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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: 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.

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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.

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."

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!

New Hampshire Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Bill; A Handful of Additional Votes Needed to Override

The House passed the bill 234-138 and the Senate passed it 14-10. If my calculations are correct, that means a successful override needs 14 more votes in the House and 2 more in the Senate. If an override effort is made, it will happen when the legislature returns in September. Until then, it's time to let those legislators know what they need to do. Here is Gov. Lynch's veto message press release in its entirety:
Gov. Lynch’s Veto Message Regarding HB 648 By the authority vested in me, pursuant to part II, article 44 of the New Hampshire Constitution, on July 10, 2009, I vetoed HB 648-FN, an act relative to the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. I have tremendous compassion for people who believe medical marijuana will help alleviate the symptoms of serious illnesses and the side effects of medical treatment. Although opinion of the medical community on the efficacy of medical marijuana remains mixed, I have been open, and remain open, to allowing tightly controlled usage of marijuana for appropriate medical purposes. But in making laws it is not enough to have an idea worthy of consideration, the details of the legislation must also be right. I recognize that the sponsors of this legislation, and the members of the conference committee, worked hard to attempt to address the concerns raised about this legislation. However, after consulting with representatives of the appropriate state agencies and law enforcement officials, I believe this legislation still has too many defects to move forward. Law enforcement officials have raised legitimate public safety concerns regarding the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. These concerns have not been adequately addressed in this bill. Marijuana is an addictive drug that has the potential to pose significant health dangers to its users, and it remains the most widely abused illegal drug in this State. I am concerned about the quantities of the drug made available to patients and caregivers under this bill, particularly because there are different types of marijuana and the potency of marijuana can vary greatly depending on how it is cultivated. I am troubled by the potential for unauthorized redistribution of marijuana from compassion centers. In addition to patients and designated caregivers, an unlimited number of “volunteers” can receive registry cards and receive the full protections afforded under this legislation to authorized cardholders. The provisions made for law enforcement to check on the status of an individual who asserts protection under the proposed law are too narrow. There are also many inconsistencies and structural problems in the legislation that would greatly complicate its administration and would pose barriers to controls aimed at preventing the unauthorized use of marijuana. The bill does not clearly restrict the use of marijuana to those persons who are suffering severe pain, seizures or nausea as a result of a qualifying medical condition. The bill requires compassion centers to hold a license to cultivate and distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes, but the bill does not contain clear provisions regarding a licensing process or standards. Compassion centers can be penalized for distributing amounts of marijuana that exceed permissible limitations, without the compassion centers having the means to know how much marijuana the patient already possesses. Caregivers in some instances are required to control the dosage of marijuana without any real means to accomplish this task. The bill leaves unclear the authority of a landlord to control the use of marijuana on rented property and in common areas of property. While the bill contemplates self-funding, there have been inadequate fiscal studies. The Department of Health and Human Services’ administrative responsibilities are of such a magnitude under this legislation that the fees potentially would be so great as to deny access to anyone but the wealthiest of our citizens, resulting in potential inequities. I understand and empathize with the advocates for allowing medical marijuana use in New Hampshire. However, the fact remains that marijuana use for any purpose remains illegal under federal law. Therefore, if we are to allow its use in New Hampshire for medical purposes, we must ensure that we are implementing the right policy. We cannot set a lower bar for medical marijuana than we do for other controlled substances, and we cannot implement a law that still has serious flaws. Therefore, I am regretfully vetoing HB 648-FN.

I Was Turned Away Again Trying to Visit Medical Marijuana POW Will Foster in Jail Last Night

You remember Will Foster: The Oklahoma arthritis sufferer who was sentenced to 93 years in prison for growing a closetful of pot plants, eventually got his sentence reduced to 20 years, got paroled to California, and finished parole there, but whom neanderthal Oklahoma parole officials want to drag back to that benighted state to extract yet another pound of flesh. Will has been sitting in the Sonoma County Jail for 16 months now after a bogus bust of his legitimate medical marijuana garden. The local charges were eventually dropped, but Foster remains behind bars and deprived of his liberty because of Oklahoma's pending parole violation extradition warrant. The extradition warrant has been signed by the governors of both California and Oklahoma, but either could end this tragedy by rescinding his signature. Those are the two obvious political pressure points. Will has fended off extradition by filing a writ of habeas corpus (he won an earlier one), but that means he stays in jail in California for as long as it takes to resolve that--unless one of those governors acts. I wrote about his plight here. Ed Rosenthal has organized a campaign to Free Will Foster. Go there and do what he asks. So, anyway, I went to see Will last night. It was my second attempt to visit him. I was turned away a few nights ago because I was wearing steel-tipped shoes. Who knew? Well, I didn't see him last night, either. After his girlfriend, Susie Mueller, and I arrived at 7:15 to get in line for the 7:30 sign-in for the visits set for 8:15, then waited before getting in line for the actual 8:15 visit, the whole place went into lockdown. We waited awhile to see if the lockdown would be quickly lifted, but it wasn't, so we left. I'll try again next week. Sheesh, it's starting to feel like it's as hard to break into one of these joints as it is to break out.

Law Enforcement: California Budget Crisis Could Gut State Narcs, Drug Task Forces

The latest version of the California state budget being considered by legislators in Sacramento would reduce the number of state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement (BNE) agents to 100 and zero-out funding for 51 drug task forces funded by the agency. A decade ago, BNE fielded 400 agents. Cuts in recent years have reduced that number to 185 agents, and the latest budget proposals would slice that number nearly in half.

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California ''Campaign Against Marijuana Planting'' (CAMP) task force at work (photo from calguard.ca.gov)
California is faced with a $26 billion budget deficit, state employees have been told to take three unpaid days of leave each month, the state is now issuing IOUs instead of cash payments to some vendors (and people expecting income tax refunds), and drastic cuts are already being administered to a wide variety of health, education, and welfare programs. But that doesn't stop the narcs from squealing.

"We realize everyone's going to take cuts," said Mike Lloyd, head of the Association of Special Agents. "But to have already cut us by 215 agents and turn around and cut us again this year by another 70 agents, which is 50 percent of our general fund budget, that's huge. There's no agency in the state that's taking that kind of hit," he told the Redding Searchlight.

The association met with legislators last week to try to reverse the cuts. The narcs argued that in additional to handling statewide drug enforcement, BNE also funds the local drug task forces. If BNE funding dries up, those task forces will go the way of the dodo bird, the narcs warned.

BNE has the support of California Attorney General Jerry Brown. "What the task forces do and what BNE does is they bring expertise and resources to stop drug-trafficking organizations that go beyond city and county lines," said Brown spokesman Scott Gerber. "They're the only bureau in the state that does that. They play a critical role."

If the BNE funding cuts actually occur, drug law enforcement will devolve back to local police forces and sheriff's departments, which are also cutting back because of budgetary pressures. The end result is likely to be less drug law enforcement, for better or worse. [Ed: Mostly for better.]

Drug War Issues

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