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Law Enforcement: Man Trying to Snuff Joint at Checkpoint Ends Up Dead; Attorney Accuses Police

A Worcester, Massachusetts, man who died after being taken into at a sobriety checkpoint near Andover last Wednesday as he tried to snuff out a marijuana joint was beaten by as many as 20 police officers, an attorney for his family said today. Kenneth Howe, 45, died at the Andover State Police Barracks when police noticed he "became unresponsive" during booking. The official version of the story, promulgated to the local media by Essex County District Attorney's Office spokesman Steven O'Connell is that Howe, a passenger in a vehicle stopped at the checkpoint, made "furtive movement," then "jumped out of the vehicle, struck the trooper, and fled." After a brief chase on foot and an "ensuing struggle," Howe was handcuffed and charged with assault and battery on a police officer. O'Connell said that Howe was taken to the Andover barracks, and, while being booked "slumped over and became unresponsive." He was taken to Lawrence General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:45 a.m. last Thursday. But today, attorney Francis King, hired by Howe's widow to represent her and her three young children, painted a starkly different picture of the events leading to Howe's death. Citing the testimony of the driver of the vehicle Howe was a passenger in, King said Howe was pulled out of the truck, beaten by police, and dragged before he collapsed next to a police cruiser. The driver has made a taped statement about what he saw that night, King said. The "furtive movements" were Howe attempting to snuff out a marijuana joint and put on his seat belt, King said. A female state trooper approached the truck, and Howe held up his hands and tried to explain that all he had in his hand was the joint. The trooper then reached into the truck, pulled Howe out, and screamed that he had assaulted her, King continued. "Our position is that he never assaulted her, "King said. Quite the contrary, se maintained: "It appears there were at least 10 to 20 officers all over the deceased, hands flailing." Howe was also "seen handcuffing and slumping to the ground, dragged over to the cruiser," she said. The sobriety checkpoint was staffed by Massachusetts State Police, North Andover police and the Essex County Sheriff's Department. It was stopping every vehicle for a "threshold observation" to check for impaired drivers, a practice upheld by the US Supreme Court. The Essex County District Attorney's Office is investigating, said O'Connell. An initial autopsy has been performed, but the cause of death has not been determined. Toxicology results are also pending. Police said they found one oxycodone tablet on Howe, for which he had a prescription. “At this point, we’re confident the Essex County DA’s office is conducting a thorough investigation and that they are taking the case very seriously,” King said. “I think it’s only fair to allow the DA to conduct an investigation.” You don't need a crystal ball to see the lawsuit waiting to be filed here. But that won't come until after the Essex County District Attorney's Office investigates and exonerates the officers involved.
Location: 
Andover, MA
United States

Middle East: In Israel, Medical Marijuana Advances in the Knesset and at Sheba Hospital

Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer has become the first hospital in Israel to administer medical marijuana to patients, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Tuesday. Some 20 patients have been treated with medical marijuana in a pilot program over the last six months, the newspaper reported.

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Sheba Medical Center (courtesy Wikimedia)
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the Knesset's Labor, Social Affairs, and Health Committee had instructed the Health Ministry to finish its proposals for regulating medical marijuana use within four months. Such regulations should address the production, quality, and marketing of medical marijuana, as well as prevent diversion into non-medical markets, the committee instructed the ministry.

In Israel, people with cancer, multiple sclerosis or certain other conditions can apply for a license to receive a free supply of medical marijuana. It is provided by a charitable organization, Tikkun Olam, which supplies it to some 700 patients.

At Sheba Hospital, Ora Shamai, head nurse in the pain management program, has recently finished drafting a formal protocol for providing medical marijuana, another first for an Israel hospital. That draft has already been approved by the Health Ministry official in charge of approving medical marijuana treatments, Dr. Yehuda Baruch. The hospital is expected to soon approve the protocol.

Under the protocol, if doctors determine a patient needs marijuana, the doctor in charge of that patient's treatment will apply for the necessary permit from the ministry. Patients who can walk will be limited to smoking in the hospital's smoking room, while bedridden patients will only be allowed to smoke in private rooms with an open window.

"We make it clear to the staff that smoking medical marijuana doesn't endanger the medical staff on the wards," Shamai said. "It does not harm those in the area via passive smoking."

Doctors at Sheba downplayed any possible harm to patients from smoking marijuana on a limited basis. "It's certainly a dilemma, but it's the lesser of two evils," said Dr. Itay Gur-Arie, the head of Sheba's pain management unit. "When you're talking about smoking a joint or two a day, we don't think this causes short-term harm to the patients."

Sheba is also making use of vaporizers, machines that heat marijuana but don't ignite it, allowing patients to inhale vapors instead of smoke. The Israel Association for the Advancement of Medical Cannabis, which has been involved in the pilot program from the onset, is now raising money to buy more. The hospital currently operates five.

Along with Canada, Germany, Holland, and some American states, Israel has been a pioneer in accepting medical marijuana. With the Knesset action this week, Israel moves closer to setting up a regulated and expanded system. The Sheba hospital protocol is likewise on the cutting edge of medical marijuana acceptance by hospitals.

Feature: Los Angeles Marijuana Dispensary Ordinance Battle Continues

The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday voted to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to continue to sell their products, but failed to reach a final vote on a medical marijuana ordinance that has been years in the works. The council will return to the ordinance at its December 2 meeting.

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medical marijuana dispensary, Ventura Blvd., LA (courtesy wikimedia.org)
Observers had hoped the council might pass the ordinance Tuesday, but progress was derailed by contentious debate over the sales issue. LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley had called for an outright ban on medical marijuana sales, saying that under their reading of the state's medical marijuana laws and court decisions, sales are not allowed. Cooley has threatened to prosecute dispensaries no matter what the city council does.

Council members, caught between fear of legal problems for the city and the expressed desire of constituents for safe access to medical marijuana, had some harsh words for prosecutors. Councilmen Ed Reyes, who has been the principal in trying to write the ordinance, protested that the City Attorney's Office was trying to impose "a political view that has nothing to do with objective advice."

He wasn't the only one. "I think we're getting advice from one direction," said Councilman Paul Koretz. "I would like to see the City Attorney work with us to help us get to where we want to be."

In the end, the council rejected the advice of the prosecutors, instead adopting an amendment that would allow for "cash contributions, reimbursements and payments for actual expenses of growth, cultivation, and provision [...] in accordance with state law."

"We have some very elegant and flexible language that will adjust as state law is defined," said Council President Eric Garcetti.

While the council did not succeed in passing the ordinance, it did make substantial progress. In the seven-hour-long session, it dealt with more than 50 proposed changes to the ordinance. Among other amendments considered was one by council members Koretz and Reyes that would have required police to get a court order to review dispensary records. After Councilman Jose Huizar and other members objected, saying the amendment would hamper efforts to weed out "bad" dispensaries, the amendment failed.

Reyes introduced an amendment eliminating the ordinance's requirement that dispensaries have no more than five pounds of marijuana on hand and grow it on-site, but Huizar objected, saying it would encourage a black market and was "a dangerous path."

"I'm not advocating for the black market, gangs, cartels to take advantage of this," Reyes retorted, "but we can't choke it to the point where it does not function." Then, Reyes withdrew his amendment, asking Huizar to draft an alternative.

The council also approved an amendment limiting patients and caregivers to membership in one collective, but with a provision allowing for emergency purchases. That didn't go over well with medical marijuana advocates, who complained that it would limit access for patients.

The council also adopted a series of amendments from Councilman Koretz, based on West Hollywood's ordinance regulating dispensaries. Those amendments require dispensaries to have unarmed security guards patrolling a two-block area, to deposit cash daily, and to provide contact information to police and neighbors within 500 feet.

The council squabbled over a number of amendments that sought to micro-manage the dispensaries, ranging from a $100,000 salary cap to restrictions on doctors writing recommendations. "This industry is rife with people ripping off money from people who are seriously ill," said Councilman Ricardo Alarcon, who offered the salary cap amendment. "We ought to cap compensation because I believe it will be abused, people will be making millions.

Those amendments excited the wrath of Councilwoman Janice Hahn."We're going too far from what we need to be doing," Hahn said with some exasperation. "Now you're going after compensation, you're going after the doctors writing these notes. If you take the logic that people in compassionate professions shouldn't be making more than $100,000, we could go after every doctor in this city. This is not what we're here for, which is to regulate these dispensaries to make sure people have safe access," she said to loud cheers from the audience. "Let's stay focused."

In the end, Alarcon withdrew his amendment. City staff will instead review compensation standards for non-profit organizations and return to the issue later.

After heated debate, the council also deferred action on two contentious issues: a cap on the number of dispensaries to be allowed, and location restrictions that would bar dispensaries from operating within either 500 or 1000 feet of schools, parks, and other child-friendly locations. The council asked city officials to return next week with studies on caps and maps that would demarcate what areas within the city would be okay for dispensaries. Councilmember Reyes displayed one such map at the hearing, arguing that the location limits would dramatically restrict the areas where dispensaries could operate.

While the ordinance anticipates setting a cap on the number of dispensaries at 70, or one for every 57,000 residents, there were indications during the debate that members could go for a cap as high as 200, but even that would reduce the number of dispensaries in the city by 80%.

"We're fairly pleased by the progress that has occurred in the council over the past week or so, and we're certainly pleased the city decided to allow sales of medical marijuana," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "We are concerned that any limit on dispensaries not be an arbitrary cap, and that the council decide on based on what patients need and where they need it."

ASA's Hermes said there was still work to be done, especially on the issue of a cap on the number of dispensaries. "There are a few more days left yet to lobby the council and urge them to move ahead cautiously in the area of capping or limiting the number of dispensaries," he said. "If the demand is there, there should be sufficient facilities to meet that demand. Unfortunately, I don't think that's the way the council's going."

There are currently an estimated one thousand dispensaries in Los Angeles. There were four when the council began working on an ordinance way back in 2005. There were 186 when the council voted to institute a moratorium two years later.

The City Council will return to the medical marijuana ordinance at its December 2 meeting.

Europe: Scotland Ponders Move to Fines for Small-Time Marijuana Possession

In a report released Wednesday, the Scottish government is recommending that small-time marijuana offenders simply be handed on-the-spot fines of $67. The fines, or "fixed penalty notices," are already in effect for a number of public nuisance offenses, such as public drunkenness, vandalism, and urinating in public.

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Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland (photo from Sam Fentress via Wikimedia)
Adding small-time marijuana offenses to the list won the support of 83% of police officers surveyed for the report. If adopted, the ticketing scheme would move Scottish practices closer to those in England or in limited parts of Scotland, where police officers have the option of issuing a warning to people caught smoking or in possession of small amounts of marijuana.

"This was felt to be a proportionate means of dealing with a minor offence which would also save a lot of police time," the report said.

Handing out tickets instead of arrests for public order offenses freed up nearly 22,000 hours of police officers' time, said Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing. "It is right that anyone committing a serious crime should continue to be brought before a sheriff to face the full range of penalties available to the court," he said. "However for less serious offences, such as consuming alcohol in the street, these figures show that our police officers are punishing low-level antisocial behavior swiftly and effectively, hitting perpetrators in their pockets. This is swift and visible justice for those who commit acts of anti-social behavior in our communities and hits them in their pockets."

Under current United Kingdom drug law, marijuana is a Class B drug, with simple possession punishable by up to two years in prison. In practice, such harsh sentences are rarely imposed.

North Africa: Moroccan Human Rights and Drug Policy Activist to Remain Behind Bars

A Morrocan appeals court Tuesday rejected the appeal of a human rights activist who had publicly criticized the country's drug policy and was subsequently jailed for offending the authorities and alleged currency violations. That means Chakib El Khayari will continue to serve a three-year sentence handed down in June.

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Chakib El Khayari
El Khayari heads a human rights group in the Rif Mountains, where marijuana growing has been a way of life for centuries. He had criticized inequities in the Moroccan government's crackdown on the cannabis industry there. El Khayari repeatedly told international conferences and foreign media outlets that he questioned the government's record on marijuana eradication and interdiction. He accused authorities of turning a blind eye to hashish smuggling to Europe while focusing their repressive efforts on poor farmers.

Prosecutors accused him of taking a bribe to focus a media campaign on some traffickers and not others. They also accused him of depositing money in foreign banks without approval from the country's Exchange Office. That charge was based on a payment he accepted for writing an article for a Spanish magazine. He was convicted in a court in Casablanca in June.

Even before his conviction, human rights and drug reform groups were calling his prosecution unjust. "It's pretty clear that the new charges against el-Khayari appear to be one more attempt to silence a critic on politically sensitive issues, and to intimidate other activists," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "El-Khayari's prosecution shows that despite Morocco's reputation for open debate and a thriving civil society, the authorities are still ready to imprison activists who cross certain red lines."

The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) has organized a campaign to seek his release. Click on the ENCOD link here to see how you can help.

Feature: Marijuana Decriminalization and Legalization Bills at the Statehouse This Year

Thirteen states have decriminalized marijuana possession so far; none have legalized it. This year, marijuana legalization bills have been filed in two states -- California and Massachusetts -- and decriminalization bills -- loosely defined -- were introduced in six states and passed in one, Maine. In Virginia, a bid to create a new marijuana offense was defeated.

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press conference for California AB 390 hearing -- Assemblyman Ammiano at right
We have tried to create a comprehensive list of marijuana reform legislation in the states -- not medical marijuana, we did that last week -- but we can't be absolutely certain we've covered everything. If you know of a bill we missed, please email us with the details and we'll add it to the list. (We compiled this list from our own coverage and a variety of other sources. The Marijuana Policy Project's state pages were especially useful.)

California: San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D) introduced a landmark legalization bill, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, AB 390, in March. Under the bill, the state would license producers and distributors, who would pay an excise tax of $50 per ounce, or about $1 per joint. Anyone 21 or over could then purchase marijuana from a licensed distributor. The bill also would allow any adult to grow up to 10 plants for personal, non-commercial use. AB 390 got a hearing before the Assembly Public Safety Committee in October, but has not moved since.

Connecticut: Senators Martin Looney (D-New Haven), the Senate Majority Leader, and Toni Harp (D-New Haven), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, introduced a marijuana decriminalization bill, SB 349, in January. It would have made possession of less than half an ounce an unclassified misdemeanor with a maximum $250 fine. The measure passed the Joint Judiciary Committee in March on a 24-14 vote, but it was filibustered to death in the Senate Finance Committee by Sen. Toni Boucher (R-New Canaan) in May.

Maine: The legislature passed in March and Gov. John Baldacci (D) signed in May LD 250, which increases the amount of marijuana decriminalized in the state to 2.5 ounces. Previously, possession of up to 1.25 ounces was a civil offense, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, but possession of between 1.25 and 2.5 ounces was a misdemeanor that could get one six months in jail. Unfortunately, the bill also increased the penalty for possession of more than eight ounces from six months and a $1,000 fine to one year and a $2,000 fine.

Massachusetts: -- At the request of former StoptheDrugWar.org and NORML board member Richard Evans, Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) introduced another landmark legalization bill, AN ACT TO REGULATE AND TAX THE CANNABIS INDUSTRY -- H 2929, that would remove marijuana offenses from the criminal code and allow for the licensed production and sale of marijuana. The bill was assigned to the Joint Committee on Revenue, where it got a public hearing in October.

Montana: A marijuana decriminalization bill, HB 541, was introduced by Rep. Brady Wiseman (D-Bozeman). It would have made possession of up to 30 grams a civil infraction punishable by only a $50 fine. Under current law, that same amount can get you up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. The bill got a House Judiciary Committee hearing in March, but failed to get out of committee on a straight party-line 9-9 vote.

New Hampshire: In January, Rep. Steven Lindsey (D) introduced a bill that would decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Under the bill, HB 555, persons over the age of 18 would face no more than a $100 fine. Simple possession would also be decriminalized for minors, but they would be subjected to community service and a drug awareness program at their own expense or face a $1,000 fine. While the House passed a similar measure last year (it died in the Senate), this year the bill never made it out of committee. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee deemed it "inexpedient to legislate" in February.

Rhode Island: In July, as the General Assembly rushed to adjourn, the Senate approved a resolution introduced that same day to create a nine-member commission to study a broad range of issues around marijuana policy. The resolution, which did not require any further approval, set up a "Special Senate Commission to Study the Prohibition of Marijuana," which is charged with issuing a report by January 31. The panel met for the first time last week.

Tennessee: -- A bill, SB 1942, that would have made possession of less than an eighth of an ounce of marijuana a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of between $250 and $2500 died after being deferred by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. Companion legislation, HB 1835, met a similar fate in the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Practice and Procedure in March.

Vermont: Led by Rep. David Zuckerman (P-Burlington), 19 members of the Vermont legislature introduced in February a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Under the bill, HB 150, small-time possession would have become a civil infraction with a maximum $100 fine. But the bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, where it has languished ever since.

Virginia: It was not decriminalization but increasing marijuana penalties that was on the agenda in the Old Dominion. Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-Richmond) introduced HB 1807, which would create a new felony offense for people caught transporting more than one ounce but less than five pounds of marijuana into the state. The bill was filed in January and sent to the Committee on Courts of Justice, where it died upon being "Left in Courts of Justice" on February 10.

Washington: A bill, S 5615, that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana was introduced in January and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee a week after a public hearing in February. It then went to the Senate Rules Committee, where it stalled. A companion bill in the House, HB 1177, was referred to the House Committee on Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness, which effectively killed it by refusing to schedule it for a hearing before a legislative deadline in March.

Legal Marijuana: It's Coming, Whether You Like it or Not

Paul Armentano has an exciting summary of various marijuana reform legislation, initiatives, etc. that are moving forward around the country. Meanwhile, The Washington Post had a report Monday entitled Support for legalizing marijuana grows rapidly around U.S., celebrating the issue's forward momentum in terms of public opinion and political victories.

Looking around the room, it seems we've moved beyond the question of whether marijuana reform is possible, and everyone seems to be asking instead when the breakthrough will occur or what form it will take. And no, I don't think there's anything misplaced or unhealthy about this sudden sense of inevitability. Time has always been on our side and optimism is a very necessary virtue in the fight for social and political change.

A wise colleague (I think it was this guy) recently suggested to me that we should stop introducing our arguments with phrases like "if marijuana were legal…" and instead say, "when marijuana is legal…" and he's exactly right. One of our greatest obstacles has always been a widespread lack of faith that our politicians and fellow citizens would ever stand with us in great enough numbers to create a mandate for reform. That simple assumption stops untold numbers of potentially great activists dead in their tracks before they ever sign up for an email list, send a letter to the editor, or make a small donation. It also helps explain why the press spent decades fueling anti-drug hysteria and investing in the drug war doctrine, even after the case for reform had begun to bubble beneath the surface.

Yet, the instant that spell is broken, you get the opposite result. People you'd never heard of prior to this year are leading legalization efforts in California. Journalists you've known for decades are speaking out about drug policy reform for the first time in their careers. And the leaders of the drug war army are experimenting with new language to replace the failed propaganda that so profoundly discredited their predecessors.

So those who have a problem with legalizing marijuana should really consider doing everyone (including themselves) a favor and refrain from spending the next several years trying in vain to prevent this from taking place. It's going to happen one way or the other and it's going to work, because we're all going to make sure it works.

Ten years after marijuana legalization takes hold in America, almost everyone will agree that it's an improvement, and those who most vigorously opposed it will probably deny ever having done so.

Will Foster is Free! He Walked Out of Prison in Oklahoma Today

Medical marijuana patient Will Foster is a free man. According to a phone call I just received from his partner, Susan Mueller, Foster was released on parole and walked out of prison in Oklahoma today. As you who have followed the Will Foster saga know, he became a poster boy for drug war injustice when he was sentenced to a mind-blowing 93 years in prison in Oklahoma back in the 1990s for growing a closet-full of medical marijuana. Thanks in part to the efforts of Stopthedrugwar.org (then known as DRCNet), Foster eventually got his sentence cut to a mere 20 years--for growing plants!--and was eventually paroled to the care of Guru of Ganja Ed Rosenthal in California, who had taken up his case. Last year, Foster was raided and charged with an illegal marijuana grow in California, although his grow was perfectly legal under the state's medical marijuana law. He spent a year in jail in Sonoma County before prosecutors dropped all charges, but by then, Oklahoma parole authorities demanded he return to the state to finish his sentence. Foster dropped his fight against extradition and returned in September. A good sign occurred a few weeks ago, when the parole board decided he had not violated his parole and should be released. This week, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry must have agreed--he had the final say in the matter. Right now, Foster is making his way to parole offices in Oklahoma City to sign the paperwork. He should be back with his loved ones in California in a matter of days. Thanks to everyone who agitated for his release. Every once in awhile, we win one.
Location: 
Oklahoma City, OK
United States

LA City Council Okays Sales of Medical Marijuana; Ordinance Deliberations to Continue Next Month

The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday voted to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to continue to sell their products, but failed to reach a final vote on a medical marijuana ordinance that has been years in the works. The council will return to the ordinance at its December 2 meeting. Observers had hoped the council might pass the ordinance Tuesday, but progress was derailed by contentious debate over the sales issue. LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley had called for an outright ban on medical marijuana sales, saying that under their reading of the state's medical marijuana laws and court decisions, sales are not allowed. Cooley has threatened to prosecute dispensaries no matter what the city council does. Council members, caught between fear of legal problems and the expressed desire of constituents for safe access to medical marijuana, had some harsh words for prosecutors. Councilmen Ed Reyes, who has been the principal in trying to write the ordinance, protested that the City Attorney's Office was trying to impose "a political view that has nothing to do with objective advice." He wasn't the only one. "I think we're getting advice from one direction," said Councilman Paul Koretz. "I would like to see the City Attorney work with us to help us get to where we want to be." In the end, the council rejected the advice of the prosecutors, instead adopting an amendment that would allow for "cash contributions, reimbursements and payments for actual expenses of growth, cultivation, and provision […] in accordance with state law." "We have some very elegant and flexible language that will adjust as state law is defined," said Council President Eric Garcetti. While the council did not succeed in passing the ordinance, it did make substantial progress. In the seven-hour-long session, it dealt with more than 50 proposed changes to the ordinance. Among other amendments considered was one by council members Koretz and Reyes that would have required police to get a court order to review dispensary records. After Councilman Jose Huizar and other members objected, saying the amendment would hamper efforts to weed out "bad" dispensaries, the amendment failed. Reyes introduced an amendment eliminating the ordinance's requirement that dispensaries have no more than five pounds of marijuana on hand and grow it on-site, but Huizar objected, saying it would encourage a black market and was "a dangerous path." "I'm not advocating for the black market, gangs, cartels to take advantage of this," Reyes retorted, "but we can't choke it to the point where it does not function." Then, Reyes withdrew his amendment, asking Huizar to draft an alternative. The council also approved an amendment limiting patients and caregivers to membership in one collective, but with a provision allowing for emergency purchases. That didn't go over well with medical marijuana advocates, who complained that it would limit access for patients. The council also adopted a series of amendments from Councilman Koretz, based on West Hollywood's ordinance regulating dispensaries. Those amendments require dispensaries to have unarmed security guards patrolling a two-block area, to deposit cash daily, and to provide contact information to police and neighbors within 500 feet. The council squabbled over a number of amendments that sought to micro-manage the dispensaries, ranging from a $100,000 salary cap to restrictions on doctors writing recommendations. "This industry is rife with people ripping off money from people who are seriously ill," said Councilman Ricardo Alarcon, who offered the salary cap amendment. "We ought to cap compensation because I believe it will be abused, people will be making millions. Those amendments excited the wrath of Councilwoman Janice Hahn."We're going too far from what we need to be doing," Hahn said with some exasperation. "Now you're going after compensation, you're going after the doctors writing these notes. If you take the logic that people in compassionate professions shouldn't be making more than $100,000, we could go after every doctor in this city. This is not what we're here for, which is to regulate these dispensaries to make sure people have safe access," she said to loud cheers from the audience. "Let's stay focused." In the end, Alarcon withdrew his amendment. City staff will instead review compensation standards for non-profit organizations and return to the issue later. After heated debate, the council also deferred action on two contentious issues: a cap on the number of dispensaries to be allowed, and location restrictions that would bar dispensaries from operating within either 500 or 1000 feet of schools, parks, and other child-friendly locations. The council asked city officials to return next week with studies on caps and maps that would demarcate what areas within the city would be okay for dispensaries. Councilmember Reyes displayed one such map at the hearing, arguing that the location limits would dramatically restrict the areas where dispensaries could operate. While the ordinance anticipates setting a cap on the number of dispensaries at 70, or one for every 57,000 residents, there were indications during the debate that members could go for a cap as high as 200, but even that would reduce the number of dispensaries in the city by 80%. There are currently an estimated one thousand dispensaries in Los Angeles. There were four when the council began working on an ordinance way back in 2005. There were 186 when the council voted to institute a moratorium two years later. The City Council will return to the medical marijuana ordinance at its December 2 meeting.
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

Middle East: In Israel, Medical Marijuana Advances in the Knesset and at Sheba Hospital

Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer has become the first hospital in Israel to administer medical marijuana to patients, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Tuesday. Some 20 patients have been treated with medical marijuana in a pilot program over the last six months, the newspaper reported. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the Knesset's Labor, Social Affairs, and Health Committee had instructed the Health Ministry to finish its proposals for regulating medical marijuana use within four months. Such regulations should address the production, quality, and marketing of medical marijuana, as well as prevent diversion into non-medical markets. In Israel, people with cancer, multiple sclerosis or certain other conditions can apply for a license to receive a free supply of medical marijuana. It is provided by a charitable organization, Tikun Olam, which supplies it to some 700 patients. At Sheba Hospital, Ora Shamai, head nurse in the pain management program, has recently finished drafting a formal protocol for providing medical marijuana, another first for an Israel hospital. That draft has already been approved by the Health Ministry official in charge of approving medical marijuana treatments, Dr. Yehuda Baruch. The hospital is expected to soon approve the protocol. Under the protocol, if doctors determine a patient needs marijuana, the doctor in charge of his treatment will apply for the necessary permit from the ministry. Patients who can walk will be limited to smoking in the hospital's smoking room, while bedridden patients will only be allowed to smoke in private rooms with an open window. "We make it clear to the staff that smoking medical marijuana doesn't endanger the medical staff on the wards," Shamai said. "It does not harm those in the area via passive smoking." Doctors at Sheba downplayed any possible harms to patients from smoking marijuana on a limited basis. "It's certainly a dilemma, but it's the lesser of two evils," said Dr. Itay Gur-Arie, the head of Sheba's pain management unit. "When you're talking about smoking a joint or two a day, we don't think this causes short-term harm to the patients." Sheba is also making use of vaporizers, machines that heat marijuana but don't ignite it, allowing patients to inhale vapors instead of smoke. The Israel Association for the Advancement of Medical Cannabis, which has been involved in the pilot program from the onset, is now raising money to buy more. The hospital currently operates five. Along with Canada, Germany, Holland, and some American states, Israel has been a pioneer in accepting medical marijuana. With the Knesset action this week, Israel moves closer to setting up a regulated and expanded system. The Sheba hospital protocol is likewise on the cutting edge of medical marijuana acceptance by hospitals.

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