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Medical Marijuana: Colorado Senate Passes Bill to Restrict Physicians' Recommending

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Colorado state medical marijuana application
Stunned at the rapid increase in the number of registered medical marijuana patients in the state, the Colorado Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to impose new restrictions on physicians who make medical marijuana recommendations. The Senate voted 34-1 to pass SB 109.

Sponsored by Sens. Chris Romer (D-Denver) and Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), the bill would require physicians who make medical marijuana recommendations to have a "bona fide" relationship with patients, including treating a patient before he applies for medical marijuana, conducting a thorough physical exam, and providing follow-up care. The bill would also bar doctors from being paid by dispensaries to write recommendations and require that they not have any restrictions on their medical licenses. Doctors would have to keep records of all medical marijuana recommendations and provide them to state health agencies seeking to investigate doctors for violating state laws.

The bill would also require persons between 18 and 21 to get recommended by two different physicians.

Colorado began registering medical marijuana patients in June 2001 after voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing its use. For years, the number of patients hovered around 2,000, but after state courts last year threw out a regulation limiting the number of patients for whom caregivers could provide to five and the Obama administration signaled that it was not going to interfere in medical marijuana states, the numbers exploded. By last September, there were more than 17,000 registered patients, and now the number is near 40,000. A similar boom has gone on with dispensaries, with Colorado now second only to California in their numbers.

The bill was supported by Colorado law enforcement and the Colorado Medical Association, but was opposed by most medical marijuana patients and providers.

"This is the beginning of the end of the Wild West" for the state's booming medical-marijuana industry, said bill sponsor Sen. Chris Romer.

"This bill is an unprecedented assault on the doctor-patient privilege that would hold medical marijuana doctors to a higher standard than any other doctor," medical marijuana attorney Robert Correy told lawmakers. "This would cause human suffering. The most sick and the most poor would be disproportionately harmed. You're going to see the Board of Medical Examiners conducting witch hunts against medical marijuana providers."

The bill now moves to the House.

Marijuana: It's Pot Week in Providence as Rhode Island Solons Introduce Decrim Bill, Ponder Prohibition

It's been a big week for marijuana at the statehouse in Providence, with lawmakers Tuesday introducing a decriminalization bill and hearing testimony on the effects of marijuana prohibition Wednesday. Also this week, the state Department of Health held the final round of public comment on proposed rules for the state's new medical marijuana compassion center program.

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Rhode Island Senate Chamber
Introduced by Rep. John Edwards (D-Tiverton), HB 7317 would decriminalize the possession of up to one ounce of weed. People caught with less than an ounce would be subject to a $150 fine, but no criminal record. Fines would go to the state general fund if the person is cited by state police, but to localities if cited by local police. Simple possession is currently a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.

"This legislation is less about the ongoing debate over the decriminalization of marijuana and more about providing some relief to the taxpayers of this state," Edwards said. "The average cost to keep someone [in prison] is more than $44,000 per year. Rhode Island taxpayers should not be paying to keep someone locked up due to a simple possession charge."

Edwards said his bill would help in three different ways. "First, we wouldn't tie up our criminal courts with these minor offenses. Second, the entity that catches the individual keeps the fine and finally, we save some money by not having to house and feed these individuals at taxpayer expense," he explained.

On Wednesday evening, the state Senate Commission on Marijuana Prohibition held what should be its final hearing -- it was supposed to report back to the General Assembly by last week. Created by a legislative resolution last summer, the commission is charged with undertaking a thorough evaluation of the impact of marijuana prohibition.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition head Jack Cole, a former undercover narc in New Jersey, told the committee in written testimony that arresting marijuana users is a luxury Rhode Island can't afford. "A tremendous amount of the staff time and funding for law enforcement is wasted arresting nonviolent drug users who hurt no one,'' said Cole. "Let police get back to protecting all of us from violent criminals and child molesters. We will all be much better off.''

Also this week, the state Department of Health held what is likely to be its final hearing on draft regulations for licensing up to three nonprofit "compassion centers," or dispensaries. For the next two weeks, anyone can submit written comments to the department, then it will decide how to proceed. It can file the regulations as is, make minor changes, or make major changes. If the latter, another public hearing must be held.

Once the regulations are filed, they will take effect in 20 days. Then, Rhode Island's more than 1,200 medical marijuana patients will have one more option in addition to growing it themselves or having a caretaker do it for them.

Methamphetamine: Cold Sufferers Caught in the Crosshairs

Meth lab busts nationwide were up 27% last year over the previous year, according to the DEA, and state legislatures, prodded by law enforcement, are responding with a new batch of bills to ban pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in home-cooked meth, but also a key ingredient in widely used cold remedies such as Sudafed and Claritin-B.

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In at least three states -- California, Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri -- bills to make products containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only have been or will be filed. Meanwhile, Mississippi this week became the first state this year to pass such a law, and only the second in the nation. Oregon passed such a law in 2006 and saw a dramatic reduction in meth lab busts.

In Mississippi, Gov. Hailey Barbour (R) is poised to sign HB 512, which would make ephedrine and pseudoephedrine Schedule III controlled substances available only by prescription. The measure passed the House 45-4 late last month and passed the Senate 45-4 on Tuesday.

The Tuesday vote came as about 50 uniformed members of Mississippi law enforcement looked on from the gallery. Mississippi law enforcement had been the primary force behind the bill.

As the cops looked on, supporters of the bill fended off amendments to the bill that would allow patients to be charged lower than normal fees when going to a physician to get a prescription. Opponents of the bill had argued that it would place a burden on Mississippi residents who would now be saddled with having to pay for a doctor's visit and a co-pay for their now prescription drug.

"I look forward to signing House Bill 512, which will make it more difficult to obtain the ingredients for this drug that tears families apart and harms many of our communities," Barbour said in a statement.

Barbour and the cops may have been happy, but the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents over-the-counter medicine makers, was not. The bill will be a burden on residents and will raise health care costs in the state, the group said.

"We are disappointed that the Mississippi Senate chose to overlook consumer sentiment and passed a bill today that will significantly impact how cold and allergy sufferers access some of their medicines," said association spokeswoman Linda Suydam. "While well-intentioned, this bill will impose an unnecessary burden on Mississippians, despite there being a better and more effective solution to address the state's meth production problem."

The association said that electronic tracking of over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine was a "more effective, less-costly alternative, and one that eight states have adopted to fight domestic methamphetamine production while maintaining consumer access to these medicines."

Indiana is also moving to restrict pseudoephedrine, but not to make it prescription-only. The state Senate voted 46-4 Tuesday to approve SB 383, which limits customers to 3.6 grams of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine in one day and nine grams of the drugs in one month. That bill now heads to the House.

Drug Testing: Missouri Senate Committee Passes Bill to Drug Test Welfare Recipients

A Missouri state Senate committee voted Tuesday to approve a bill that would require welfare recipients and applicants to pass a drug test in order to receive government aid. The bill, SB 607, passed the Senate Health, Mental Health, Seniors, and Families Committee on a 5-3 vote.

The bill attempts to get around constitutional problems with other mandatory drug testing bills by limiting drug testing to those whom case workers have identified as creating "a reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs. Persons who are then drug tested and test positive would have an administrative hearing and after that hearing, could be declared ineligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits for three years. Dependent children of people thrown off the rolls would not lose their benefits; instead, they would be provided through a payee for the children.

The bill also provides that the Department of Mental Health would refer people who test positive to drug treatment, although it doesn't specify who would pay for it. Nor does the bill have any provision for returning someone to the rolls after successfully completing treatment.

The vote came despite a fiscal impact analysis that found the measure would cost the state more than $2.5 million in 2011 and around $3.5 million in 2012 and 2013. While the state would save some money from paying out fewer benefits, those savings would be swamped by the costs of drug testing, hearings for people who appealed the loss of benefits, and the cost of drug treatment.

Missouri is one of a handful of states where similar bills are moving this year. Similar bills have been filed or pre-filed in Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

Press Release: Rhode Island House Members Introduce Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                              

February 3, 2010

Rhode Island House Members Introduce Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana

Bill would decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana and substitute a civil penalty of $150

CONTACT: Kurt A. Gardinier, MPP director of communications …… 202-905-0738 or kgardinier@mpp.org

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND —A bill to decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana and substitute a civil penalty of $150 was introduced in the Rhode Island House of Representatives yesterday. H 7317, a bipartisan bill was co-sponsored by 35 House members and has been referred to the House Judiciary committee. The Rhode Island State Senate is likely to introduce their version of the bill later this week. If the bill becomes law, Rhode Island would join their neighboring state to the north, Massachusetts, and become the 14th state to pass a law to decriminalize marijuana. In 2008, Massachusetts voters passed a similar decriminalization law with 65% of the vote.

         “Rhode Island lawmakers should be applauded for their support of this bill that will save the state much needed money and resources by not arresting, prosecuting, sentencing and incarcerating marijuana users,” said Karen O’Keefe, MPP director of state policies. “We look forward to the day when the citizens of this state no longer have to fear being handcuffed and thrown in jail for using a substance far safer than alcohol.”

         The entire text of the bill can be read at:

www.rilin.state.ri.us/billtext10/housetext10/h7317.pdf

         With more than 29,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.

####

Location: 
RI
United States

Medical Marijuana: Colorado Bill to Rein-In Booming Scene Passes Senate

Stunned at the rapid increase in the number of registered medical marijuana patients in the state, the Colorado Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to impose new restrictions on physicians who make medical marijuana recommendations. The Senate voted 34-1 to pass SB 109. Sponsored by Sens. Chris Romer (D-Denver) and Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), the bill would require physicians who make medical marijuana recommendations to have a "bona fide" relationship with patients, including treating a patient before he applies for medical marijuana, conducting a thorough physical exam, and providing follow-up care. The bill would also bar doctors from being paid by dispensaries to write recommendations and require that they not have any restrictions on their medical licenses. Doctors would have to keep records of all medical marijuana recommendations and provide them to state health agencies seeking to investigate doctors for violating state laws. The bill would also require persons between 18 and 21 to get recommended by two different physicians. Colorado began registering medical marijuana patients in June 2001 after voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing its use. For years, the number of patients hovered around 2,000, but after state courts last year threw out a regulation limiting the number of patients caregivers could provide for to five and the Obama administration signaled that it was not going to interfere in medical marijuana states, the numbers exploded. By last September, there were more than 17,000 registered patients, and now the number is near 40,000. A similar boom has gone on with dispensaries, with Colorado now second only to California in their numbers. The bill was supported by Colorado law enforcement and the Colorado Medical Association, but was opposed by most medical marijuana patients and providers. "This is the beginning of the end of the Wild West" for the state's booming medical-marijuana industry, said bill sponsor Sen. Chris Romer. "This bill is an unprecedented assault on the doctor-patient privilege that would hold medical marijuana doctors to a higher standard than any other doctor," medical marijuana attorney Robert Correy told lawmakers. "This would cause human suffering. The most sick and the most poor would be disproportionately harmed. You're going to see the Board of Medical Examiners conducting witch hunts against medical marijuana providers." The bill now moves to the House.
Location: 
Denver, CO
United States

Law Enforcement: Maryland Bill Would Ban SWAT Teams for Misdemeanors

Maryland state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince Georges) has filed a bill, SB 30, that would prohibit Maryland police forces from conducting SWAT team raids on homes where the only suspected offense is a misdemeanor. The bill also requires county prosecutors to sign off on SWAT team search warrant applications before they are submitted to judges.

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PolitickerMD cartoon about the Berwyn Heights raid
The bill is only the latest fallout from a July 2008 raid by the Prince Georges County Sheriff's Department SWAT team at the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo. The SWAT team was after a marijuana-filled box that had been delivered to that address, but subsequent investigation revealed that the mayor and his family were victimized in a smuggling scheme that used Fedex to ship drugs and knew nothing about the box, which had already been intercepted by police before being left on the family's porch. Mayor Calvo and his mother-in-law were cuffed and detained, and the two family dogs were shot and killed by SWAT team members.

Last year, the raid -- and the Prince Georges Sheriff's Department's refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing -- led Sen. Muse to file the first bill in the nation to try to rein in aggressive SWAT teams. That bill, which required extensive reporting requirements on SWAT team deployments and results, passed into law and took effect January 1.

Muse's current bill had a hearing Tuesday in the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Law enforcement officials from across the state showed up to complain that the bill would add unnecessary steps to the warrant review process and threaten the safety of SWAT team officers. No vote was taken.

Prohibition: Ban on Spice, BZP Passes Kansas Senate

The Kansas Senate has approved a bill that would ban three synthetic drugs that have effects similar to marijuana and ecstasy. In a 36-1 vote on January 21, the Senate voted to ban a pair of synthetic compounds called JW-018 and JW-073, which are part of a legal smoking blend marketed under names such as Spice or K2, and to ban BZP (benzylpiperazine), a stimulant which is already a Schedule I controlled substance under US federal law.

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''spice'' packet (courtesy wikimedia.org)
A similar measure is working its way through the Kansas House.

The move to criminalize the synthetic drugs came at the behest of Kansas law enforcement, which worried that teenagers were using the substances. But while Spice is sold in Kansas shops, there is little evidence of widespread teen use and even less evidence of any harmful results from it.

Only state Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) voted against the bill. He accused his colleagues of "political posturing" and responding to "hysteria for what is by and large a benign substance." Banning relatively safe substances like Spice could be a fool's errand, he said: "As our youth and others continue to search for legal ways to expand their flights of fancy I fear they will encounter more dangerous ways than what we ban here."

But legislators were unswayed by Haley's logic, preferring instead that of state Sen. Jim Barnett (R-Emporia). "It's an imitation drug, but it's still a drug," he said, explaining his vote.

While the synthetic compounds in Spice are arguably legal under US federal law, they have been banned in Austria, Belarus, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, and Sweden. In addition to being banned under US federal law, BZP has been criminalized in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Feature: Hundreds of Los Angeles Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Face Closure Under New Rules Passed by Council

The Los Angeles City Council voted 9-3 Tuesday to approve a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance that, if enforced, will shut down more than 80% of the city's estimated nearly one thousand dispensaries. The ordinance also bars dispensaries from operating within a thousand feet of schools, parks, day care centers, religious institutions, drug treatment centers, or other dispensaries.

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medical marijuana dispensary, Ventura Blvd., LA (courtesy wikimedia.org)
There were only four dispensaries in the city when the city council first addressed the issue in 2005, and 187 when the council imposed a moratorium on new ones in 2007. But hundreds of dispensaries opened via bureaucratic legerdemain during the moratorium, and more have opened since the moratorium was thrown out by a judge last fall.

The ordinance allows for only 70 dispensaries to operate in the city, but grandfathers in 137 dispensaries that were licensed before the council imposed the moratorium and are still in business. The number of allowed dispensaries could shrink even further if suitable locations that do not violate the 1,000-foot rule cannot be found.

The Council rejected another proposal that would allow for a 500-foot proximity restriction, and instead chose the 1,000-foot restriction, without analysis from the Planning Department showing the impact of such a decision. Some Council members objected to these restrictions, indicating that the current ordinance would effectively close all of the dispensaries in their districts. Advocates estimate that dispensaries will be unable to locate in virtually any of the commercial zones in the city and instead will be relegated to remote industrial zones, making it unnecessarily onerous for many patients.

The ordinance, which emerged after 2 ½ years of deliberations by the council, will be one of the toughest in the state. In addition to radically reducing the number of dispensaries and strictly limiting where they can operate, the measure imposes restrictions on hours of operation and signage, bans on-site consumption, and imposes recordkeeping requirements on operators.

"These are out of control," said Councilman Ed Reyes, chairman of the planning and land-use management committee, which oversaw the writing of the ordinance. "Our city has more of these than Starbucks," Reyes added, resorting to an increasingly popular if misleading trope.

But, reflecting the competing pressures the council was under from medical marijuana patients, advocates and dispensary operators on one hand, and law enforcement and angry neighborhood associations on the other, Reyes spoke sympathetically about patients just moments later. "I've seen enough people come into my committee, and you can see they are hurting," he said. "So this is very difficult."

Council President Eric Garcetti conceded that the ordinance will probably be revisited. "It's going to be a living ordinance," he said. "I think there is much good in it. I think nobody will know how some of these things play out until we have them in practice, and we made a commitment to make sure that we continue to improve the ordinance."

It will need to be revisited, said medical marijuana advocates. "I wouldn't be surprised to see this ordinance revised down the line," said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML.

For Americans for Safe Access (ASA), passage of the ordinance signified a glass both half empty and half full. "On the one hand, it's a pretty significant milestone that the city of Los Angeles, the second largest in the country, has passed an ordinance regulating medical marijuana sales," said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes. "On the other hand, the ordinance is so restrictive it threatens to shut down all existing dispensaries."

Hermes was referring in particular to the 1,000-foot rule. "This is the most restrictive ordinance in terms of where dispensaries can operate we have seen anywhere in California," he said. "In theory, the city will have somewhere between 70 and 137 dispensaries, but because of the onerous restrictions on where they can operate, those numbers are virtually meaningless. We could see wholesale attrition lowering the number well below the cap."

"This recapitulates the pattern we've seen in Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Rosa and other places," said Gieringer. "You have a period of laissez faire, a green gold rush. At first, nobody notices, but then all of a sudden it gets ragged around the edges and the complaints pile up. By the time it gets before local authorities, the neighborhood outrage is such that it is almost impossible to do anything rational. So the first thing they do is pass a very draconian ordinance just to make sure they get rid of the nuisances."

The LA City Council's years-long regulatory process probably contributed to pent up pressures to rein in the dispensaries, Gieringer said. "It's a shame LA waited so long to pass an ordinance -- cooler heads could have prevailed."

While Gieringer could live with geographic restrictions on where dispensaries can locate, the 1,000-foot rule is too strict and too inflexible, he said. "There's no good rationale for the 1,000-foot rule, but there it is. Our position is that dispensaries should be treated like liquor stores, which have to be 600 feet from schools and parks, but not churches. And variances are allowed, and that's important."

It's one thing to pass an ordinance. Enforcing it is another matter entirely. With as many as a thousand dispensaries scattered around the city's 469 square miles, and a lengthy process required to shut down non-compliant operations, it is an open question how many dispensaries will just quietly ignore the new law. Also, enforcement will not begin until the city comes up with funding to pay for it, which will be derived from fees extracted from dispensaries -- a process the city has not yet finalized. And the 137 exempted dispensaries will have up to six months to relocate if they have to move to comply with the 1,000-foot rule.

"They're going to have a hard time enforcing it, first of all," said CANORML's Gieringer. "They have a bunch of places to close, and that will be a slow and expensive process. Freelance places are likely to spring up," he predicted. "There will probably also be a rush to unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County, where there are no such restrictions."

What enforcement will look like is another issue. "The city will try to issue cease and desist orders and hope dispensaries voluntarily comply," said ASA's Hermes. "It remains to be seen whether that will be the case. Hopefully, they will use measures other than criminal enforcement. We don't want to see a return to the tactics of the past, where law enforcement would come in and conduct aggressive raids to shut those facilities down. We hope we can work with the council before that happens so we can avoid having to close them in the first place."

The ordinance will be challenged one way or another. ASA is seeking a compromise with the city council, and is pondering whether to take legal action. In the meantime, a group of patients and providers is also taking about a legal challenge and about a local referendum. Only 27,000 signatures would be required to get a measure on the municipal ballot.

LA City Council Approves Medical Marijuana Ordinance; Hundreds of Dispensaries Will be Forced to Close, Thousands of Jobs Lost

The Los Angeles City Council voted 9-3 today to approve a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance that, if enforced, will shut down more than 80% of the city's estimated nearly one thousand dispensaries. The ordinance also bars dispensaries from operating within a thousand feet of schools, parks, day care centers, religious institutions, drug treatment centers, or other dispensaries. The ordinance allows for only 70 dispensaries to operate in the city, but grandfathers in 137 dispensaries that were licensed before the council imposed a moratorium on new dispensaries. The number of allowed dispensaries could shrink even further if suitable locations that do not violate the 1,000-foot rule cannot be found. With this vote, the city council will effectively push thousands of dispensary employees onto the unemployment rolls. Look for a feature article on the council vote and its ramifications on Friday.
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

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