From Alabama to Washington, medical marijuana continues to be a burning issue. Here's the latest:
Supporters of a medical marijuana bill pending in the state legislature are tweaking the bill to make it more palatable to lawmakers. The Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, which composed House Bill 66, is working on amendments to assuage concerns of legislators. One would add a 5% sales tax earmarked for city and county law enforcement to fight drugs; another would more closely define the doctor-patient relationship.
The lawsuits are not over yet. Last week, the medical marijuana interests who filed a successful lawsuit to force state officials to implement the dispensary portion of the state's medical marijuana law filed an amendment to that lawsuit. Compassion Care First is seeking a summary judgment against state officials over regulations that require that a medical marijuana dispensary employ a licensed physician as a medical director. The requirement to employ a medical director is not found in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act passed by voters in November 2010, the lawsuit charges. Meanwhile, state officials said they were moving forward with the dispensary application and licensing process. Up to 124 dispensaries are allowed under the law.
Last Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors quietly voted to amend the county's marijuana cultivation ordinance to eliminate the provision allowing collectives to grow up to 99 plants per parcel with a permit through the Sheriff's Office. The new ordinance reverts to the 25-plant limit for all growers, and is effective March 14. The county acted after the US Attorney's Office threatened to file an injunction against the county's ordinance and "individually go after county officials who were supporting these laws," 5th District Supervisor Dan Hamburg said.
Last Wednesday, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance (GLACA) announced it was supporting the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act of 2012, which would impose statewide regulation on medical marijuana operations. GLACA only lists 13 dispensaries on its roster, but has been a powerful player as city hall deals with the issue. The group said it had donated $50,000 to the campaign, which is in its signature-gathering phase.
Last Thursday, Sacramento County medical marijuana activists announced a local initiative campaign aimed at returning dispensaries to the county. Last year, there were at least 80 dispensaries operating in the county; now, after federal threats and the county's ban, there are nearly none. Longtime local activists Kimberly Cargile and Mickey Martin are behind the Patient Access to Regulated Medical Cannabis Act of 2012. It would allow one dispensary per every 25,000 people, for a total of 20 to 25 dispensaries and tax sales at 4%. It would also limit advertising and impose a 1,000-foot rule on dispensaries near schools and parks.
Also last Thursday, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved three new dispensaries, all in the Excelsior district. There are currently 21 dispensaries in the city, but 12 have been the subject of federal inquiries. Last year, the feds were interested in five other dispensaries; those are all gone now after landlords received threat letters.
Last Friday, the city of Murrieta won a preliminary injunction against a cooperative operating despite a local ban. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club can no longer distribute marijuana at the location, the injunction said.
Also on Friday, President Obama was met by medical marijuana demonstrators when he came to San Francisco on a fund-raising trip. The action was part of a national week of action criticizing the Obama administration's hard-line approach on the issue.
On Monday, Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal announced she intends to create a medical marijuana working group to research and evaluate ordinances in other cities and make recommendations following a review of the city's ordinance by the California Supreme Court. That should take between 12 and 18 months. The working group will include resident and business groups, medical marijuana dispensary representatives, the city attorney, the city prosecutor, city staff and others.
On Tuesday, the DEA and local law enforcement raided a prominent Vallejo dispensary and arrested the owner. The raiders hit the Greenwell Cooperative and arrested owner Matthew Shotwell. The exact charges are not yet clear. While the DEA was present, the cops were executing a state search warrant and included agents from the State Board of Equalization, which deals with tax collections. Employees and patients alike were temporarily detained, and marijuana and other items were seized.
Also on Tuesday, the Lake County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved placing a medical marijuana cultivation initiative on the June 5 ballot. The Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Act of 2012 was brought by Lake County Citizens for Responsible Regulations and the Lake County Green Farmers Association. Supervisors could have just approved the initiative, but decided to punt to voters. The initiative came after the board earlier crafted a restrictive ordinance.
That same day, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to put a new dispensary ordinance on the June 5 ballot. The move comes after Kern Citizens for Patient Rights gathered more than 17,000 signatures to overturn the board's decision last summer to ban dispensaries. The board voted 4-1 to rescind the existing ordinance and put a new measure before voters in June. It includes restrictions on locations of dispensaries.
Also on Tuesday, the Glenn County Board of Supervisors passed a medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. Personal gardens will have to be 300 feet to 1,000 feet away from schools, churches, youth centers and treatment facilities and can be no bigger than 100 square feet. Collectives, dispensaries and collaboratives are banned in the unincorporated areas of the county.
On Wednesday, the city of Berkeley ordered two collectives to shut down. The 40 Acres Medical Marijuana Growers Collective stopped operations in late January after Berkeley Code Enforcement sent it a letter informing the group it was operating in violation of the city's municipal code, but the Perfect Plants Patients Group is still in business. The collectives had run afoul of the city's zoning ordinances.
Last week, employees of the Budding Health dispensaries joined the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. They become the first union medical marijuana shop in Denver, though not the first in the state's medical marijuana industry. The UFCW organized some dispensaries in Fort Collins, but those have all been shut down by a local ban. The UFCW has also organized workers in numerous California dispensaries and has become an advocate for marijuana law reform.
Last Thursday, national and state medical marijuana supporters announced the formation of the Patient Voter Project to inform patients and their supporters about hostile actions taken by the Obama administration against medical marijuana. It's a joint effort by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sensible Colorado, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America (MMAPA), Just Say Now and others with a combined reach in Colorado of more than 40,000 online supporters.
On Tuesday, a medical marijuana banking bill died in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill, Senate Bill 75, would have created the authority for licensed medical marijuana stakeholders to form an exclusive financial cooperative specific to the industry, but committee killed the legislation on a 5-2 vote. The bill was responding to dispensary operators who reported that banks have refused their business for fear of repercussions from the federal government. The bill was opposed by Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, the Colorado attorney general’s office and the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.
Last Thursday, the sponsor of the state's medical marijuana legislation urged Gov. Jack Markell (D) to reconsider his decision to halt implementation of the law. Senator Margaret Rose Henry (D) said regulation-writing and licensing of dispensaries should continue despite veiled threats of prosecution of state workers by US Attorney Charles Oberly III. Markell had called a halt to the program a week earlier after receiving a threat letter from Oberly. Delaware has no provision for patients to grow their own, so if there are no dispensaries, there is no medical marijuana program.
Last Tuesday, the Port Orchard City Council extended a moratorium on dispensaries and another on collective gardens for six more months. The two moratoria have been in effect for a year now and are intended to give city staff more time to develop appropriate land-use and zoning regulations for medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries. The city attorney said regulations could be completed during this six-month period, especially if the state legislature clarifies regulation at the state level.
On Tuesday, the owner of the Herbal Resource dispensary in Owosso was charged with state marijuana cultivation distribution offenses. The charges stem from a January 19 raid by the Mid-Michigan Area Group Narcotics Enforcement Team (MAGNET).
The number of medical marijuana patients and providers is plummeting after state and federal crackdowns, the Helena Independent Record reported Sunday. The number of patients peaked at 31,522 in May 2011, but has declined to fewer than 16,000 as of last month. The decline in growers and dispensaries is even more dramatic. For most of last spring, that figure hovered around 4,800, but following federal raids and the state legislature's virtual repeal of the voter-approved law, that number had declined by 90%, to 417. Under the 2011 law, all caregivers’ licenses cards became invalid on July 1, 2011. Those wanting to continue to legally grow and sell marijuana for medical reasons had to register with the department to get providers' cards.The number of participating physicians has also declined, but not so dramatically, dropping from a high of 365 last June to 274 in January.
That same day, the Missoulian reported that medical marijuana providers busted by the feds in raids last year are getting relatively light sentences. Many faced five-year mandatory minimum federal sentences, but the sentences handed down so far, all the result of plea agreements that saw some charges dropped, have been considerably shorter, ranging from six months to 18 months. In the case of three men who had operated businesses in Helena and Great Falls, Senior Judge Charles Lovell criticized agreed-upon sentencing guidelines as "excessive," making particular mention of the fact that the three men believed their work to be legal under state law. He sentenced them to one year, instead of the 2 ½ recommended. More than 60 indictments have resulted from the federal raids, with some people receiving sentences of up to five years in prison -- not the mandatory minimum five years.
Hundreds of non-Oregon residents have obtained Oregon medical marijuana cards, the Oregonian reported Sunday. Since June 2010, when the state started issuing cards to non-residents, nearly 600 out-of-staters have traveled here to obtain one, according to the Oregon Health Authority, the agency that oversees the state's medical marijuana program. Some 72,000 state residents also hold medical marijuana cards. Neighboring states account for nearly two-thirds of out-of-state card-holders, with 309 from Washington, 138 from Idaho, and 50 from California.
On Wednesday, a bill that would have regulated dispensaries in the state died after failing to move before a legislative deadline. Sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), Senate Bill 6265 was an effort to create a legal framework for dispensaries, but was opposed by some elements of the medical marijuana community.