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Medical Marijuana Update

From the village board to the halls of Congress, medical marijuana is popping up all over. And there's action at various state houses, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last weekend, Americans for Safe Access hosted the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, DC. The conference featured numerous panelists, as well as lobbying on Capitol Hill.

On Monday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the States' Medical Marijuana Patients Protection Act (House Resolution 689) at a press conference surrounded by attendees at the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference. The bill would get the federal government out of states where medical marijuana is legal.

Arizona

Last Thursday, an unapproved dispensary was shut down in Kingman and its proprietors arrested on a variety of marijuana-related and weapons charges. Police seized several pounds of marijuana, $7,000 in cash, and a shotgun.

California

Earlier this month, Shasta County moved a lawsuit filed against it by a medical marijuana collective from state to federal court, and the attorney representing county supervisors has already filed a motion there to dismiss it. The Medicine Man Collective Spiritual Center Corporation sued in state Superior Court in January, naming the supervisors, the county sheriff, and three deputies as defendants. The suit charges that the county conspired to deprive the collective of its contractual, constitutional and state rights by enacting a ban on dispensaries. The collective closed its Main Street doors in May 2011 after being evicted following implementation of the ban in 2010 and its finalization the following year.

Last Thursday, the LA city council voted to approve a third dispensary measure for the May ballot. This third measure is the council's own and would allow about 100 dispensaries to stay open, restrict them from locating near schools and churches, and increase taxes on them. One of the other measures would allow a similar number of dispensaries to stay open, while the other would allow most of the hundreds of currently existing dispensaries to stay open. The initiatives come after the council tried to impose a total ban last year.

On Tuesday, Butte County supervisors adopted a cultivation ordinance. The measure prohibits outdoor marijuana gardens on lots smaller than 0.5 acre. It allows up to 12 plants (six mature and six immature) on parcels larger than 0.5 acre but smaller than 1.5 acre. On parcels smaller than 3 acres, 36 plants (18 mature and 18 immature) are allowed. The total allowable number of plants tops out at 99 on property larger than 40 acres. The gardens have set-back requirements that increase as the lots grow, and the plants have to be screened from view with fencing. Grows are prohibited within 1,000 feet of schools and parks. The growers have to be able to prove they have been county residents for a year, and there has to be written proof the landowner is aware of the garden and approves of its existence. The ordinance allows  indoor gardens in free-standing buildings of 120 square feet on lots anywhere in county jurisdiction.

Florida

On Tuesday, a statewide poll had support for medical marijuana at 69%. The poll showed strong support among Democrats and independents and even among Republicans, 56% of whom said they supported marijuana. The poll comes as its sponsor, People United for Medical Marijuana, pushes for medical marijuana to come to the Sunshine State.

On Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. The bill is Senate Bill 1250.

Iowa

On Sunday, a statewide poll found that 58% support legalizing medical marijuana. That's down six points from a similar poll in 2010. The poll comes as the Iowa legislature considers medical marijuana bills.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Westborough Board of Health supported zoning for dispensaries. The board did not reach agreement on whether Westborough should ban dispensaries or whether to zone or ban home grows for medical use. The town planning board has already proposed a zoning bylaw that would ban both dispensaries and home grows. It goes before voters at the annual town meeting on March 16.

Montana

Last Thursday, two more medical marijuana providers were sentenced to federal prison terms. Ross Pattison and Brandon Strecker were partners in Eastern Montana Cannabis. Pattison got 20 months and Strecker got a year and a day. They are only the latest Montana medical marijuana providers to be sent to federal prison after a spring 2011 crackdown by the DEA and the Justice Department.

Nevada

Last Friday, legislators held a hearing on problems with access to medical marijuana. During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, members acknowledged that it is almost impossible for the state's 3,600 card holders to acquire their medicine. Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) said after the hearing that he soon will introduce a bill to set up a regulated system where marijuana is grown at farms and then distributed and taxed through licensed dispensaries.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, a House committee held a hearing on a pending medical marijuana bill. The bill, House Bill 573, would allow patients to grow up to four plants or obtain their medicine through one of five state-licensed dispensaries. Similar bills have twice passed the legislature since 2007, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch (D). New Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) supported the bills as a legislator, but has expressed concerns that the system be tightly regulated.

Oklahoma

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill died in the legislature. The bill, Senate Bill 710, would have allowed patients to possess up to eight ounces and grow up to 12 plants. It would also have allowed state-sanctioned collectives. It was killed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee after members heard testimony. The bill was defeated 6-2 in a party line vote.

Washington

On Monday, the Spokane city council approved a six-month moratorium on new dispensaries. The council feared a proliferation of marijuana businesses before the state finishes writing its rules for legal non-medical marijuana commerce. Spokane currently has about a dozen dispensaries.

Indiana House Approves Welfare Drug Test Bill

The Republican-controlled Indiana House voted overwhelmingly Monday to approve a "reasonable suspicion" drug testing bill for welfare recipients. House Bill 1483 advanced to the state Senate on a 78-17 vote.

The bill would require all adult recipients of Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) benefits to undergo an assessment to see if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they might be using illicit drugs. Recipients who are deemed "suspicious" would then go into a pool for random drug testing, with half of the pool members being subjected to drug testing.

People who fail the drug test would lose their benefits unless they enrolled in a drug treatment program and produced negative results on future drug tests. Repeated positive drug tests could result in the permanent loss of benefits.

The bill defines "reasonable suspicion" as having been charged with a drug offense, having previously presented positive drug test results, or having been assessed as a likely drug user by the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory test, a commercial test that claims a 90% accuracy rate.

The House approved the bill despite a legislative staff financial analysis that showed the state would spend $2.7 million on the program to possibly the save the state $1.5 million in denied benefits. That means the state would lose $1.2 million next year if the bill were to become law.

Indianapolis, IN
United States

North Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Defeated

A bill that would have required welfare recipients to undergo drug testing died Friday in the North Dakota House. It was defeated soundly on a 72-19 vote.

North Dakota becomes the second state to kill welfare drug test bills this year. A similar bill in Virginia was defeated earlier this month.

The North Dakota bill, House Bill 1385, originally would have required all welfare applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing at their own expense as part of the application process. Those who failed the drug test would have lost benefits for one year, or six months if they completed drug treatment and passed a drug test. The bill was amended in committee to require drug tests of applicants only upon "reasonable suspicion."

Mandatory suspicionless drug test bills have become law in Florida and Georgia, but have been blocked or put on hold by legal challenges. Federal courts have repeatedly held that a drug test constitutes a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and a search requires either a warrant or probable cause. Some states have sought to address that legal problem by calling for an initial assessment to see if there was evidence that would support a drug test, as North Dakota legislators did in committee.

But that was not enough to keep the bill alive. It was opposed by state social services officials, who said it was probably unconstitutional and unfairly targeted the poor. Legislators also balked at the potential costs, which a legislative fiscal analysis put at $595,000 in program costs for the first two years, as well as $125,000 in anticipated legal costs.

The state only has 1,800 participants in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, and 45% of those are children.

Bismarck, ND
United States

Missouri Marijuana, Hemp Bills Filed

Members of the Missouri legislature have introduced three different marijuana law reform bills this month -- one to decriminalize possession; one to expunge misdemeanor offenses, including possession, from the record after five years; and one to legalize industrial hemp.

Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) and two cosponsors introduced the decriminalization bill, House Bill 512, at a press conference earlier this month. The bill would make the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana or paraphernalia punishable only by a fine, but it would still be a criminal offense -- a misdemeanor -- instead of a civil infraction. The bill would also encourage judges to use "suspended imposition of sentence," under which the person is not convicted and, if he successfully completes a probationary period, there is no longer any public record of the matter.

Perhaps decriminalization is not quite the right word."Depenalization" would be more correct.

"Every year, nearly 20,000 Missourians are put in chains and then relegated to second-class citizenship by a criminal record for the possession of small amounts of marijuana," said John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, who addressed the press conference. "This policy costs Missouri taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year, but does nothing to decrease marijuana use or eliminate the harms associated with the black market. There are no other proposals before our legislators that can do so much good so easily."

At the same press conference, Rep. Ellinger also introduced the expungement bill, House Bill 511. Under current Missouri law, only a very few specified offenses can be expunged. This bill would allow expungement for all misdemeanor offenses, including marijuana and paraphernalia offenses, except for violent or sex offenses.

"Although these measures may seem like long shots, one year ago, no one would have predicted that the Republican majority in both houses would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine or reduce the term of probation in most felony drug cases by one half, especially during an election year," said Dan Viets, a veteran attorney with Show-Me Cannabis Regulation. "Those reforms passed with bipartisan support, and these bills can too. That means we will do everything we can to make it happen in 2013."

And this week, Sen. Jason Holsman (D-South Kansas City) introduced an industrial hemp bill, Senate Bill 358. It would exempt industrial hemp -- defined as containing less than 1% THC -- from the state's controlled substances act and allow anyone not convicted of a drug-related crime to grow it. An identical bill was introduced in the House last year, but didn't move.

After the snow melts in Missouri, legislators will be getting back to work. It would be nice if the Show Me State could show the rest of us the way forward.

Jefferson City, MO
United States

Maine, Maryland Marijuana Legalization Bills Filed

Maine and Maryland became the latest states to see marijuana legalization bills filed this year, with lawmakers in those two states rolling out measures this week. They join Hawaii (already killed), Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, with Pennsylvania and Vermont expected to add to the list shortly.

In Maine, state Reps. Diane Russell (D-Portland) and Aaron Libby (R-Waterford) held a press conference Thursday to unveil details of their new bill, the Tax and Regulate Marijuana Act (no bill number or online text yet available). As the title suggests, it would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and over.

The bill would remove criminal penalties for possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, direct a state agency to license and regulate marijuana commerce, including industrial hemp, create a $50 an ounce excise tax on wholesale sales, and allow localities to not allow marijuana commerce.

"When it comes to keeping marijuana away from teens, keeping marijuana in an unregulated underground market is the worst possible policy," Rep. Russell said. "Instead, marijuana should be sold by legitimate, taxpaying businesses in a tightly regulated market."

"Marijuana is objectively far less harmful than alcohol for the consumer and for the broader community," said David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It is irrational to punish adults who simply prefer to use the less harmful substance. Law enforcement resources should be focused on preventing and responding to serious crimes rather than enforcing the failed policy of marijuana prohibition," Boyer said. "It's time for a more sensible approach."

It won't be easy. Under Maine law, if the bill passes, a constitutional referendum on it would go before the voters in November. If the voters approve it then, it goes back to the legislature next session to work out final details.

In Maryland, Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) Thursday introduced House Bill 1453, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce and three plants for adults 21 and over. It would also create a system of regulation and taxation for marijuana commerce and impose a $50 an ounce excise tax on wholesale marijuana transactions.

Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana in the November elections, and Alaska allows the possession of small amounts in one's home. The race is now on to be the next state to hop on the marijuana legalization bandwagon.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Killed -- With Extreme Prejudice

A bill that would legalize the use of medical marijuana in the Tarheel State is dead after a legislative committee killed it to avoid having to hear any more about it from constituents.

The North Carolina Medical Cannabis Act (House Bill 84) would have allowed patients suffering from debilitating diseases or conditions or their caregivers to possess up to 24 ounces of usable marijuana and have a garden of up to 250 square feet. It would also have provided for a system of medical marijuana dispensaries.

The House Rules Committee Wednesday heard public comments on the bill for about 20 minutes. Only one speaker, a representative of the social conservative North Carolina Family Policy Council, opposed the bill; a number of medical marijuana patients urged the committee to advance the bill, as did its sponsor Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg).

Then, instead of merely letting the bill expire in committee, as is typically the case with bills that won't pass, the committee voted to give it an unfavorable report, ensuring the topic could not be brought up again this session. According to House rules, when a bill is given an unfavorable report, "the contents of that bill or the principal provisions of its subject matter shall not be considered in any other measure originating in the Senate or originating thereafter in the House."

"We did it to be done with it, so people could move on for the session," Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam (R-Wake) told WRAL TV in Raleigh. He said lawmakers were being "harassed" with phone calls and emails about medical marijuana.

Raleigh, NC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Most of the action was at statehouses this week, but there was also news from the Harborside Health Center battle in California and an announcement that the nation's capital will soon have its first dispensary.

Arkansas

On Tuesday, the state attorney general rejected the wording of a ballot measure that would legalize medical marijuana. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel complained of ambiguities in the measure. McDaniel must certify the measure before signature-gathering  to qualify for the 2014 ballot can begin.That means it's redrafting time for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the same folks who brought a narrowly-defeated measure to the ballot last year.

California

Last Thursday, a federal magistrate rejected the city of Oakland's challenge to the federal government's effort to shut down Harborside Health Center, the world's largest medical marijuana dispensary. Magistrate Maria-Elena James ruled that only those who have a direct interest in the property -- Harborside and its landlords -- have the right to challenge the government's effort to seize it. The city had intervened in the case on Harborside's behalf, arguing that its closure would lead to public health and safety problems.

On Wednesday, medical marijuana patient Daisy Bram was arraigned in Tehama County on marijuana cultivation charges. This is the second run-in with recalcitrant local authorities for Bram, who was arrested on similar charges in 2011 in Butte County. In both cases, authorities also seized her children. In the Butte County case, police and social workers tore Bram's month-old son from her arms, and he and his sibling remained in foster care for six months. Her children have been seized once again, as has her 12-year-old personal vehicle, which authorities claimed was purchased with the fruits of crime.

District of Columbia

Last Friday, operators of Capital City Care announced that the District's first dispensary will open in April. It's been a long time coming. Voters approved medical marijuana in 1998, but Congress blocked its implementation for more than a decade, and District officials have moved at an excruciatingly slow pace in enacting regulations and permissions. City officials have approved three dispensaries and six cultivation centers, but Capital City will be the first out the gate.

Massachusetts

Last Thursday, state health officials held a "listening session" in Boston to get public input as they work on regulations for the state's nascent medical marijuana industry. They heard from patients seeking broad access, as well as from substance-abuse groups, youth counselors and police, who urged them to draft strict regulations. This was the second of three "listening sessions" undertaken by the Department of Public Health. The department has until May 1 to draft regulations for the program.

Montana

Last Friday, a package of bills to fix the state's gutted medical marijuana program was defeated in a House committee vote. The bills were an effort to undo some of the restrictions passed by the legislature in 2012 that effectively killed the state's burgeoning medical marijuana industry. The hearing was also notable for one of the more colorful comments on marijuana heard in recent years. Marijuana is "a joke," said House Human Services Committee Chair David Howard (R-Park City), a former FBI agent, adding, "It makes you delusional. It is psychologically addicting and physiologically addicting and it absorbs in your fat cells, which is the most dangerous drug there is. This is not a drug. It's a poison."

Washington

On Monday, lawmakers held a hearing on taxing medical marijuana dispensaries. The bill's sponsors said they want to hit dispensaries with a 25% tax on cannabis sales like the one mandated for non-medical marijuana under the state's new legalization scheme. The idea is to avoid a dual market -- one taxed and one not -- once legalization regulations go into effect. But more than a dozen people, most of them patients, testified against the move. No vote was taken.

West Virginia

On Monday, Del. Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor) introduced a medical marijuana bill. The bill, House Bill 2230, would allow patients to possess up to six ounces of marijuana and establishes five "compassion centers" to provide patients their medicine. Manypenny introduced similar bills in the last two sessions, but they never got a hearing.

West Virginia Bill Would Drug Test Teens for Driver Licenses

A bill introduced Tuesday in the West Virginia House of Delegates would require prospective teen drivers to pass three separate drug tests before receiving a full drivers' license. It's only the latest drug testing proposal to emerge at the statehouse in Charleston this year.

teen driving lesson
Introduced by Del. Joe Ellington (R-Mercer), House Bill 2528 would require teens to "pass a drug test designed to detect illegal consumption of controlled substances" before getting a learner's permit, before getting an intermediate license, and before getting a full license.

"So the goal was: they really want to get that driver's license -- their incentive would be to not use anything and maybe not bow down to peer pressure to succumb to drug use," Ellington explained to WSAZ News Channel 3 in Charleston Tuesday night.

Ellington, an obstetrician, is the minority chair of the Health Committee and member of the Roads and Transportation Committee, where the bill has been referred.

Charleston has been a hotbed of drug testing fever in recent years, which have repeatedly seen bills introduced that would require drug testing of welfare recipients. There's another one this year, as well as bills that would expand drug testing of coal miners and require health care providers to release drug testing records of minors to their parents.

It's not just Republicans at the statehouse. Last year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) issued an executive order requiring participants in the state's job training programs to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing.

The enthusiasm for drug testing in Charleston remains despite the sobering results of Tomblin's job trainee drug testing. The first six months of testing resulted in just five failed tests out of 562.

Charleston, WV
United States

Michigan Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana Sales Filed

A little more than a week after the state Supreme Court ruled that Michigan's medical marijuana law doesn't allow for dispensaries, a state lawmaker is ready to file a bill that would allow cities and counties to approve them via local option.

State Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) said Monday he would introduce House Bill 4271 Tuesday. The bill already has bipartisan support, with eight Democrat and eight Republican cosponsors.

A similar bill died in committee last year, and medical marijuana foe Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) has said no further medical marijuana bills are needed this year, but Callton told the Lansing State Journal he thought the measure would fare better this time around.

"I'm a Republican and I'm from a conservative area, but I've seen growing support from a lot of other legislators for this from both parties," Callton  said. "And now, with this court ruling, it becomes much more important. I want people to be able to take a recommendation for (marijuana) from their doctor and be able to go to what we're calling a provisionary center."

Not only has Schuette come out against any new medical marijuana bills, his office will this week send out letters to all 83 county prosecutors instructing them to shut down anything resembling a dispensary, his office said on Friday.

Between the state Supreme Court ruling and Schuette's aggressive posture, Michigan dispensary operators -- there may be as many as a hundred statewide -- are running scared. Many have closed their doors, while others remain open only on the down low.

"Nobody I know in this state is advertising this service anymore -- it's all going to be word-of-mouth from now on," Holice Wood, owner of a compassion club, told the State Journal.

The state's 125,000 registered medical marijuana patients now must grow their medicine themselves, rely on a caregiver (limited to no more than five patients), or resort to the black market. Patients need safe access to their medicine, they said.

"It's cost-prohibitive to grow this yourself, and it's labor intensive," said Alec McKelvey Jr., 41, of Warren, a state-registered patient who uses marijuana to fight the side effects of cancer treatments. "You have to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment and really know what you're doing to get a quality plant that has no parasites or mold -- that would make my health worse," McKelvey said.

Lansing, MI
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

What? Nothing happened in California? It's a rare week, but the quiet in the Golden State is being made up for by action in state legislatures around the land. And more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Monday, a Senate panel voted to let police destroy seized medical marijuana. The Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 1414 on a 5-3 party-line vote. Under the law as interpreted by the Court of Appeals, police are required to give it back, but Sen. Kimberly Yee (R-Phoenix) said she believes that puts police in the position of violating the federal Controlled Substances Act, which continues to make marijuana illegal. Her legislation would let officers destroy the drugs once any investigation was completed, even if the person was entitled to have them in the first place. The vote came after the American Civil Liberties Union warned lawmakers they were courting legal action. The 2010 initiative specifically says that marijuana held by those who are entitled either to sell it as dispensary operators or possess it as patients "is not subject to seizure or forfeiture.'' The bill now goes to the full Senate.

Colorado

On Tuesday, the House passed House Bill 1061, the "Responsible Medical Marijuana Vendors" bill, which would create a training program of sorts for medical-marijuana workers. Companies that want to run training schools for employees would apply to the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division for certification. If all of a dispensary’s employees complete a training course with a certified school, the state would then grant that dispensary a "responsible vendor designation." The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed a nearly identical measure last year before it died in the House.

Maine

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana patient sued a staffing firm she said refused to hire her because she is a medical marijuana patient. Brittany Thomas filed the suit against Adecco Group North America, where she had been employed before being laid off. When more work became available, she told Adecco she would fail the drug test because she was a medical marijuana patient. She tested positive and was told she could no longer work for the company. She is seeking reinstatement and payment of back wages. She is being represented by the ACLU of Maine and a local law firm.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Lowell city council delayed a vote on a zoning ordinance aimed at restricting where dispensaries can operate. Instead, the council Tuesday night sent the proposed ordinance back to the zoning subcommittee for further discussion. One reason mentioned for the delay was because the state's Department of Public Health is yet to promulgate regulations for the operation of the dispensaries. The proposed ordinance would allow dispensaries only in light industrial and high-rise commercial zoned districts and would mandate that they be at least 1,000 feet from a school or public library.

On Wednesday, the Department of Public Health held a "listening session" in Worcester about regulations for the state's new medical marijuana law. The sessions are designed to provide public input into the regulatory process. We have no information at press time on how the hearing went. Another is set for Thursday in Roxbury.

Montana

On Wednesday, the Human Services Committee heard testimony on four bills aimed at restoring the state's gutted medical marijuana program. The bills, House Bills 340 through 343, would eliminate board of examiners' review requirements, allow caregivers to be compensated, remove limits on the number of patients caregivers can serve, and eliminate some record-keeping and unannounced inspections. No word yet on how the hearing went.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, a poll found that 80% of adults in the state support medical marijuana. The Granite State Poll was conducted at the end of January and the first days of February, and comes as the legislature prepares to deliberate on House Bill 573, a medical marijuana bill. The bill will have a hearing in the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Elderly Appairs on Thursday, February 21.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, a bill to ensure that medical marijuana patients get access to organ transplants was introduced. The bill, AB 576, is sponsored by Majority Whip Peter Barnes, who said he introduced it after a medical marijuana patient was denied a liver transplant and died the following year.

North Carolina

On Tuesday, more than 200 people rallied in Raleigh in support of medical marijuana bills. Addressing the group in support of the Enact Medical Cannabis Act was Democratic Party chair Randy Voller. Past bills have been killed by Republican committee chairs, but GOP House speaker Thom Tillis said he wouldn't rule out a well-crafted bill that allowed cancer patients and others with serious illnesses from having access to marijuana as long as strong safeguards were in place to prevent widespread use.

Oregon

Last Thursday, a bill to make PTSD a syndrome treatable by medical marijuana had a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The bill, Senate Bill 281, would add PTSD, to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use in Oregon. The committee heard doctors testify that marijuana has been shown to soothe anxiety, help with sleep, and calm suicidal urges. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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