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Drug Treatment: California's Prop. 36 Funding Takes Massive Hit

With California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and the state legislature desperate to eliminate a $26 billion budget deficit, the state's voter-approved Proposition 36, which mandates that low-level drug offenders be ordered to treatment instead of jail, is not immune from the budget axe. Under the budget agreement just hammered out, Prop. 36 funding will take a massive 83% cut in funding, from $108 million last year to just $18 million next year.

That means thousands of California drug offenders will get neither jail nor treatment. State law forbids jailing them, and there will be nowhere near enough money to treat them.

"The courts are still obligated to push the people into treatment, knowing that the funds, the programs, the services aren't there," said Haven Fearn, director of the Contra Costa County Health Services Department's Alcohol and Other Drug Services Division. "That's the craziness that everyone is having to deal with. What's the answer to that?" she told the Oakland Tribune.

"It's sort of silly, it's awfully close to having just eliminated the program. You get down to such a core level that it's of very little use to most people," said Gary Spicer, management services director at the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services Agency. "What you wind up with is a treatment delivery system that's monopolized by judicial referrals and no longer available at the community level," he said. "It's a harm that keeps on hurting," he told the Tribune.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said the slashed funding will result in "very long waiting lists" and drug offenders walking free while waiting for treatment.

Under Proposition 36, which was approved by 61% of voters in 2000, first- and second-time drug offenders must be sent to treatment, not jail. A UCLA study found that every dollar spent on Prop. 36 drug treatment would save the state between $2.50 and $4. The study estimated the program needs about $230 million a year to meet the judicially-referred treatment demand.

Prop. 36 mandated $120 million a year in state funding through the 2005-06 fiscal year, but since then the program has had to compete for funding with other state priorities. The legislature increased funding to $145 million in 2006-07, then cut it to $120 million in 2007-08, and cut it again to $108 million last year.

Feature: Two Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Have Been Filed in California for Next Year's Ballot

Last month, Drug War Chronicle reported that cannabusinessman and dispensary operator Richard Lee, creator of Oaksterdam and founder of Oaksterdam University, had assembled a team of activists, attorneys, political consultants and signature-gathering pros for an initiative to tax and regulate marijuana in California they hoped to place on the November 2010 election ballot. Drug reform organizations were apprehensive, however, worrying the proposed initiative was too soon, the polling numbers weren't high enough, and that a loss could take the steam out of the legalization push for years to come.

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Is reefer madness (e.g. marijuana prohibition) winding down?
Lee has pushed forward, such concerns notwithstanding; on Monday he and Oakland medical marijuana pioneer Jeff Jones filed the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010.

And then there were two. On July 15 -- two weeks prior, but with less heraldry -- a trio of NORML-affiliated Northern California attorneys filed the Tax, Regulate, and Control Cannabis Act of 2010.

To avoid confusion, we'll refer to the second as the Omar Figueroa initiative (coauthored by Joe Rogoway and James Clark) and the first as the Richard Lee initiative.

"Cannabis prohibition, like alcohol prohibition, is an expensive and ineffective waste of taxpayer money," said Figueroa.

"California's laws criminalizing cannabis have failed and need to be reformed," said Lee. "Cannabis is safer than alcohol. Cannabis doesn't cause overdose deaths or make people violent like alcohol. It makes sense to regulate cannabis like alcohol, instead of prohibiting it completely."

The Figueroa initiative is broader and would bring complete legalization under state law, while the Lee initiative would create semi-legalization, allowing adults to possess up to one ounce and grow their own in a 5' x 5' garden space. The Figueroa initiative would allow the state of California to tax marijuana sales, while the Lee initiative would allow cities and counties to tax marijuana sales. The Figueroa initiative would end marijuana prohibition statewide, while the Lee initiative would give cities and counties the local option to tax and regulate or not, but would also provide that people could still possess and grow the specified amounts even in locales that opt out of regulating.

"Our initiative repeals cannabis prohibition; Richard's just narrows the scope," said Figueroa, a San Francisco attorney specializing in medical marijuana and marijuana cultivation cases. "People would not be free to possess more than one ounce and there would be limitations on growing your own. And our initiative is going to have that big economic impact statement for the state budget that Richard's will not," he said.

"We worked for many weeks with Richard on his initiative, and we support both, but we think ours would result in more far-reaching change and would generate money for the state through tax revenues," Figueroa added. "We want to stimulate debate and provide an alternative to Richard's initiative, which we don't think would create enough change."

The initiative effort is moving forward and preparing to begin signature-gathering, said Figueroa, but its prospects are iffy. "We don't have the deep pockets Richard has," he said.

Lee has signed a $1.05 million contract with a signature-gathering organization and says he has already raised half of that sum. "We are confident we will be on the ballot," he said. "Then we need to raise another $10 to $20 million to win, depending on the opposition."

The initiatives come as the noise level around marijuana legalization in California grows ever louder. An April Field poll put support for legalization at 56%. Gov. Schwarzenegger said this year that the issue should be discussed, and the state Board of Equalization's estimate that legalization could generate $1.4 billion in revenue for the state has generated considerable interest. That estimate was a response to a bill before the legislature, Rep. Tom Ammiano's AB 390, which would legalize marijuana and allow the state to tax it.

Meanwhile, voters in Oakland last week overwhelmingly supported a special dispensary tax, another Richard Lee effort. And now the Los Angeles city council is considering doing the same thing.

The Figueroa initiative would appear to have more appeal to hard-core marijuana legalizers, but the Lee initiative has more money behind it and is more likely to actually make it to the ballot. That is making the Lee initiative the subject of more discussion as to its likelihood of passage. That discussion in turn has opened a window on just how complex the issues around legalization are, how difficult it is to create a "perfect" legalization initiative, and how difficult it is to decide if this is the time to act or whether it would be premature.

The major national marijuana and drug reform groups are generally skeptical that a legalization initiative can win in California in 2010. They also worry about the impact of a defeat on the movement.

"We're concerned about the timing and we're not sure it's the best worded initiative," said Dan Bernath, assistant communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It is getting the conversation about marijuana policy reform going, but we're concerned it could set the movement back if it loses. We're more interested in Ammiano's bill," he said.

"We would like [the Lee initiative] to win," said Steven Gutwillig, California State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, whose funding of Proposition 215 helped make medical marijuana legal in the state, "and we're not that concerned that losing would be an enormous setback to the movement unless it really loses big. We are looking to end marijuana prohibition as quickly and effectively as possible, and if this is the way to do it, we're all for it."

But unlike the Prop. 215 effort, DPA will be cheering from the sidelines. "We're not an official proponent of this and we're not in a position to fund a campaign of this scale anytime soon," said Gutwillig. "We're still relatively fresh from the $7.5 million campaign to pass Proposition 5 sentencing reforms, which didn't go the right way."

Lee is optimistic, and he thinks that now, rather than 2012 as others have suggested, is the time. "We have poll numbers that show a majority, and we have the terrible economy working for us," he said. Lee pointed to the budgetary crisis afflicting California cities and counties, which lost big in the latest state budget. "The governor and legislature stole a bunch of money from the cities and counties, and this could help them recoup some of the money they're losing," Lee argued.

Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML, worries the lack of a provision for taxation directly by the state will hurt the initiative at the polls, even if the potential revenues for counties and cities are equivalent. "The state always writes a financial analysis on initiatives, and I suspect this one will say uncertain or none." Gieringer pointed to the Board of Equalization's $1.4 billion estimate. "The tax benefits make this a sexy issue, and sacrificing that sacrifices most of the appeal of legalization to non-users."

Still, if it's happening, CANORML will support it. "We support anything that improves the marijuana laws," said Gieringer. "There is a lot of enthusiasm right now, and people want to do something for legalization."

"Omar Figueroa and Richard Lee are both pushing the envelope," said national NORML head Allen St. Pierre, who was more sanguine about the effort than MPP or DPA, though only slightly. "These initiatives are a good thing; I just don't know if they will be successful. Even if they aren't, they will move the ball forward on the public discussion of the issue. When we have public discussions about reform, the longer and deeper the discussion, the more it breaks toward reform."

The Lee initiative in particular is a harbinger of things to come and demonstrates changing dynamics within the California marijuana reform movement, said St. Pierre. "What is really changing drastically is that this will be driven by cannabusinesses' ability to raise and spend money, not by one or two elite wealthy people whose stake in this is magnitudes less than say, Richard Lee, who has created Oaksterdam."

There is another reason for the local option, said Lee. "It gets us around federal law. We don't have any other way until federal law changes because the state would be in conflict with federal law. But we had cities taxing medical marijuana outlets; that's why we wrote it that way."

Will the competing initiatives both make it to the ballot? If they do, can they win? Will it fly in Fresno? Will the threat of an initiative spur the legislature to act on the Ammiano legalization bill? Stay tuned. It looks like very interesting times are ahead.

Marijuana: Decrim a Done Deal in Cook County

Last Friday, Drug War Chronicle reported that the Cook County (greater Chicago) Board had passed a marijuana decriminalization ordinance Tuesday, but that there were mixed signals from Board President Todd Stroger about whether he would sign it or veto it. After equivocating for a couple of days, however, Stroger has told the Chicago Tribune that he will not veto decriminalization.

The measure will go into effect in unincorporated areas of Cook County in 60 days. It will not automatically go into effect in towns and cities in the county, but it will give those municipalities the option of adopting it. Under the ordinance, police officers will have the option of issuing $200 tickets for people caught in possession of 10 grams or less instead of arresting and booking them.

The move has caused some controversy in Illinois, with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who once supported decriminalization, ridiculing it, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) offering tepid semi-support. Five years ago, Daley supported decrim as a revenue enhancement measure and because "it's decriminalized now... they throw all the cases out."

But Daley was singing a different tune this week. "People say you cannot smoke... They said, 'Please don't smoke.' Now, everybody's saying, 'Let's all smoke marijuana.' After a while, you wonder where America is going," the mayor said. "Pretty soon, the headline [will be], 'Let's bring cigarettes back. It makes people feel calmer, quieter, relaxing.'… We said you cannot smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is bad for you. Now all the sudden, marijuana smoking is good for you. Can we take Lucky Strikes, mix 'em together and say, 'Smoking is coming back in the United States?'"

The mayor continued to confuse lessening the penalties for pot possession with advocating its widespread use in his remarkably incoherent remarks. "The issue is really clouded. It's a health issue. We're worried about health care for everyone and, all of the sudden, we think marijuana smoking is the best thing if someone drives down the expressway, someone's driving a cab, someone's driving a bus, someone's flying a plane. After a while, where do you go?" the mayor said.

Gov. Quinn, for his part, suggested that he is open to local decriminalization ordinances, but declined to actually endorse the Cook County Board vote. "I think it's important that counties assess what their law enforcement priorities are," he told Chicago Public Radio. "Crimes that are not grievous crimes against persons need to be looked at," he added.

Feature: Colorado Medical Marijuana Supporters Defeat Effort to Restrict Caregivers, Dispensaries

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Colorado state medical marijuana application
Monday night, Colorado's rapidly increasing number of medical marijuana patients and burgeoning medical marijuana industry won a major victory against state regulators trying to cramp their style -- and fiddle with a medical marijuana law written into the state constitution by voter initiative nine years ago. After a marathon public hearing packed with nearly 400 medical marijuana supporters, the Colorado Board of Health rejected a controversial proposal from the state Department of Public Health and Environment that would have tightened up the definition of a caregiver and would have limited caregivers to providing for no more than five patients.

The vote comes on the heels of Rhode Island legislation establishing a dispensary system, the third state in the nation to legislatively approve dispensaries, and the first on the east coast. Rhode Island's legislature last month overrode a veto by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) to pass the law, which they did 35-3 in the Senate and 67-0 in the House.

"It's a great win for Colorado," said a tired but elated Brian Vicente Tuesday morning. "We took on the machine and won."

Vicente is head of Sensible Colorado, which worked with Colorado NORML, SAFER, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Americans for Safe Access to spearhead the campaign to keep the Colorado program intact.

The Board of Health was originally scheduled to vote on the proposal in February, but was forced to postpone the vote until it could find a venue large enough to accommodate the hundreds of people who wanted to have their voices heard during a public hearing. A 2004 effort by the Board of Health to impose similar restrictions was thrown out by the courts because it held no public hearing then.

"The health department seems to be a glutton for punishment," said Vicente. "This is the second time we've beaten them on this issue. I'm fairly confident this will keep them quiet for awhile."

"The rejection of this silly proposal is symbolic of a new, more sensible approach to marijuana being taken in this state and nationwide," said SAFER's Mason Tvert. "For too long, public policies have been designed by law enforcement officials who seem more concerned with preserving power than the health and safety of those they serve. The Colorado Board of Health didn't fall for it this time. We can only hope other health and government officials around the nation will follow their example and also turn a critical eye to our nation's failed marijuana policies."

Between February and now, the state's medical marijuana program has gone into overdrive. The number of patients is increasingly dramatically, with some 2,000 patients added in June, bringing the state's total to more than 9,000. And with the change of administrations in Washington, dispensaries have begun proliferating. There are now nearly 40, most of them in the Denver metro area. Nearly 600 different physicians have issued recommendations for medical marijuana.

Two provisions of the health department proposal earned the most denunciations from patients and providers: One would tighten the definition of who qualifies as a licensed caregiver; the other would limit the number of patients a caregiver can provide for to five. There is currently no limit on the number of patients a caregiver can grow or otherwise provide for.

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Colorado medical marijuana certificate (courtesy Cannabis Culture Magazine)
Supporters of the proposal -- basically limited to police, prosecutors, and the state's chief medical officer -- told the Board of Health Monday that the current situation was susceptible to fraud and caused confusion over who could legally grow.

Dr. Ned Calonge, the chief medical officer, warned that the medical marijuana program will "continue to grow out of control" unless the restrictive rules were adopted. The 2000 initiative defines caregivers as people who have a "significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a patient," he said, adding that he did not think that allowed for the creation of dispensaries.

Capping the number of patients a caregiver could provide for at five was reasonable, Calonge said. "We define a primary caregiver as significantly participating in a patient's everyday care," he said. "If those caregivers are making home visits to each patient, considering travel time, they could visit five patients a day. We believe we have ample precedent and supportive evidence for this number," he said.

Denver Assistant District Attorney Helen Morgan told the board some counties aren't prosecuting marijuana grows because of confusion over who is allowed to grow medical marijuana. She also said that authorities in Denver have found large marijuana grows whose operators claim to be providing medical marijuana.

That claim was echoed by Holly Dodge, deputy district attorney for El Paso County, who spoke on behalf of the Colorado District Attorney's Council. "There is no way of appropriately protecting a patient when they have a caregiver with 300 other patients," she said. "That's not caregiving, that's marijuana growing."

But Calonge, Dodge, and Morgan were definitely in the minority, with the sometimes raucous crowd hissing and booing their comments. For most of the day, the board heard from patient after patient, as well as caregivers, dispensary operators, and doctors, that the system was working just fine as it is. The board was also clearly warned that it would be slapped with an already prepared lawsuit today if it voted to adopt the restrictive proposal.

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Colorado Marijuana Boot Camp for activists, organized by SAFER

One physician opposing the restrictive proposal was Dr. Paul Bregman, who warned it would drive patients to the streets in search of their medicine. "More regulation drives people to the black market, and that means patient care suffers," said Bregman.

Damien LaGoy told the board he smokes marijuana to counter the side effects, including nausea, of his daily doses of HIV medication. He gets his medicine from a caregiver who serves nine people, he said, adding that if couldn't use that caregiver he would be forced to trawl Colfax Avenue in search of street dealers. "I might as well not have a license and just go buy it on the street like everyone else," he said.

Dispensary operator Jim Bent told the board the proposal threatened patient health and treated marijuana dispensaries unfairly. "If this law passes, patients will lose their access to safe medicine and some will die," he said. "Please be compassionate." Bent also rejected any limits on the number of patients a dispensary can handle. "I'd like to be under the same standards as Walgreens or a Wal-Mart pharmacy," he said.

Former Denver senior deputy district attorney Lauren Davis told the board the proposal would not address law enforcement concerns raised earlier in the day and could even be counterproductive. "Limiting caregivers will increase the number of small-grower operations," she said.

At the end of the day, the Board of Health agreed with opponents of the rule change. It voted 6-3 to reject the proposal.

"They received more emails and written comments on this than they had on any issue in history," said Vicente. "They had hundreds of people show up to testify against this. They heard from an impressive array of experts, doctors, lawyers, writers of the law, sick patients, and caregivers. The board listened."

Marijuana: Cook County Board Passes Decriminalization Ordinance, But Veto Possibility Looms

The Cook County (greater Chicago) Board Tuesday night passed a measure decriminalizing the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana, but it is unclear if Board President Todd Stroger will allow it to take effect. He told the Chicago Tribune that he wasn't ready to commit one way or another.

Under the ordinance, police officers would have the ability to issue a ticket with a $200 fine rather than making an arrest and filing criminal charges. If enacted, the ordinance would at first apply only to those unincorporated areas of the county where the commission is in charge. But the move would give municipal police forces within the county, including Chicago, the option to adopt decriminalization as well.

"Why bog down the courts with that kind of thing when we can just charge them a little fine instead?" said Commissioner Earlean Collins, chief sponsor of the measure, who added that her grandson had been arrested and jailed for a small amount of marijuana. "That's what this ordinance in the state allows us to do, to charge them a little fine, and then we will collect the fine rather than them charging them, taking them to the jail lockup, having them the next morning show up in court, and then bogging down the system, and they take the fine," she said.

"Lots of college towns do this," said Commissioner Bill Beavers. "We're just catching up to the 21st century."

Unsurprisingly, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart thought the move was premature. "It should be looked at, but as far as decriminalizing it, there needs to be a real thorough debate before people go down that road as far as what A, scientifically what information shows, but then B, what prosecutorially have been done with the cases," Dart said.

But Board President Stroger was initally coy about his possible veto plans. "I don't know. I wasn't paying enough attention to it. I'll find out about it later," Stroger said. "I can't comment on it."

By Wednesday morning, though, Stogner told local radio host Greg Jarrett he didn't think it was a good idea. "I'm not really an advocate of trying to decriminalize the drug that people start before they move on to the higher stuff," echoing the discredited "gateway theory" that marijuana use leads to harder drug use.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was equally coy when asked about the ordinance Wednesday. "We just had a ban on smoking. People say you can't smoke, they said, 'Please don't smoke.' And now everyone's saying, 'Let's all smoke marijuana.' I mean, after a while you wonder where America's going to," Daley said. But when asked directly whether he was against the ordinance, Daley waffled. The issue is "really clouded," he said, declining to stake out a position.

That's something of a retreat for Mayor Daley. Just a few years ago, he supported decriminalization in Chicago, saying most minor pot cases were thrown out. "If 99 percent of the cases are thrown out and we have police officers going to court, why?" Daley asked then. "It costs you a lot of money for police officers to go to court... You have to look at that... proposal."

But Board President Stoger is the man with the power to kill the ordinance, not Daley. If he does veto the measure, it will be tough to override. Under board rules, it takes 14 votes on the 18-person council to override. The measure did not pass by that great a margin.

Colorado Hearing on Proposed Medical Marijuana Caregiver Restrictions Going on Now--You Can Listen In

Last Friday, the Chronicle did a feature article on proposed rule changes in Colorado's medical marijuana program. State bureacrats want to tighten the definition of caregiver and they want to reduce the number of patients a caregiver can provide for to five. That would wreak havoc with the state's burgeoning dispensary industry. That hearing is going on right now. I just listened in for a few minutes, and it sounds like a full house. This is a room that seats 500. The largest attendance at any previous Board of Health meeting has been about a dozen, so it seems like Colorado's medical marijuana constituency is out in force. The Board is expected to announce whether it will accept the restrictive rule changes at the end of the day. You can listen in, too, if you so desire. Dial 1-866-899-5399, then punch in the conference room number: *3529725* and you're listening. Don't forget to punch in the * before and after the conference room number.

Feature: Colorado Hearing Monday on Plan to Limit Dispensaries Expected to Draw Loud Opposition

Update: Medical marijuana supporters WON -- the proposal was defeated.

On Monday, the Colorado Board of Health will hold a key public hearing on a controversial proposal to impose restrictions on the state's medical marijuana providers. The board is likely to get an angry earful from patients and providers worried that the restrictions will effectively shutter the state's burgeoning dispensaries and make it more difficult for patients to obtain their medicine.

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sign of the times
Colorado authorities tried the same thing five years ago, but a state judge slapped them down for failing to hold any hearings. They are also somewhat hamstrung because the measure passed as a constitutional amendment, making any alteration of it constitutionally suspect.

The hearing comes as participation in Colorado's medical marijuana program has gone into overdrive. The number of registered patients is rapidly approaching 10,000, up from only 1,700 a few years ago. The number of physicians making medical marijuana recommendations is nearing 600. The number of dispensaries in the state has undergone a jump in recent months, and is now approaching 40.

If approved, the draft proposal from the Department of Public Health and Environment would put a real crimp in the Colorado medical marijuana boom. Two provisions of the proposal that are earning the most denunciations from patients and providers: One would tighten the definition of who qualifies as a licensed caregiver; the other would limit the number of patients a caregiver can provide for to five. There is currently no limit on the number of patients for whom a caregiver can grow or otherwise provide.

"There are two major problems with the proposal," said Denver attorney Warren Edson, one of the coauthors of the voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana in the state. "The biggest problem is their redefinition to include the requirement that caregivers provide other services. The second biggest problem is the attempt to regulate a five patient limit."

"The proposed caregiver limit is a solution in search of a problem," said Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation), which while concentrating on recreational use, also supports the state's existing medical marijuana program. "It would actually create several problems for the thousands of Coloradans whose doctors recommended they use marijuana to treat their debilitating conditions. Imagine walking into a pharmacy to pick up the medicine your doctor recommended, only to be turned away because it has already helped five people," he said.

"As if such a patient limit isn't ridiculous enough, these state bureaucrats have failed to provide even a single justification for why it's necessary," Tvert continued. "After all, pharmacies distribute countless medications that are potentially dangerous and frequently abused, whereas medical marijuana dispensaries distribute a substance less toxic and less addictive than beer."

The Department of Public Health and Environment indeed steadfastly refused to comment on its proposals. "The department's position will be outlined at a public hearing on July 20," was all it would say, which is a bit odd since the department's position is already outlined in the draft proposal set to be slammed on Monday.

Denver attorney Robert Correy has crafted an alternate to the department proposal (see it at the proposal link above), and is warning the board it would be wise to adopt his and not the department's. "My proposal would guard caregivers' anonymity, and was prompted by the murder of caregiver Ken Gorman," he said. "It would be much better for caregivers and patients, and it is much more consistent with the constitution than the health department proposal."

Adopting the health department proposal would amount to amending the constitution, said Correy. "While the Health Board can pretty much vote independent of what the public wants, it can't amend the constitution through regulation, which is what this proposal would do. The changes are radical and diametrically opposed to the constitutional definitions of caregivers and patients' rights," he argued.

The Monday hearing was originally set for March, but officials rescheduled it when it became apparent that the controversial proposals would draw a huge number of people wanting to offer public comments on it. Now, it has been relocated to Denver college campus conference room that can fit 500 people, but medical marijuana supporters say that may not be enough.

One person who will be there is Jim Bent, co-owner of the Patients Choice dispensary on South Broadway in Denver, which provides for some 300 patients. "I'll be handing out bottled water and snacks to help people stay there through the day so the board can see the level of support the current approach has," he said.

"If those proposed rules went into effect, I would have to lay off employees," said Bent, "We wouldn't be able to provide the services we currently do," which currently include massage therapy, music therapy, acupuncture, and nutrition classes. "With so many patients, we can get a discount rate, but if we were only taking care of five people, as the proposal recommends, we couldn't afford to do that."

Patients Choice is a shining example of the wave of dispensaries that have opened in Colorado since the Obama administration made it clear that it was not going to sic the DEA on medical marijuana providers operating in accord with state laws. More than 30 dispensaries have opened this year, transforming the face of medical marijuana in the Rocky Mountain state.

"When Obama said he would leave this alone, we had a shift from people in the black market trying to squeeze over," said Edson. "But now it is business people running real businesses. Thanks to Obama and the poor state of the rest of the economy, this is really snowballing. We added 1,200 patients and four big dispensaries in May alone."

Patients and providers are of the opinion that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, said Edson. "We have a system that is working, and I think the Board of Health is going to find out Monday that there will be a thousand people there telling them not to approve those changes," he said.

That would be a clear sign of the importance of the existing program for patients and providers, he said. "The board has never had more than a dozen people at its hearings for anything, but when they had 200 people show up for the pre-hearing earlier this year, that was a loud signal. Now, they've rescheduled in a room that holds 500, and that isn't going to be enough. They are supposed to go by public opinion, and public opinion will be incredibly lopsided telling them not to adopt these changes," Edson warned.

If, in the face of the expected near universal condemnation of the proposal, the Health Board members adopt it, Robert Correy will be waiting for them. "I will be ready to serve them with the lawsuit in person right after the vote," he vowed. "We'll be in court Tuesday morning before the same judge who slapped them down when they tried this in 2004."

Feature: California Tax Authority Says Legal Marijuana Could Generate $1.4 Billion in Tax Revenue a Year

California could take in nearly $1.4 billion a year in tax revenues from legal marijuana sales, the state Board of Equalization said in a report released Wednesday. The report was an analysis of the fiscal impact of a pending marijuana regulation, taxation, and legalization bill, AB 390, introduced in February by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).

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cash crop in waiting
The Board of Equalization estimates are slightly higher than a similar analysis by California NORML. That analysis estimated annual marijuana tax revenues at between $1.01 billion and $1.26 billion.

The Board of Equalization estimates that a $50-an-ounce fee on marijuana sales would generate $990 million a year. The state would also take in an additional $392 million annually in sales tax revenues. The board did not supply an estimate of the costs associated with implementing the bill, but said it would incur "substantial administrative costs." It also noted that there could be a decline in alcohol and tobacco tax revenues if a substitution effect occurred. In other words, some smokers and tipplers might switch to pot if it were legal.

Based on a review of the literature, the board estimated that annual marijuana consumption in California was one million pounds, or 16 million ounces. The board assumed that the legalization of marijuana would cause a 50% retail price drop, which would increase consumption by 40%, but that the imposition of the $50-an-ounce fee would cause that later figure to drop by 11%.

The revenue estimate comes as California grapples with a huge fiscal crisis. The state is running a $26 billion budget deficit, state employees are being furloughed or laid off, and some vendors and recipients of cash payments from the state are now being paid with IOUs.

As currently written, however, the Ammiano bill would not direct revenues into the state's general fund. Instead, they would be dedicated to drug prevention and rehabilitation programs.

That bill could get a hearing this fall, an Ammiano spokesman told the Chronicle Thursday. "Right now, we are tentatively looking at a hearing date around the end of the year," said Quintin Mecke in Ammiano's San Francisco district office.

"It defies reason to propose closing parks and eliminating vital services for the poor while this potential revenue is available," Ammiano said in a statement.

That sentiment was echoed by California NORML's Dale Gieringer, author of the report mentioned above. "With the state in dire financial straits, it makes no sense for taxpayers to be paying to arrest, prosecute and imprison marijuana offenders, when they could be reaping revenues from a legally regulated market," he said.

The report is also contributing to the ever-increasing buzz about marijuana legalization in California. Last week, the Marijuana Policy Project unveiled a TV spot touting the Ammiano bill. The ad, and its rejection by a handful of TV stations in major California markets, drew renewed national media attention to the issue, and this week, the Board of Equalization report is drawing media like flies to honey.

"The release of the estimate has certainly caused a new round of attention to the issue," said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "The TV business channels have been especially interested. I was just interviewed by CNBC's Power Lunch, and Fox Business News is also very interested, as well as other media. The interest is certainly continuing," he said.

The report only adds to the growing momentum for marijuana legalization in the state, said Mirken. "It definitely bolsters the case that this is a significant pot of money sitting out there that the state is turning away right now."

The state government isn't the only California entity to express interest in marijuana tax revenues this week. Also on Wednesday, Los Angeles City Council members Janice Hahn, Dennis Zine, and Bill Rosendahl introduced a motion asking city finance officials to look into taxing medical marijuana sales in a bid to close the city's budget gap.

Los Angeles is home to hundreds of dispensaries -- estimates range from 400 to 700 -- doing a thriving business. Hahn argued that taxing the dispensaries could generate significant revenues. The motion itself alluded to a proposed tax increase on medical marijuana dispensaries in Oakland -- proposed by the dispensaries themselves -- which is projected to bring in $300,000 for city coffers. Oakland has only four dispensaries.

Also on Wednesday, supporters of a proposed 2010 ballot initative, the Tax, Regulate, and Control Cannabis Act submitted the measure to the attorney general's office. Spearheaded by Oaksterdam University's Richard Lee, the measure would repeal all state and local laws criminalizing marijuana.

Under California law, the attorney general must provide a ballot summary before supporters can begin gathering signatures. That is only a first step in getting the measure to voters next year. Organizers would then have to gather 443,000 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

It is unclear at this point whether the ballot initiative organizers are planning a serious effort to make the 2010 ballot or if they are just laying down a place marker to keep their options open. In any case, it is increasingly clear that the pot is boiling over in California.

Medical Marijuana: Hawaii Legislature Overrides Veto of Bill to Study Program Problems

The Hawaii legislature Wednesday voted to override Republican Gov. Linda Lingle's veto of a bill that would establish a task force to examine problems and critical issues surrounding the state's medical marijuana law. Legislators voted to enact the bill, SB 1058, by a margin of 25-0 in the Senate and 38-9 in the House.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/volcano-national-park.jpg
Volcano National Park, Hawaii Island
Hawaii became the first state to legalize medical marijuana through the legislative process when it passed its law in 2000. But patients and providers have complained over the years about various aspects of the law -- the program's administration by law enforcement instead of health officials, for example -- and have been urging the legislature to take a second look.

Now it will. Under the bill, the task force will:

  • Examine current state statutes, state administrative rules, and all county policies and procedures relating to the medical marijuana program;
  • Examine all issues and obstacles that qualifying patients have encountered with the program;
  • Examine all issue and obstacles that state and county law enforcement agencies have encountered with the program;
  • Compare and contrast Hawaii's program with all other state programs; and
  • Address other issues and perform any other function necessary as the task force deems appropriate, relating to the program.

I Visited Imprisoned Medical Marijuana Patient Will Foster in Jail Last Night

I finally made into the Sonoma County Jail yesterday to visit medical marijuana patient Will Foster, who has been sitting there for the past 16 months first fighting off a bogus marijuana cultivation charge--since dropped by prosecutors--and now fighting off the zealous efforts of Oklahoma parole authorities to return him to the state where he was originally sentenced to a cruel and insane 93 years in prison. I don't want to recount the entire sorry tale--you can read my recent article about his case here--but in a nutshell: Thanks in part to a publicity campaign started by DRCNet, Foster was able to get that horrid original sentence reduced to 20 years, he eventually won release and was paroled to California, which released him from parole after three years of good behavior. That wasn't good enough for Oklahoma, which still wants a few more pounds of flesh. Oklahoma issued a parole violation extradition warrant a few years back, which foster successfully--and unusually--beat with a habeas corpus writ, a California judge throwing out the warrant. So Oklahoma parole officials issued another extradition warrant, this time trying to add new charges after the fact to increase Foster's potential exposure. That warrant is keeping him in jail right now. Foster and his allies are conducting a two-track effort to win his release: First, a political track attempting to get either the California governor or the Oklahoma governor to rescind the extradition warrant. You can help with this. Ed Rosenthal has a Free Will Foster blog post that will show you what actions to take. Second, Foster has prepared another habeas writ. It will have a hearing August 4, and I will attend. He could walk free that day, but he might want to walk fast--Oklahoma is vowing to immediately issue a new extradition warrant. To me, that's a sign of what vengeful, vindictive, authoritarian pricks inhabit the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. But that's just me. There may be a protest at his hearing. Details are sketchy at this point, but if you're in the neighborhood and interested, just email me for now: psmith@drcnet.org After 16 months in the slammer, Foster isn't looking so good. He's got big dark circles under his eyes and his skin has that jailhouse pallor. He has long suffered from arthritis, which is what he used marijuana for, and he also suffers from injuries in a car accident a couple of months before he was arrested and jailed. The nice folks at the Sonoma jail have plied him with all sorts of pharmaceuticals, but no pot, of course. Still, Foster remains strong in spirit and firm in his resolve. This guy is a determined fighter, not just for his freedom, but for what is right. Will Foster never hurt a soul. Why years of his life have been taken away from him and his loved ones for growing a plant is beyond me. If you believe in justice, take the time to help him out. Will Foster isn't the only drug war POW, but he is fortunate in the sense that at least some one is paying attention to his plight. Today is Bastille Day. In lieu of mob action to free the prisoners, will you pay some attention to a drug war prisoner you know? Send a letter? Make a visit? Send a check to commisary? Agitate with your elected officials? Something? Let's not forget our imprisoned brothers and sisters!

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