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Medical Marijuana Update

Well, at least the DEA didn't raid any dispensaries in the last week. In California, the battle continues at the local level, while progress is being made in several states. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, researchers reported that youth marijuana use rates did not increase in medical marijuana states. "Medical marijuana laws have not measurably impacted adolescent marijuana use," researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine report in a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. "In 40 planned comparisons of adolescents exposed and not exposed to MMLs [medical marijuana laws] across states over time, only two significant effects were found, an outcome expected according to chance alone. Further examination of the (nonsignificant) estimates revealed no discernible patterns suggesting an effect on either self-reported prevalence or frequency of marijuana use."

Also last Thursday, Americans for Safe Access reported that the Obama administration had spent nearly $300 million aggressively targeting medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal. That spending includes at least $8 million spent by the DEA conducting some 270 paramilitary-style raids, accounting for 4% of the agency's budget in 2011 and 2012. But that amount was dwarfed by the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on investigations before raids, indictments, lawsuits, and prosecutions, which totaled more than $200 million.

Also last Thursday, California NORML reported that medical marijuana providers have been sentenced to a cumulative nearly 500 years in federal prisons. More than 335 people have been charged with federal offenses for medical marijuana production or distribution, and 158 of them have been sentenced to a combined 480 years in federal prison. Some 50 people are still doing their federal sentences, while more are waiting to start theirs.

California

Last Tuesday, the Riverside city council voted to ban medical marijuana delivery services. The city had earlier banned dispensaries. Citing worries of running afoul of federal drug laws, council members voted to adopt an emergency ban on mobile marijuana dispensaries that took effect immediately. Attorneys for medical marijuana providers vowed to fight if the city took action against the delivery services.

Also last Tuesday, the city of Santa Ana reported that the number of dispensaries had dropped to 17. City officials had managed to shut down 42 more in the past month, bringing the total of dispensaries shut down there to 109. The city said it has closed a majority of the dispensaries through cease operations orders, a formal notice that serious consequences may follow. Both the US Attorney's Office and the city will be sending additional letters to the 17 dispensaries known to be still in operation with the goal of closing them. The letters will be followed by inspections and further enforcement. In addition to fines, the city can seek misdemeanor charges and sue. Dispensaries refusing to close operations will be issued criminal citations, city officials warned. The city attorney's office will work on the most problematic locations with the intent of filing civil action, while the Police Department, with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration, will continue its efforts to rid the city of the dispensaries.

Also last Tuesday, the Lakeport city council approved a new marijuana cultivation ordinance. The ordinance requires that marijuana grows be conducted in accessory outdoor structures, prohibiting outside grows and, according to city officials, placing emphasis on a complaint-driven process in which acts of noncompliance are infractions that garner citations and are handled through the city's administrative citation process. The council's vote was 5-0.

Last Wednesday, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner told dispensaries to stay closed until a new ordinance regulating them is adopted. "It's still illegal," Filner said. "There is no (land-use) zone that allows it and we will enforce it. And, in fact, code enforcement is investigating any report that we have of those violations. "The mayor was responding to a local media report that at least 15 dispensaries were operating within the city limits. Dozens of complaints have been filed with the city, yet no action has been taken since January when Filner ordered police and code compliance officers to stop investigating dispensaries. A draft proposal for a new dispensary ordinance has been created and it is currently going before local community and planning groups for review. No date has been set for a council vote. [Ed: Filner is one of a number of mayors sponsoring a US Conference of Mayors resolution calling on the federal government to respect state marijuana laws. Click the Marijuana Majority action link here to contact your mayor and to read more about it.]

Last Thursday, the Clearlake city council refused to pass a cultivation ordinance, instead sending it back to city staff for reconsideration. The ordinance would have limited plants according to parcel size, from six plants on parcels of half an acre or less up to 48 plants on 40 acres or more, and would also prohibit growing in mobile home parks -- unless garden areas are established and specified by management -- and multifamily dwellings and limits processing to the number of plants that can be grown on the site. The proposed ordinance had garnered little public comment at the May 23 meeting, but last week community members voiced concerns about the impact of marijuana cultivation in the city, urging the council to instead ban grows. Now, the council is looking at stiffening penalties for violating the ordinance.

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz county board of supervisor said it would address local marijuana cultivation as part of a revised set of regulations on the distribution of medical pot. While the board made clear it didn't intend to cut off access to medical marijuana, it said unregulated grows, both in houses and on hilltops, is a land use, public safety and environmental problem that needed to be addressed. The county passed regulations in 2011, but they were suspended pending the recent state Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of localities to regulate or ban dispensaries. Those regulations are set to go into effect once a moratorium on new clubs is lifted in November, though the board is targeting that date for tweaking the rules.

District of Columbia

Last Tuesday, the Department of Health released patient application forms for medical marijuana. That was the last bit of lawmaking needed before patients could start seeking approval to use marijuana legally under DC law. Dispensaries are already stocked up and ready to do business, so they should be selling medicine to patients anytime now. It only took 15 years since voters approved medical marijuana in 1998.

Massachusetts

Last Monday, the Lakeville town meeting voted to impose a moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will last for at least a year, to give the Planning Board a chance to create regulations.

On Tuesday, the Department of Public Health held a hearing on the dispensary licensing process. Some 70 people showed up with suggestions for improving the licensing process. Some call for forcing applicants to prove they have raised the mandated $500,000 application fee (!), while others called for the department to take community-service plans under consideration as well. The state licensing system will be merit-based, but regulators have yet to detail precisely what factors they will consider in awarding licenses.

Nevada

Last Wednesday, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill that will allow dispensaries to operate in the state. The legislation foresees up to 66 statewide, with at least one in each county, 10 in Washoe County (Reno) and up to 40 in Clark County (Las Vegas). The new law also applies to other medical marijuana facilities and imposes taxes.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, Gov. Maggie Hassan said she would sign compromise medical marijuana legislation, putting the Granite State in line to become the 19th medical marijuana state. The compromise eliminates patients' ability to grow their own and their ability to raise a medical defense before the state gets around to issuing patient IDs, but will allow for four nonprofit dispensaries to operate.

Oregon

On Monday, prosecutors announced new charges against three dispensary operators who were raided last month. Southern Oregon NORML leader Lori Duckworth, her husband Leland, and David James Bond already faced multiple counts of conspiracy to deliver marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school and manufacturing marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school. They have all now been hit with additional charges of racketeering and money laundering. The SONORML office on West Sixth Street in Medford was one of four medical cannabis dispensaries raided by police on May 23. The office is a local affiliate of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Police allege the dispensaries were storefronts for illegal marijuana sales, but the Duckworths said they were in compliance with all state laws.

On Tuesday, it was revealed the state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum endorsed a pending dispensary bill. She did so in a June 10 letter to legislative leaders Sen. Floyd Prozanski and Rep. Peter Buckley. The bill, House Bill 3460, would create a system of state-licensed and -regulated dispensaries. Dispensaries already exist in Oregon, Rosenblum noted. "These facilities operate in a climate of uncertain legality and the absence of a clear regulatory structure makes ensuring compliance with the law difficult," she wrote.

On Wednesday, the League of Oregon Cities endorsed House Bill 3460. The bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee that same day and is now headed for a House floor vote.

Washington

On Wednesday, medical marijuana supporters rallied at the state capitol in Olympia to protest an amendment to budget bills that would give the state Liquor Control Board control over the medical marijuana program. Patients worry that could lead to taxation of their purchases, as well as regulating their medical use.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Medical Marijuana is Coming to New Hampshire

New Hampshire is about to become the 19th state (unless the Illinois governor strikes first) to allow for the medicinal use of marijuana. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) Tuesday announced that she intends to sign a bill after House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise on language that would ease her expressed concerns.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/maggie-hassan.jpg
Gov. Maggie Hassan (nh.gov)
"I have always maintained that allowing doctors to provide relief to patients through the use of appropriately regulated and dispensed medical marijuana is the compassionate and right policy for the State of New Hampshire. The compromise legislation as agreed to by the committee of conference addresses the concerns that I have heard and expressed throughout this session, and provides the level of regulation needed for the use of medical marijuana," Hassan said in a Tuesday afternoon statement.

"I appreciate the hard work put into this measure by members of the Senate and House, especially lead negotiators Senator Nancy Stiles and Representative Jim MacKay, as well as by scores of advocates dedicated to the well-being of all Granite Staters, and I encourage the full legislature to pass this compromise so I can sign this legislation into law," she added.

Gov. Hassan's announcement was released after House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise on the bill earlier in the day. The full House and Senate are expected to sign off on the committee of conference agreement next week. It will then be transmitted to the governor for her signature.

The compromise means that New Hampshire residents will be able to access medical marijuana, but only more than a year from now, when state patient ID cards are ready and state-regulated dispensaries are open. No patients will be able to grow their own medicine, and private marijuana cultivation for any reason will remain a felony in the Granite State.

"We applaud state lawmakers for coming together to ensure the passage of this important legislation, and we are pleased to hear Gov. Hassan intends to sign it into law," said Matt Simon, a New Hampshire-based legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project."This common sense legislation will make New Hampshire a safer and healthier place not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all of us."

House Bill 573, sponsored by State Rep. Donna Schlachman (D-Exeter), will allow residents with certain debilitating illnesses to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. Patients will be able to obtain marijuana through one of four non-profit, state-licensed alternative treatment centers.

When first passed by the House, the bill allowed patients to grow up to three mature plants in their homes and to raise a defense in court if they were arrested before patient ID cards became available. But law enforcement raised concerns with the governor, who in turn raised concerns with the Senate, which amended the House version to eliminate patient grows and the interim medical marijuana defense. The Senate version also contained errors that made the program unworkable. House and Senate negotiators earlier Tuesday completed their work on a compromise bill, fixing the fatal flaws, but leaving intact the ban on patient grows.

"It is unfortunate that the measure will not provide immediate protection to those currently seeking relief from medical marijuana, but in time it will ensure seriously ill people will be able to do so without fear of arrest," Simon said. "The law will also provide patients with safe and reliable access to medical marijuana so that they no longer need to resort to the underground market."

Eighteen other states and the District of Columbia now allow medical marijuana. Medical marijuana legislation has also passed the Illinois legislature, and that bill is on the governor's desk.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Concord, NH
United States

Texas to Drug Test Some Unemployment Applicants

With Republican Gov. Rick Perry's signature Friday, a bill that would require some people seeking unemployment assistance to undergo drug tests has become law. But critics say it is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.

Gov. Perry signs unemployment drug testing bill. (governor.state.tx.us)
Perry signed into law Senate Bill 21, which will require applicants trying to find work in occupations where drug testing is already prevalent, such as aviation and truck driving, to undergo written screening for possible drug use. If that screening indicates possible drug use, the applicant would then have to take and pass a drug test. Failure to pass the drug test will lead to a denial of unemployment benefits.

Unemployment benefits are available to people who lose their jobs for lack of work. People who lose their jobs because of drug use are already ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The new law allows people to receive unemployment benefits despite a positive drug test if they immediately seek drug treatment or if they are taking a prescription drug under a doctor's supervision.

"Texas is a state where personal responsibility is very important, and recipients of unemployment benefits have a responsibility to be prepared to work when an opportunity presents itself," Gov. Perry said in a signing statement. "Our system is designed to provide assistance to people through a difficult time in their lives, not subsidize those who would misuse the system to live a drug-abusing lifestyle. This bill protects the resources that should be reserved for those truly in need."

"Senate Bill 21 was one of the most important bills I carried this session because it will help ensure someone who loses a job, through no fault of their own, will be ready to go back to work when another opportunity opens," bill sponsor Sen. Tommy Williams said. "My goal is to send a clear message and to get people help they need."

But neither Williams nor Perry provided any evidence that laid-off workers seeking benefits are any more likely to use drugs than anyone else.

Critics of the new law said it only "adds insult to injury" for workers laid off through no fault of their own. "The bill is in search of a problem that does not exist," the critics added. "There is no trend of increased drug use among those on unemployment. Data are also lacking to suggest people in need of government assistance are more likely to be drug users."

Austin, TX
United States

Nevada Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Dispensary, Needle Bills

Nevada's Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, Wednesday signed into law two drug reform measures, one allowing for medical marijuana dispensaries and one removing syringes from the state's drug paraphernalia law.

On the medical marijuana front, Sandoval signed into law Senate Bill 374, which will establish a state-regulated system of dispensaries. The law envisions up to 66 dispensaries across the state, with up to 40 in Las Vegas, 10 in Reno, and at least one in each county.

"We applaud Gov. Sandoval and the legislature for their leadership and commend those law enforcement organizations that expressed support for this much-needed legislation," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, who testified in support of the bill. "It will make Nevada a safer and healthier place not only for medical marijuana patients, but for the entire community. This new law will provide patients with the safe and reliable access to medical marijuana that they deserve," O'Keefe said. "Regulating medical marijuana sales will also generate revenue and take a bite out of the state's underground marijuana market."

Introduced by Sens.Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and Mark Hutchison (R-Las Vegas), the bill creates rules and regulations not only for dispensaries, but also infused product manufacturers and cultivation and testing facilities. It also imposes 2% excise taxes on both wholesale and retail sales, with 75% of those revenues going to the education fund and 25% going to cover the cost of regulating the medical marijuana industry.

The state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, passed twice in 1998 and 2000, required the legislature to create a medical marijuana program that included appropriate methods of supplying medical marijuana to patients. Now, the legislature has finally done so. Nevada will now join Arizona, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island on the list of states that have state-regulated dispensaries. Two more jurisdictions, Washington, DC, and Vermont should come on board this summer, and the rule-making process for dispensaries is underway in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

On the harm reduction front, Sandoval signed into law Senate Bill 410, which decriminalizes the possession of syringes by removing them from the state's drug paraphernalia list. That opens the way for the over-the-counter sale of syringes and needle exchange programs.

"Back in 1996 when first elected, I was asked what bills I'd be pursuing for my first legislative session," said Sen. David Parks (D-Las Vegas).  "My response was employment non-discrimination, HIV/AIDS state funding and decriminalization of hypodermic devices. Little did I know it would be my 9th session before decriminalization of hypodermic devices would come to fruition."

Nevada becomes the 37th state to decriminalize syringe possession and allow for the over-the-counter sale of needles, as well as needle exchange programs, both proven means of reducing the transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other blood-borne infections.

Nevada harm reduction workers said they were ready to get a needle exchange up and running as soon as the law takes effect.

"In addition to getting sterile syringe out to those who need them, our program will increase safe syringe disposal by individuals in the community," said Sharon Chamberlain, director of Northern Nevada HOPES in Reno. "We will educate these users about the new and needed community disposal options, and strongly encourage them to take advantage of this resource. Previously, no community initiatives provided safe disposal options. "

Carson City, NV
United States

Moving Toward Legal Marijuana Commerce in Washington State [FEATURE]

Voters approved the marijuana legalization initiative I-502 in Washington state last November, and it is now legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, but a full-blown marijuana commerce industry doesn't just happen overnight. The state is still months away from having a functioning system of state-taxed and -regulated marijuana cultivators, processors, and retailers, but the process is well underway, and by most accounts, it is going relatively smoothly.

This is how your Washington state marijuana will be labelled, according to the Liquor Control Board.
Last month, the Washington Liquor Control Board (LCB), the state agency charged with setting up the state's marijuana industry, issued its initial draft rules. It took written comments on the initial draft rules through Monday and will issue revised draft rules later this month. The LCB will hold public hearings on the rules for all three envisaged licenses -- grower, processor, and retailer -- in late July, promulgate final rules in August, begin accepting license applications in September, and begin issuing licenses in December.

From then, it is still likely to be months before the first legal marijuana is sold in Washington because only once growers are licensed will legal marijuana destined for retail sale be in the pipeline. It takes a minimum of three months to bring an indoor crop to harvest. But by sometime next spring, consumers should be able to go to their local pot shop and make their selections.

"These initial rules balance our goal of developing a tightly regulated system with reasonable access for small and large business models to participate within the system," said Board Chair Sharon Foster. "They are based upon hundreds of hours of internal research and deliberation, consultation with multiple industry experts and input from the over 3,000 individuals who attended our forums statewide."

The initial draft rules reflect the Board's stated goal of developing a tightly regulated and controlled recreational marijuana market. Included in the rules are elements that address out-of-state diversion of product, traceability of product from start to sale, youth access and other public and consumer safety concerns.

Here are some of the key elements in the initial draft rules: 

License Requirements

  • Application Window -- The application window would open for 30 days for all license types and be extended or reopened at the Board's discretion. This approach was similar to how Colorado opened its medical marijuana system.
  • Background Checks -- License applicants and financiers would be required to submit a form attesting to their criminal history, provide fingerprints, and allow criminal background checks. 
  • Point System -- The WSLCB would employ a disqualifying criminal history point system similar to liquor. An exception would be allowed for two misdemeanor convictions of possession within three years.

Public Safety

  • Producer Structures -- Producer operations would be allowed in both secure indoor grows or greenhouses.
  • Traceability -- A robust and comprehensive traceability software system will trace product from start to sale.
  • Violation Guidelines -- In addition to the $1,000 fine for certain violations established by I-502, the initial draft rules also include a strict tiered system of violation penalties over a three year period (similar to the current standard penalty guidelines for liquor).
  • Security -- The rules direct strict on-site surveillance systems similar to Colorado's current system.  
  • Advertising Restrictions -- I-502 restricts advertising within 1,000 feet of schools, public parks, transit centers, arcades, and other areas where children are present. The draft rules further restrict advertising as they pertain to children.

Consumer Safety

  • Behind the Counter Storage -- No open containers allowed.  
  • Package and Label Requirements -- Consumers will know contents and potency of products they purchase.
  • Defined Serving Size -- Serving sizes equal 10 mg of THC. Products are limited to 100 mg.
  • Lab Tested -- Uniform testing standards by independent accredited labs.

With the release of the initial draft rules, the period for written comment opened up. One of the first analyses -- not a formal comment -- came from the Henry Wykowski law firm, a San Francisco marijuana law practice that recently opened a Seattle office. Drafted by Wykowski attorney Rachel Kurtz, a longtime player in the Seattle marijuana reform scene, the analysis shined a light on some of what could be described as the rules' downsides.

"Hash will not be allowed for sale at the retail stores," the analysis noted. "According to the draft rules WAC 314-55-079, 'marijuana extracts,' such as, hash, hash oil, shatter, and wax can be infused in products sold in a marijuana retail store, but RCW 69.50.354 does not allow the sale of extracts that are not infused in products. A marijuana extract does not meet the definition of a marijuana-infused product per RCW 69.50.101."

The Wykowski analysis also warned that "fingerprinting will be required and sent to the FBI for anyone with an interest in the business being licensed, including financiers." That means anyone seeking a marijuana license is potentially incriminating oneself to the federal government, which continues to consider marijuana an illegal substance, even in states that have legalized it.

After Monday's deadline for comments passed, the LCB reported that while initial comments on the rules were relatively light, the agency received extensive written comment over the final weekend and throughout Monday from public and private organizations.

"In keeping with our goal of an open and transparent process for drafting the rules, we’re going to take an additional two weeks to consider the last-minute input we’ve received," said LCB Director Rick Garza. "The Board was prepared to issue the rules on June 19. However, it's our responsibility to carefully review and consider the comments we received."

Among those commenting were Washington NORML, the Washington Cannabis Association, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, organizations with concerns about impacts on minorities, and organizations with concerns about prevention, treatment, and public health, both led by the ACLU of Washington, whose Alison Holcomb took a leave of absence to lead the I-502 campaign to victory. The comments revealed a variety of interests -- some conflicting -- and concerns from various stakeholders in the issue.

The prevention, treatment, and public health groups called for tighter restrictions on packaging, labeling, and advertising, shorter hours for retail outlets, and getting rid of the logo that features a marijuana leaf centered over an outline of the state, while the minority groups called on the LCB to ensure that their communities did not become dumping grounds for marijuana retail outlets.

"Initiative 502 was designed to achieve better health and safety outcomes for our families and communities than marijuana prohibition has," said Holcomb. "It was not intended to 'mint marijuana millionaires' who prioritize profits over public health. The goal is to improve upon our experiences with alcohol and tobacco, not repeat them."

"We supported I-502 because we were very concerned about the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana possession on African-Americans and communities of color," said Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children's Alliance, which signed onto the public health comments. "Prohibition hasn't worked, and it has had damaging effects on children and families. We think regulation would be better."

"The Board needs to remember that it is setting a standard for marijuana regulation," said University of Washington professor Roger Roffman, who also signed on to the public health comments. "We have a unique opportunity to create a system that discourages glamorization of marijuana use and encourages respect for the public's health and wellbeing. Let's not waste it."

While the public health and minority communities were concerned with restraining the marijuana marketplace, other constituencies had other concerns.

"Most of our constituents are small growers with a hundred plants or less. We argued that when it comes to growing, priority should be given to individuals who are willing to have a garden of 99 plants or less," said Kevin Oliver, executive director of Washington NORML.

"Our constituency includes two separate US Attorney districts that have disparate levels of enforcement activity. If the US Attorney's Office in the Eastern District gets wind of any marijuana operations, they shut them down. They're discussing zoning for grows the size of a football field in Seattle, and good for them, but that won't fly in eastern Washington. If they ignore the little guy, that's going to cut out anybody in eastern Washington, that's why we want them to prioritize for small growers under 99 plants."

The 99 plants number is based on federal mandatory minimum sentences that kick in at 100 plants, but is also based on the observation that federal prosecutors are unlikely to go after grows that small when there are bigger fish to fry -- and bigger punishments to hand out.

"Our concerns were very similar to most everyone else who was frustrated with the board's definition of what can be sold at retail and it's not allowing extracts like hash oil," said Kurtz, who worked with the Washington Cannabis Association in crafting its comments. "Nobody is happy about that. There are a lot of business people who were counting on that for their business model. The whole purpose of the initiative was to get rid of a black market, but by not allowing that retail, a black market will remain. We might as well actually regulate because it's going to happen regardless, but they don't seem very keen to change," she said.

"The draft regs also don't allow for outdoor grows, but I have some hope they will change that," Kurtz added . "They've heard back from a lot of people about the need for outdoor grows, including Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. Forcing everyone indoors increases energy consumption, and growing outdoors is less expensive."

On the upside, the LCB seems to be crafting reasonable regulations for out of state visitors and for preventing diversion, although diversion probably won't be a big issue, Kurtz said.

"This doesn't limit out of state people at all," Kurtz explained. "You can buy an ounce at a time, which is the limit of what you can legally possess."

There is no integrated system to track purchasers, so out-of-staters could theoretically go from retail outlet to retail outlet, building their stashes an ounce at a time, but that doesn't mean there will be an issue with diversion to other states, Kurtz argued.

"Economically, it just doesn't make sense," she said. "If someone from North Dakota wants to sell pot there, they could come here, but they would be paying full retail and having to go to a bunch of stores, and they wouldn't have much of a profit margin paying retail. Or they could just grow some in their basement in North Dakota."

A larger issue is diversion from cultivation sites, but Kurtz argued that a combination of security and grower self-interest should limit that.

"There is going to be a lot of recordkeeping, an electronic system where growers will have to input data daily," she said. "There are product quarantines, there are security cameras. But more importantly, people are preparing to invest a lot of money in this to have a legitimate business, not to divert pot to the black market. I've been meeting a lot of people who I don't think would risk their licenses to sell to the black market."

Washington's legal, regulated marijuana commerce is still a work in progress, but stakeholders pronounced themselves generally satisfied with the process so far.

"We are in completely new territory in terms of creating a legal marketplace and we're being very vigilant. It's too soon to tell whether this new environment is going to adequately protect youth and be an effective public health approach," said the Children Alliance's Gould.

"This has been a good public process, with lots of transparency and broad engagement. They are doing a good job in terms of being open and transparent," he continued. "What is also really apparent is the enormous amount of competition this has created, with industries and individuals looking at this as an opportunity for profit. There are choices that need to be made, and we and others are speaking up, saying we need to choose public health and kids over profiteering. If the WSLCB creates an environment based on policies designed to make this more profitable, that could have a detrimental impact on children, youth, and the public health."

"We're getting there," said Kurtz. "Eventually we will have a good system, but it may take a few years to figure itself out."

And so marijuana begins the transition from illegal drug to legal commodity in Washington state. That is, if the federal government allows it to happen. So far, the federal government has given little indication it's going to do much of anything about it, but that could change. Stay tuned.

WA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

California dispensaries continue their vanishing act, thanks to feds and local officials, but Arizona fends off a challenge, Oregon adds PTSD, and frustrated New Jersey patients rally. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Friday, an effort to repeal the state's medical marijuana law died for lack of interest. Rep. John Kavanaugh (R-Fountain Hills) had sponsored a bill that would have done just that, but couldn't get enough support from fellow lawmakers to move the bill.

California

Last Tuesday, the Berkeley city council voted to close the Greenleaf Wellness Group dispensary. The council acted after complaints that it blighted a Dwight Way neighborhood with trash, urine and the smell of weed wafting over children's heads. The council's vote also upheld a finding that Greenleaf was violating city law by operating out of building zoned commercial when city ordinance requires dispensaries to be operated only in residential buildings. The vote to shut down Greenleaf was 8-1.

Last Wednesday, the Bakersfield city council got an earful from medical marijuana proponents at the first reading of a proposed ordinance that would ban dispensaries in the city. Supporters pleaded fervently for the council not to proceed with the proposed ordinance. Twenty-four people submitted cards to the city clerk to speak against the ordinance; only one spoke in favor of it. The issue returns for a final vote at the June 26 meeting, and if approved could become law within 30 day.

Last Friday, one of the last dispensaries in Riverside closed its doors. The Riverside County Patients Association had refused until then to comply with a temporary restraining order to shut down. Only when dispensary operators were given the choice of closing or being arrested on the spot did they comply. That means there are likely only two dispensaries left in the city, according to city officials. There were 77 when Riverside passed an ordinance to ban them in 2009. Next week, the city council will consider an urgency ordinance banning mobile dispensaries.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors sent threat letters to 103 Los Angeles area dispensaries. The targeted facilities are in Echo Park, Westlake, south Los Angeles, the harbor area, Long Beach, Lancaster, and Pearlblossom. The targeted 71 dispensaries in the city of Los Angeles involved all remaining known shops in the LAPD's Rampart, Newton and Harbor divisions. The letters tell the dispensaries to shut down or face asset forfeiture proceedings.

New Jersey

Last Friday, patients, families, and supporters rallied in Trenton to protest the state's failure to implement its medical marijuana program in a meaningful way. They said the current system is restrictive and expensive, and complained that there is still only one dispensary in the state more than three years after the state medical marijuana law took effect in 2010. They hope to push lawmakers into reforming regulations, including making it easier for children to be approved and including PTSD on the list of approved ailments.

Oregon

Last Friday, Oregon's governor signed a bill adding PTSD to the list of approved conditions for medical marijuana use. The law will go into effect January 1, 2014.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Vermont Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed into law Thursday a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts o marijuana. That makes Vermont the 17th state to decriminalize, including all of its neighboring New England states except New Hampshire.

Introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) and passed with tri-partisan support, House Bill 200 removes criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replaces them with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket. People under 21 will be required to undergo substance abuse screening. Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail for a subsequent offense.

"This change just makes common sense," Shumlin said as he signed the bill. "Our limited resources should be focused on reducing abuse and addiction of opiates like heroin and meth rather than cracking down on people for having very small amounts of marijuana."

Earlier this week, Shumlin signed a package of bills aimed at reducing problems associated with opiate use, including measures designed to reduce opiate overdose deaths.

"We applaud Gov. Shumlin, the state's top law enforcement officials, and the legislature for their leadership and support of this important legislation," said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied in support of the bill. "Decriminalizing marijuana possession will allow law enforcement officials to spend more time and attention addressing serious crimes and prevent people from being branded as criminals just for using a substance that most Americans agree should be legal."

But decriminalization is only a half-measure, Simon said.

"Removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession slows the bleeding, but it will not stop until marijuana prohibition is replaced with a more sensible policy," he explained. "Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and it is time for the state to start exploring policies that treat it that way."

Montpelier, VT
United States

Vermont Governor Signs Overdose Prevention Bills

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) Wednesday signed into law two bills aimed at reducing the toll of drug overdose deaths in the state. House Bill 65 provides limited legal protection for those who witness or experience a drug or alcohol overdose and summon medical assistance, while House Bill 522 permits prescription of the opiate-antagonist drug Naloxone to third parties and provides limited immunity for such prescription as well as administration of the drug.

"We cannot break our focus on this critical issue, because drug addiction harms not just the individuals ensnared in it but also our families and communities," Shumlin said. "I pledge to continue to work with mayors, law enforcement, medical and mental health experts and legislators to fight this problem, and will be focusing between now and January on the next steps in this battle."

HB 65, the "Good Samaritan" bill is the broadest of its kind. While 13 states and the District of Columbia have enacted such bills, Vermont's is the first to provide protection from arrest or all drug offenses -- not just possession -- as well as protections against asset forfeiture. It also provides protection against the revocation of parole or probation or the violation of restraining orders for people who seek help for overdose victims.

"Criminalization should not be a barrier to calling 911," said Lindsay LaSalle, an attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance. "The Vermont legislature has aptly recognized that saving a life is of paramount importance to the prosecution of any nonviolent drug crime."

HB 522 is the bill that expands access to Naloxone, which is credited with reversing more than 10,000 overdoses nationwide since 1996. The bill also provides immunity from civil or criminal liability for Naloxone providers.

"Implementation of these new laws by public health and law enforcement officials is critical to improving public willingness to immediately seek medical assistance for overdoses involving illegal drugs and alcohol use as well as to administer Naloxone to opioid overdose victims," said LaSalle.

Montpelier, VT
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The medical marijuana scene is hectic! Bill passing, raids happening, local officials pondering, and California dispensaries dwindling. Let's get to it:

California

On May 21, the Lakeport city council gave first approval to a cultivation ordinance that would require grows be conducted within detached structures on residential properties. The council will hold the second reading of the ordinance at its June 18 meeting. The document before the council on Tuesday night also prohibits outdoor cultivation and requires grows to be contained in accessory outdoor structures. However, it also puts the emphasis on complaint-driven enforcement.

On May 22, the Earth Choice Collective in Fresno closed its doors after a local TV station blew the whistle on the below-the-radar dispensary. Undercover narcotics officers served Earth Choice Collective with a notice to vacate several weeks ago, but it had remained open until the TV station aired its report.

On May 25, Anaheim authorities reported that 10 of 11 dispensaries had complied with orders to close their doors. Anaheim ordered all dispensaries to close in the wake of the California Supreme Court ruling upholding the ability of localities to ban them. One remained open and was facing fines of up to a $1,000 a day.

Last Wednesday, San Bernardino police shut down another dispensary. They, too, were acting in response to the California Supreme Court ruling. More than 100 mason jars filled with marijuana were seized at the SBPC dispensary, and several workers and customers were detained temporarily.

Last Thursday, DEA agents and San Bernardino County deputies raided two dispensaries and five homes associated with them. Targeted were the Green Oasis Collective dispensaries in Yucaipa and San Bernardino. Five people were arrested on a variety of charges, including possession of pyrotechnic explosive devices, possession of meth, and various marijuana offenses.

Last Friday, police in Garden Grove began fining medical marijuana delivery services. The move came after the services sprang up in the wake of the city's ban on dispensaries last month. They are fining the delivery businesses $1,000 a day. One dispensary, OrganaCann Wellness Centers, switched to delivery mode after the ban and reported receiving $3,000 in fines, but is vowing to vigorously defend itself.

Also last Friday, Stockton dispensary operator Matthew Davies pleaded guilty to federal marijuana charges. He had argued that his store in Stockton operated in accordance with California laws, after working extensively with accountants and lawyers before opening the business. He faces a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence.

Also last Friday, a statewide dispensary regulation bill failed to advance, but its sponsor, Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said the bill lives and he is talks with members of the Senate to advance it.

On Monday, the Healdsburg city council voted to form a task force to study cultivation issues. The task force will consider whether outdoor grows will be allowed, or whether they should be confined indoors. Police Chief Kevin Burke had proposed guidelines in response to neighborhood complaints about backyard grows, and the Planning Commission had recommended allowing patients to grow up to 12 mature plants and 24 immature ones, but limited grows to indoors and not within 300 feet of schools, churches, hospitals, child care and youth centers. But after the guidelines were publicized, they met harsh criticism, thus, the task force.

District of Columbia

As of Monday, DC medical marijuana patients were still waiting to get their medicine. Two dispensaries and three grow operations have been approved by District officials, but the District Department of Health has yet to give doctors the authority to recommend marijuana to their patients. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said marijuana dispensaries would likely open in the middle of June.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, medical marijuana supporters held a press conference in Detroit to publicize the imminent imprisonment of several Michigan patients and caregivers. One, Jerry Duval, a kidney-pancreas transplant patient with coronary artery disease, has been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and must report next week. Three other Michigan cultivators, Dennis Forsberg, 59, his son Lance Forsberg, 32, and Ryan Basore, 36, who were sentenced to 3-4 years in prison surrendered last Thursday. They were all convicted in federal court without being able to present evidence that they were complying with state law.

Montana

Last Wednesday, federal prosecutors appealed the sentence of a medical marijuana provider because they thought it was not stiff enough. They appealed the two-year prison sentence given to former University of Montana quarterback Jason Washington, who was convicted on federal charges for his role in a dispensary operation legal under state law. Prosecutors have also appealed the sentences of three other medical marijuana defendants out of 33 convicted in the wake of the 2011 federal crackdown in the state.

Nevada

On Monday, a medical marijuana dispensary bill passed the state legislature. The Assembly approved it the previous week, and the Senate approved it Monday. It now goes to the governor. If he signs it, up to 66 dispensaries will be allowed in the state, with up to 40 in Las Vegas and 10 in Reno.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, the Senate approved a medical marijuana bill, but with amendments designed to placate Gov. Margaret Hassan (D) that advocates say will make the bill unworkable. The Assembly had already passed the bill; now a conference committee must try to reconcile the two versions.

New York

Last Thursday, more than 600 New York physicians came out for pending medical marijuana legislation. They signed a statement affirming that doctors should not be punished for recommending the use of marijuana for seriously ill people, and that seriously ill people should not be subject to criminal sanctions for using marijuana if the patients' physicians have told them such use may be beneficial. The bill also has the support of the state’s leading medical organizations, including the New York State Nurses Association, The Hospice and Palliative Care Association, Pharmacist Society of the State of New York, among others.

Last Friday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg trashed medical marijuana, calling it "one of the greatest hoaxes of all time." The former pot-smoker's comments came as the legislature is considering the medical marijuana bill.

On Monday, the medical marijuana bill passed the Assembly. It now goes to the Senate, where three previous medical marijuana bills approved by the Assembly in recent years have died. But the pressure is on.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, the sponsor of a medical marijuana bill testified on its behalf, but acknowledged that it is going nowhere in the Republican-controlled legislature. Instead, Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) is urging support for a constitutional amendment on the issue.

Oregon

Last Thursday, DEA agents and local law enforcement raided four southern Oregon dispensaries. Raiders hit the Greener Side in Eugene and three Medford dispensaries. Several people were arrested.

Also last Thursday, the state legislature approved adding PTSD to the list of ailments for which medical marijuana can be used. The Oregon House passed Senate Bill 281 36-21, following a 19-11 vote in the Senate.  The bill awaits Gov. Kitzhaber's signature.

South Carolina

On May 23, an attempt to legalize medical marijuana in the state failed in the House. Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) tried to amend a bill dealing with controlled substances to add marijuana to the list of drugs that doctors could prescribe, but his amendment was ruled out of order.

Washington

On Monday, it was revealed that the DEA has sent threatening letters to 41 Seattle-area dispensaries that have effectively closed some of them. At least one Spokane dispensary has also received a threat letter, but from the US Attorney, not the DEA.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Colorado Governor Signs Marijuana Bills

In a public ceremony at the state capitol in Denver Tuesday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed into law four bills that will establish a legal, regulated marijuana market for adults and begin the development of a regulatory framework for industrial hemp production.

The package of bills had passed the legislature earlier this month in accord with the requirements of Amendment 64, which won with 55% of the popular vote last November. That groundbreaking vote led Hickenlooper to sign an order legalizing marijuana possession and to appoint an Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force late last year, which provided guidance to the legislature. That guidance informed the legislation that followed.

House Bill 1317 and Senate Bill 283 create the framework for regulations governing marijuana retail sales, cultivation, and product manufacturing. Under the provisions of Amendment 64, the Colorado Dept. of Revenue has until July 1 to develop the specific regulations necessary for implementation.

House Bill 1318 enacts a 10% special sales tax on retail sales of non-medical marijuana (in addition to standard state and local sales taxes) and a 15% excise tax on wholesale sales of non-medical marijuana. Voters must approve the new taxes this November in accordance with Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). More than 75% of Colorado voters would support such a proposal, according to a survey conducted last month by Public Policy Polling.

Senate Bill 241 initiated the development of a regulatory framework for the commercial cultivation, processing, and distribution of industrial hemp.

"We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for the initiative he has taken to ensure the world's first legal marijuana market for adults will entail a robust and comprehensive regulatory system" said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, who served as an official proponent of Amendment 64 and co-director of the campaign. "This marks another major milestone in the process of making the much-needed transition from a failed policy of marijuana prohibition to a more sensible system of regulation."

"Despite not supporting Amendment 64, our governor has shown true leadership by ensuring his office and the general assembly implemented the will of the voters," said Art Way, senior drug policy manager for Colorado for the Drug Policy Alliance. "These implementing pieces of legislation signed by the governor are the beginning of statewide efforts to bring marijuana above ground in a manner beneficial to public health and safety."

"Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to adopt a marijuana policy that reflects the public's increasing support for making marijuana legal for adults," Tvert said. "Marijuana prohibition is on its way out in Colorado, and it is only a matter of time before many more states follow its lead."

"The governor has signed off for Colorado to take the lead on taxing and regulating marijuana for adult use," said Way. "I'm confident our state has, and will continue to do it responsibly. After all, we have experience and expertise in comprehensively regulating medical marijuana on a large scale. We have a blueprint."

Denver, CO
United States

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