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South Dakota Bill to Reduce Marijuana Penalties Killed

A bill that would have lowered the maximum penalty for possession of two ounces of marijuana or less was killed Tuesday in a Senate committee. It died on a 5-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee after law enforcement representatives testified against it.

In the language customarily used in Pierre, it was "deferred to the 41st legislative day." The South Dakota session has only 40 days.

The bill, Senate Bill 221, would have moved marijuana possession from a Class 1 to a Class 2 misdemeanor. That would have lowered the maximum penalty from a year in jail to 30 days in jail.

Both proponents and opponents of the measure agreed that the vast majority of people charged with pot possession serve little or no jail time, with most receiving only fines. Those fines can be significant, though. In east-central Beadle County, for instance, pot possession offenders are typically hit with a fine of $435, with some jail time thrown in for repeat offenders.

Attorney General Marty Jackley (R), the State's Attorney's Association's Paul Bachand, and lobbyists for sheriffs and police chiefs all opposed the bill, saying it would "send the wrong message" about a substance they consider a "gateway drug."

Earlier in the session, legislators defeated a medical marijuana bill (again). The state also criminalizes having gotten high, even if having done so elsewhere. Its "internal possession" law is unique in the country. South Dakota remains one of the most pot-unfriendly places in the country, something that summer vacationers and fans of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally would do well to keep in mind.

Pierre, SD
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a key case on whether localities can ban dispensaries, and medical marijuana bills died in two Midwest states, and there's more news, too. Let's get to it:


Last Thursday, the Obama administration sought to dismiss a lawsuit by the city of Oakland defending its ability to issue permits for dispensaries. Oakland had sued the feds after US prosecutors moved against the Harborside Health Center, seeking to shut it down. The Justice Department argued that the city was using the wrong legal remedy, but Oakland argued that shutting down Harborside would send tens of thousands of patients into the streets seeking medicine, posing a threat to public safety in a city with crime problems. No ruling was made.

Also last Thursday, the LAPD raided a massive grow up that supplied dispensaries. LAPD officers and US Homeland Security gang agents found 1,500 pounds of marijuana and several firearms. Police said the warehouse grow did about $7.6 million in business every 60 days, and supplied numerous dispensaries in Southern California. Authorities also allege it was shipping marijuana to the Midwest and East Coast. Four people were arrested; their names have not been released.

On Monday, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis dropped the charges against two medical marijuana patients. The move came in the cases of Clint Guidry and Cameron Mitchell, and represented a setback for the staunchly anti-medical marijuana Dumanis.

On Tuesday, LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said dispensaries should be allowed to operate in the city. Up for reelection, the formerly anti-dispensary Trutanich said he was endorsing a city council initiative that would allow the 100 to 180 retailers that existed before a fall 2007 city moratorium on dispensaries to essentially carry on so long as they follow certain rules. A second initiative also set for the ballot would allow virtually all of the city's hundreds--possibly up to a thousand--dispensaries to stay open.

Also on Tuesday, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a key dispensary ban case. The issue is whether the city of Riverside's ban on dispensaries violates the state's medical marijuana laws. Questioning by the justices suggested that they were prepared to agree with the city that the state constitution gives cities wide policing power over land use and suggested that the state's medical marijuana laws have not undercut that authority.

On Wednesday, DEA agents and San Bernardino police raided a chain of dispensaries and a private residence. The raiders hit Kush Concepts at three locations, where they marched patients out of the dispensaries. City officials said there are 41 dispensaries in San Bernardino.

Also on Wednesday, an appeals court upheld Tehama County's cultivation ordinance. A group of medical marijuana patients sued over the ordinance in 2010, arguing it was unconstitutional and conflicted with the Compassionate Use Act. The county prevailed in Superior Court, and that decision was appealed. Now that appeal has been lost.


Last Tuesday, the first applications for Fort Collins dispensary licenses were submitted. The city had had 21 dispensaries that were forced to close when voters chose to impose a ban in 2011. The ban was overturned by voters in November, and now the dispensaries are coming back.


Last Thursday, legislators killed a medical marijuana bill. House Public Safety Committee Chair Clel Baudler (R-Greenfield) call it one of the "stupidest" bills he had ever seen. He was joined by the other Republican on the three-member panel in voting to kill it.


On Sunday, state officials said they may not make the deadline to come up with medical marijuana regulations. They are required to have them in place by May 1, but health officials said the complexity of the issues was such that they were unlikely to be able to comply. Medical marijuana advocates responded that any delay is unjustified and would cause patients to suffer.


On Tuesday, a report said the state had collected $10 million in revenues from medical marijuana program applicants. The report covered the period through the end of the state's budget year on September 30. It says the revenue intake was nearly double that needed to run the program.


Last Friday, Chris Williams was sentenced to a mandatory minimum five years in prison for his role in Montana Cannabis, the state's largest dispensary during its short-lived medical marijuana boom. He had been facing more than 90 years in federal prison after refusing plea agreements and then being convicted of marijuana cultivation and firearms offenses in federal court (they had a shotgun at their grow op), but in the face of a public outcry, prosecutors sought and got an unusual post-conviction plea bargain limiting his prison exposure.

South Dakota

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was killed in the legislature. It went down on a 7-6 vote in the House Health and Human Services Committee. Medical marijuana bills have been repeatedly introduced since 2001, only to die. South Dakota voters have also twice rejected medical marijuana initiatives.

Mitch McConnell Endorses Kentucky Hemp Bill

In a statement last Thursday, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the minority leader in the US Senate, endorsed pending legislation in his home state that seeks to reintroduce industrial hemp cultivation there. The bill already has the support of the state's other US senator, Rand Paul, and Agricultural Commissioner James Comer, who were instrumental in bringing McConnell on board.

Is it sunrise for industrial hemp in Kentucky? (
"After long discussions with Senator Rand Paul and Commissioner James Comer on the economic benefits of industrialized hemp, I am convinced that allowing its production will be a positive development for Kentucky's farm families and economy," McConnell said. "The utilization of hemp to produce everything from clothing to paper is real, and if there is a capacity to center a new domestic industry in Kentucky that will create jobs in these difficult economic times, that sounds like a good thing to me."

But McConnell first had to be reassured that industrial hemp wouldn't somehow turn into recreational marijuana. Comer apparently managed the trick.

"Commissioner Comer has assured me that his office is committed to pursuing industrialized hemp production in a way that does not compromise Kentucky law enforcement's marijuana eradication efforts or in any way promote illegal drug use," McConnell said.

In a statement of his own last Thursday, Comer expressed enormous gratitude for McConnell's support.

"When the most powerful Republican in the country calls to discuss your issue, that's a good day on the job," Comer said. "Leader McConnell's support adds immeasurable strength to our efforts to bring good jobs to Kentucky."

The hemp bill, Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville), would direct the state Agriculture Department to create a program for licensing industrial hemp producers, but would not go into effect until there is a change in federal law, which bans the production -- but not the importation -- of industrial hemp.

In addition to both US senators, the bill has also garnered the support of two of the state's six US representatives, US Reps. John Yarmuth (D) and Thomas Massie (R). The two congressmen, Sen. Paul, and Commissioner Comer will all testify in favor of the bill.

"Our federal delegation is showing tremendous leadership," Comer said. "They recognize this is not a partisan issue. It's about jobs. And we will continue to push forward to make sure Kentucky is first in line for them."

State legislative leaders are also firmly backing the bill. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) joined Sen. Hornback in convincing the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to endorse the bill. It did so Wednesday.

The bill gets a hearing in the Senate Agriculture Committee on February 11.

Frankfort, KY
United States

Is It Time for Another DC Marijuana Initiative? [FEATURE]

In the wake of the legalization victories in Colorado and Washington last November, and medical marijuana in Massachusetts, activists are talking about where the next marijuana reform campaigns should be waged and what they should attempt to do. One document that has gotten some discussion is from the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), listing seven states where it would be working to legalize marijuana next. The list includes possible tax and regulate initiatives in Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon.

DC's partial diamond (map from
Absent from the list is one jurisdiction that would also appear ripe for a legalization initiative: Washington, DC. The nation's capital has several things going for it.

DC has the initiative process, and activists used it to great effect in passing medical marijuana with 69% of the vote in 1998 (even if, thanks to Congressional action and the glacial pace of the DC government it has taken 15 years to implement it). The District is also overwhelmingly liberal; Obama won with 91% of the vote in November.

Unlike large states like California, the District is small in size and population and would not require a huge expenditure of resources to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. Similarly, it is a relatively small media market, meaning TV advertising would be in reach of all but the most ill-funded campaign.

Last, but not least, it is the nation's capital. A successful initiative in Washington, DC, would reverberate not only around the country, but around the world, particularly an initiative that enacted legalization..

MPP may not have included the District in its "to do" list, but that doesn't mean the organization isn't watching, said the organization's director of governmental relations, Steve Fox.

"[DC] is being discussed," said Fox. "When you look at the places where an initiative would be possible, the District stands out. One reason we didn't mention it is that it’s a jurisdiction where we're not necessarily looking at tax and regulate, but there are options to do less, such as a decriminalization initiative."

The problem of congressional interference is cause for concern, though, Fox said.

"DC certainly is ripe for some kind of reform, but we also have to be cognizant of the fact that it is unique in that it has congressional oversight," Fox said. "With the medical marijuana system finally getting off the ground, we don't necessarily want to ruffle any feathers by attempting to do anything too bold. When the medical marijuana initiative passed in 1998 and Congress wanted to mess with it, they ended up having a provision something along the lines of DC not being able to spend any funds to lower or reduce penalties related to any schedule I or II substances. If Congress thought DC was going too far too fast, it could block DC from spending any money for reforms of Schedule I substances."

Doing DC would be tempting, said Fox, but again worried about moving too fast for Congress.

"There would certainly be value in passing something in the District," he mused. "You would be making a statement that a strongly Democratic-leaning jurisdiction thinks marijuana should be regulated like alcohol, but that might not be big news to a lot of people. The real impact and real value would be to actually have a regulated market in operation, and members of Congress could see that the sky isn't falling. We've waited 15 years to show Congress you can have medical marijuana dispensaries up and running and serving patients and the public good, and we want to make sure Congress has a chance to absorb that reality."

"As a longtime DC resident, I've always thought of the District as low-hanging fruit," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, who expressed interest in an initiative. "The media market is limited, and there is an overwhelmingly liberal population. But we don't even have a NORML chapter here, and I see little impetus in the reform community."

But things are happening in the District, according to long-time activist Adam Eidinger, co-owner of the Capitol Hemp Emporium until it was forced to close under law enforcement pressure last year. Eidinger told the Chronicle that both legalization and medical marijuana activists were meeting to plot potential courses of action, including either a legalization initiative or an initiative to expand medical marijuana rights.

"We're thinking 2014," said Eidinger, "but while I think this is a no-brainer, it has to be poll tested. We're not going to go for it if it polls less than 65%. "We will poll medical as well as legalization and see what the difference is. I know some of our friends wouldn't support legalization, but would support a patients' rights initiative that would give them the right to grow limited amounts, more rights to use outside the home, and more flexibility on dispensaries. This isn't California; DC is super strict on medical marijuana, and the patients here are going to be AIDS patients and cancer sufferers."

Test polling will happen soon, he said.

Eidinger, who also runs a media consulting firm, also saw the potential for a media coup. "This is a great place to do it for the public relations value," he said.

MPP's Fox said the group was looking for a few good people.

"As MPP did in Colorado and with medical marijuana in Arkansas, what we look for are committed and competent people on the ground who are able to do this kind of work," Fox said. "We're looking to support good people. I coordinate ballot initiatives, and I'm in DC, and so are other activists. I would be happy to work with local activists to craft something."

"The symbolism alone would probably be worth it," said St. Pierre. "It probably wouldn't cost more than $15,000 or $20,000 to get it done. This is a low cost project with a huge potential upside."

If recent comments from DC elected officials are any indication, further marijuana law reform is only going to come through the initiative process. While one city council candidate, Paul Zuckerberg, is running on a platform that includes decriminalization, the mayor and other top officials have made clear they are not interested in going further.

"I'm not prepared at this stage to support the decriminalization of any drugs at this point," Mayor Vincent Gray said earlier this month. "Look at the most abused substance in our society, and it's probably alcohol. People do abuse, irrespective of whether it's legal or not."

Police Chief Cathy Lanier also expressed unease, although her comments did suggest she drew a line between marijuana and other drugs.

"I know the legalization of marijuana is in large debate around the country, whether it be medical marijuana or just straight-out legalization of marijuana. That's one issue," Lanier said. "But I think when you talk about some of these other drugs that are extremely dangerous -- PCP, for example -- to say that we should decriminalize that and just allow people to have that without any penalty in the community would just be devastating."

With the DC council unlikely to advance reform, that leaves the field open to potential initiative campaigns. The District is most likely ripe for the picking, if anyone decides to go that route.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

An important federal court ruling, medical marijuana bills start popping up in the states, more providers get prosecuted, and LA continues to stumble toward a resolution of its dispensary issue. Let's get to it:


On Tuesday, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition to reschedule marijuana.The nearly 11-year-old petition had been rejected by the DEA, and the appeals court upheld that decision. While attorneys for petitioners say they will appeal -- to the Supreme Court if necessary -- advocates are now turning their attention to Congress and the administration.


Last Wednesday, the state Supreme Court denied review of a landmark medical marijuana case, People v. Jackson. In that case, the Fourth District Court of Appeals had overturned the conviction of San Diego dispensary operator Jovan Jackson and established a clear defense for Jackson and others like him who are prosecuted in state court. The Fourth District court had held that in mounting a defense at trial, "Jackson was only required to produce evidence which would create a reasonable doubt as to whether the defense provided by the [Medical Marijuana Program Act] had been established." The court further held that, "the collective or cooperative association required by the act need not include active participation by all members in the cultivation process but may be limited to financial support by way of marijuana purchases from the organization. Thus, contrary to the trial court's ruling, the large membership of Jackson's collective, very few of whom participated in the actual cultivation process, did not, as a matter of law, prevent Jackson from presenting an MMPA defense."

Last Friday, a Stockton dispensary operator pleaded guilty in federal court to marijuana manufacturing and distribution charges. Lynn Farrell Smith, 62, was a co-owner of a half dozen Stockton and Sacramento-area dispensaries and grew marijuana at a Stockton warehouse to supply the stores. Prosecutors said he made millions while hiding under the cover of the state's medical marijuana laws.

On Tuesday, the LA city council voted to put two medical marijuana initiatives on the May ballot. The two must come up for a second vote next week, when the council considers its own third initiative. One initiative would allow about 100 dispensaries to remain open; the other would allow most of the estimated 500 dispensaries currently operating in the city to remain open.

Also on Tuesday, the Antioch city council voted to ban dispensaries. The ban passed on a 3-2 vote after city staff told the council it had concerns about burglaries and robberies at dispensaries and over the sale of illegal drugs to youngsters.


Last Wednesday, state officials handed in draft regulations for in-state cultivation and sale of medical marijuana to Gov. Dan Malloy (D). The draft rules include nuts-and-bolts guidelines for growers, doctors, patients obtaining medical certificates and even the disposal of unused marijuana, which could be turned in to local police. If the regulation process proceeds smoothly, dispensaries could be operating by late this year or early next year.


Last Wednesday, Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines) introduced a medical marijuana bill. The bill, House File 22, would allow Iowans with debilitating medical conditions to obtain and use marijuana without fear of arrest. It would also create a dispensary system.


Last Thursday, a medical marijuana worker was sentenced to four years in federal prison for his involvement with Montana Cannabis, which was raided by the DEA as part of 2011's statewide sweep of dispensaries. Dan Nichols had done construction and worked as a night watchman at the dispensary. Several other Montana Cannabis operators have already been sentenced to federal prison, including 68-year-old Richard Flor, who died there.

Also last Thursday, a medical marijuana provider was convicted in federal court of "conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana" and "possession with intent to distribute marijuana," but was acquitted of another felony, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-related crime. Former Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jason Washington claimed to be in compliance with Montana's medical marijuana law but, as is typical with such federal cases, defendants like Washington are routinely denied a defense. He is facing a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence, up to 40 years in prison, and more than $10 million in fines and forfeitures.

Also last Thursday, a district court judge issued a second injunction blocking implementation of SB 423, the law passed by the state legislature that effectively gutted the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Judge James Reynolds had ordered a similar injunction last year, but was reversed by the state Supreme Court. After hearing new testimony, he issued a more thorough ruling last Thursday.


On Monday, Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) filed a medical marijuana bill. The bill, Senate Bill 902, directs the medical board to develop and adopt rules allowing patients to obtain permission from their doctors to use marijuana.

South Dakota

On Wednesday, two senators said they were introducing a medical marijuana defense bill.Sen. Craig Tieszen (R-Rapid City) and Rep. Dan Kaiser (R-Aberdeen) were hoping to introduce the bill Wednesday. It would allow persons caught with two ounces or less of marijuana to argue a medical necessity defense.


Last Friday, Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin) introduced a medical marijuana affirmative defense bill. The bill, House Bill 594, would enact protections for physicians who make written or oral statements to their patients that marijuana would likely provide benefits that outweigh any risks. Patients whose doctors make such statements would be able to present evidence of the statement in court if charged with possession of marijuana and have their charges dismissed.


Last Wednesday, the Bremerton city council voted to ban collective medical marijuana gardens. Such gardens are legal under a 2011 state law, but the council sided with city attorneys, who warned that regulating and permitting the gardens might put city workers at risk from the federal government, which considers all marijuana production illegal.

Medical Marijuana Update

New state medical marijuana bills are starting to roll out as the legislative season gets underway, progress comes in Arizona, and San Diego's mayor steps up for medical marijuana. Let's get to it:


Last Thursday, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the Yuma County sheriff must return marijuana seized from a California medical marijuana patient. The court said that medical marijuana seized from Valerie Okun must be returned to her because Arizona's medical marijuana law allows people with authorizations from other states to legally possess marijuana in Arizona. The court declined to consider prosecutors' argument that federal drug law invalidates Arizona's medical marijuana law. The ruling upholds one by a Yuma County Superior Court judge.

Also last Thursday, state inspectors gave the okay to the state's first commercial cannabis kitchen. The kitchen, Heavenly Harvest, provides edibles for patients of the Green Halo dispensary in Tucson and plans to supply other dispensaries as they open.


Last Wednesday, a former South Lake Tahoe dispensary operator pleaded guilty to federal charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Gino DiMatteo, 43, had been raided on August 31. He's looking at up to 30 years in federal prison.

Last Thursday, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner halted the prosecution of dispensaries there. Filner ordered the Development Services Department, which handles code compliance, to stop enforcement against dispensaries and stop forwarding cases to the city attorney for prosecution. The move came after a political spat with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, who challenged him to assert his mayoral authority if he wanted a policy change. Now, he has done so. More than 200 dispensaries have been shut down in San Diego and Imperial counties since the feds cracked down in 2011, but many of those closures have come at the hands of city and local officials.

On Tuesday, the feds said they wouldn't stop going after dispensaries in San Diego. US Attorney Laura Duffy said that she was open to meeting with the mayor, but added that "We are going to enforce the Controlled Substances Act."

Also on Tuesday, Shasta County supervisors voted to create an advisory committee to revisit the issue of growing medical marijuana in the largely rural county. They did that instead of voting on a proposed ordinance that would ban outdoor grows, but they did direct the county's executive officer to look into speeding up the enforcement process for non-compliant gardens.

Also on Tuesday, the LA city council moved forward with its own medical marijuana ballot measure. There are already two others set to go before the voters, one of which would allow must currently existing dispensaries to remain open, the other of which would shut down all but 127. The proposed city council measure is similar to the second, but would add additional restrictions. All this activity comes after activists forced the council to back away from its original plan to shut down all dispensaries.


Last Wednesday, a new medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1, was introduced. Similar legislation died at session's end earlier this month.


On Tuesday, Sen. David Haley introduced a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 9. (The measure is not available online until after the legislature convenes on Thursday.)

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, a poll found that 68% of voters support a medical marijuana law in the state. The poll was released as state lawmakers prepare to consider a medical marijuana bill in this year's legislative session. It also found that 52% of voters would be more likely to vote for a state legislator if he or she voted for such legislation. Just 27% said they'd be less likely.

New York

On Tuesday, Sen. Diane Savino (D) introduced a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1682. (The bill is not yet available online.)

NY Governor Cuomo Calls for Marijuana Law Reform

In his State of the State address Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called on the legislature to reform the state's marijuana laws. Marijuana possession has been decriminalized in the state since 1977, but New York City has emerged as the nation's marijuana arrest capitol because the NYPD habitually charges small-time offenders with "open view" possession -- a misdemeanor -- after intimidating them into pulling their baggies out of their pockets.
Andrew Cuomo
More than 600,000 people have been arrested for pot possession in New York in the past 15 years, most of them in New York City. The NYPD arrested some 50,000 people for "open view" possession in 2011 alone, 85% of them black or brown, mostly young men.

Cuomo attempted to push forward a reform bill last year, but that effort was stalled in the state Senate despite being supported by NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelley, all five New York City prosecutors, and numerous others.

Cuomo noted the discrepancy in the law between public and private possession and called on solons to enact legislation to decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams of pot in either private or public. The governor cited the negative impacts of mass marijuana arrests, including criminalization, stigmatization, wasted resources, and racial disparities.

"It's not fair, it's not right. It must end, and it must end now," he demanded.

Mass marijuana arrests are "not worth it in dollars, in stigma or in impact. In order to fix the inequity in the law while still recognizing that possession in public is different from possession in one's home, the Governor will propose legislation that makes 'open view' possession of marijuana in amounts of 15 grams or less a violation punishable by a fine," he said in prepared remarks.

That's what drug reformers, community activists, and civil liberties and racial justice activists wanted to hear.

"We cannot have the same laws applied differently to different groups of people when the dividing line is race," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The governor’s proposal is an essential step towards bringing greater fairness and equity to both our drug laws and policing practices in our state. The criminalization of our young people must end -- the legislature must now act now to pass the governor’s bill."

"I hope [Republican conference leader] Senator Skelos and the entire legislature heard Governor Cuomo loud and clear when he said it's time to end marijuana arrests that 'stigmatize and criminalize' young people of color, which have been one of the leading consequences of stop and frisk," said Alfredo Carrasquillo, a civil rights organizer for VOCAL-NY. "Governor Cuomo is right that these arrests mean more than a night in jail -- they can have lasting effects on a person's access to jobs, housing and a better future."

"With stop and frisk and needless criminalization, too many of our young people are swept up in the criminal justice system. Governor Cuomo’s reform proposal is a critical step towards a brighter future for our youth," said  Kyung Ji Kate Rhee of the Center for NuLeadership. "Instead of wasting money on these arrests, we should be investing in community development and resources that are far more effective at guiding our youth in the choices they make towards fulfilling their best potential."

Now, let's see if the legislature is listening.

Albany, NY
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Montana caregivers continue to get sentenced in federal court, an Arizona lawmaker wants a redo on medical marijuana, an Illinois bill is delayed, and the DEA gets busy in California. Let's get to it:


Last Thursday, a state lawmaker filed a bill to put medical marijuana back before the voters. Rep. John Kavanaugh (R-Fountain Hills) pre-filed House Concurrent Resolution 2003, which would put the issue on the November 2014 ballot. Kavanaugh opposes the state's medical marijuana law and hopes voters will, too. The measure must be approved by the legislature, but does not need the governor's signature.


Last Thursday, a Santa Barbara man said he was being evicted from his apartment for smoking medical marijuana. James Cerda, 64, said the Santa Barbara Housing Authority recently imposed new no-smoking rules in his complex and that he had received an eviction notice because of his medical marijuana use. Cerda added that he had lived in the complex for 10 years and that housing officials had known for years that he was a medical marijuana patient.

Last Wednesday, the Los Angeles city clerk announced that an initiative that would reduce the number of dispensaries had gathered the required signatures to go before the voters. The "Medical Marijuana Collectives Initiative Ordinance" would allow about 100 dispensaries to remain open in the city. The initiative now goes to the city council, which can adopt it, call a special election, or place it on the May 21 general election ballot. Another group has submitted a separate initiative that would allow many more dispensaries to stay open. The city clerk is counting those signatures now to see if it, too, will qualify.

Last Friday, a group of dispensaries sued the city of Long Beach, charging it and its police department used illegal methods to run them out of business. The lead plaintiff, the Green Earth Center, claims police used "warrantless" raids and other illegal tactics. The lawsuit also names five Long Beach police officers and seeks an injunction and damages for alleged civil rights violations. More than a half dozen dispensaries were raided after a citywide ban on them took effect.

On Monday, former Upland dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Sandusky had operated G3 Holistic in Upland, Colton, and Moreno Valley, and was convicted in October of two counts of violating federal marijuana law, one for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana plants, possession with intent to distribute marijuana plants, and to maintain a drug-involved premises, as well as a second count of distributing marijuana plants.

Also on Monday, a federal magistrate in Oakland allowed the Harborside dispensary to remain open while it fights federal government efforts to shut it down. Citing threat of seizure of their properties by the federal government, Harborside's Oakland and San Jose landlords had sought to force it stop selling medical marijuana. The federal magistrate ruled that it is up to the federal government, not the landlords, to shut down Harborside for violating the Controlled Substances Act.

Also on Monday, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske slammed medical marijuana during a gathering of law enforcement officials in San Francisco. "Medicinal marijuana has never been through the FDA process," he said. "We have the world’s most renowned process to decide what is medicine and what should go in peoples’ bodies. And marijuana has never been through that process."

On Tuesday, Mendocino County supervisors approved a change to their medical marijuana ordinance to clarify that " all information received by and/or generated by the operation of Chapter 9.31 has always been intended to be treated and held by the County of Mendocino as confidential information to the fullest extent authorized by California and Federal law from 2008 to the present as well as prospectively." The move comes in response to a broad federal subpoena seeking information on the county's medical marijuana program, which the county is contesting.

On Wednesday, the DEA raided three Los Angeles dispensaries, according to preliminary reports.


Last Thursday, the state legislature adjourned without addressing a medical marijuana bill. But a new session starts this week, and the bill will be reintroduced. After the November elections, Democrats now hold super-majorities in both houses, which should help the process along.


On December 28, a Helena man was sentenced to a year in federal prison for growing medical marijuana. Paul Roy Schmidt, 57, had operators Sleeping Giant Caregivers, which was raided during the federal crackdown in the spring of 2011. He was in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. He had faced a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, but was granted a downward departure at sentencing. He was also fined $750,000.

Last Friday, medical marijuana provider Chris Lindsay was sentenced to five years federal probation for his role in Montana Cannabis dispensary, which had locations across the state. It, too, was busted during the 2011 federal crackdown. Lindsey said he would remain head of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, but he must forfeit $288,000 in bank accounts held under the name of the Montana Caregivers Association. Lobbyist Tom Daubert, another partner in Montana Cannabis, previously was sentenced to probation. Partner Richard Flor of Miles City died in federal custody in August. Partner Chris Williams, the only Montana Cannabis member to go to trial, was convicted and faces a mandatory minimum five-year sentence when sentenced on February 1.

Federal Magistrate Rules for Harborside Medical Marijuana Dispensary

A federal magistrate in Oakland Monday ruled that landlords for the Harborside Health Center cannot stop it from selling medical marijuana in their properties in the cities of Oakland and San Jose. Federal Magistrate Maria-Elena James issued an order blocking the landlords from forcing Harborside to close its doors.

Harborside is the world's largest medical marijuana dispensary, serving 108,000 registered patients at its two locations. It was targeted by federal prosecutors as part of their ongoing crackdown on medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal.

Federal prosecutors targeted Harborside by threatening its landlords with seizure of their properties. In a bid to fend off asset forfeiture actions, the two landlords went to federal court to try to stop Harborside from engaging in "any unlawful activity," which, under federal law, includes selling medical marijuana.

But Magistrate James ruled that the landlords had no right to pursue such an action under federal law and she challenged the landlords' claims that their property values would be harmed by the sale of medical marijuana. Harborside has operated at the Oakland property since 2006 and in San Jose since 2009.

"Any damage or threat of harm to the (properties) resulting from Harborside's operations would have occurred when Harborside began its operations at the Oakland and San Jose locations," she wrote. "There is nothing in the record indicating that Harborside's continued operation compromises the existence, value or title of either the Oakland or San Jose property. Any argument about the urgency of stopping Harborside's activities rings hollow."

Harborside was joined in court by the city of Oakland, which argued that the federal government has missed the statute of limitations in the case and that closing Harborside would create a public safety risk by creating a black market for formerly available medical marijuana. The court did not rule on the city's motion to immediately enjoin the federal government from shutting down Harborside, but set a date for more hearings on that issue.

"We are grateful that Judge James carefully considered the facts and arguments in the Harborside case, and decided to grant us our day in court," said Harborside executive director Steve DeAngelo. "We have always believed that a Bay Area jury will recognize the value that Harborside brings to the community, and refuse to allow the federal government to seize the properties where we are located. We look forward to proving our case in front of a jury, and continue to believe we will prevail. In the meantime, we ask the Department of Justice to immediately freeze enforcement actions against Harborside and any other cannabis providers acting in full compliance with state law. Our nation's law enforcement officers should concentrate on real crime."

Harborside isn't out of the legal woods yet, though. The federal effort to shut it down remains alive, even though the dispensary won this skirmish. It has stated repeatedly that it will fight the battle to the end, and on that score, at least, nothing has changed.

"We are gratified that Judge James listened to and analyzed the parties' arguments so thoroughly and has now rendered an opinion that will ensure Harborside has the right to present its case to a jury," said Harborside attorney Henry Wysocki. "Despite the government's efforts to shortcut the case, Harborside will now be able to fully defend itself at trial. That is all we had asked, and the court has now agreed. The stage is now set for a jury trial on the underlying issues of the litigation, which will probably take place in about one year."

Oakland, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been fairly quiet over the holidays, but medical marijuana is legal in Massachusetts now! Let's get to it:


On December 19, the Berkeley Patients Group dispensary reopened for business. The longtime community stalwart was forced to shut down at its former location after asset forfeiture threats to its landlord by federal prosecutors. Ever since it was forced to close its doors last spring, it operated as a delivery service, but now it is a storefront dispensary again, and it's just a block and a half down San Pablo Avenue from its former location.

On December 20, there was a hearing in the Harborside Health Center case. Federal prosecutors are seeking to seize properties it leases in Oakland and San Jose, and the hearing featured two landlords, the city of Oakland, Harborside and the federal government arguing about whether the nation's largest dispensary can stay open while it fights the federal forfeiture action. The landlords, who stand to lose their properties, sought an order to force Harborside to close immediately. But Harborside and the city of Oakland argued there was no need to act immediately and the court could wait to hear arguments. There was no ruling, but one is expected shortly.

On December 20, a Solano County Superior Court judge threw out cases against two Vallejo dispensary operators. The two men, Jorge Espinoza, 25, and Jonathan Linares, 22, had been charged with marijuana possession and sale, and operating an illegal dispensary. Their dispensary, the Better Health Group collective, had been raided by Vallejo police three times and closed down after the third raid in June. Judge William Harrison dismissed the charges, saying after the ruling that dispensaries that comply with the Compassionate Use Act and the Medical Marijuana Program Act are allowed to operate. This was the first in a number of Vallejo dispensary cases resulting from a police crackdown last year. The police crackdown came months after Vallejo voters approved an initiative to tax dispensaries.

On December 21, attorneys for Mendocino County filed a motion to quash federal subpoenas seeking "records, letters and any other communications on the Mendocino County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Regulation to include third-party inspectors and the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors" since January 1, 2010. The request was expanded to include all "memoranda, notes, files, or records relating to meetings or conversations concerning" the Zip Tie program or Medical Marijuana Cultivation Regulation. The county argues that "the scope of the subpoenas is overbroad and burdensome, oppressive, and constitutes an improper intrusion into the ability of state and local government to administer programs for the health and welfare of their residents." No court date has been set to hear the motion. The county has until January 8 to comply with the subpoena.

Last Tuesday, the Oroville Planning Commission approved a new medical marijuana growing ordinance that will go before the city council for final approval. The ordinance would require that crops be grown indoors in secured structures and that anyone growing get a permit from the city. To legally grow medical marijuana inside the city, a qualified person must apply for a permit, meet all the requirements and have the growing facilities inspected by the police chief or a person designated by the police chief. The permit will be issued by the police chief or his or her designee.


On December 22, state Sen. John Keenan called for a delay in implementing the state's new medical marijuana law. Keenan also said he would introduce legislation that would "close loopholes" by imposing controls beyond those approved by the voters, including eliminating home cultivation, requiring marijuana "prescriptions" to be entered in the state's Prescription Monitoring Program to avoid "doctor shopping."

On Tuesday, medical marijuana became legal in Massachusetts as voter-approved Question 3 went into effect. But it will be months before any dispensaries open. The Department of Public Health has until May 1 to develop regulations.


On December 19, the state Supreme Court ruled that collective grows are not allowed under the state's medical marijuana law. The ruling came in the case of Ryan Bylsma, a Grand Rapids man who gave others warehouse space to grow. Bylsma is a state-approved caregiver who could grow 24 plants for two people, but he also allowed other caregivers and patients to grow in the same space. When he was raided, there were 88 plants in the warehouse. Kent County authorities said that arrangement was illegal and charged him with manufacturing marijuana. The court agreed, arguing he "exercised dominion and control over all the plants in the warehouse space that he leased, not merely the plants in which he claimed an ownership interest." The Supreme Court sent the case back to Kent County to allow Bylsma to offer an alternative defense.


On Monday, the select board in Rutland decided not to prohibit dispensaries. No one has applied to open one, but board members agreed they shouldn't be banned.


On December 19, the Everett city council banned collective gardens. It declared medical marijuana a nuisance with an order that will expire in 18 months. The vote came ahead of the expiration of the city's moratorium on collective gardens and effectively continues it. Medical marijuana patients set the ban could lead to legal action against the city.

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