end these costly and unjustifiable policies, especially in a city undergoing a fiscal crisis, not equivocate with uninformed commentaries.

Feds on New Medical Marijuana Offensive [FEATURE]

While DEA raids on medical marijuana providers never came to a complete halt after the Obama administration declared in 2009 that it would not interfere with people operating in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, the pace did slacken. But now, the raids are on the increase -- there have been at least 90 DEA SWAT-style raids since Obama took office -- and the federal government has unveiled an ominous new weapon in its war on the weed: US attorneys in a number of medical marijuana states sending letters to politicians threatening dire consequences, even the potential arrest of state employees, if states okay schemes to tolerate and regulate medical marijuana distribution.

Rally in Sacramento Monday for Dr. Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer. (Image courtesy ASA)
Threatening letters from US attorneys have been sent to officials in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Rhode Island, and Washington. The first was in February in California; the latest came this week in Arizona.

What is worse is that the interventions by the US attorneys appear deliberately timed to intimidate elected officials as they consider regulating medical marijuana dispensaries -- and it seems to be working. Last week, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed a bill that would have created a regulated dispensary system after requesting and receiving a threatening letter from her state's two US attorneys. This week, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee "placed a hold" on dispensaries about to open there after receiving an unsolicited threatening letter from the US attorney.

Earlier, as Montana legislators debated whether to regulate and allow dispensaries there, the feds hit them with a one-two punch of DEA raids and a US attorney letter. While Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed a bill that would have repealed the state's medical marijuana law, all indications are that he will not veto a bill that will effectively kill dispensaries in Big Sky Country. And in Hawaii, legislators backed away from a dispensary bill after receiving similar threats.

The medical marijuana community has responded with protests -- there were actions in cities across the country on Monday -- but appears uncertain about what to do next. There are calls to reschedule marijuana, including one by Washington Gov. Gregoire, there are calls for the Obama administration or Congress to do something, and there are calls on state elected and appointed officials to stand firm in the face of federal bullying.

A group of Washington state legislators has also responded by sending a letter asking the state's Attorney General for his legal opinion on the law. The 15 legislators, all Democrats, led by Rep. Roger Goodman (Kirkland), asked Attorney General Rob McKenna if state employees had anything to fear from federal law enforcement if the vetoed state licensing provisions of the bill were revived, according to the Kitsap Sun.

A cannabis rescheduling petition to change marijuana's status under the Controlled Substances Act has been pending since 2002. Perhaps if Gregoire can rally other governors behind her, they can light a fire under the feds.

Rally in Washington, DC Monday to demand an end to federal interfence. (Image courtesy ASA)
 In the meantime, the raids continue. The DEA hit a San Diego dispensary Tuesday.

"This turn of events with the US attorneys is troublesome and reactionary," said Dale Gieringer, the long-time head of California NORML, who had just returned from a Sacramento rally in support of Dr. Mollie Fry and her companion, Dale Schafer, who had that day begun serving five-year federal prison sentences for medical marijuana cultivation. "It makes your head spin about that Obama policy of low enforcement, but Obama never said he supports states having access, and the US attorneys have taken matters into their own hands. This is certainly disappointing."

"It's very disconcerting and alarming that the federal government is deciding to deal with the medical marijuana issue this way," said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation's largest medical marijuana defense organization. "We had been seeing progress, with states passing distribution laws, others amending their laws to include distribution, and others passing new laws to incorporate distribution into the laws they passed. It's very unsettling that the federal government is choosing to interfere in the implementation of those laws and restrict the access that patients could benefit from or are benefiting from."

ASA recently gave the Obama administration a failing grade on its approach to medical marijuana. That report card cited continuing law enforcement actions against medical marijuana providers. It is unclear whether the recent US attorney letters represent a policy shift at the Justice Department or whether individual prosecutors are taking the initiative. The Justice Department did not respond to a Chronicle call for clarification. Still, it is clear that the federal prosecutors are on a mission.

"When the Rhode Island US attorney made the threat he did, without being asked, that signified that this is more than just a defensive policy, it is an aggressive policy on the part of the US attorneys to keep medical marijuana illegal," said Gieringer.

"We'd like to know what's going on," said Hermes. "The federal government is showing its cards now. This is drawing attention to the fact that it didn't necessarily mean what it said when it said it wouldn't use Department of Justice resources to circumvent state laws. It certainly seems like there is a concerted effort in the background, but no one has come out from Justice and said that. Justice has refused to meet with patient advocates since this increased interference in the past few months, and they need to address this community and this issue. They can't say one thing in a policy statement and do the exact opposite. The spotlight is on the president at this point."

"The federal government has totally ignored us on all fronts," said Geiringer, "but we're just going to have to keep insisting that we be heard. I would like to see somebody in Congress question this on the record. It never gets mentioned in congressional hearings when DEA officials are up there; it's just totally ignored."

"The timing of these memos really smacks of intimidation and interference," said Morgan Fox, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Our advice for lawmakers is to stand their ground and do what's best for their states, particularly when it comes to the feds prosecuting state employees involved in registries. There has never been a prosecution; it doesn’t rise to the level of aiding and abetting."

"They've never moved against any public official for this stuff anywhere, so I think this is an empty threat," agreed Gieringer, "but public officials being what they are, they are easily cowed."

Elected and appointed officials at the state level need to stand firm against the federal threats, said Fox. "The US attorney memos are frightening and starting to get more severe in tone, but all we need to do is have the states considering dispensary regulation to continue moving ahead with that. I don't think the feds are going to push this too much. They don't have the resources, and it would be a policy disaster for the administration."

If the threats to go after state officials are over-hyped, the dangers to dispensary operators are not. One was convicted in Spokane as legislators deliberated, and more than a dozen were raided in Montana as the legislature took up medical marijuana bills. They are all looking at lengthy federal prison sentences if prosecuted and convicted.

Patients rally across the country for medical marijuana. (Image courtesy ASA)
"It's not lawmakers who will be looking at five-year federal prison sentences, but dispensary operators. They have to make personal decisions about whether they want to take that risk. Opening dispensaries is not just a way to provide safe access for patients, but also an act of civil disobedience, and you could face consequences," warned MPP's Fox.

ASA is holding training sessions for dispensary operators, said Hermes. But operators also need to continue to organize and pressure their elected representatives, he said.

But if the feds are standing firm, so is the medical marijuana movement. ASA, MPP, and California NORML all pledged to continue the fight.

"This is the federal government's last shot to try to prevent something that is working well in the US and will continue to work as long as the federal government stays out of the business of implementing state laws," said Hermes. "More than that, the federal government should be working with states to design a comprehensive federal policy that includes disengagement from enforcement and investment in research and rescheduling marijuana so that patients are protected wherever they live."

"We will continue to try to shine a light on this absurd and obscene misuse of law enforcement," said Gieringer, again pointing to the case of Dr. Fry and Dale Schafer. "Dale is on anti-hemophilia drugs with one treatment costing $10,000. He's also on morphine. And they're sending him to prison for five years? That's just crazy, but the machine just keeps going."

"We are just on the cusp of being legitimate and are now being beat back," said Fox. "We have to hold our ground."

Washington Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire Friday vetoed large parts of a medical marijuana bill that would have created a state-wide patient and provider registry and a state-licensed and regulated dispensary system, citing the potential threat to state workers who could be prosecuted under federal law. Gregoire's partial veto eliminated the dispensary and registry provisions, leaving little left of Senate Bill 4073 but a reiteration of existing affirmative defenses for patients and providers.

Gregoire chooses militarization over regulation
In her veto statement, Gov. Gregoire said that the dispensary licensing and regulation provisions "would direct employees of the state departments of Health and Agriculture to authorize and license commercial businesses that produce, process or dispense cannabis. These sections would open public employees to federal prosecution, and the United States Attorneys have made it clear that state law would not provide these individuals safe harbor from federal prosecution. No state employee should be required to violate federal criminal law in order to fulfill duties under state law. For these reasons, I have vetoed" the relevant sections.

She also vetoed language that would require owners of housing to allow medical marijuana use on their property because it "put them in potential conflict with federal law." And she vetoed reciprocity language allowing nonresidents to use while in Washington because it "would not require these other state or territorial laws to meet the same standards for health care professional authorization required by Washington law."

Gregoire's veto pen also killed language that would have allowed people on probation or parole to use medical marijuana with a court's approval. "The correction agency or department responsible for the person's supervision is in the best position to evaluate an individual's circumstances and medical use of cannabis," she explained.

Gregoire said she vetoed the statewide patient and provider registration provisions because "they are intertwined with requirements for registration of licensed commercial producers, possessors, and dispensers of cannabis" and would thus leave state employees still facing the threat of federal prosecution.

"I am not vetoing Sections 402 or 406, which establish affirmative defenses for a qualifying patient or designated provider who is not registered with the registry," which she vetoed. That and provisions allowing for scientific study of medical marijuana, protecting the parental rights of patients, and barring discrimination in housing or organ transplants are about all that's left of what was supposed to be Washington's dispensary bill.

Gregoire signaled in mid-month that she was leery of federal prosecution of state employees, citing letters from the state's two US attorneys warning that state employees who licensed or regulated large-scale commercial marijuana operations would not be immune from prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said she was disappointed but not surprised by Gregoire's action. "I think the potential for federal arrest and prosecution of state employees is extremely improbable," Kohl-Welles told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer after the governor's partial veto. "I think that the patients are the most important consideration."

Kohl-Welles said she was working on a new bill for the legislature's current special session, one that would not involve state employees. "Gregoire does not want to have state workers included at all," Kohl-Welles said. "We have to find out what can be done without their involvement."

The ACLU of Washington sent Gregoire a letter Thursday urging her to sign the bill unaltered and suggesting her fear for state employees was unwarranted. "The federal government has never prosecuted state employees involved in implementing a state-adopted medical marijuana law, and it will not do so in Washington," the letter said. "Empty threats by the federal government should not be used as justifîcation for refusing to sign legislation that will aid suffering residents, as well as local governments, of Washington."

But that's just what Gov. Gregoire did with the veto pen last Friday.

Montana Governor Will Not Veto Medical Marijuana Dispensary-Killing Bill [FEATURE]

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer already vetoed a medical marijuana repeal bill this session, and now, medical marijuana advocates are calling on him to repeal a bill that won final passage in the legislature last Thursday, a bill they call "repeal in disguise."

But it's unlikely they will get their wish. Schweitzer held a press conference last Friday saying he would neither veto nor sign the bill, thus allowing it to pass into law without his signature.

"So I will hold my nose and allow this to be law until the Legislature gets back to session (in 2013)," he said. "I'm not going to sign it. I guess I could veto it. I could say that this is a danged-poor bill, and you started out with a good bill (from an interim committee), and you went downhill for almost 88 days. But I'm kind of painted in a corner. They painted Montana in a corner. They accepted some of the language that I believe makes the bill constitutional. So that is good. Is the bill perfect? Not even close. But can I veto and allow the Wild West go on for the next couple of years? I don't think so."

Gov. Schweitzer wielded the veto ax once this session to protect medical marijuana, but declined the second time.
The legislation, Senate Bill 423, was originally designed to regulate Montana's burgeoning medical marijuana industry, but was heavily amended in the legislative process and now contains provisions unacceptable to medical marijuana advocates. The governor also has serious problems with it. He called it "unconstitutional on its face" earlier this week.

Advocates say the bill, the work of the Republican leadership in the state legislature, now seeks not to regulate but to cripple Montana's medical marijuana program. Among other provisions designed to hobble medical marijuana, the bill calls for providers to be limited to growing for three patients and to receive no compensation -- not even the repayment of expenses incurred -- for their efforts. Providers could produce smokable marijuana or edibles, but not both.

The bill also requires that law enforcement be notified of a person's status as a medical marijuana patient and, if the patients grows his own medicine, allows for his grow to be inspected by law enforcement at any time. It requires that patients seeking relief for chronic pain, the most common ailment for which medical marijuana is recommended, undergo two separate physician exams.

The bill restricts physicians to writing recommendations for no more than 15 patients per year. Physicians who write more than 15 recommendations would be subject to investigation by the state medical board -- at their own expense. The bill also bans laboratories that test medical marijuana for safety, content, and quality control reasons.

"We came to the 2011 session seeking to work constructively with legislators, law enforcement and numerous civic groups to develop smart regulations that would close loopholes, end abuses, and create a strictly regulated program that would  serve legitimate patients and meet the needs of law enforcement and local  community values," said a broad coalition of Montana medical marijuana organizations in a joint statement after the bill's initial passage Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, the legislature roundly rejected a number of bipartisan proposals that had strong support from all concerned. Ultimately, the views of physicians and patients were dismissed and the opinions of growers with a unique knowledge of the challenges involved in growing medical-grade cannabis were ignored. Instead of ending up with workable but rigorous oversight, we've been given a prospective wasteland, with the very best of what has emerged over the past few years potentially outlawed by the legislature. This deliberately unworkable repeal in disguise deserves a veto brand as much as the repeal bill did," the groups said.

The groups signing onto the statement included Patients & Families United, the Montana Medical Growers Association, Solutions for Montana, Alliance for  Cannabis Science, Montana  Botanical Analysis, Cannabanalysis Laboratories, Citizens for Cannabis  Comprehension, Montana Connect and Montana NORML.

"SB 423 is written to fail patients, not to fulfill compassionate voter intent in ways that also will work well for law enforcement and communities," the groups argued. "We call on Gov. Schweitzer to veto the bill and instead to aggressively use administrative authorities under the existing law to create effective regulation."

Gov. Schweitzer had similar issues with the bill as passed Tuesday, and on Thursday, he sent a letter to the legislature outlining amendments that would make it acceptable to him. Those include:

  • Increase the number of cardholders for whom medical marijuana providers or manufacturers may provide products, from the three to 25 people.

    "I believe SB423 makes access to medical marijuana far too difficult for patients, many of whom are suffering chronic and severe illness and do not have the physical or financial ability to grow their own marijuana to treat their debilitating condition," Schweitzer said. "Patients must be able to obtain medical marijuana from legitimate sources with a reliable product." But the 25-patient limit will "prevent the large grow operations that boomed under the current law."
     
  • Remove the restriction on providers from making a profit for providing medical pot or marijuana products.

    "My amendments do allow a provider to charge for their plant products and lift the no-profit restriction from the bill," he said.
     
  • Allow a provider to be both a grower and manufacturer of marijuana-infused products.

    "There has been no testimony that this now common practice has been a problem," he said.
     
  • Increase the number of patients that a physician could recommend medical marijuana before triggering a review by the state Board of Medical Examiners.

    The bill puts the number at 15; Schweitzer recommended increasing that to 50, which, he said, "will still certainly curtail the number of cardholders."
     
  • Require two physicians, rather than one, for a minor to be certified to be treated with medical marijuana in an edible form or topical cream.
     
  • Revise the bill to address constitutional problems concerning the medical marijuana patient's privacy.

    "The blanket disclosure requirement in the bill would never survive the strict scrutiny stand for invading a patient's right to privacy," he said."Handing over a list of cardholders to law enforcement is unfair to vulnerable patients who legitimately qualify for a card," he said. "I fear it would drive those patients to the illegal market for marijuana."
     
  • Change the bill so as not to allow law enforcement unlimited access, without permission or warrant, to the private homes of cardholders who grow their own marijuana.

    "Patients who grow their own plants were not the genesis of any of the problems that arose under the current law and should not now be subject to warrantless searches," Schweitzer said. "If law enforcement officers believe a patient is diverting their marijuana or growing beyond the allowed limits, they should properly investigate the matter, gain access through consent or through a search warrant."
     
  • Transfer the revising authority for approving a new medical condition for eligibility for medical marijuana treatment from the Legislature to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
     
  • Provide for "a more rational transition time" for providers to register and comply with the new law. He would make new effective date for some provisions Oct. 1 and for others July 1.
     
  • Require providers who grow and manufacture marijuana products to register their location with the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
     
  • Give the department rule-making authority to enable cardholders to receive a list of medical pot providers in a particular area.

    "Given that SB423 prohibits advertising and storefronts may be prohibited by local jurisdictions, it is essential patients are able to find a provider," Schweitzer said.
     
  • Give the Department of Public Health and Human Service authority to adopt rules regarding the transportation, possession of samples and testing and labeling of marijuana by laboratories around Montana.

But the legislature wasn't listening. While it did agree to remove the provision turning cardholders' names over to law enforcement and it agreed that providers could produce both buds and edibles, it kept the number of patients caregivers could serve at three and it kept the provision barring any compensation to medical marijuana providers, effectively gutting the state's emergent dispensary system.

"I don't believe the voters in 2004 voted to establish a regulated industry," said bill author Sen. Jeff Essman (R-Billings). "I believe we have taken a great step forward if we pass this bill today. I believe this allows truly ill individuals reasonable access, and I do believe reasonable access will be here," says Essmann.

The medical marijuana community disagrees, and had been counting on Schweitzer to come through with a veto. But now there are only a couple of days left to get him to change his mind. The decision is now Gov. Schweitzer's, and the clock is ticking.

Helena, MT
United States

Gov. Schweitzer: Medical Marijuana Overhaul Bill 'Unconstitutional'

Location: 
MT
United States
Calling the newly passed bill overhauling the state's medical marijuana law "unconstitutional on its face," Gov. Brian Schweitzer said he wants to issue an amendatory veto to fix the parts he considers legally defective. Schweitzer criticized the House for tabling in committee House Bill 68 by Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, proposed by a bipartisan interim committee after much study and many hearings last year. "They threw that in the garbage and now they're going to send bring me this (SB)423, which everybody's whose read it says, 'Oh yeah, it's unconstitutional.' "
Publication/Source: 
Missoulian (MT)
URL: 
http://missoulian.com/news/local/article_7e0b63de-70eb-11e0-ae0b-001cc4c002e0.html

Medical Marijuana Bill on Montana Legislature's Agenda

Location: 
MT
United States
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer says he hopes the Legislature gets the medical marijuana reform bill to him with enough time for him to make changes and send it back for their approval. He says when the bill gets to his desk, he's going to make sure legitimate patients still have the option to use cannabis.
Publication/Source: 
KPAX (MT)
URL: 
http://www.kpax.com/news/medical-marijuana-bill-on-montana-legislature-s-agenda/

Attorney General Paula Dow Wrong to Seek Federal Advice on Medical Marijuana (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 21, 2011

CONTACT: Ken Wolski at (609) 394-2137

Attorney General Paula Dow Wrong to Seek Federal Advice on Medical Marijuana

WHO:       Attorney General Paula Dow

WHAT:     Asked federal officials their plans to punish NJ’s Medicinal Marijuana Program participants  

WHEN:     April 19, 2011

WHERE: Trenton, NJ

WHY:        The federal government insists marijuana has no accepted medical uses in the U.S.

Attorney General Paula Dow sent letters to federal officials on April 19th asking them if they intend to punish anyone associated with New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program.  The attorney general even suggested ways that New Jerseyans might be punished—“civil suit or criminal prosecution,” the letters said.

A more appropriate approach would have been for the attorney general to tell the federal officials that if they dare to interfere with New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, she will sue them and fight them all the way to the Supreme Court, where she will win.  The U.S. Supreme Court has already acknowledged (in the Garden Grove decision) that states have the right to determine the proper practice of medicine within each state.  In the Garden Grove case the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court’s decision that said: "Congress enacted the Controlled Substances Act to combat recreational drug abuse and curb drug trafficking.  Its goal was not to regulate the practice of medicine, a task that falls within the traditional powers of the states.”

Ken Wolski, executive director of CMMNJ said, “There can be no doubt that every aspect of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program concerns access to physician-recommended medicine by desperately ill patients.  The 110 pages of regulations promulgated by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services to enact the Medicinal Marijuana Program is a monument to overly-cautious bureaucratic detail.  No one could possibly confuse it with drug abuse and drug trafficking.  The attorney general should instead be insisting that the federal government reschedule marijuana from its absurd Schedule I status.”

Schedule I drugs have no accepted medical uses in the U.S.  New Jersey—along with 14 other states and the District of Columbia—acknowledged medical uses for marijuana through legislation.  Another dozen states are considering similar legislation.  “It is the federal government that is wrong in this, not New Jersey.  State officials should not look to the feds for guidance on medical marijuana,” Wolski added.

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA, Executive Director, Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc.
219 Woodside Ave., Trenton, NJ  08618
609.394.2137 www.cmmnj.org   ohamkrw@aol.com

Location: 
NJ
United States

Fed Threat Puts Washington Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill in Doubt

A bill that would create a system of state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries and patient registries faces an uncertain future after Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) said she would not sign legislation that could get state employees in trouble with the feds.

The battle is joined over dispensaries in Washington, and the clock is ticking. (Image via Wikimedia.org
The bombshell statement came after she solicited the input of the state's two US Attorneys, Mike Orsmby in the Western District in Spokane and Jenny Durkan in the Eastern District in Seattle. The prosecutorial pair responded to Gregoire's inquiry with an April 14 letter warning of a possible federal response if the legislation passes.

"Growing, distributing and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities," Ormsby and Durkan wrote. "State employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability under the Controlled Substance Act."

"I will not sign anything subjecting state employees to prosecution," Gregoire said last week after receiving the letter.

The bill, Senate Bill 5073, has passed both houses, but needs to go before a conference committee to hammer out differences. Gregoire has urged legislators to send her a bill she can sign. They have until the end of the week to do so before the legislative session ends.

Some dispensary supporters are urging legislators to stand up to Gov. Gregoire, but others said the bill, as amended in the House, removed protections for patients and must be fixed in concurrence before going to the governor. The main House amendment removed protection from arrest from patients unless they signed onto the state's patient registry. And some are so unhappy with the bill, they would rather see it die.

The ACLU of Washington, which supports the bill, sent a letter to legislators over the weekend urging them to stand firm and saying the concerns expressed by Gregoire were overblown. The federal government has never prosecuted a state employee implementing a dispensary program, the letter pointed out, citing the example of New Mexico, where the state Department of Health administers the program.

The US Attorneys' letter displays the federal government's insistence on being part of the problem instead of part of the solution, said the letter, written by ACLU attorney Shankar Narayan. "The feds have promised no action to control the chaos of semi-legal businesses, yet balk at a law that regulates them sensibly," Narayan wrote. "The legislature and our governor must step in where the feds will not, so that patients can have access to medicine and communities are safe."

On Tuesday, the Seattle mayor, city council, and city attorney all signed a letter to the Senate calling the federal threats to state employees "specious" and urging that body to accept the House amendments and send a strong bill to Gov. Gregoire.

"The question we face is not whether or not we are going to have medical marijuana use in Washington State," the Seattle officials wrote. "The voters already decided that question more than a decade ago. The question we face is whether or not we will have a thoughtful and rational regulatory framework for the production, processing, and distribution of medical marijuana. In its current form SB 5073 provides much needed clarity to this important issue and we urge you to adopt it and send it to the governor."

Also on Tuesday, several dozen demonstrators showed up at the state capitol in Olympia calling on the governor to sign the dispensary bill. The protestors said Gregoire was abandoning patients and snubbing the will of the voters.

"We're in the early stages of making some noises to try to get the governor to change her position," said Philip Dawdy, a spokesman for the newly formed Washington Cannabis Association, which came together to support the bill.

Another activist group, the Cannabis Defense Coalition, however, is harshly critical of the bill as amended by the House, saying the House action had "torpedoed" the bill. The bill as amended by the House includes language "that removes arrest and search protection for authorized patients who choose not to notify the state of their medical treatment decisions and disqualifies parolees and people on probation from any medicinal use of cannabis," the group complained.

And pot provocateur and CannaCare dispensary operator Steve Sarich was even more harsh, telling the Seattle Weekly that the bill as amended by the House "eviscerated" patients' rights. Sarich led a small group of demonstrators to the ACLU of Washington offices last week to protest its support of the bill.

But now, it's up to the legislative conferees and the governor. Will the unpopular House amendment stand? Will the legislature stand up to the governor? Will the governor stand up to the feds? We will have the answers in a matter of days.

Olympia, WA
United States

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