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Detroit Marijuana Legalization Measure to Get Vote

A marijuana legalization initiative in Detroit was improperly barred from the ballot in 2010, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The appeals court decision overturned the ruling of a Wayne County judge, who had sided with the Detroit Elections Commission's decision to keep the measure off the ballot because they thought it conflicted with state and federal law.

"It was outside the authority of (city officials) to consider the substance and effect of the initiative and defendants have a clear legal duty to place the matter on the ballot," the court held in a 2-1 decision.

That means that unless the city appeals the decision, the measure should be on the August municipal ballot.

[Update: Detroit law department corporation counsel Krystal Crittendon said this week that the city plans to appeal, and it did so Wednesday.]

Sponsored by the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, the initiative would remove from the municipal code all references to the adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in private from the municipal code, in effect legalizing up to an ounce within the city limits. The initiative would not change state law, which still criminalizes marijuana possession.

The appeals court ruling marked "a great day for voters' rights in the city of Detroit," the Coalition's Tim Beck told the Detroit Free Press Friday. The election commission's decision to deny the measure a spot on the ballot was "total hocus-pocus," Beck said. "We did everything right. Every 'i' was dotted, every 't' crossed."

There is an ongoing campaign led by the Committee for a Safer Michigan to put a legalization initiative on the statewide ballot in November, but it appears likely voters in the state's largest city will have the chance to make their voices heard well before then.

Detroit, MI
United States

Welfare Drug Test Bills Fail in South Dakota, Virginia

The push to mandate drug testing for recipients of public benefits is sweeping statehouses across the country this year, but in two states, those efforts hit a roadblock last week. In South Dakota and Virginia, bills were either defeated or deferred.

In South Dakota, the House Health and Human Services Committee last Monday killed a pair of bills that would have required people receiving welfare or Medicaid benefits to undergo random, suspicionless drug testing. House Bill 1268, introduced by Rep. Mark Kirkeby, would have directed the state to create a drug testing pilot program for Medicaid recipients, while House Bill 1174, introduced by Rep. Mark Venner (R-Pierre), would have mandated drug testing for welfare recipients based on "reasonable cause." Both bills would have thrown people who tested positive off the programs.

But after Social Services Secretary Kil Malsam-Rysdon testified that federal law barred drug testing for people on Medicaid and that drug testing welfare recipients hadn't saved any money where it had been implemented, the two measures were voted down, or, in South Dakota's unique legislative language "deferred to the 41st legislative day." (The session only lasts 40 days.)

"If this passes, Medicaid in South Dakota would not exist," she said, referring to Kirkeby's bill. As for Venner's bill, if people suspect welfare recipients are using drugs, they should call the cops or children's services officials, Malsam-Rysdon said. "There are other systems to deal with illegal drug use," she added.

That same day, a Virginia House Appropriations Committee subcommittee voted to defer action on a welfare drug testing bill for this session. Two days later, the committee followed the lead of the subcommittee, so the bill will see no further action this year, although it could be taken up again next year.

The bill, House Bill 73, would have required local social service agencies to screen welfare recipients for probable cause they were using drugs, and if probable cause was found, subject them to a full substance abuse assessment, which could include drug tests. Participants who failed the drug test would have been ineligible for benefits for a year unless they completed a drug treatment program.

Legislators expressed concern about the bill's cost after the Department of Planning and Budget estimated that the drug testing provision would cost the state $1.3 million in its first year and $1 million a year thereafter.

"It's just that the money situation is tight," subcommittee Chair Del. Riley Ingram (R-Hopewell) said Monday explaining his vote.

A companion measure in the Senate, though, is still alive. It is before the Senate Finance Committee.

Medical Marijuana Update

Busy, busy, busy, at every level from federal rescheduling through bills in the states to local decision-making. The medical marijuana world continues to be very active.

Alabama

On Tuesday, Rep. K.L. Brown (R-40th District) filed House Bill 66, the Alabama Medical Marijuana Patients Rights Act. It would allow patients with certain conditions to use marijuana to treat their conditions with a doctor's recommendation. The bill is backed by the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, which held a public meeting in Huntsville last Saturday to garner more awareness on the proposal.

Arizona

The House has passed a bill, HB 2349, which bars registered medical marijuana patients from possessing their medicine on college campuses, including dormitories. The bill, authored by Rep. Amanda Reeve (R-Phoenix), applies to universities, technical colleges, colleges, and public schools. It amends a portion of the state's medical marijuana law that bans the use or possession of medical marijuana at public schools or jails.

California

Last Wednesday, the Studio City Neighborhood Council rejected a "gentle ban" on dispensaries on a 5-4 vote. The vote was on a motion to show support for a law being considered by the Los Angeles City Council that would prohibit all medical marijuana businesses citywide.

Last Thursday, Citrus Heights police arrested two people in connection with the operation of a dispensary. Police said the dispensary was "illegal" because the proprietors were profiting from the criminal sale of marijuana. Police also noted that the city of Citrus Heights has a moratorium barring dispensaries within the city limits.

Last Tuesday, Riverside police in SWAT gear arrested a dispensary operator who they said used fake information to get a business license after his initial request was refused. Jimmie Sutterfield, the proprietor of Discount Patient Care, was booked on suspicion of filing false documents in a public office, perjury and burglary, all felony charges.

In a January 26 letter made public last week, Riverside city officials asked federal prosecutors to enforce the marijuana ban in their city. Riverside City Attorney Greg Priamos and Police Chief Sergio Diaz US Attorney André Birotte Jr., who has jurisdiction over the Inland area, for assistance "in combating the illegal storefront marijuana distribution in the city of Riverside that openly flouts federal, state and local law."

Last Friday, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled that the city can refuse to issue a certain type of business license to medical marijuana distributors. Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp ruled the city cannot be required to take actions that amount to an illegal act. Because federal law takes precedence over state law, Trapp held, "issuing a business tax certificate under these circumstances would tend to aid in an unlawful purpose." The suit had been brought by Wisdom Organics, which had applied for a license to operate a medical marijuana delivery service.

Over the weekend, medical marijuana pioneer Dennis Peron said he opposed a medical marijuana initiative that would tax and regulate the industry. The Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Tax Act (MMRCTA) is "too vague," Peron said. He also worried that allowing the UCFW to cosponsor the measure and have a seat on its proposed board would mean "that they can force every one of those entities to join their union and pay them dues."

On Monday, the Coalition for a Drug Free California urged people around the state to inform on dispensaries to the IRS in hopes of garnering a hefty reward.

On Tuesday, the Lake County Board of Supervisors voted to shut down a Middleton dispensary. The 4-1 vote will finish the process of shutting down the H2C Collective. The county is in the process of using abatement proceedings to shut down dispensaries after public discontent forced it to rescind a regulatory ordinance. The county argues that dispensaries are not allowed under county zoning laws.

On Tuesday, the city of Vallejo settled a lawsuit with a former dispensary operator. Stan the Man's Collective was sued by the city in July 2010 as a public nuisance, and fines reaching thousands of dollars had piled up before Stan's closed in October 2010. Under the agreement, Stan's will stay closed, but the fines are dismissed, and no other dispensaries are affected.

Also on Tuesday, the Costa Mesa City Council got an earful from unhappy patients and dispensary operators for inviting federal officials to crack down on dispensaries there. Federal authorities cracked down on Costa Mesa dispensaries last month, raiding two of them and issuing warning letters to at least two-dozen others.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Ana medical marijuana supporters began a municipal initiative effort to allow dispensaries to operate under certain guidelines, for instance, limiting hours to 9:00am to 9:00pm, forbidding loitering and smoking on the premises, and restricting patients to 21 and older, unless there's a parent or guardian. Proponents said they were responding to complaints from residents.

Also on Tuesday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted to cap the number of dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county at nine. The county joins three local cities that have allowed dispensaries with caps. There are two outlets in Santa Rosa, one in Cotati and one in Sebastopol. The remaining six cities in the county ban dispensaries.

Colorado

Last Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that people on probation cannot use medical marijuana because it is a violation of federal law. The case is Colorado v. Watkins.

Last Friday, a state district court judge in Fort Collins issued a temporary restraining order directing city and state officials to not enforce provisions of voter-approved ban on dispensaries until a hearing can be conducted on a lawsuit challenging its legality. Voters approved the ban in November, but six local businesses filed a lawsuit over it last week. The lawsuit claims the ban violates the state constitution and would irreparably harm their livelihoods.

On Tuesday, the Boulder City Council approved a nine-month moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses. The council originally was considering a blanket six-month moratorium, but the leaders decided to extend the length of the ban to nine months and exempt existing businesses so they can make changes -- such as seek an expansion or relocation -- if needed. The exemption will kick in March 8. According to city records, Boulder now has 37 cultivation facilities, 32 dispensaries and six marijuana-infused product manufacturing sites. Twelve applications for new business licenses were submitted before the moratorium was enacted and will be reviewed. City officials said they needed "a time-out."

Kentucky

Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) has introduced SB 129, a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients with debilitating illnesses and reschedule marijuana under state law. There are some technical problems with the language in the bill vis-à-vis federal law, but those issues can be worked out through amendments down the road, supporters say. The bill is known as the Gatewood Galbraith Memorial Medical Marijuana Act, after the late Gatewood Galbraith, a five-time gubernatorial candidate and outspoken proponent of ending marijuana prohibition.

New Jersey

A nonprofit that wants to grow and sell medical marijuana was suing
after being denied a site in Burlington County. The Compassionate Care Foundation Inc. wants a judge to overturn the decision of the Westhampton Land Development Board, which voted 4-3 against the bid to operate at a vacant warehouse. A hearing is set for March 23. On Tuesday, however, Compassionate Care changed its mind and instead announced an agreement with center and township officials in Egg Harbor Township to open a dispensary there.

Compassionate Care, which is based in Mount Laurel, is one of two state-approved providers of medical marijuana struggling to find a home in South Jersey. The other supplier, Compassionate Sciences ATC, was rebuffed in October when it sought to open a marijuana dispensary at a former furniture store on Route 73. New Jersey legalized medical marijuana in January 2010, authorizing six nonprofit groups to operate in distinct zones across the state. But Gov. Chris Christie, citing concerns over federal laws against the drug's sale, did not give his approval until July of last year. So far, no marijuana has been sold legally in New Jersey and at least four town boards have turned away the businesses.

But, if the deal goes through, Compassionate Care will become become only the second out of six centers with confirmed locations. Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair got local approval and finalized its plans back in September, becoming the first center to do so.

New Mexico

Late last month, Senator Cisco McSorley (D) introduced and Senator Rod Adair (R), Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D), and Senator John Ryan (R) cosponsored Senate Bill 240, which would create a medical marijuana fund. sustained by the producer and patient production licensing fees currently being collected by the Department of Health. The Department of Health will be able to use these funds to directly administer the program. The bill is currently before the Senate Finance Committee.

Washington

Last Thursday, a bill calling on the federal government to reschedule marijuana passed a Senate committee. Senate Joint Memorial 8017 bolsters support for Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), who sent a letter last week requesting that the federal government reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to Schedule II status, where it would be permitted for medical use. The bill passed the Senate Committee on Health and Long Term Care with unanimous approval. It now heads to the Senate Rules Committee. Its lead sponsor is Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle).

New Mexico Legislature to Study Supervised Injection Sites [FEATURE]

In a groundbreaking move, the New Mexico legislature has approved a proposal to study how to enhance and expand the state's already cutting edge harm reduction programs, including a look a medically supervised injection sites (SIJs -- sometimes also known as safe injection sites) for hard drug users. That could clear the way for an eventual SIJ pilot program to operate in the state, although considerable political and legal hurdles remain.

The legislation, Senate Memorial 45, was sponsored by Sen. Richard Martinez, whose constituency includes Rio Arriba County, which has a drug overdose fatality rate five times the state's rate. The state's rate is double the national rate, making New Mexico the nation's leader in drug overdose-related deaths per capita.

"These deaths are preventable," said Martinez. "Overdose spares no one and affects everyone, especially families."

State health officials estimate the state has at least 24,000 injection drug users. Other estimates put that figure as high as 50,000.

The memorial, which was also endorsed by the New Mexico Public Health Association, passed the Senate on a 43-0 vote Monday night and does not need any further action to go into effect. It directs the University of New Mexico's Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Center to undertake the study of emerging and evidence-based harm reduction approaches, including SIJs, and report back to the legislature by November 1.

"Sadly, our drug overdose epidemic has outgrown our current harm reduction approaches," said Emily Kaltenbach, director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) New Mexico office. "On Monday, our state senators realized this and did not let politics trump science. They clearly stated their intent to go beyond the status quo and explore innovative strategies to help New Mexico’s families."

"Wow, getting something like that on the state level is huge," said Hilary McQuie, Western director for the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC). "New Mexico once again takes the lead in state harm reduction efforts; it's one of the few states to take a statewide approach to these things."

"Heroin is still the number one cause of ODs here, but we're also seeing a high number of prescription drug overdose deaths," said Kaltenbach, "so I'm incredibly encouraged that the legislature is willing to look beyond the status quo and start studying proven programs like supervised injection sites. We're hoping to study the feasibility and legal and ethical implications, leading to a pilot site in New Mexico."

If that actually happens, it would be the first SIJ in the nation. Although SIJS are operating in at least 27 cities around the world, including Vancouver and Sydney, and have been proven to reduce the spread of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne diseases, as well as prevent overdoses, without increasing criminality or drug use, political and legal obstacles in the US have so far prevented them from spreading here. They face morality-based opposition as well as federal issues including a "crack house law," which bars anyone from knowingly allowing others to use controlled substances.

"These same sorts of issues came up when syringe exchange programs were first discussed," said Kaltenbach. "I think the legal issues can be overcome, but the states have to be willing to look at it as an extension of syringe exchange. This study will address those issues."

While New Mexico is the first state to order a study of SIJs, it isn't the only place in the country where they are on the agenda. In San Francisco, drug user groups, activists, and advocates are working toward winning approval for one there, while in New York City, a similar effort is going on.

"The biggest obstacle is the perception of legal barriers," said DPA's Laura Thomas, who has been working on the San Francisco effort. "We have these crack house statutes, as well as state laws, that say it's illegal to knowingly allow people to use controlled substances. We have to figure out if there's room for a research project, like in Sydney, or create an exemption, like in Vancouver, or get a state law passed, like in New Mexico. We need a ruling that says 'yes,' this is not a violation."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/richard-martinez.jpg
Richard Martinez
In the meantime, the achingly slow process of building political support for an SIJ, or at least a feasibility study, goes forward. A year ago this week, a city Hep C task force recommended looking at SIJs. That followed on a similar recommendation from the city's HIV coalition.

"We continue to try to build support for a safe injection site," said Thomas. "During the mayoral campaign last year, at one of the candidate forums, they were all asked if they would support evaluating whether it would work for San Francisco, and most of them said they did, including our current city attorney, Dennis Herrera."

But despite the recommendations and expressions of support, nothing has happened yet. The San Francisco Drug Users' Union is trying to change that.

"We will be pressing the Board of Supervisors to study the possibilities," said the group's Isaac Jackson. "We're also doing a SIJ community design competition, a project in community imagineering. We'll give the winner a nominal prize and we'll present the winning design to the Board," he said.

"We think the city's Human Rights Commission will recommend safe injection sites in April," said HRC's McQuie. "But there have been other bodies and other recommendations. It's a matter of where the political will is and the priorities are."

For HRC, said McQuie, getting a safe injection site up and running in San Francisco is a back burner issue right now, but that could change.

"We have a lot of really great harm reduction projects going on, like the DOPE Project, that aren't getting financial support, and while there was a lot of enthusiasm for awhile about working toward a safe injection site, we kept planning meetings, but nobody would show up. It didn't feel like the energy was there. If the San Francisco Drug Users' Union wants to take some leadership, we would be happy to support it," said McQuie. "I think we will be going back to San Francisco and asking somebody to do something on this issue, but we're not sure who yet."

On the other side of the country, street-level activists are aiming for an SIJ in New York City. Citiwide Harm Reduction in the South Bronx, which is on the verge of opening the city's first fully staffed primary care clinic at a syringe exchange, is preparing to build a full-scale model of an SIJ at its 144th Street building. It may seem like performance act, but its purpose is educational.

"Our inspiration is the Smithsonian museums, where you can go inside the cockpit of the space shuttle," said Citiwide executive director Robert Cordero. "People have this grisly misconception of what a safe injection site would be like, and we want them to be able to have this Smithsonian experience here in the Bronx."

Such a model could be quite useful in educating elected officials and law enforcement, Cordero said.

"SIJs are a humane public health approach to reducing overdoses, HIV, Hep C, and crime, and can provide compassionate care for addicted people until they are ready to get into treatment," he said. "Do we want that, or do we want them just hanging out in front of the bodegas on 149th all day?"

Citiwide isn't going it alone on agitating for SIJs, and it isn't even taking the lead. Instead it is working with groups like HRC and the Vocals-NY Users' Union in a broader campaign.

"We're not trying to be the HRC or Vocals-NY," said Cordero. "We advocate through demonstrating what it would be like while partnering with others who are advocating every day. Our effort is to build the SIJ model, and when anyone comes to New York who is interested in these issues, there can be an educational moment."

Supervised injection sites are not a reality yet in the US, but pressure for them is mounting. Whether it's New Mexico, New York City, or San Francisco, one of these years someone is going to lead the US into the ranks of nations that understand their utility -- and their humanity. New Mexico has just taken a giant step, but let's hope it has to move fast to beat San Francisco and New York.

Santa Fe, NM
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

From action in state legislatures to raids at dispensaries, there's no let-up in the medical marijuana action around the nation. Here's the latest:

National

Last Thursday, Americans for Safe Access filed an appeal brief in the DC Circuit to compel the federal government to reclassify marijuana for medical use. In July 2011, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denied a petition filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC), which was denied only after the coalition sued the government for unreasonable delay. The ASA brief filed is an appeal of the CRC rescheduling denial.

Alabama

The Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 25), which seeks to enact legal protections for authorized medical marijuana patients, has been marked for reintroduction in the Alabama legislature for the session starting on February 7th. It is currently assigned to the House Committee on Health. A separate medical cannabis bill, House Bill 66, has also been prefiled in the House and is also before to the House Committee on Health.

California

Last Tuesday, Union City issued a temporary ban on dispensaries, suspending the approval of business licenses or permits for medical marijuana dispensaries and their operations for 45 days. But the recently opened CHA Wellness Center was still operating as of the weekend and said it had every right to. City officials disagree.

Also last Tuesday, the Fresno city council voted to extend a temporary moratorium on outdoor grows for another 10 months after Police Chief Jerry Dyer told the council the grows were a magnet for crime and violence. Fresno Police say there have been at least five shootings and one homicide as the result of outdoor growing operations within the city limits. Police say many big marijuana growing operations have already moved indoors. Dyer said he expected to have a permanent outdoor cultivation ordinance ready by April.

Last Friday, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed issued a memo calling for the city to kill its medical marijuana ordinance. He cited the California Supreme Court's decision to review four medical marijuana cases dealing with varying interpretations of the state's law, as well as potential ballot initiative that could go before the voters in November. The city will remain in talks with dispensaries and will continue to collect taxes on them.

On Sunday, the last dispensary in La Puente closed its doors in response to the ongoing federal crackdown. La Puente Co-op was the last of three city dispensaries to go out of business in response to threat letters from the Southern California US Attorney. Azusa Patient Remedies and Trinity Wellness Center shut down the previous week. The San Gabriel Valley town was once home to 10 dispensaries.

On Monday, the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients said it had provided the Los Angeles city council with two motions to regulate dispensaries. The move comes as the council inches toward a total ban. The first motion, "public nuisance abatement," proposes that city officials start enforcing current laws to deal with complaints like loitering and sales to minors, just as the police handle such problems around liquor stores. The second motion calls for a "ban with abeyance" or a soft ban, which would create a ban that allows patient associations to prove that they that are operating in compliance with local and state law, allowing the ban to be held in abeyance as long as they continue to be in compliance.

Also on Monday, narcotics officers from the LAPD Devonshire Division raided and shut down the last dispensary in Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. The raid was at the Herbal Medical Care facility, and three people were arrested for suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale, 50 pound of marijuana and 156 plants were seized, and so were the dispensary's medical records. Police vowed to "target" some 200 other San Fernando Valley dispensaries. Since December 2008, police in the Devonshire Division have shut down 37 of what were once 60 dispensaries operating there.

Also on Monday, San Francisco announced it would resume licensing and inspecting dispensaries. The move comes after the agency said last week that the application process was suspended. Under clarified rules, existing dispensaries must sign a statement swearing that all medical marijuana sold on-site is cultivated in California and comes from a grower who is a member of the dispensary's nonprofit collective. New applications stopped being processed in December following a ruling in a state appeals court. In that case, Pack vs. the City of Long Beach, the court ruled that California cities violated federal law by regulating and permitting medical marijuana. That ruling was vacated when the California Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal, and San Francisco's city attorney gave the health department the green light to resume its program January 20, but the department had announced last week that all applications were still on hold indefinitely.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco controller's office reported that dispensaries in the city did an estimated $41 million in sales last year, generating $410,000 in medical marijuana sales tax revenues.

Also on Tuesday, Senate Bill 129 died for lack of action in the state legislature. Introduced by Sen. Mark Leno and sponsored by Americans for Safe Access, the bill would have protected the employment rights of medical marijuana patients.

Also on Tuesday, DEA agents and local law enforcement raided the Balboa Medical Center in Kearney Mesa, near San Diego. They seized medicine and medical records, but made no arrests.The raid came after similar raids on dispensaries in the area last week.

Hawaii

House Bill 1963
, which seeks to restrict the state's medical marijuana program and remove chronic pain as a qualifying condition for patients, is set for a hearing Thursday in the House Committees on Health and Public Safety and Military Affairs.

Montana

On Monday, the Missoulian reported that DEA agents investigating medical marijuana distribution had asked witnesses whether state Sen. Diane Sands (D-Missoula) might be involved in a marijuana conspiracy.Sands has been deeply involved in the state's battles over medical marijuana. She is not the only legislator being looked at; at least one more said he would not speak publicly for fear of "additional harassment."

Vermont

The Vermont Department of Public Safety has announced guidelines for the state's first medical marijuana dispensaries
. Dispensaries must operate as nonprofits and must be more than 1,000 feet from schools or daycare facilities. Would-be operators will have to pay $2,500 just to apply for one of the four dispensary certificates. If approved, dispensaries would pay the state $20,000 dollars for the first year, and $30,000 in the years to follow. Patients can go to dispensaries by appointment only, and only one patient at a time is allowed in the dispensary. There are also stiff requirements for inventory control, building security, and background checks for operators and employees.

Virginia

On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee killed a resolution that would have asked the governor to petition to DEA to reschedule marijuana. The resolution had been filed by Delegate David Englin (D-Alexandria).

Washington

Last Thursday, 42 state legislators signed a letter asking the DEA to reschedule marijuana so that it could be prescribed and sold in pharmacies. That same day, lawmakers introduced a resolution to the same effect. It is scheduled for a hearing Friday in the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee. The letter and resolution piggyback on Gov. Christine Gregoire's existing petition to reschedule marijuana, which is also supported by a handful of other states.

State Employee Drug Test Bills Moving in Florida

In Tallahassee, drug testing fever seems to know no bounds. Companion bills that would mandate random, suspicionless drug testing of state employees were on the agenda last week, and both passed out of committees in their respective chambers. Republican legislators also used the bills to attack state workers collective bargaining rights.

The latest legislative drug testing effort comes even as a state law passed last year to force welfare applicants and recipients to pass drug tests has been temporarily blocked by a federal court pending a final decision and as Republican Gov. Rick Scott's executive order last year to drug test state employees is in limbo awaiting litigation.

This week's drug testing bills, House Bill 1205 and Senate Bill 1358, would give state agencies the option of randomly drug testing their employees quarterly. Bill supporters argued that the legislation would give state agencies the ability to drug test workers just as private employers do.

"State employees are not different from other employees," and should be subjected to drug tests just like private workers, said state Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla), the sponsor of the senate bill.

The bills authorize state agencies to require all employees to submit to periodic random drug testing and would allow them to fire workers who test positive or mandate they undergo drug or alcohol treatment at their own expense.

The bills also remove "the definition of the term 'safety-sensitive position'" and remove "provisions limiting the circumstances under which an agency may discharge an employee in a special risk or safety-sensitive position." And for good measure, the bills "delete provisions relating to public employees' collective bargaining rights for drug testing."

Some members of the committee said they were concerned the bill could be challenged on constitutional grounds, but they were outvoted. The House bill passed out of the Government Operations Committee on a 9-4 vote, and the Senate bill passed out of the Health Regulation Committee on a 6-1 vote. Both bills face further committee votes before going to the floor.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana is an active issue around the country, and especially so these days in California. Here's the latest:

Arizona

Last Friday, Gov. Jan Brewer gave up her fight against medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. Her decision came after having her challenges thrown out in both federal and state court. Last Friday, she directed state officials to begin implementing the law to allow dispensaries to apply to operate.

California

The clock is ticking on Senate Bill 129, introduced by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). The bill would provide medical marijuana patients with protection from workplace discrimination. The legislature must act on the bill by month's end or it dies. It's the same story with Assembly Bill 1017, introduced by Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), which would allow for reduced misdemeanor charges in cultivation cases.

Last Tuesday, the Colusa City Council voted unanimously to extend its ban on dispensaries to another full year. The ordinance goes into effect immediately. This is the last extension on the temporary ban; after this, the city will need a permanent ordinance to spell out the restrictions.

Last Wednesday, federal agents raided the Disabled American Veterans Collective in Murrieta. The owner, Kevin Freeman of Temecula, and one other person were arrested on suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale. Federal search warrant documents accused Freeman of operating a for-profit business that would sell marijuana to people without medical conditions. But Freeman said his operation was "a true collective." The dispensary had previously seen customers pulled over by deputies after leaving the premises and been the subject of an undercover buy by a deputy who fraudulently obtained a medical marijuana recommendation.

Also last Wednesday, the US Attorney for Southern California announced that federal prosecutors over the past week have filed four asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing marijuana storefronts in Los Angeles and Orange counties and have sent warning letters to property owners and operators of "illegal marijuana stores" in several Southland cities. They also sent threat letters to dispensary operators and property owners of the nearly two dozen dispensaries operating in Costa Mesa. The feds also raided three Costa Mesa dispensaries.

Also last Wednesday, Glenn County supervisors moved ahead with an ordinance that would ban dispensaries, collectives, and co-ops, but would allow backyard grows for patients. The county's emergency moratorium ordinance expires in March.

Last Thursday, the California Supreme Court decided to hear four medical marijuana cases in a bid to restore same clarity to the state's muddled medical marijuana laws. The cases revolve around state-federal and state-local conflicts, and mixed rulings in lower courts have led to massive confusion in the state.

Also last Thursday, Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana announced it had filed a medical marijuana regulation initiative with the state last month. The campaign expects to be okayed for signature-gathering early next month and has until April 20 to gather more than 500,000 valid signatures to make the November ballot. See our feature story on it here.

Last Friday, prosecutors in San Luis Obispo County announced they were dropping the charges against six people arrested in 2010 for running medical marijuana delivery services. Prosecutors threw in the towel after a judge issued jury instructions that allowed the defendants to argue that they thought an undercover officer who infiltrated them was part of their collective. That would make the case tough to win, prosecutors said.

Also last Friday, a judge in Riverside rejected a restraining order sought by the city of Murrieta against a newly opened medical marijuana collective. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club can stay open pending a February 17 hearing, even though Murrieta has a moratorium on dispensaries, the judge ruled.

On Monday, federal agents and Riverside County sheriff's deputies raided six suites containing medical marijuana operations in a business park north of Murrieta. The lawmen became aware of the operations while raiding a neighboring dispensary last week. Three people were arrested on marijuana cultivation charges. The raids were led by the DEA.

Also on Monday, the Calexico Planning Commission approved a ban on dispensaries. The proposed ban will now go before the city council.

On Tuesday, San Francisco announced it would begin issuing dispensary permits again after the state Supreme Court agreed to hear four medical marijuana cases that could clarify state law. In doing so, the high court vacated a case, Pack v. Long Beach, that said city or county laws regulating medical marijuana violated federal law. Now that Pack has been vacated, city officials said the permitting process can resume as normal. The following day, the city changed its mind.

Also on Tuesday, Mendocino County supervisors voted to kill the county's medical marijuana permit program after receiving threats of legal action from Northern California US Attorney Melinda Haag. The innovative program allowed collectives to grow up to 99 plants per parcel, with each plant tagged by the sheriff's office.

Also on Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors voted unanimously to extend a temporary moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries for an additional 10 months and 15 days. The supervisors also added language to the ordinance that is meant to protect existing dispensaries from closure. Three dispensaries currently operate in the county.

Also on Tuesday, the Whittier city council voted to impose a 45-day moratorium on new dispensaries, citing the Pack v. Long Beach ruling and ignoring the fact that the state Supreme Court vacated it last week. That means the number of dispensaries in the city is capped at one -- the Whittier Hope Collective, which opened in July 2010 after the council approved a conditional use permit. Although the moratorium is only for a month and a half, the council indicated it intended to maintain the status quo until the Supreme Court decides Pack and other medical marijuana cases.

Lastly, on Tuesday, a judge in Live Oak heard arguments in a civil lawsuit brought against the city over its ban on growing medical marijuana. James Maral sued after the city council last month approved the ban on even personal grows, saying it would force him to make "cruel choices." The lawsuit accused the city of running afoul of state law (Proposition 215), which allows patients to grow their own medicine. The city had acted after complaints from residents about the "stench" of marijuana and fears of violent robbery attempts. The judge refused to issue a temporary injunction because he had not seen the ordinance, but left open the possibility of revisiting the decision at a later date.

Colorado

Last Thursday, Colorado US Attorney John Walsh told the Denver Post that evidence medical marijuana is having a negative impact on kids spurred his decision to crack down on dispensaries near schools. The comments came days after he sent letters to 23 dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools. The letters ordered the dispensaries to close by Feb. 27 or face potential criminal prosecution or seizure of assets.

On Monday, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition sent a letter to Colorado US Attorney John Walsh saying his threats and actions against medical marijuana providers are "a disservice to the state of Colorado." The letter was signed by LEAP director Neill Franklin and two Colorado law enforcement figures, former municipal court Judge Leonard Frieling and retired Denver police officer Tony Ryan.

On Wednesday, medical marijuana supporters organized by Sensible Colorado did a mass phone-in to their US congressional representatives urging them to help call off the federal crackdown and support the state's medical marijuana program.

Indiana

Earlier this month, state Rep. Tom Knollman (R) introduced a medical marijuana bill, HB 1370, which calls upon the Indiana Department of Health to develop a regulatory framework for the growth and distribution of medical marijuana through dispensaries and to register patients with debilitating medical conditions. This is the first medical marijuana bill introduced in the state in recent memory.

Kansas

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill got a hearing in the House Health and Human Services Committee. The bill, the Kansas Compassion and Care Act, was introduced by Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita). Previous medical marijuana bills have been stalled in committee, and the committee took no action on this one Tuesday. Meanwhile, supporters of the bill packed the hearing room and demonstrated outside before the hearing.

Maryland

Maryland House Delegate Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore) has introduced a comprehensive medical marijuana bill that would replace a bill passed last year as a stop-gap measure while the state appointed a workgroup to further study the issue. House Bill 15, the Maryland Medical Marijuana Act, would create clear rules for qualified patients and law enforcement, and put in place a strictly regulated production and distribution system. A measure passed last year created minimal protections for patients but did not set up a distribution system. That measure created a working group to come up with proposals for this year, but neither of those proposals includes allowing patients to grow their own. Glenn's bill does. It now awaits committee hearings.

Montana

Last Thursday, the owner of the Big Sky Health Health dispensary in Missoula pleaded not guilty in federal court to a charge of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana. Jason Washington is one of six defendants in an indictment that followed federal raids last November on numerous businesses, homes and warehouses linked to marijuana businesses in western Montana. Washington is a former quarterback for the University of Montana Grizzlies, and the feds even seized his Big Sky championship ring, as well as 80 pounds of marijuana and $232,000 in cash.

Last Friday, a federal judge ruled that Montana's medical marijuana law doesn't shield providers of the drug from federal prosecution. US District Judge Donald Molloy dismissed a civil lawsuit by 14 persons and businesses that were among those raided by federal authorities last year. He cited the Constitution's supremacy clause. "Whether the plaintiffs' conduct was legal under Montana law is of little significance here, since the alleged conduct clearly violates federal law," Molloy wrote. "We are all bound by federal law, like it or not."

New Jersey

Last Friday, the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of John Ray Wilson. Wilson, an MS patient, was sentenced to five years in prison for growing his own medicine in his back yard. He had been out on appeal, but now must resume serving his sentence. Wilson was not allowed to tell his jury why he was growing marijuana plants. Supporters, including legislative leaders, have campaigned for clemency for Wilson, to no avail.

Ohio

Last Friday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine certified a medical marijuana ballot issue, and on Monday, the Ohio ballot board gave its okay. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment campaign can now begin signature gathering. It needs some 385,000 valid voter signatures to make the November ballot. This is the second Ohio medical marijuana initiative to be certified for the 2012 campaign. The Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment was approved in October.

Washington

On Monday, the city of Bellingham revoked the registrations of medical marijuana dispensaries after deciding that dispensaries were not legal under state or federal law. The city has not yet decided what to do about dispensaries that are already operating there, but at least one said it would reopen as a private, members-only club next month.

Washington, DC

On Monday, a hydroponics superstore known as the "Walmart of Weed" announced it would open a store in the nation's capital in March. WeGrow sells all of the products and services one would need to grow marijuana or other indoor plants, but does not sell the plant itself. The company said it had signed a lease for a property on Rhode Island Avenue NE. The company already operates superstores in Oakland, Sacramento and Phoenix.

Arizona Governor Must Implement Medical Marijuana Law, Judge Rules

A state court judge in Phoenix last Thursday ordered Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) to fully implement the state's Medical Marijuana Act, which was approved by the voters in 2010. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Richard Gama said Brewer was acting illegally in refusing to implement the law.

[Update: Last Friday, Brewer said she would direct state employees to implement the law.]

Brewer had argued that she had the discretion to delay enactment of the dispensary regulating portions of the law while she sought clarity in federal court about whether state workers who would regulate the industry faced prosecution under federal laws. Brewer's federal case was thrown out earlier this month and she gave up on that avenue two weeks ago, but that was irrelevant as far as Judge Gama was concerned because he didn't buy her argument in the first place.

"Defendants cite no authority for this proposition, and the court has found none," Gama wrote in his ruling. "The voters intended the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act be implemented within 120 days. This has not been done."

In that ruling, Gama also held that rules on who can and cannot have a dispensary permit imposed by Health Director Will Humble were illegal. There was nothing in the law to allow such restrictions, Gama said.

This is the end of the road for Brewer's opposition to the medical marijuana law. She campaigned against it in 2010, but voters approved it anyway. Then, even as the state processed some 18,000 patient registrations, Brewer blocked the implementation of the portion of the law allowing up to 125 state-regulated dispensaries.

Her effort in federal court went down in flames last month, and now the state court has ruled against her. She could have appealed the state court decision, but chose not to.

Phoenix, AZ
United States

California High Court Takes Up Medical Marijuana Cases

The California Supreme Court announced last Wednesday it will review four medical marijuana cases decided by lower courts. In taking on the cases, the high court will attempt to resolve issues of federal, state, and local control that have tied the state's elected officials and medical marijuana community in knots for the past few years.

To be or not to be? That is the question the court will decide. (wikimedia.org)
The court will review Pack v. City of Long Beach, a case that began when a dispensary operator sued the city, saying the regulations it had crafted were too onerous. But instead of deciding whether the regulations were or were not too stringent, the appeals court threw out the regulations, saying that since marijuana is illegal under federal law, federal law preempted local officials from creating regulations for its sale.

Since the Pack decision, a number of California local governments have rescinded regulations they had crafted and instead opted to simply ban dispensaries from operating. Other localities have cited Pack as a reason not to move forward with plans to regulate dispensaries.

The court will also review City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, in which an appeals court ruled that cities and counties have the right to ban dispensaries. That ruling said neither Proposition 215 nor the state's medical marijuana program bars cities from banning the facilities.

As with Pack, local governments around the state have used the Riverside decision to move away from regulation and toward bans.

The court will also take up an unpublished ruling on a dispensary ban in Upland, which closely mirrors the legal reasoning in Riverside, and a case from Dana Point in which the issue of who has standing to challenge local dispensary regulations is at stake.

All four decisions have now been vacated pending the Supreme Court's decision, which is not expected for as long as two years. In the meantime, cities and counties can no longer rely on those decisions to argue they can't regulate dispensaries or that they can ban them.

The state Supreme Court is stepping into the fray even as federal law enforcement officials are in the midst of a renewed crackdown on medical marijuana providers across California. Federal lawsuits challenging that campaign have been filed in San Francisco and elsewhere.

The medical marijuana community welcomed the court's decision to take up the cases.

"These cases were very problematic for patients and their ability to safely and legally access a medication that works for them," said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "We're very pleased that local governments will now be unable to use appellate court decisions to deny patients access to medical marijuana in their own communities."

ASA was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the County of Santa Cruz in filing a brief last month asking the court to review the Pack case.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Here's our weekly look at medical marijuana news from around the country. There's plenty going on--and late breaking news from California Wednesday afternoon.

California

On January 11, the city of Upland filed a motion that would allow it to close the G3 Holistic dispensary. The motion seeks to vacate a stay granted by the 4th District Court of Appeal in Riverside to G3 back in June. The co-op and the city disagree over whether the stay allows the dispensary to stay open despite an injunction granted to the city in August 2010 by the West Valley Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga.

Also on January 11, Mendocino County officials confirmed that the feds are threatening to sue over the county's marijuana cultivation permit program. The warning was delivered during a meeting a week earlier, county officials said. The program is already suspended pending resolution of a court case about whether local governments can regulate activities prohibited by federal law. Supervisors will consider amending its medical marijuana ordinance at the January 24 meeting.

On January 12, Shasta County medical marijuana advocates fell short in their effort to gather enough signatures to force a recent county ordinance restricting marijuana growing onto a ballot before it became law that day. Nor Cal Safe Access needed 6,544 valid signatures  to place a referendum on the ballot. Organizers didn't have an exact count, but said they gathered "thousands." It wasn't enough. The ordinance bans growing inside residences but allows it in detached accessory structures and sets limits for outdoor growing regardless of how many patients live at a residence.

Last Thursday, federal prosecutors filed a forfeiture complaint against the Sacramento Holistic Healing Center. The feds said the center had been warned in October it was operating within a thousand feet of an elementary school and high school and told to cease operations.

Also last Thursday, the owner of the Regenesis Health dispensary in Adelanto was arrested by San Bernadino County sheriff's deputies. Ramsey Najor, 69, of Hesperia was arresting for violating municipal codes and suspicion of assault on a peace officer after he dragged a deputy with his car as he fled the scene.

Also last Thursday, the Sonoma County Planning Commission recommended a cap on dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. The planners want to limit the number at nine. The Board of Supervisors will have to vote on it later. There currently are six permitted dispensaries in the unincorporated area of Sonoma County and another three pending applications. In addition there are four dispensaries within city limits: two in Santa Rosa, one in Cotati and one in Sebastopol. Those cities also have caps that prohibit additional shops. The remaining six cities in the county ban dispensaries.

Last Friday, Lake County authorities reported that dispensary numbers are dwindling. Supervisors decided last month that they are not authorized land uses in the county's jurisdiction and have moved forward with the abatement process to close them down. Of 10 dispensaries that were operating in unincorporated areas of the county, as few as three are still open.

Also last Friday, a second dispensary has opened in Murrieta despite a citywide ban. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club has been hit with thousands of dollars in fines and several code violations every day. Owner Eric McNeil said he plans to fight the ban in court. The first dispensary to open, the Cooperative Medical Group, which opened in July, is now closed by court order after going several rounds with the city's attorneys. They are still awaiting a final court decision in that case.

Also last Friday, the LA city council's Public Safety Committee approved a motion to ban dispensaries in the city. The motion now moves to the city council and Planning Commission, which next meets January 26. The motion would indefinitely shutter the estimated 300 dispensaries in the city. The motion is the work of Council Member Jose Huizar, who said he was responding to the Pack v. City of Long Beach ruling, which held that that city's ordinance, which is similar to LA's, violated federal law by attempting to regulate the sale of a federally banned drug.

On Tuesday, an East Palo Alto dispensary announced it was closing its doors because of threats from the feds. The Peninsula Care Givers Collective said it was losing its lease after its landlord received a letter from the federal government threatening to seize the building. The city had passed an ordinance in July banning dispensaries, but Peninsula Care Givers was already open by then and refused to close. The city had been pursuing civil remedies. East Palo Alto police Chief Ron Davis said the city had contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office for help in shutting down Peninsula Care Givers.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local law enforcement raided the Green Tree Solutions dispensary in Kearney Mesa. It was the fourth raid on a San Diego area dispensary in less than a week. The DEA raiders were met by protesting patients and advocates.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA raided three Costa Mesa dispensaries, along with their owners' homes. The targeted businesses were American Collective, Otherside Farms and Simple Farmer.

Also on Tuesday, the Monroe city council voted to extend a moratorium on dispensaries for 180 days, and will revisit the issue in 60 days.

Also on Tuesday, the Poway city council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries, collectives and cooperatives.The ordinance will go into effect within 30 days if the council adopts it at its February 7 meeting.
 

On Wednesday afternoon, the California Supreme Court said it would review two controversial medical marijuana cases. In Pack v. City of Long Beach, the appeals court held that federal law preempted the city's ability to regulate dispensaries and in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, the appeals court held that cities could ban dispensaries altogether. The two rulings have been used by elected local officials to back away from regulating dispensaries and toward banning them.

Colorado

Last Thursday, federal prosecutors sent threat letters to 23 dispensaries and their landlords across Colorado warning that they must shut down within 45 days or "action will be taken to seize and forfeit their property." The letter was sent to dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of a school.

Last Friday, state Sen. Steve King said he would reintroduce a drugged driving bill. The bill would set a per se limit on THC, meaning police would not have to prove actual impairment, only that the driver's THC levels exceeded the limit. Such laws are fervently opposed by the state's medical marijuana patients, who managed to block one last year.

Idaho

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill, HB 370, was introduced in the Idaho House. It is the brain child of Rep. Tom Trail (R-Moscow), who filed similar legislation last year. It got an informational hearing in the House Health & Welfare Committee, but didn't proceed. HB 370 would permit patients with debilitating medical conditions to be dispensed up to 2 ounces of marijuana every 28 days; they'd have to get it from state-authorized "alternative treatment centers."

Michigan

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a pair of medical marijuana cases that could clarify the state's murky law. In one case, the issues include when someone using marijuana must have consulted a doctor and received a state-issued registration card to be legally protected under the medical marijuana law. In the second case, the court must consider what constitutes an "enclosed, locked facility" under the law.

That same day, an Oakland County circuit court judge dismissed the case against seven employees of the Clinical Relief dispensary in Ferndale. Clinical Relief was the first dispensary raided back in August 2010, and since then Michigan's Court of Appeals has ruled that person-to-person marijuana sales through dispensaries are illegal, but that ruling hadn't been made when the Ferndale workers were arrested, so the judge dismissed the case. Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said she plans to appeal.

Montana

Last Friday, federal prosecutors filed charges against four more people in their ongoing offensive against the medical marijuana industry in the state. They are 33-year-old Christopher Durbin, 40-year-old Justin Maddock, 29-year-old Aaron Durbin and 33-year-old Trey Scales. Christopher Durbin also is charged with structuring, or making bank deposits of less than $10,000 in order to avoid IRS reporting requirements.

New Jersey

On January 11, Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon said he would file a bill that would keep the state's medical marijuana growers from running afoul of zoning laws. The move comes after several New Jersey communities have blocked dispensaries or grows through zoning laws.

Last Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he would not force towns to allow medical marijuana facilities. He said he would veto O'Scanlon's bill if it came to that.

On Wednesday, patients and supporters rallied at the statehouse steps in Trenton to protest Gov. Christie's failure to implement the state's medical marijuana law. The protest and press conference came two years after the measure was signed into law. There are still no dispensaries in New Jersey.

Ohio

Last Thursday, backers of a medical marijuana initiative filed language with Attorney General Mike DeWine in a first step toward getting the measure on the November ballot. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment of 2012, accompanied by nearly 3,000 signatures, will be submitted to DeWine to review the language summarizing the proposal. This is the second time the amendment has been submitted; the first proposal was rejected last year after DeWine said it did not fairly summarize the measure. If approved, backers will need to collect 385,245 signatures to get it on the ballot. A competing proposal, the Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment, has already been approved for signature gathering.

Virginia

Last Thursday, a bill, House Joint Resolution 139, requesting the governor to seek rescheduling of marijuana was filed in Richmond. Governors in four medical marijuana states have already called for rescheduling.

Washington, DC

On Tuesday, the DC city council approved emergency legislation limiting the number of marijuana cultivation permits in each ward to six. The measure came after residents of Ward 5 complained that because zoning restrictions closed off large swathes of the city to grows, their neighborhoods would be inundated.

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