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Medical Marijuana: Oregon Group on Track to Put Dispensary Measure on Ballot

If early signature-gathering results are any indication, Oregon residents will be voting in November on an initiative that would authorize the establishment of a medical marijuana dispensary system. At a Monday press conference, initiative organizers announced that they had handed in 61,000 signatures. A total of 82,000 valid signatures are necessarily to place the measure on the ballot, and organizers have until July to come up with the remaining signatures.
California medical marijuana bags (courtesy Daniel Argo via Wikimedia)
The initiative, I-28, is sponsored by Voter Power, the same organization responsible for getting the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) on the ballot in 1998. OMMA did not provide for dispensaries, leaving patients to either grow their own medicine or seek out someone to grow it for them.

Voter Power's initiative would create a system of state-regulated nonprofit dispensaries. The system would require no state government expenditures, relying instead on licensing fees to pay for itself. Dispensaries would distribute medical marijuana to qualified patients and would be allowed to recoup expenses and production costs. Individuals could also be licensed as growers to supply patients and dispensaries.

Five of the 13 states that have legalized medical marijuana have provisions for dispensaries. They range from the relatively loosely regulated system in California to the tightly controlled system in Rhode Island. The threat of federal prosecution acted as a retardant to dispensary expansion to medical marijuana states that do not have them, but since the Obama administration's policy shift away from prosecuting medical marijuana providers acting in compliance with state laws, that disincentive has largely vanished.

Oregon has more than 26,000 people registered as patients under the OMMA, with another 5,000 applications in the pipeline. It also has an estimated 15,000 medical marijuana grow operations.

Marijuana: San Francisco Supervisor Wants to Make "License, Regulate, and Tax" Official City Policy

If San Francisco City Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has his way, voters there will go to the polls in June to decide whether the city should tax and regulate marijuana growing and distribution. On Tuesday, Mirkarimi proposed a ballot measure that would make it official city policy to "license, regulate, and tax the cultivation and sale of cannabis."
Ross Mirkarimi
"It's time that we have a regulating system in place," said Mirkarimi, who said regulations could address issues such as where grows could take place, how much could be grown, and what safety precautions are needed.

Mirkarimi said the city could not tax marijuana sales without authorization by the state. A bill by fellow San Franciscan Assemblyman Tom Ammiano passed an Assembly committee this week, but is effectively dead for the session after failing to get a hearing before another committee, but an initiative that would tax and regulate marijuana sales by local option is likely to be on the ballot in November.

Mirkarimi must still won the support of a majority of the Board of Supervisors to get the issue on the ballot.

Medical Marijuana: New York Bill Passes Assembly Health Committee

The New York State Assembly's Committee on Health Thursday approved a bill that would legalize the use of marijuana for patients suffering from life-threatening medical conditions. The bill now heads to the Assembly's Public Codes Committee.
NY medical marijuana campaign poster
The bill, A 7542, is sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, chair of the Health Committee. It would legalize the possession of up to 12 plants and two and a half ounces of marijuana by certified patients or their caregivers. The bill would direct the Department of Health to promulgate rules and regulations for registry ID cards. It would provide for "registered organizations," including hospitals, pharmacies, and nonprofit groups to grow, deliver, and sell medical marijuana to certified patients.

The bill does not list allowable diseases or conditions. Instead, it allows practitioners to recommend marijuana for "serious conditions," which it defines as "a severe debilitating or life-threatening condition or a condition associated with or a complication of such a condition, or its treatment."

"If a patient and their physician are in agreement that the most effective way of controlling their symptoms is marijuana, government should not stand in the way of treatment," said Gottfried. "It is cruel to turn end-stage patients into criminals when they are following what their doctors recommend for relief."

The first medical marijuana bill was introduced in New York in 1997.

Thirteen states currently allow for the medicinal use of marijuana. New Jersey should become the 14th state within the next week, and the District of Columbia will follow shortly after that. In New Jersey, a passed bill awaits the governor's signature, and in the District, Congress last month removed the ban on implementing the city's 1998 vote in favor of medical marijuana, but still has about three weeks of working days to reconsider.

Marijuana: Washington State House Committee Holds Hearing on Decrim, Legalization Bills -- Public Support Strong, Initiative Coming

It's been a busy week for marijuana in Washington state. Activists announced the filing of a legalization initiative Monday, the House held hearings on a pair of marijuana decriminalization and legalization bills Wednesday, and a statewide poll released Tuesday showed majority support for legalization.

At the statehouse, the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee was the scene of the hearings on a pair of bills, HB 1177 and HB 2401. The former would decriminalize marijuana possession; the latter would legalize marijuana possession, cultivation and sales, and regulate it like alcohol.

Proponents argued that marijuana prohibition has been as ineffective as alcohol Prohibition. "We have not deterred the use of marijuana, nor have we seen a noticeable impact on the availability of marijuana," legalization bill sponsor Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle) told the committee. "Over the last decade, we have wasted scores of taxpayer dollars on investigation, court proceedings and incarceration."

Under Dickerson's bill, marijuana would be sold in Washington's 160 state-run liquor stores and would be taxed at 15% of the retail price. Funds raised by taxing marijuana would be mainly earmarked for drug abuse prevention and treatment. Dickerson said her measure could raise up to $300 million a year for the state.

The decriminalization bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-Des Moines), would make adult possession of marijuana a civil infraction with a $100 penalty. Under current state law, it is a misdemeanor punishable by a mandatory minimum one-day sentence and up to 90 days in jail.

"It's not about fighting for our right to party," said Upthegrove. "My interest is to minimize drug addiction."

Of course, the police were not happy. "If you believe that it is okay for kids in school to use marijuana and be high, then you should pass either one or both of these," said Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

"I for one would prefer not to have another substance that's going to allow an impaired individual, in a legal fashion, during the hunting season, for example, using a fire arm" or operating a boat or driving, said John Didion, president of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

But a former Republican state senator, Bill Finkbeiner, testified that it was time to consider changing the marijuana laws. "There's a very real cost to having our police, our courts and our jails have to deal with a problem that's a victimless crime," Finkbeiner said. "Public opinion is evolving on this issue."

A poll released this week suggested Finkbeiner was onto something. The KING5-TV/SurveyUSA poll of 500 Washingtonians reported that 56% thought legalization was a good idea and 54% approved the idea of selling marijuana through state-run liquor stores.

The committee also heard from Ric Smith of Sensible Washington, the group that filed the initiative Monday. He told the solons not to worry about legalizing marijuana -- the voters would take care of it in November. "We're going to take it out of your hands," he said. "Just wait for our initiative. It will take care of everything."

The initiative, sponsored by attorneys Douglass Hiatt and Jeffrey Steinborn, as well as Smith, Hempfest head Vivian McPeak and Philip Waine Dawdy, would remove all state criminal penalties for adults who possess, cultivate, and sell marijuana -- no matter the quantity. Supporters must gather 241,000 valid signatures by July 2 to qualify it for the November ballot.

Meanwhile, the House committee will vote on the decrim and legalization bills next week.

The New Argument Against Marijuana Legalization: It Will Kill Everyone

Having apparently run out of other ideas, opponents of marijuana legalization are now arguing that people are going to die. Seriously:

Carnage? Lost Lives? Ok guys, you just keep on talking like that and see what happens. Frustrated and desperate, the anti-pot crusaders have finally and firmly established themselves as the true nutjobs in the marijuana debate.

For decades, the prohibitionists have taken pot politics for granted and their sudden struggle to adapt to the current political climate is indeed an ugly thing to behold. The very notion of an organized, intellectual and popular movement for marijuana reform is utterly incompatible with their deeply ingrained prejudices. By shielding themselves from even a vague comprehension of the case for reform, they're now entering the debate armed only with the same antiquated rhetorical weaponry that's been alienating the public by growing margins each year.

In other words, let them claim that legalization will kill people, let them childishly insult and stigmatize our supporters, for it is precisely those behaviors which have served to expose their ignorance, while catapulting our cause into the political mainstream.

New York Post Can't Write About Marijuana Without Laughing

Even as medical marijuana's cascading political momentum becomes undeniable, there nevertheless remain a few aspiring comedians in the press who just can't talk about it with a straight face: 

NJ 'joint' vote to legalize medical pot


New Jersey moved to the brink of legalizing medical marijuana last night when both houses of the state Legislature voted that it's high time to make the move. [New York Post]

Get it? 'Joint' vote? 'High' time? You're lucky if you saw this story first in the New York Post, because none of the other papers covered yesterday's developments with such irreverence. For example, check out NYT's boring coverage, which completely fails to find any humor in the situation and focuses instead on the seriously ill patients who will soon have legal access to their medicine.

Ed and Maggie were so busy dreaming up clever puns that they got a little sloppy with the facts:

The weed would be doled out by authorized state suppliers under the bill, which would make the Garden State the 14th to allow purchase of pot for medical reasons -- though the home-grown type would still be outlawed.

Actually, most of those states don't permit medical marijuana sales, and it's typical that the reporters who work hardest to make jokes about marijuana policy also have the toughest time getting the details right. Fortunately, New Jersey's lawmakers, as well as the American people and even the White House have come to understand that there's nothing the least bit funny about ending the arrest of seriously ill patients who rely on marijuana for medical treatment.

Whether you're the New York Post, or even the President of the New Jersey Senate, if you think anyone's looking for laughs in the medical marijuana debate, the joke's on you.

In US First, California Assembly Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill

A bill to legalize the adult use, sale, and production of marijuana was approved Tuesday by a 4-3 vote in the California Assembly Public Safety Committee. While the vote was historic—it marked the first time a state legislative committee anywhere had voted for a marijuana legalization bill—a Friday legislative deadline means the bill is likely to die before it reaches the Assembly floor. hearing room audience Still, supporters pronounced themselves well pleased. "The conversation is definitely gaining traction in Sacramento," bill sponsor Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF) told a press conference at the capitol after the vote. "This is a significant vote because it legitimizes the quest for debate. There was a time when the m-word would never have been brought up in Sacramento." “This historic vote marks the formal beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition in the United States,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who testified before the committee both Tuesday and in an earlier hearing. “Making marijuana legal has now entered the public dialogue in a credible way. Decades of wasteful, punitive, racist marijuana policy have taken quite a toll in this country. The Public Safety Committee has demonstrated that serious people take ending marijuana prohibition seriously.” "The mere fact that there was a vote in the Assembly to regulate and control the sale and distribution of marijuana would have been unthinkable even one year ago," said former Orange County Judge Jim Gray, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, who also testified before the committee last fall. "And if the bill isn't fully enacted into law this year, it will be soon. Or, the bill will be irrelevant because the voters will have passed the measure to regulate and tax marijuana that will be on the ballot this November," Gray pointedly added. The bill, AB 390, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act would impose a $50 an ounce tax on marijuana sales and would task the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to regulate them. It was amended slightly from the original by Ammiano. In one example, the bill strikes "legalize" and replaces it with "regulate." It also strikes out language saying the bill would go into effect after federal law changes. And it adds language to clarify that medical marijuana does not come under its purview. Tuesday's Public Safety Committee opened to a hearing room packed with legalization supporters, but also by more than a dozen uniformed police chiefs and high-ranking police officers from around the state. Law enforcement was out in force to make its displeasure known. police and preacher present to oppose the Ammiano bill But first came Ammiano himself, recusing himself from his position as committee chair to testify in favor of his bill. "This is landmark legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana," Ammiano told his colleagues. "It would generate nearly a billion dollars annually in revenues, according to the Board of Equalization, and would leave law enforcement to focus on serious crimes, violent crimes, and hard drugs. The drug wars have failed," the San Francisco solon said emphatically. "Prohibition has fostered anarchy. Legalization allows regulations, and regulation allows order." Since the primary hearing on the bill took place last fall, Tuesday's hearing was limited to 30 minutes (it was closer to 45), and witnesses either said their pieces succinctly or were gently chided by committee Vice-Chair Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills). The Drug Policy Alliance's Gutwillig recapped testimony he gave last fall, as did the Marijuana Policy Project California state director Aaron Smith. "AB 390 is a historic reversal of failed marijuana policies," said Gutwillig. "It would begin to control a substance that is already commonly available and consumed, but unregulated. Prohibition has created enormous social costs and jeopardized public safety instead of enhancing it." "This legislation would finally put California on track for a sensible marijuana policy in line with the views of most California voters," said Smith. Also endorsing the bill was Matt Gray of Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety, a California group lobbying for more progressive criminal justice policies. "We support the bill," said Gray. "Marijuana is the state's largest cash crop, and this bill will remove a revenue stream from organized crime and decrease availability for youth." The opposition, led by law enforcement, church and community anti-drug groups, and a former deputy drug czar, threw everything short of the kitchen sink at the committee in a bid to sink the bill. Hoary old chestnuts reminiscent of "Reefer Madness" were revived, as well as new talking points designed to discourage members from voting for legalization. bill sponsor Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, with Dale Gieringer,
Stephen Gutwillig and Aaron Smith in background "I traveled here with a heavy heart," said former deputy director for demand reduction for the Office of National Drug Control Policy Andrea Barthwell, the big hitter leading off for the opposition. "The eyes of America are upon you," she told the committee. "We don't want you to set a course that worsens the health of Americans for years to come. This is a scheme that will benefit drug cartel kingpins and corner drug dealers and create chaos in our public health system," she warned. "People all over the country are afraid California will have this leverage in the same way the medical marijuana initiative was leveraged to create a sense that these are reasonable policies," Barthwell continued. "We've reduced drinking and smoking through public health, and prohibition is working for our young people to keep them drug free," she added. "Legalization of marijuana will only increase the challenges facing us," said San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer. "What good can come from making powerful addictive drugs more cheaply available? Don't we have enough trouble with the two legal drugs? Adding an additional intoxicant will lead to increase drugged driving and teen sex," she told the committee. "Marijuana of today is not the dope your parent's smoked," she added for good measure. After mentioning that in the Netherlands cannabis cafes have "run rampant," asserting that "drug cartels will become legal cultivators," and that legalization would bring about "quantum increases" in the availability of marijuana, Manheimer swung for the fence. "To balance the budget on the back of the harm caused by illegal intoxicants is mind-boggling—I would call it blood money," she said. Worse, "the addictive qualities of these drugs will cause more crimes as people struggle to find money to buy marijuana. We are very concerned about marijuana-related violence." Then it was the turn of Claude Cook, regional director of the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition. "This is dangerous work we do," Cook said by way of introduction. "We are strongly opposed to AB 390, we see no benefit for our communities. Marijuana is also carcinogenic. If we want to raise revenue, maybe it would be safer to just bring back cigarette vending machines. This is human misery for tax dollars." And by the way, "Drug offenders who are in prison have earned their way there by past criminal conduct," he added. Cook predicted downright disaster were the bill to pass. "Use by juveniles will increase. Organized crime will flourish. California will become a source nation for marijuana for the rest of the country. The cartels will thrive. Highway fatalities will rise," he said without explaining just how he arrived at those dire conclusions. police waiting to speak at anti-drug rally after committee vote "I see the devastation of marijuana and drugs in my community," thundered Bishop Ron Allen, "CEO and president" of the International Faith-based Coalition, and a self-described former crack addict who started with marijuana. "If marijuana is legalized and we have to deal with it in our liquor stores and communities, you have never seen a devastation like you're going to see. It's going to lose us a generation. You don't want this blood on your hands." "I'm going to discount the ad hominems and alarmist attacks," Ammiano replied after the testimony. "Some of the arguments today reminded me of Reefer Madness," he said Before moving to a vote, committee members briefly discussed their positions. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) noted that because of the state's medical marijuana law, "We have created a class difference, where a certain class of our population can utilize dispensaries for their own reasons to use marijuana, and on the other hand, we have the street activity around marijuana that is not under semi-legal status." Skinner voted for the bill, while saying she was not sure she would support it on the Assembly floor. "I'm not supporting marijuana, but the question is who we regulate it and is it time to have a serious debate." In the end, four of five Democratic committee members—all from the Bay area—supported the bill, while one Democrat joined the two Republicans on the committee in opposing it." The bill would normally head next to the Assembly Health Committee, but given the time constraints on the legislature, no further action is likely to be taken this session. Still, Tuesday was a historic day in Sacramento and in the annals of the American marijuana reform movement.
Sacramento, CA
United States

New Jersey Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, Set to Become 14th Medical Marijuana State (Plus DC)

New Jersey is set to become the 14th state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana after the state Assembly Monday approved the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act" by a vote of 46-14. Later Monday evening, the state Senate, which had already approved its version of the measure, voted final approval by a margin of 25-13. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign the bill. The Assembly debated the bill for half an hour Monday afternoon before approving it. The debate took place before galleries backed with bill supporters and opponents. It was a similar scene in the Senate a few hours later. "It does not make sense for many of New Jersey's residents to suffer when there is a viable way to ease their pain," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), one of the sponsors of the bill. "Medical marijuana can alleviate a lot of suffering, and there is no evidence that legalizing it for medical use increases overall drug use." The bill will be one of the most restrictive in the nation. Patients diagnosed by their primary care physician as having a qualifying medical condition would be allowed to obtain—but not grow—medical marijuana through one of at least six "alternative treatment centers," or dispensaries. But patients would be able to register with only one dispensary at a time and would have to use the written recommendation within a month of when it was written. Qualifying medical conditions include severe or chronic pain, severe nausea or vomiting or cachexia brought on by HIV/AIDS or cancer ("or the treatment thereof"), muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel diseases, and terminal illnesses where the patient has less than a year to live. Chronic pain was removed from the original bill in an Assembly committee vote last summer, but reinserted last week when the Assembly approved an amendment by Assemblyman Gusciora. Patients could possess up to two ounces and be prescribed up to two ounces per month. That is an increase from the one ounce possession limit in earlier versions of the bill. Patients would be able to name a caregiver, courier, or delivery option to pick up medicine at the dispensary and deliver it to them. "This will be the strictest medical marijuana law in the nation," Gusciora said at a statehouse press conference Monday. "We have a good bill that will be very strict and will not decriminalize marijuana, but will allow doctors to prescribe the best treatment for their patients." Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, who has lobbied tirelessly for passage of a medical marijuana bill, agreed that the final Garden State bill is very tight, but said it was a start. "There will be some patients who will be able to get some relief," she said. "We think once the program's up and running and people see that there aren't problems, we'll be able to go back and get in some more of our patients." Also at the press conference were patients Diane Riportella and Mike Oliveri. Riportella was diagnosed with Lu Gerhrig's Disease in 2007 and given no more than five years to live. Oliveri suffers from muscular dystrophy. "I'm so excited to be able to be alive and to be here for this moment," said Riportella, 53, of Egg Harbor Township. "Within a few seconds, I'm relaxed and I'm smiling and I go to Disneyland just for a few minutes and say 'It's not so bad, I can live another day,'" Riportella said. Oliveri, 25, said he moved from his New Jersey home to California in order to be able to legally access medical marijuana. He said he vaporizes about an ounce a week to ease the pain in his legs and back and calm his digestive tract and that he had used it illegally before leaving for the West Coast. "I took every medication known to man before I took weed," said Oliveri, 25. "I knew it was a risk …but it was a life or death matter." The bill was supported by organizations including the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the New Jersey League for Nursing, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the New Jersey chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Special credit goes to the Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, the patients' and advocates' group that has fought for years to get the bill over the top. New Jersey will now join Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington in the list of medical marijuana states. That list also includes the District of Columbia.
Trenton, NJ
United States

New Jersey Assembly Approves Medical Marijuana Bill, One More Vote in the Senate This Afternoon

On the last day of the legislative session, the New Jersey Assembly has approved the state's medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Use Act, on a vote of 48-14. The state Senate will vote on it later today. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign it. Look for a feature post on this once the Senate votes.
Trenton, NJ
United States

It's Time to Legalize Medical Marijuana in Professional Sports

Andrew Sullivan points to this ESPN comment regarding NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin:

Harvin was a controversial draft pick after he tested positive for marijuana use at the February scouting combine. But as it turned out, the biggest problem he encountered was an intensification of migraine headaches that has plagued him for much of his life.

Oh, I think I know what's going on here. First, Harvin gets in trouble for testing positive for marijuana. Now he's passing drug tests, but suffering from constant debilitating migraines. Sounds like the NFL has simply prohibited him from using the one medicine that effectively treats his condition.

The thing about marijuana and migraines is that it doesn't just relieve symptoms, it often stops the headaches from ever happening in the first place. I've spoken with many migraine sufferers who've found that even modest use of marijuana simply makes the problem go away. I discovered this for myself in my late teens and it changed my life. I used to wake up everyday wondering if by mid-afternoon, I'd be huddled in a dark room, half-blind, violently nauseous and knowing I'd be unable to function again for 12 hours. It was horrible, but it ended quite abruptly one summer, and it was only later that I came to understand why.

So I can't even begin to describe my frustration at watching a world-class athlete's career jeopardized by the NFL's ridiculous prohibition against marijuana. Banning recreational use is silly, but this is an outrage. If you don't want publicity surrounding marijuana use in professional sports, then stop testing the athletes for marijuana. If that's too much to ask, then at least create an exemption for cases in which a doctor recommends medical use. Believe me, this would generate next to no controversy, although substantial coverage ranging from neutral to positive would be almost guaranteed.

If the President of the United States can embrace a more reasonable medical marijuana policy, there's no reason the NFL can’t do the same.

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