2012

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Chronicle Daily News--November 1, 2013

The big news today is yesterday's surprising appeals court ruling allowing the NYPD to continue stop-and-frisk searches, but there's more as well on marijuana reform, drug testing, and a conference in New Zealand.

NYPD practices stop-and-frisk techniques (nyc.gov/nypd)
Search and Seizure

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Judge's Ruling on NYPD Stop-and-Frisk. The 2nd US Court of Appeals in New York City blocked an order by District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin requiring changes in the NYPD's much criticized stop-and-frisk program. In an unusual move, the appeals court also removed Judge Scheindlin from the case, saying she had violated the code of conduct for federal judges by giving media interviews and publicly responding to criticism of her court. Scheindlin had found that NYPD violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of people by subjecting them to stop-and-frisk searches based on their race.

Drug Testing

Truckers Object to Federal Bill to Allow Hair Drug Tests. A bill pending in Congress, House Resolution 3403, the "Drug Free Commercial Driver Act of 2013," is drawing opposition from an independent trucker group, the association's organ Landline Magazine reports. The bill would allow trucking companies to use hair testing for pre-employment and random drug tests. Currently, federal regulations mandate urine testing and allow hair testing only in conjunction with urine tests, not as a replacement. Hair-based testing can reveal drug use weeks or months prior to the testing date. The independent truckers accuse bill sponsors of carrying water for larger trucking firms that want to undercut their competition.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado to Vote Tuesday on Marijuana Tax. Colorado voters will decide Tuesday whether to impose a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales to pay for school construction and a 10% sales tax to pay for marijuana regulation. The tax vote wasn't included in Amendment 64 because state law requires any new taxes to be approved by the voters. The measure is expected to pass despite opposition from some marijuana activists.

No Pot in Washington Bars, State Regulators Say. The Washington State Liquor Control Board Wednesday filed a draft rule banning any business with a liquor license from allowing on-site marijuana use. The state's pot law already bars public use, including in bars, clubs, and restaurants, but some businesses have tried to find loopholes allowing customers to use on premise, such as by having "private clubs" within the establishment.

DC Marijuana Reform Moves Could Spur Congress to Ponder Legalization. The DC city council appears set to approve decriminalization, and DC marijuana activists are pondering a 2014 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. That could set the stage for Congress to finally turn its sights on federal marijuana legalization, Bloomberg News suggested in this think piece.

One-Fourth of Americans Would Buy Legal Weed, Poll Finds. At least one out of four Americans (26%) said they would buy marijuana at least on "rare occasions" if it were legal, according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll released Thursday. Only 9% said they buy it on rare occasions now. One out of six (16%) of respondents said they never buy it now, but might if it were legal.

International

New Zealand to Host International Conference on Drug Reform Laws. The country has drawn international attention for its innovative approach to new synthetic drugs—regulating instead of prohibiting them—and will be the site of a March 20, 2014 "Pathway to Reform" conference explaining how the domestic synthetic drug industry began, how the regulatory approach was chosen and how it works. International attendees will include Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann and Amanda Fielding, of Britain's Beckley Foundation.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Michigan couple get their child back, New Jersey gets its second dispensary, and Washington regulators get an earful over moves to do away with patient home grows under I-502 legalization. And much, much more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Tuesday, a judge allowed a medical marijuana patient to continue to use while on probation, even though her plea agreement strictly forbade it. The county attorney in the case had added a blanket condition to plea agreements prohibiting offenders from using marijuana regardless of whether they hold medical marijuana cards, but the woman's attorneys argued that the clause violated state law and that prosecutors could not legally prohibit probationers from using medical marijuana. The judge agreed. The county prosecutor is expected to appeal.

On Tuesday, advocates and doctors urged the state to add PTSD as a condition treatable with medical marijuana. The occasion was a public hearing at the Arizona Department of Health Services. The state currently allows marijuana for eight specified medical conditions. The department will make its decision by January.

Also on Tuesday, the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit requesting that the courts officially rule that extracts are covered under the state's medical marijuana law. The suit was filed in a bid to protect the parents of a 5-year-old boy suffering from epilepsy from criminal prosecution for treating him with marijuana-derived oil. Extracts are currently in a legal gray area in Arizona, where police and some prosecutors say they are illegal and the Department of Health Services is still "developing guidance to clarify these issues," even though that guidance was supposed to be completed this month.

California

On October 16, Mendocino County announced it had released more records to the federal government related to the former marijuana grow permitting program that allowed growers to have up to 99 plants per parcel. The county was responding to a second set of federal subpoenas, this one for a "limited number" of records concerning the program. An earlier subpoena was much broader, but was fought by the county. The county and the feds reached an agreement in April to release some records, but with the names of participants redacted.

Also on October 16, the Selma city council banned dispensaries and imposed tight restrictions on medical marijuana grows. The Fresno County community will require growers to register, get building permits, and stay 1,500 from sensitive uses, and no outdoor grows are allowed. The new ordinance is a slight improvement on a 2010 ordinance that banned all medical marijuana uses in the city.

Also on October 16, word came that the Justice Department has abandoned some asset forfeiture proceedings against medical marijuana landlords. The US Attorney for the Central District of California, Andre Birotte, dropped at least four cases in October. But other US Attorneys in the state continue to pursue asset forfeiture cases, including pending cases against landlords for Harborside Health Center and the Berkeley Patients Groups.

On October 17, medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow prevailed in a civil trial against anti-drug crusader Paul Chabot. Swerdlow had alleged false arrest and malicious prosecution after a 2007 incident at a Rancho Cucamonga meeting. The jury found for the false arrest, but not the malicious prosecution, and awarded Swerdlow $5,000 for past losses. They will meet again to determine punitive damages.

On October 18, the owners of a former Vallejo dispensary filed suit against the city alleging abuse of power, excessive force, and retaliation after it was raided by police last year. Daniel and Rhonda Chadwick, owners of Homegrown Holistic Cooperative, Inc., claim the city retaliated against them after Daniel Chadwick spoke out at a contentious city council meeting after a series of dispensary raids. Police in Vallejo raided at least six dispensaries there in 2012 even though the city had voted the year before to tax dispensaries -- not shut them down. All of those cases fell apart, but the damage had been done.

Connecticut

On October 17, the Westport planning and zoning commission approved a moratorium on dispensaries and producers. The moratorium would last for a year, while the community has a chance to wrap its head around "the newness" of recently issued state regulations.

On Monday, the Farmington planning and zoning commission passed a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities. The commission wants town staff to have adequate time to research the new state regulations.

Delaware

On October 22, the Marijuana Policy Project criticized Gov. Markell's dispensary plan. State law calls for three dispensaries, but Markell had delayed opening any dispensaries for the last two years after receiving a threat letter from federal prosecutors. Markell has now moved forward, but said he will support opening only one dispensary next year.

Florida

Last Thursday, state Attorney General Pam Bondi challenged a proposed ballot initiative for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The attorney general is required by state law to send initiatives to the state Supreme Court for review, but Bondi also attacked the initiative, saying if it passed, "Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations" and warning that it conflicted with federal law. The court will hear arguments on December 5.

Guam

Last Friday, Sen. Tina Muna-Barnes filed a medical marijuana bill. The bill would require that all medical marijuana come from Guam itself. Last month, Muna-Barnes introduced a resolution to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes that won broad support at a public hearing.

On Sunday, the Guam Medical Association complained it hadn't been consulted. The association didn't take a position for or against, but said it thought it should.

Massachusetts

On October 16, a Bolton town meeting decided to approve a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations. The moratorium would prevent such facilities until June 30, 2014.

Last Wednesday, a Saugus town meeting voted to approve a moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will stay in effect until September 30, 2014, or until local zoning bylaws are adopted.

On Monday, Wareham voters approved a zoning law that allows medical marijuana treatment centers. The law replaces a temporary moratorium on such businesses that was voted in at the spring town meeting. The centers will be allowed in an "institutional district."

On Tuesday, Framingham selectmen gave the go-ahead for staff to take dispensary applications.There are at least a dozen proposals pending for dispensaries or grow operations in the city. A Special Town Meeting last week rejected a zoning bylaw and proposed overlay district that would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities. The town is developing a ranking system to rate applicants.

Michigan

Last Friday, an Ingham County judge ordered an infant child returned to her medical marijuana using parents. Steve and Maria Green's daughter Bree had been removed by Child Protective Services last month, but the judge found no evidence of abuse or neglect. The parents agreed not to medicate around their children, but said that's how they've handled things all along.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state's second medical marijuana dispensary opened. The Compassionate Care Foundation opened in Egg Harbor, making it the first in South Jersey. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2010, but the Christie administration has made the roll-out excruciatingly slow. Now, though, things are starting to roll. A third dispensary is slated to open in a couple of weeks in Woodbridge Township, and the state Department of Health is in licensing talks with three other facilities.

North Dakota

Last Tuesday, two Dickinson residents entered conditional guilty pleas to marijuana possession, enabling them to appeal to the state Supreme Court that their out-of-state medical marijuana guards should have allowed them to possess marijuana in North Dakota. Their lawyers will argue that the medical marijuana recommendations should be a valid defense.

Oregon

Last Friday, the panel charged with crafting rules for dispensaries met again. The legislature this year passed a bill to regulate the medical marijuana system statewide, and this was the panel's second meeting. It is expected to finish its work by December 1.

Virginia

Last Tuesday, a poll found support for medical marijuana at 71%. The state has taken no action to approve the medical use of the plant, but perhaps some legislators will take heed.

Washington

On Sunday, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles warned that the battle for homegrown medical marijuana is not over. State agencies charged with implementing marijuana legalization under the I-502 initiative have proposed eliminating patient grows under the state's medical marijuana program, but that effort has ignited a firestorm of criticism from patients. Now, they have at least one prominent supporter in the legislature.

Wisconsin

Last Tuesday, 18 legislators cosponsored a medical marijuana bill. The bill, Senate Bill 363, would allow for dispensaries and home cultivation. Patients or caregivers could grow up to 12 plants and possess up to three ounces at a time. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Leah Vukmir, but has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

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

Oregon Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed, Has $$$ Support

Last Friday, Oregon activists organized as the New Approach Oregon political action committee filed a marijuana legalization initiative with the secretary of state's office. Unlike the initiatives filed this year by Paul Stanford, author of 2012's failed Measure 80 legalization initiative, this one has picked up the backing of deep-pocketed donors.

Last month, the new initiative picked up contributions of $32,000 from Progressive Insurance founder and marijuana law reform funder Peter Lewis and $50,000 from Drug Policy Action, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, the secretary of state's office reports. Since the spring, the effort has also received $38,500 in cash contributions from the American Victory Coalition, an Oregon-based federal nonprofit that opposes the war on drugs, among other issues.

Oregon has been widely touted as one of the states most likely to join Colorado and Washington in having legalized marijuana at the ballot box. This new initiative, with broad support within the state's activist community and financial support from major outside donors, increases the likelihood that Oregon will indeed free the weed in 2014.

Salem, OR
United States

Washington Medical Marijuana Recommendations Draw Opposition

The three state agencies and the governor's office that constitute the state's medical marijuana working group on Monday released their draft recommendations for dealing with medical marijuana in the era of legal marijuana possession and state-licensed marijuana stores under the I-502 initiative. Their recommendations would essentially gut the existing medical marijuana system, and patients and advocates are crying foul.

What's the future for medical marijuana in Washington?
The recommendations from the State Liquor Control Board (which is in charge of implementing the I-502 regime), the Department of Health, and the Department of Revenue would allow state-registered patients to purchase tax-exempt marijuana from the 334 stores envisioned under I-502, but would also reduce the amount patients could possess from 24 ounces to three ounces, require doctors to register patients with the state, remove the affirmative defense for medical marijuana patients, and end the right to petition for new medical conditions to be added.

The recommendations also call for eliminating the right of patients to grow their own, either individually or collectively, require existing dispensaries to comply with I-502 regulations, and force out of business those that can't. That would bring the state's medical marijuana system in line with I-502's no home grow provision.

While I-502 only envisions legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and over, the recommendations would allow 18-to-20-year-olds to use medical marijuana, but patients under the age of 18 would only be allowed to use it with parental consent and could only possess one dose at a time.

The state agencies will make their final recommendations by January 1, when they must send a final report to the state legislature, but in the meantime, they are taking for public comment between now and November 8. They can expect to get an earful from an angry medical marijuana community.

"Washington was one of the first states in the nation to recognize that patients under a physician's care have the right to use medical marijuana," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "The needs of this vulnerable population are distinctly different from the wants of recreational users and it's vital that elected officials understand the difference."

ASA, which worked with local activists to create the Health Before Happy Hour campaign to try to ensure that medical marijuana patients don't get run over by the legalization bus, is also holding a series of stakeholder meeting to mobilize the community and protect what it views as its hard-won rights. Those meetings will be held between October 27 and 30 in Bellingham, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane, and Yakima.

ASA created that campaign in part because of ominous portents coming from state officials and other key players. In May, Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith warned that competition from the medical marijuana market will pose "a challenge" to the viability of the state's new recreational program, while state Rep. Chris Hurst (D-Enumclaw), chairman of the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, more recently called the medical marijuana industry "a sham," and urged the task force to recommend that all of the state's dispensaries be shut down.

Then, Mitch Barker of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs chimed in to claim that "the two (laws) are not going to be able to exist side by side for very long." As if that weren't enough, the DEA continues to raid dispensaries, and US Attorneys continue to menace patients and providers. US Attorney Jenny Durkan qualified the state's medical marijuana system as "untenable," and vowed to shut down the dispensaries.

"We are living with HIV/AIDS, end-stage cancers, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other serious, often painful and debilitating diseases," said Paul Feldman, who experiences relief with the help of medical marijuana. "It is wholly inappropriate to force us to get our medicine from anything resembling a liquor store and equally unacceptable to make patients pay an excise tax," continued Feldman. "No other medication is taxed this way and cannabis shouldn't be either."

Instead of gutting the medical marijuana program, the Health Before Happy Hour campaign is calling for a system of state-licensed and regulated dispensaries outside the scope of I-502. The campaign is supporting legislation similar to Senate Bill 5073, the proposal previously sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) which was partially vetoed in 2011 by then-Governor Christine Gregoire (D).

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

Olympia, WA
United States

"Defelonization"--The Next Step in Winding Down the Drug War [FEATURE]

Thirteen states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have already passed laws making simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony, and the momentum appears to be growing. A bill in California to do something similar has passed the legislature and is currently sitting on the governor's desk, and efforts are afoot to push a defelonization measure through the Washington legislature next year.

An overcrowded California prison (supremecourtus.gov)
Such measures are designed to ease prison overcrowding, ease pressures on budgets, and help drug users by avoiding saddling them with felony convictions. They also reflect increasing frustration with decades of drug prohibition efforts that have failed to stop drug use, but have resulted in all sorts of collateral costs.

In California alone, even after Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) prison realignment scheme, more than 4,000 people remain in state prisons on simple drug possession charges. At $47,000 per inmate per year, that comes out to more than a $200 million annual bill to state taxpayers.

Under current California law, people convicted of a drug possession felony can be sentenced to up to three years in prison. More than 10,000 people are charged with drug possession felonies each year, although many of them receive probation if convicted.

California state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) moved to redress that situation with Senate Bill 649, which passed the legislature on the final day of the session. The bill is not a defelonization bill per se; instead, it makes drug possession a "wobbler," meaning it provides prosecutors with the flexibility to charge drug possession as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

"Our system is broken," said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported the bill. "Felony sentences don't reduce drug use and don't persuade users to seek treatment, but instead, impose tremendous barriers to housing, education and employment after release -- three things we know help keep people out of our criminal justice system and successfully reintegrating into their families and communities."

Even Republicans got on board with the bill, helping to get it through the Assembly earlier this year.

California state Sen. Mark Leno (wikipedia.org)
"I am proud that we got bipartisan support in the Assembly," Leno told the Chronicle.

The bill currently awaits Gov. Brown's signature, and although his signature is not required for it to become law, Leno said he believed the governor would act on it, and he urged supporters to let the governor know now that they want him to sign it.

"Anyone can go to the governor's web site and offer support through an email communication," Leno said. "I am always hopeful he will sign it."

While Californians wait for the governor to act (or not), activists and legislators in Washington are gearing up to place a defelonization bill before the legislature there next year. Sensible Washington, the activist group behind the effort, says it has lined up legislative sponsors for the bill and will pre-file in December for next year's legislative session.

State Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) will be the primary sponsor of this proposal in the House. Reps. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien), Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver), Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle), and Chris Reykdal (D-Tumwater) have all signed on as official cosponsors, with more to be announced soon. Sensible Washington hopes to have a companion bill filed simultaneously in the Senate.

Under current Washington law, the possession of any controlled substance (or over 40 grams of cannabis) is an automatic felony. Under this new proposal, the possession of a controlled substance -- when not intended for distribution -- would be reduced from a felony charge, to a misdemeanor (carrying a maximum sentence of 90 days, rather than five years). Laws regarding minors would not be affected.

"Removing felony charges for simple drug possession is a smart, pragmatic approach to reducing some of the harms associated with the war on drugs," said Anthony Martinelli, Sensible Washington's communications director. "The goal is to stop labeling people as felons, filling up our prisons and ruining their lives in the process, for possessing a small amount of an illegal substance."

He elaborated in a Tuesday interview with the Chronicle.

"We support full decriminalization, like the Portuguese model, but defelonization is a big step forward, and we feel that the public and lawmakers are ready for it," he said. "We have to find a way to deal with the dangers of the war on drugs. Another reason is the massive disparity in our cannabis law -- an ounce is legal, but an ounce and a half is a felony. This would remove felonies for cannabis possession, but we don't think anyone should be hit over the head with a felony for personal drug possession."

Martinelli said Sensible Washington and its allies would be spending the next few months preparing to push the bill through the legislature.

"We will be building public and legislative support, continuing to work on garnering media attention, activating our base, and getting more lawmakers on board," he said. "We're really trying to form a bipartisan coalition and get other organizations involved as well."

One of those groups is the ACLU of Washington. Sensible Washington and the ACLU of Washington were bitter foes in the fight over the state's successful I-502 marijuana legalization initiative -- Sensible Washington opposed it as a half-measure that endangered medical marijuana, a claim that ACLU and other advocates contested -- but appear to be on the same page when it comes to this sentencing reform.

"We support the decriminalization of drug use", said Alison Holcomb, criminal justice project director for the ACLU of Washington. "We're looking forward to working in collaboration with Sensible and its allies to achieve that goal."

Martinelli said he could now announce that the proposed bill has picked up its first Senate sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D), to add to its growing list of House sponsors. Missing from that list of House sponsors is one of the most prominent drug reformers in the House, Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), the chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, but that's not because he opposes the idea, Goodman told the Chronicle Tuesday.

"As chair of the committee, it's important for me to be an honest broker to get legislation through," Goodman explained. "My position as chair is weakened if there is a potentially controversial issue and I'm seen as being on one side of it. It's not that I oppose it, and I certainly will hold a hearing on it and move it, but my role is more to facilitate negotiations on provisions of the bill without being an interested party," he said.

It is an idea that is certainly worth pursuing, he said.

"We need to reprioritize. The tough penalties we impose on people for merely possessing drugs is so arbitrary compared to the penalties for other offenses where there is direct physical harm perpetrated against others," Goodman said. "And by now, we all acknowledge that drug possession is not merely an indiscretion, but might be linked to behavioral health issues. Our approach should be to facilitate therapeutic interventions. We have deferred prosecution programs already, but only for alcohol. Those arrested for drug possession are not eligible because it's a felony. If we could make deferred prosecution available for drug cases, we could make much more headway on the problem," he said.

And doing so would only codify what is already often existing practices, he said.

"Many or most courts and prosecutors are already pleading down felony drug cases to misdemeanors because of budget constraints and space limitations in the jails," Goodman noted. "We can change the law to conform with that practice without an additional threat to public safety. Beyond that, we could remove the prejudicial effect of a felony conviction when it is so evident they hinder people from reintegrating into the community."

While Sensible Washington and its allies are moving full steam ahead, passing the bill could be a multi-year effort, Goodman warned.

"I anticipate prosecutors saying that if we set a certain possession threshold, drug dealers will make sure they possess no more than that amount and will play the system," he said. "We have to figure out a way to find a threshold or divide possession cases into degrees. I hear the concern, but I'm not sure what the solution is. But this is a next important phase of drug policy reform: cranking down the drug war yet one more notch and doing what's rational and fiscally responsible."

There is lots of work to be done, Goodman said.

"We'll see how this plays out in the legislature. It's probably going to need more lobbying and more background discussion among more legislators," he predicted. "So far, it's not a real prominent topic, so it might end up being a work in progress. But who knows? It might catch on fire, and we'll get a quick consensus."

Oregon 2014 Marijuana Legalization Initiative Likely

Oregon activists organized as New Approach Oregon will try to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November 2014 ballot, the leader of the group told the Willamette Week this week. The move comes after an effort in the legislature to put the issue before voters didn't bear fruit.

"Our coalition is moving forward with a legalization measure to end cannabis prohibition in Oregon in the 2014 election," said New Approach Oregon director Anthony Johnson.

Johnson said the Oregonians were working with Drug Policy Alliance(DPA), a move that should help with funding. Fundraising was a key shortcoming of the failed 2012 marijuana legalization Measure 80 initiative campaign headed by Paul Stanford.

Stanford filed two new initiatives in June, but it's not clear if he's going to move forward with them.

"DPA will help us draft the measure that we'll move forward in 2014," Johnson said.

The move comes after New Approach Oregon, DPA and a group of Oregon political insiders were unable to move House Bill 3371. Lawmakers could have referred that marijuana legalization bill to the voters, but declined to do so.

OR
United States

Colorado Releases Temporary Marijuana Sales Rules

The Colorado Department of Revenue Monday released temporary rules for the operation of legal marijuana commerce, providing more details on what the nascent industry will look like, but still leaving many complicated matters unresolved.

The department had only about a month to come up with the rules after Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed off on the legislature's starting framework in late May. Officials hope to have complete rules in place before marijuana stores are supposed to open in January. The interim rules expire in October, and state officials have said they will engage in a more detailed rule-making process to spell out just what is and is not allowed.

While the temporary rules take up 64 pages, some of the highlights include requiring medical marijuana dispensaries to bar minors if they want to sell recreational marijuana, requiring child-proof packing for marijuana and marijuana-infused products (edibles), and requiring that marijuana be labeled with the license numbers of the producer and retailer, as well as an as yet undetermined "universal symbol, indicating that the container holds marijuana."

The temporary rules note that more regulatory detail will be coming in areas such as advertising, health and safety protections, labeling, testing, and inventory control. They contain little detail on key aspects, particularly the "seed-to-sale" tracking system which has been the bedrock of the state's efforts to prevent diversion.

"The State Licensing Authority intends to engage in additional rulemaking to establish additional inventory tracking system requirements," the department said in the rules.

Denver, CO
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

Colorado Marijuana Commerce Bills Approved

The Colorado legislature Wednesday approved a pair of bills that will establish a regulated marijuana market for adults. The legislature was charged with doing so when voters approved the marijuana legalization Amendment 64 last November.

On the down side, the legislature earlier approved another bill, House Bill 1325, which would set a level of THC in the blood above which drivers would be presumed to be impaired. Drivers with 5 milligrams or more of THC per milliliter of blood would be considered to be impaired, but could challenge that presumption in court.

The marijuana regulation bills are House Bill 1317 and House Bill 1318. The former creates the framework for regulations governing marijuana retail sales, cultivation, and product manufacturing, while the latter enacts a 10% special sales tax (above and beyond standard sales taxes) and a 15% excise tax on wholesale sales.

Under Colorado law, the tax bill will have to be approved by voters in November. But three-quarters of Colorado voters support such pot taxation, according a Public Policy Polling survey.

"The adoption of these bills is a truly historic milestone and brings Colorado one step closer to establishing the world's first legal, regulated, and taxed marijuana market for adults," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, who served as an official proponent and campaign co-director for the ballot measure approved by Colorado voters in November. "Facilitating the shift from the failed policy of prohibition to a more sensible system of regulation has been a huge undertaking, and we applaud the many task force members, legislators, and others who have helped effect this change," Tvert said. "We are confident that this legislation will allow state and local officials to implement a comprehensive, robust, and sufficiently funded regulatory system that will effectively control marijuana in Colorado."

Look for an in-depth analysis of the new regulations coming soon.

Denver, CO
United States

Perspectives on the Denver "420" Disruption

Denver 420 rally, while it lasted (facebook.com/pages/420-Rally/104447806260934)
Yesterday's historic "420" rally in Denver, the first since Colorado voted to legalize marijuana last fall, was marred and cut short by violence. Two unidentified gunmen shot and wounded three people -- two attendees were shot in the leg and were rushed to a nearby hospital with "non-life-threatening-injuries," and a teen was grazed by a bullet and walked there, according to the Denver Post. Attendees fled the scene, and the remainder of the event as well a smaller one planned for today were canceled.

It was not the kind of day those three people or their friends had planned, and that's the most important thing to keep in mind. It was also not the kind of day that thousands attending including many who traveled from afar had planned either. It's lucky there were no trampling injuries, at least no serious ones, apparently.

Without forgetting what's most important -- the people most directly affected -- it's also worth noting that this is obviously not the kind of headline that legalization advocates wanted. The story had the top spot on Google News for a time last night, and continues to hold front page placement as I write this. That's an unfortunate accomplishment, particularly after the grim and violent week we just lived through. But does it hurt the cause?

After looking through news reports, I don't think so. The only criticism of the idea of the rally was from a Colorado anti-marijuana group, appearing well toward the end of the article. Most of it was sympathetic reporting about the victims, about organizers cooperating with police, police looking for information on the suspects, who the musical acts were, how police even before Amendment 64 passed had focused on crowd safety rather than marijuana enforcement during Denver's 420 events. I have not yet seen any quotes suggesting that marijuana use had any connection to the violence, though I've not done an exhaustive search.

Of course there's an opportunity cost from this unfortunate story replacing the story we'd hoped for of legal marijuana becoming a mainstream, accepted reality. And it's hard to know whether the coverage reflects maturation on the part of the media's treatment of the marijuana issue, vs. the violence forcing things into perspective. But I lean toward the former, and there's some comfort from seeing marijuana reformers and public safety personnel so clearly on the same side. At least that's how it looks from a distance. Our movement is part of larger society, and we are vulnerable to all the same dangers.

Let's hope the victims' injuries are no worse than reported, and for their swift recovery.

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