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Florida Supreme Court Sets Medical Marijuana Hearing Date

The Florida Supreme Court has set December 5 as the day it will hear arguments in state Attorney General Pam Bondi's effort to quash a medical marijuana initiative that is now in its signature-gathering phase. Last Thursday, Bondi asked the high court to review the initiative -- as is required by Florida law -- but also criticized it as misleading, which, if the high court agrees, could see it scrapped.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (myfloridalegal.com)
"The ballot title and summary suggest the amendment would allow medical marijuana to be used only in limited circumstances and only for patients with 'debilitating diseases,'" Bondi wrote. "But if the amendment passed, Florida law would allow marijuana use in limitless situations."

The initiative is run by United for Care and is so far being funded largely by Florida attorney and political operator John Morgan. It faces an uphill battle. Not only must organizers come up with more than 600,000 valid voter signatures, but if they overcome that hurdle and the Supreme Court challenge, under Florida law, they need 60% of the vote to pass.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

An LA dispensary crackdown gets underway, an Arizona judge throws out a restrictive dispensary ordinance, the Michigan Supreme Court hears a dispensary ban case, and much, much more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Monday, a Superior Court judge overturned Maricopa County's restrictive dispensary ordinance, ruling that it was a "transparent attempt" to bar the businesses from unincorporated areas of the county. The judge granted a pretrial verdict in favor of White Mountain Health Center, which seeks to open a dispensary in Sun City. While the county has the power to zone to protect public health, safety, and welfare, it cannot categorically deny permits to dispensaries, he ruled.

California

Last Tuesday, Berkeley police and city inspectors raided the Forty Acres collective to look for code violations. The raid came two weeks after Forty Acres filed a lawsuit against the city and its Medical Cannabis Commission in a longstanding dispute over the dispensary's efforts to ensure its legality. The suit charges the city with discrimination and denial of due process. City officials, who have been trying to shut the place down since December 2011, maintain that it is a collective operating in a commercial district, which violates the city's zoning laws. Collectives are supposed to operate in residential areas and be "incidental" to the rest of the house.

Last Friday, Los Angeles officials said 38 dispensaries are being prosecuted and another 40 have shut down voluntarily after receiving warnings to close their doors. This is the beginning of the city's effort to enforce Measure D, a May ballot initiative that capped the number of dispensaries at 135. There are an estimated 800 to 1,000 dispensaries in the city. About 800 received letters warning them they aren't legal. Some of them have joined together to challenge the law in court.

On Tuesday, the Yorba Linda planning commission approved an ordinance banning dispensaries and cultivation centers. The only dispensary to operate in the city was forced to close in February 2010. No one showed up to testify on either side of the issue. Yorba Linda, a community founded by Quakers, also does not have a single bar within city limits, although in recent years, it has allowed alcohol to be sold in restaurants.

Connecticut

On Tuesday, the Fairfield Plan and Zoning Commission voted to deny two dispensary applications. The unanimous vote came after two public hearings. The commission said it denied the application not out of opposition to medical marijuana, but because the town did not have regulations in place. Some commissioners said they needed to move forward with regulations, and that the state needed to get more deeply involved.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the town of Saugus approved a moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will be in place at least until next September. The town maintains that the moratorium will allow town boards, committees and officials an extended period of time to study the possible legal, land use, public safety and public health impact of a local dispensary on the town and make recommendations for Town Meeting approval.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the town of Wyoming's ban on dispensaries. The town's 2010 law barred any activity that conflicts with federal law, but that law was struck down by a lower court. The town then appealed with the support of an association of Michigan prosecutors.

Oregon

Last Wednesday, medical marijuana supporters picketed the Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis. Patients and supports complained that they are getting unfair treatment from the hospital's parent company, Samaritan Health Services, the largest health care provider in the mid-Willamette River Valley. Patients were especially incensed over efforts to force them to choose between opioid pain medications and medical marijuana.

Late last month, the city of Medford began revoking business licenses for dispensaries. The city says the businesses do not comply with federal law, even though the Oregon legislature this year passed a dispensary bill and the federal government has signaled a largely hands-off approach. The move came after the city council unanimously approved and expanded an ordinance that had previously only said businesses had to be conducted in a lawful manner. Patients and supporters are mobilizing.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds back off in some Southern California asset forfeiture cases, an Iowa newspaper tells local authorities to back off from prosecuting a cancer patient, and several states move forward with implementing their medical marijuana laws. And more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, Navajo County sheriff's deputies raided a dispensary in Pinetop. They hit the Beyond Compassion dispensary, owned by Mike Lytle. Lytle also owned the Mountain Meds dispensary in Lakeside that was raided earlier this year. He was charged with five drug-related felonies in that case, which is still pending. He racked up two more felony possession of marijuana for sale charges Thursday.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, the state attorney general approved the wording of a medical marijuana initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved an initiative submitted by Arkansans for Compassionate Care that would allow patients to grow their own or buy it from a dispensary. McDaniel earlier approved another medical marijuana initiative that would not allow patients to grow their own.

California

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors dropped their case against an Anaheim landlord whose property they tried to seize over a $37 medical marijuana sale. Under federal pressure, Tony Jalali had already evicted a dispensary he had rented to when the feds brought their asset forfeiture action. Prosecutors had been seeking to drop the case for months, but had insisted that he agree to surprise inspections and promise never to rent to another dispensary. They didn't get that, but Jalali did agree not to demand that the US government pay his attorney fees. The feds dropped the case with prejudice, meaning they cannot threaten to seize his property again. They also dropped two other asset forfeiture cases, but those agreements have been finalized with the courts.

Last Thursday, a Riverside County dispensary sued the city of Murrieta over its decision to ban dispensaries and medical marijuana delivery services. Compassionate Care Beneficiaries seeks a peremptory writ of mandate to set aside the city's decision. It alleges that Murrieta violated state environmental laws by failing to evaluate the potential air pollution and traffic impacts of barring dispensaries and forcing residents who use marijuana legally for medicinal purposes to drive miles farther to obtain it.

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors moved closer to new medical marijuana regulations. The board is considering rules that would prohibit dispensaries within 600 feet of schools or each other, restricts hours and signage, and could require background checks of dispensary managers or dispensary board members. They would also limit home grows to 100 square feet indoors and 1,000 square feet outdoors. The ordinance will have a final vote on October 22.

Connecticut

Late last month, the state began accepting cultivation and dispensary applications. Patients have been able to sign up for the medical marijuana registry for the past year, but no one has yet been authorized to cultivate marijuana. Now, the state is finally moving forward.

Iowa

On Sunday, the Quad-City Times editorialized against prosecuting a cancer patient for growing medical marijuana. The newspaper accused the Scott County justice system of enforcing "the letter of a law that is doing much more harm than good" in the case of Benton Mackenzie, who was arrested along with his wife, son, and parents for growing marijuana he used to alleviate his cancer treatments. Mackenzie was jailed for two months until authorities realized they might be stuck with his medical bills, and is now free awaiting trial. "Iowa is overdue for marijuana law reform in response to growing clinical evidence of its medicinal value," the paper concluded. "Iowa and Illinois are overdue for decriminalizing a substance readily available despite decades of targeted enforcement." The Quad Cities are a trans-Mississippi River metropolitan area consisting of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois (and East Moline, too).

Kansas

Last Friday, the Kansas Silver-Haired Legislature endorsed medical marijuana. The group focuses on legislation affecting Kansas senior citizens and said in a resolution that medical marijuana brings relief for numerous conditions "often found among senior citizens" as well as slowing the progress of two conditions common to senior citizens -- Alzheimer's Disease and glaucoma. Medical marijuana has gained virtually no traction in the Republican-dominated state legislature.

Michigan

Last Thursday, a Lansing couple whose medical marijuana use resulted in the state seizing their infant daughter saw felony drug charges against them dropped. Steve and Maria Green were arrested on marijuana manufacturing charges in 2011, but the Oakland County prosecutor dropped the charges after it was proven that Steve Green was a patient and his wife a caregiver. But the filing of those charges played a role in the state's decision last month to remove their daughter from their home. It's unclear how the dropping of charges will affect their battle to regain custody of their daughter, who is currently living with Maria Green's mother.

Nevada

On Friday, state officials released their 80-page draft medical marijuana dispensary regulations. The move comes after the legislature this year passed a dispensary bill, which is set to go into effect in April. The state Division of Public and Behavioral Health released the draft, which sets broad guidelines for growers, dispensaries and test labs. The draft has already excited numerous concerns and comments, and is subject to revision.

New Jersey

Last Friday, a second dispensary won approval to start selling marijuana to patients. The Health Department announced that the Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor Township can open for business. It has been growing marijuana since June, but has not announced an exact opening date. The state has authorized six dispensaries, but so far, only one has opened.

Vermont

On Tuesday, the Rockingham Selectboard approved an ordinance banning dispensaries. The vote came after the police chief said he didn't want a dispensary in the city and a village resident said the town already faced drug abuse issues. The ordinance can be overturned by a majority of voters at the next town meeting.

Washington

On Sunday, a medical marijuana farmers' market reopened in Seattle. While providing candies, lotions, and dried buds to patients, the market is also part of an ongoing fight by the state's patients and medical marijuana industry to ensure that their rights are kept in mind as the state moves toward legally regulated marijuana for all adults.

Wisconsin

Last Thursday, two Democratic legislators announced they would file a medical marijuana bill in the state legislature. Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison and Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton held a news conference Thursday to announce a new bill, saying marijuana can provide pain relief other medication doesn't. A similar measure in 2010 got a hearing, but went nowhere after that under Democratic leadership. In 2011, a similar bill got nowhere at all under a Republican-controlled legislature. The Republicans still control both houses.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

The Fall and Rise and Fall of a "Death to Meth" DA [FEATURE]

Special to the Chronicle by investigative reporter Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com. This is the 7th installment of Walker's series on prosecutorial misconduct in the war on drugs.

A Northern California attorney plunged into a full-blown methamphetamine addiction, then made a storybook recovery, running successfully for county prosecutor on a "Death to Meth" platform just a few years later. But now that attorney, Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander, is on the ropes again, and it's not the drug itself but a different aspect of his meth mania that's doing him in.

Alexander fought back like Rocky Balboa, only to be defeated by himself.
Inspired by a burning passion to fight the meth industry in the county and to help meth users who reminded him of himself, Alexander ran as a big underdog on a "Death to Meth" platform. On the road to victory with Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" booming in the background, Alexander won strong support from law-abiding citizens, sheriff's deputies, judges, and even families of drug dealers and drug users that Alexander previously represented either as a solo defense attorney or public defender. And in a strange way many drug dealers he sent to prison as a former prosecutor threw their support behind him as well.

"With meth, it's personal to me. I've been there. I know meth is a horrendously powerful drug. I've been to hell and back," a triumphant Alexander declaimed after winning the prosecutor's job. A former New Jersey resident, Alexander graduated in 1987 from Western State University College of Law in Orange County, California.

Like a former smoker turned anti-smoking zealot, Alexander turned his personal campaign against meth into a crusade. For nearly three years, he participated in "Meth Elimination" raids carried out by the sheriff's office and hammered meth dealers as the DA.

But now, the 63-year-old lawyer's enthusiasm has gotten the best of him, and the Northern California DA finds himself in trouble with the law again. It just another turn of the page in the real-life legal thriller that is the career of Jon Alexander.

Back in April, the State Bar of California recommended that Alexander, who had previously been disciplined for prosecutorial misconduct, be disbarred for interfering in a drug case. Although the judge in the case issued an order recommending Alexander's "right to practice" law be transferred to involuntary inactive status, the final decision to disbar the DA is up to the California Supreme Court.

To add insult to injury, the "miracle comeback lawyer" was served with a letter from the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors ordering him suspended without pay as a sheriff's sergeant unceremoniously escorted him from his office. He has been replaced temporarily by assistant prosecutor Katherine Micks as he exhausts his appeals.

Alexander went down over his interference in a meth case involving a female defendant, 24-year-old Michelle Taylor. Taylor met with Alexander in his office and told him that meth seized in a recent bust belonged to her and not her boyfriend, Damion Van Parks, who had been arrested with her and charged as a codefendant. The bar found that he had questioned her without her attorney present, that he failed to provide exculpatory evidence in a related case, and that he lied to his fellow prosecutors.

"Jon Alexander, reportedly the state's first sitting prosecutor to face removal from office, abused his prosecutorial power by communicating with Michelle Taylor, charged at the time, with methamphetamine possession," State Bar Court Judge Lucy Armendariz ruled. But there's more: "After Alexander learned from Taylor that she, not her co-defendant Van Parks, owned the illegal drugs, Alexander failed to disclosed the exculpatory evidence to the defendant's lawyer."

And still more. Judge Armendariz found that Alexander had lied to Assistant DA Micks, who was in charge of prosecuting the case, by telling her he had not spoken with the female defendant. But it gets worse.

When the accusations against him emerged, Alexander fired back, claiming he recalled that Taylor's attorney had given him permission to speak to her about seeking drug treatment. But, unknown to Alexander, Taylor had been wearing a wire, and on the recording of their meeting, there is no mention of her going to rehab.

Judge Lucy Armendariz (tjsl.edu)
"Michelle Taylor was denied basic protections under the Sixth Amendment when Alexander elicited information from her without her counsel," Judge Armendariz found.

Taylor refused to testify at Alexander's October 2012 State Bar trial unless she was granted immunity in her pending meth case. That didn't happen. Instead, she was eventually convicted and sentenced to a year in prison while the case against Van Parks was dropped.

Alexander had support during his State Bar trial, with numerous members of Del Norte County legal and law enforcement communities testifying to his good reputation as an elected DA. While he may have had shortcoming and might have committed some errors, they said, none of his misdeeds warranted criminal actions. But not everyone rallied to Alexander's support.

"I do not believe for a second that Alexander should be DA because I think his mental abilities continue to be adversely affected by his long-time meth use, even though he appears sober now," argued State Bar Deputy trial counselor Cydney Batchelor,

Although he has been recommended for disbarment by the State Bar for misconduct and at least temporarily removed from office, Alexander hasn't given up the fight. In addition to appealing the State Bar decision, he is also challenging the county Board of Supervisors' decision to suspend him without pay.

"I am the elected District Attorney of this county; I still believe I am," Alexander said in August.

He has hired Sacramento attorney Rudy Nolen, who has filed an appeal of the State Bar Court's decision to disbar him. Nolen is also challenging the county supervisors' decision to suspend Alexander, arguing that the board "acted out of its scope of jurisdiction on a number of grounds" when it suspended the befallen prosecutor, and violated his rights in the process.

"It did not have authority to fire Alexander because a sitting District Attorney is subject to removal only by Attorney General Office or by way of recall election or a grand jury accusation," Nolen argued. "The board did not provide Mr. Alexander with prior notice of planned actions and the board failed to provide Alexander with an open hearing or an opportunity to defend himself against the allegations."

"I continue to believe that the actions taken by the board were outside of their authority, which was, to me, an illegal attempt to remove Jon from his position," he told the Chronicle.

In his October 2012 lawsuit against the State Bar, Alexander's attorney claimed that "the accusations against him were not only politically motivated by fellow lawyers and DAs, whom he called enemies, but the accusations also were driven by incorrect factual allegations and bias against a former meth addict."

"My opponents are subjecting me to additional scrutiny and criticism because of my former drug addiction," Alexander argued.

It wasn't Alexander's recovery status, but his prosecutorial misconduct that did him in, though, Judge Armendariz held.

"Jon Alexander knew or should have known, as an experienced prosecutor, that there's no excuse for conversing with a defendant in the absence of retained counsel, regardless of whether she barged into his office and voluntarily made several incriminating statements during their conversation," she wrote in her decision to disbar him.

One disgruntled attorney is former Del Norte Prosecutor Michael Riese, who gave Alexander a chance to work as a prosecutor in his office based on his excellent skillls as a trial lawyer. Alexander was fired from the DA office by Riese for improper behavior. But Alexander later rebounded to defeat Riese for the top spot. Riese filed a lawsuit against Alexander in July 2012, accusing him of malicious prosecution for allegedly trying to frame him for child endangerment and DUI. Both charges against Riese were later dismissed.

The Downward Spiral

Before Alexander won election as Del Norte County District Attorney, his dalliance with methamphetamine almost killed him. Burdened with emotional strain over the declining health of his parents and running a busy law practice, Alexander first used cocaine and then switched to snorting meth.

"I was doing meth to keep my practice going. I did meth while cranking out a bunch of work, then did some more to stay up. Then after a couple of days straight I took Ambien to sleep," he recalled in an interview with California Lawyer magazine. "Around 2000, I graduated to smoking meth," Alexander recounted. "If you think snorting meth gets its claws in you, then smoking it completely puts your head in the dragon's throat."

After losing a beautiful oceanfront home in 2002, expensive sports car, a loving girlfriend, and a thriving law practice due to a long-term suspension over fees owed to a client, police threw him in jail for driving while his license was suspended. Out of jail, but now broke and homeless, Alexander continued to find solace in meth.

He lived out of his car or in shelters before eventually winding up crashing beneath the crawl space of a friend's house in Laguna Beach, where he slept on a stained, filthy mattress. In a sad reminder of his lost career, Alexander kept his Italian suits wrapped in garbage bags hanging from a rusty pipe in the crawl space. As the world around him spun out of control, Alexander became so despondent that he jammed a .32 pistol in his mouth, ready to pull the trigger to end his brutal dependency on meth.

"I can still remember the metallic taste of the gun in my mouth," Alexander said.

What stopped him from committing suicide was his mother's dog, Prince, whom he kept as companion. Slowly he put the gun down, feeling obligated to fulfill the promise he made to his ailing mother to take care of Prince.

Then Alexander had a close brush with death at the hands of others. On a mission to score more meth, he was attacked at a motel, struck in the head and knocked unconscious. Alexander suffered a broken neck, requiring a steel rod and transplanted disc to hold him together.

"I didn't have the good sense to die," Alexander told the Sacramento Bee.

This violent episode convinced Alexander to make a decision: live or die. Never a quitter, and with the heart of a prizefighter, Jon Alexander dusted himself off, prayed hard, and regained the right to practice law again in December 2004 -- after completing the State Bar substance abuse program. To stay sober and busy, Alexander sponsored a Little League Team, led a weekly 12-step drug program and served as keynote speaker at the County Drug Summit. Serving as mentor for recovering addicts at Jordan's Recovery Center in nearby Crescent City, the residents there adored him as the "comeback lawyer" and a true friend.

"When these guys come to Jon, no matter how beat down they are, he always finds a way to build them up," Sandra Morrison, the facility administrator, told California Law.

Bouncing Back, Breaking Bad

In January 2005, then Del Norte County District Attorney Mike Riese hired Alexander as Assistant DA to give the former meth addict another shot at redemption as a public servant. It wasn't long before Alexander got into hot water, though. In June 2005, Alexander wrote a personal letter to a judge urging him to give a stiff prison term to a meth dealer who, ironically, had been previously represented by Alexander when he worked as a public defender for the county. The judge reported Alexander's improper behavior not only to the defendant's lawyer, but also his boss, DA Riese.

"I'm guilty of bad judgment, arrogance and overstepping my bounds," a contrite Alexander wrote in a letter of apology to DA Riese.

Unimpressed, Riese fired Alexander, and he found himself suspended once again by the State Bar, this time for three months. Reinstated to practice after 90 days, like the Energizer bunny, Alexander bounced back with a vengeance, running against Riese for the DA's post in 2006. He lost the race, but not his mission.

In 2010, Alexander tried again, accusing Riese of corruption and investing his life savings of nearly $100,000 in his "Death to Meth" campaign. He won, by 196 votes out of 10,000 cast.

And now, thanks to his misconduct, he's out again, but he's still vowing war on meth.

"Meth is ravaging this country and I intend to fulfill and deliver on those campaign promises, and I look forward to returning to those duties," he said.

Joe Alexander, a former meth addict, turned his life around, becoming the county's top prosecutor on a "Death to Meth" platform. But while he managed to kick the drug, he hasn't been able to kick his need to bend the rules to go after it.

Although Alexander's saga appears to be winding to a close, it's not quite over yet. In July, Del Norte County rejected his petition to reinstate his salary while his appeals conclude. And next week, he has a hearing on his request that the State Bar consider reversing Judge Armendariz's recommendation that he be disbarred. But for the time being, at least, the "Death to Meth" prosecutor is on the outside looking in.

Crescent City, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

California localities continue to grapple with medical marijuana issues; meanwhile, officials in three states are moving forward with implementing medical marijuana laws, and a key Kentucky politician says nice things about it. Let's get to it:

California

On September 17, a state court judge granted Santa Clara's request for an injunction to close a dispensary. The injunction is aimed at the Angel's Care Collective, with which the city has had a long-running dispute. The judge cited the state Supreme Court's ruling in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, which gave localities the right to enforce bans on medical marijuana businesses.

Last Wednesday, Sutter County supervisors passed the first reading of a cultivation ordinance that would prohibit marijuana cultivation within 2,000 feet of schools, churches, parks and child-care centers and establish setback requirements from property lines for crops to mitigate the plant's odor. The vote came after several residents complained that an increase in grow operations have caused crime to increase and lessened their quality of life. The ordinance must have another vote at the October 21 supervisors' meeting before it becomes final.

Last Thursday, the Eureka city council canceled a meeting where a move to ban dispensaries was to be considered. The proposed amendment to the city's medical marijuana ordinance would have banned dispensaries, cooperatives, collectives, and mobile delivery services. The city currently has four dispensaries and a moratorium on new ones, but that moratorium is set to expire November 3. City officials said they postponed the meeting because of time pressure, but will now deal with the issue at their October 15 meeting.

Also last Thursday, the Clearlake city council moved forward with approving the final reading of a cultivation ordinance. The ordinance, which is modeled on the cultivation ordinance adopted by the Lake County Board of Supervisors, prohibits commercial grows, grows on vacant lots and puts limitations on the number of plants allowed. With Thursday's approval, the ordinance is to become effective January 1, 2014. It also prohibits cultivation within 600 feet of a school or licensed child day care center. The number of plants allowed is connected to parcel size, allowing no more than six plants on parcels smaller than a half acre and as many as 48 plants on properties 40 acres or larger.

Last Friday, the city of San Diego sued a dispensary to force it to shut down. Targeted is the Central Wellness Collective in mid-city. The move marks a change in policy since the forced resignation of Mayor Bob Filner, who had called on the city attorney to stop suing dispensaries. Acting Mayor Todd Gloria feels otherwise. He told the city's chief operating officer and assistant chief operating officer that enforcement of zoning violations by pot shops could resume. A new marijuana zoning ordinance, more restrictive than the one sponsored by Filner, is being vetted by neighborhood groups. The proposal should be ready for council consideration by January, a spokeswoman for Gloria said.

Delaware

On Tuesday, the Division of Public Health published preliminary regulations for the state's medical marijuana program. Implementation of the state's 2011 law had been delayed by federal government threats, but last month, Gov. Jack Markell (D) lifted his suspension of the dispensary program. The new regulations cover the bidding identification process and operation for the compassion center as well as the safety and security conditions. The state will then take bids for a pilot dispensary and begin evaluating the bids by March 2014.

Illinois

On Tuesday, state officials met to begin drafting rules for medical marijuana distribution. Representatives of Gov. Pat Quinn (D) met with officials from three agencies. The state Department of Health is examining how to issue identification cards for medical marijuana users. The Department of Agriculture is determining the standards for growers. And the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is examining how to regulate the 60 dispensaries that will distribute the medical marijuana. The agencies hope to present a final version of the rules to lawmakers in the spring. The state's medical marijuana law was signed last month.

Kentucky

Last Wednesday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he is leaning toward supporting medical marijuana and that the topic is worth debating. Medical marijuana bills have been filed in previous years, but have never gone anywhere without the support of leadership. Stumbo raised the issue after Attorney General Jack Conway sent an advisory letter to Governor Steve Beshear, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and other state leaders to clarify current law related to marijuana's cousin, hemp. State lawmakers approved a hemp bill earlier this year.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, the state's therapeutic cannabis advisory council held its first meeting, choosing Rep. Jim McKay as its leader, at its first meeting Thursday. Among other things, the council will try to gauge the effectiveness of the state's dispensaries. The state's new law allows up to four dispensaries. The council has until next July to come up with rules for patient identification and registry cards. The council doesn't expect dispensaries to actually open until 2015.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Medical Marijuana Update

A California dispensary regulation bill dies, the dark ages return to San Diego, Massachusetts towns enact moratoria, New Jersey gives a loan to a dispensary, and more. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, Merced County supervisors approved a grow ordinance that would regulate the number of plants grown for medical marijuana users. The ordinance limits each site to 12 plants, which can be grown either indoors or outdoors. The ordinance considers anything more than 12 plants a nuisance, with fines of $1,000 a day, but which could escalate to a $1,000 per plant per day. The ordinance goes into effect on October 10.

Last Thursday, San Diego Interim Mayor Todd Gloria ordered that enforcement of medical marijuana zoning restrictions be resumed. Former Mayor Bob Filner, who supported medical marijuana, refused to enforce the city's zoning ordinances, but he was forced from office following a series of sexual harassment allegations. Gloria said that while enforcement was resuming, a draft medical marijuana ordinance is in the works and could go before the city council early next year. Dozens of dispensaries had been shut down under former Mayor Jerry Sanders, but many reopened during Filner's tenure. Now, they are in jeopardy if they continue to operate.

Last Friday, a bill to regulate medical marijuana operations statewide died in the legislature. The bill, Assembly Bill 605, had been killed earlier in the session, but was revived in a last ditch effort to pass it this year. It died, however, in the face of opposition from law enforcement lobbyists. It would have created a new department to register commercial medical cannabis growers and sellers and codify as law the Attorney General's guidelines on medical marijuana.

On Tuesday, the Murrieta city council voted to maintain its eight-year ban on dispensaries. The 3-1 vote also extended the ban to include delivery services. The mayor said dispensaries would threaten the community, while council members complained of a lack of clear regulation from the state and federal governments.

On Monday, the San Leandro city council voted to proceed with a draft dispensary ordinance that would allow two dispensaries to operate in the East Bay city of 86,000. Monday's action came nearly a year after the city's latest moratorium on dispensaries expired. The city council issued a yearlong moratorium on dispensaries in 2010, and again in 2011, a prohibition that expired Sept. 30, 2012.

Maryland

Last Thursday, Gov. Martin O'Malley appointed members to the state's Medical Marijuana Commission. The commission has the authority to permit academic research centers to design and implement programs to make marijuana available for medical purposes to defined groups of patients. The panel will be chaired by Dr. Paul Davis, president of Advanced Pain Management Specialists, which has eight locations in Maryland. The commission holds its first meeting next Tuesday.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Braintree town council voted unanimously for a one-year moratorium on dispensaries. Council members said the moratorium would give them time to draft zoning regulations and ordinances.

On Wednesday, the State House News Service reported that at least 115 municipalities have passed temporary dispensary bans or moratoria. Others are considering similar measures and still more have drafted new zoning laws determining where they can locate.

Michigan

Last Wednesday, criminal charges were reinstated against 16 people arrested in a raid of the Clinical Relief Dispensary in Ferndale. The dispensary was raided in August 2010, but charges were initially dropped by a lower court. A State Court of Appeals ruling allowed them to be reinstated. Prosecutors say that the law does not allow for setting up dispensaries to sell marijuana.

On Tuesday, dozens of people gathered in Lansing to protest the removal of a young child from parents who are medical marijuana users. Six-month-old Brielle Green was taken by Child Protective Services, and protestors said her case was merely one among dozens in which state caseworkers have disregarded protections in the medical marijuana law while trying to remove children from parents who are registered patients or caregivers. Green's parents said the CPS decision to take the child arose out of a custody/visitation dispute between the girl's mother and her ex-husband, who filed a complaint saying the home was unfit for children.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, the state approved a $357,000 loan for a dispensary. The state Economic Developmental Authority approved the loan to the founders of a medicinal marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township that plans to open in mid-October. Compassionate Care Foundation Inc. said it would use the money to buy equipment and expand its cultivation space, add 12 good-paying jobs to the seven it has already created, and eventually produce enough medicine for about 1,500 patients a month, said CEO Bill Thomas, formerly a medical researcher. Within ten years, the dispensary expects to generate about $2.8 million in state sales tax, he added.

Wisconsin

Last Monday, two lawmakers said they would introduce a medical marijuana bill after legislation failed to get out of committee for the past two years. The new bill would create a medical necessity defense for patients. Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) plan to introduce the legislation sometime this session but have not yet set an exact date.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Medical Marijuana Update

A dispensary is now open for business in the nation's capital, several dozen are coming to Arizona, dispensary and cultivation battles continue in California, Massachusetts advocates prepare to protest restrictive regulations, and the DEA hits a Michigan dispensary. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Tuesday, state officials announced they had issued 61 dispensary licenses with two weeks left to go in the year-long licensing period. Another 21 would-be dispensaries are scheduled for inspection in the next week.

California

Last Monday, the DEA announced it had raided a defunct Orange County dispensary. Agents hit La Habra Cares weeks after it closed its doors last month after the La Habra city council voted to ban dispensaries, but still maintained a marijuana garden there. No one was arrested.

Last Tuesday, the Anaheim city council banned medical marijuana delivery services. The ban was passed as an urgency ordinance and goes into effect immediately. The city had banned dispensaries in 2007, but didn't enforce the ban until the state Supreme Court ruled in May that such bans are legal. The city's 11 dispensaries all closed, but at least 30 delivery services have popped up.

Last Wednesday, the Rancho Santa Margarita city council passed a first reading of a dispensary ban. Mayor Tony Beall said most medical marijuana patients appeared to be young men and that the herb "is routinely abused and not appropriate for this community." The ordinance will become law if it passes a second reading. The city has had a moratorium on dispensaries since 2011, but that is set to expire this fall. Meanwhile, the council also passed a zoning ordinance that would allow fortune tellers to operate in residential and general commercial zones.

Last Thursday, the Santa Maria city attorney's office presented a dispensary ban ordinance to the city council. The city already bans them, but the new ordinance would specifically ban them in all zoning districts of the city. The proposed ordinance must be approved by the city planning commission and then by the city council, most likely in September.

Also last Thursday, a state appeals court rejected a lawsuit over the seizure of a medical marijuana crop. The First District Court of Appeals ruled that police who seized a marijuana field in Humboldt County and destroyed over 1,500 pounds of pot did not violate the owners' constitutional or statutory rights, including the right to use marijuana for medical purposes. Authorities raided the property despite the presence of posted medical marijuana recommendations for four people, but the court said there was enough marijuana on hand to supply those patients for the next five years.

On Monday, opponents of a new Bakersfield dispensary ban fell short in their efforts to get enough signatures to place the issue before voters. Patients for Compassionate Use Policies needed to come up with some 15,000 signatures to block the ordinance from going into effect, but they didn't show up with any as the deadline expired Monday evening.

On Tuesday, a San Diego judge sentenced a medical marijuana hash maker to jailtime, but not before berating him for having supporters in the courtroom and slamming medical marijuana as a dangerous farce. Judge Peter Gallagher sentenced Victor Marion to eight months and warned supporters, who had demanded that prosecutors heed public opinion, that "if there are anymore attempts to contact the prosecutor, they will be met with arrest and prosecution." Gallagher also treated the courtroom to a diatribe against medical marijuana:  "Medical Marijuana is not a good business plan, 22 year old kids are getting doctor's recommendations for toe fungus and frying their brains on marijuana," he railed.

Also on Tuesday, Tehama County supervisors considered amendments to the marijuana cultivation ordinance that would tighten up rules and regulations. Under the current ordinance, growers can grow 12 mature or 24 immature plants on properties of 20 acres or less and up to 99 plants on larger parcels. The amendments would limit gardens to 12 plants no matter the size or the parcel and whether or not they are mature. They would also create a $1,000 a day fine for abated gardens that aren't destroyed within 10 days after notice. The council acted after hearing complaints from residents of many out of compliance gardens.

District of Columbia

On Monday, the nation's capital saw its first medical marijuana sale at a dispensary. Capital City Care dispensary made two sales Monday, marking the culmination of an effort that began 15 years ago with the passage of a medical marijuana initiative in the city. Congress blocked the initiative from being implemented until 2009, and the District of Columbia government then spent the next four years coming up with strict regulatory and licensing scheme. But now patients can get their medicine legally in the District. "After a couple of years of hard work, it's exciting to open our doors and serve the patients our facility is really for," said dispensary spokesperson Scott Morgan. "This is a moment we've all been looking forward to for a long time."

Massachusetts

On Wednesday, medical marijuana supporters called a demonstration for Thursday at the state Department of Public Health to protest new state regulations limiting patients to only one caregiver, making home cultivation illegal if a dispensary is nearby, and blocking compensation for caregivers. The protest is a picket with signs between 2:00pm and 4:00pm, followed by speeches and a press conference. The address is 250 Washington St. in Boston.

Michigan

On Tuesday, DEA agents raided an Ypsilanti dispensary. The raiders hit The Shop, seizing two vehicles as well as inventory from inside the store. Ypsilanti Police and other state law enforcement assisted. One man was temporarily handcuffed and detained, but later released without arrest. The DEA had no further comment because of "an ongoing investigation."

Washington

On Monday, the Lynnwood city council voted to continue its moratorium on dispensaries and collective gardens. The moratorium will continue for another six months as the city attempts to deal with the issues.

For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

In Profit-Sharing Scheme, Oklahoma DA Used Contractor for Highway Drug Stops

An asset forfeiture scheme that utilized a private security contractor to stop vehicles on Interstate 40 in Caddo County, Oklahoma, has been shut down after garnering strong criticism. Caddo County District Attorney Jason Hicks suspended the stops earlier this month after getting a tongue-lashing from a local judge.

highway drug interdiction search (ncjtc.org)
Hicks got the bright idea of hiring the private security contractor Desert Snow LLC to do on-site training with his local drug task force. Desert Snow claims to have trained more than 30,000 police across the country in interdiction techniques. "Providing criminal and terrorist interdiction training since 1989,"it boasts on its web site, and "20+ years of high quality 'no nonsense' instruction in the pursuit of America's worst criminals."

But beyond paying the private operators to train police, the contract DA Hicks agreed to in January gave Desert Snow 25% of all assets seized during training days and 10% of all assets seized even on days the contractors were not present.

Hicks told The Oklahoman he hired the contractors "because his drug task force had little success on drug stops" and because "he hoped to make money for his office from the drug stops because of a loss of federal funds."

Stops were made on a stretch of I-40 in Caddo County, and on some occasions, no drug were found and no one was arrested, but police seized money anyway after claiming that a drug-sniffing dog had alerted. Desert Snow had earned $40,000 so far this year from its share of seizures and was in line to receive another $212,000 from an $850,000 seizure before the program blew up in its face.

Under Oklahoma law, asset forfeiture funds are to be split among law enforcement agencies that took part in the operation. But in the deal brokered with Desert Snow, the private contractor gets its cut off the top.

The sweet deal came to an end earlier this month at a hearing where a local judge learned that Desert Snow owner Joe David had pulled over a pregnant driver on I-40 and questioned her even though he is not a state-certified law enforcement officer. David was wearing a gun and possibly a shirt that said "POLICE" on the back, according to his testimony. The stop was one of 400 conducted over a five-day period with Desert Snow in February.

"I'm shocked," said Caddo County Special Judge David Stephens at a July 2 hearing. "For people to pull over people on I-40 without that license is shocking to me."

Stephens urged David not to do it again. "If you do, I hope to see you soon, wearing orange," he said, referring to the color of jail uniforms in Caddo County.

The pregnant woman and her passengers were found to be carrying 25 pound of pot, but the criminal charges against her have been dismissed. Her attorney, Al Hoch, called for reform of the state's asset forfeiture laws, saying seized money should go to the state general fund instead of directly to law enforcement.

"Law enforcement is supposed to be a public service function, not a for-profit enterprise," he said.

Those remarks were echoed by well-known Oklahoma defense attorney Irven Box, who is representing a Colorado man charged with marijuana possession after he was pulled over for a cracked windshield. Private companies shouldn't be getting paid with funds from drug stops they are involved in, he said.

"That at least gives the appearance that these seizures are done for profit and not to protect the citizens," Box said.

Anadarko, OK
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

A dispensary opens in Arizona as more get shut down in California and more California communities move to shut them down or keep them out. There's more news, too. Let's get to it:

Arizona

As of late last month, Mesa has its first dispensary. Giving Tree Wellness Center opened late last month in an industrial park setting in the Phoenix suburb. It only took the operator, Dr. Gina Berman, two years of maneuvering to be able to open. She said she would eventually like to move to a more visible location once the city gets used to dispensaries and zoning laws evolve.

On Monday, the state Court of Appeals refused to hear an appeal from the Yuma County sheriff, who had balked at a Superior Court order to return medical marijuana seized from a California patient. Sheriff Leon Wilmot had refused to do so, whining that he could face legal problems with the federal government if he did. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s order, noting in its decision that "the Sheriff is immune from prosecution under the federal law for acts taken in compliance with a court order." Wilmot said he will appeal to the US Supreme Court.

California

Last Friday, Nevada County advocates filed paperwork for a special election to ask voters to decide the substance of its medical marijuana ordinance enacted last year. Then, the county approved an ordinance that medical marijuana supporters say amounts to a de facto ban on collective cultivation. Advocates have crafted alternative language to put before the voters, but they must first gather 9,923 valid voter signatures to force a special election. In Nevada County, the county, Grass Valley and Nevada City have outright bans, while the town of Truckee does not allow dispensaries in its zoning language.

On Monday, the Ventura city council voted to direct the city attorney to craft an ordinance banning dispensaries and delivery services. The 5-1 vote came after Mayor Mike Tracy said the reason was "to avoid inadvertently allowing any marijuana uses through loopholes." Tracy is the former Ventura police chief.

Also on Monday, Victorville officials closed down several dispensaries with help from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. Closed were Green Tree Health and Healing, FAY Care Inc, Discount Medical and Mojave Healing Center.. Each shop was served with a signed court order last Thursday, and then again Monday during the execution of the injunction/abatement by code enforcement, police and the city attorney. The city says it has plans to close three other dispensaries as well.

On Tuesday, the Menifee city council approved an ordinance banning medical marijuana delivery services. The city already bans dispensaries. Riverside County community leaders voted against the loud protests of several area residents Most of those who spoke out against the prohibitive ordinance were seniors who have medical marijuana recommendations, and many live in neighboring communities such as Nuevo and Riverside.

On Wednesday, two people were shot and killed at a Bakersfield dispensary. The shooting happened Wednesday morning at the First Reliable dispensary on Chester Avenue. No further information was available Wednesday afternoon.

Colorado

On Monday, state auditors issued a report criticizing the performance of bureaucracies overseeing the state's medical marijuana program. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Department of Revenue (DOR) were critiqued for having little oversight when it came to monitoring physicians, caregivers, and processing applications. The nearly 90-page report gave recommendations to fix problems in the areas of regulation, program administration, and fiscal management. A March report applied similar criticisms to the state's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Michigan

Last Friday, the state Court of Appeals ruled that edibles aren't medical marijuana for the purposes of Michigan's medical marijuana law. The court cited the law's definition of "usable marijuana," which includes the plant's flowers and leaves, but not extracts containing THC. The case has been remanded to a lower court to determine if the defendant can claim he is protected by other provisions of the state's medical marijuana law. Advocates called the ruling a setback for the rapidly developing use of marijuana for foods, creams, oils and candies used to treat debilitating diseases and chronic pain.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

CA Medical Marijuana Dispensary Numbers Shrink in Two-Pronged War of Attrition [FEATURE]

California medical marijuana dispensaries -- and their patients -- are under a sustained, two-pronged attack, and that is having a dramatic impact on patient access across the state. Under pressure from the federal government on one hand and newly-emboldened local officials on the other, dispensary numbers are shrinking and ever larger swathes of the state that legalized medical marijuana nearly 17 years ago are without anywhere to get medical marijuana.

Anyone who is following the situation in the Golden State at all closely has seen a numbing litany of reports of dispensaries forced out of business, including from some of the most venerable, respected, and law-abiding operations in the state. What had been the occasional raid or prosecution by the DEA or federal prosecutors during the early years of the Obama administration has turned into a heightened onslaught since the issuance of the notorious Cole memo, written by Assistant Attorney General James Cole, two years ago next week and the announcement by California's four US Attorneys that fall that they were declaring open season on dispensaries.

And while recalcitrant city and county law enforcement and elected officials had managed to make access to medical marijuana a patchwork affair across the state through moratoria and bans, pressure from local officials has only escalated since the state Supreme Court's decision in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center early last month. In that case, the court ruled unanimously that localities could indeed use their zoning powers to ban dispensaries, not just regulate them. Since that ruling, localities that had hesitated to impose or enforce existing bans have responded with alacrity.

Reading the writing on the wall, Inland Empire closed its doors the day after the ruling. In other places, officials weren't waiting for dispensaries to shut down -- they were ordering them to. In May, Stockton took its first steps toward a dispensary ban, San Bernardino bragged that it had shut down 18 dispensaries and was working to close the remaining 15, Palm Springs was working to shut down five, a Thousand Palms dispensary closed its doors with the owner saying he didn't want Riverside County deputies to do it for him, Garden Grove ordered all 62 dispensaries there to shut down or face prosecution (and reported days later that they had), Los Angeles voted to shrink its number of dispensaries from 500 or more to 135, and Anaheim ordered its last 11 dispensaries (down from 143 in 2007) to close.

The big chill continued this month, with Bakersfield moving to ban dispensaries, Riverside County threatening to arrest the owner of one of its three remaining dispensaries (down from 77 in 2009) until he closed his doors, and Santa Ana reporting it had shut down 42 dispensaries (bringing the total closed there to 109) and was siccing the DEA on the remaining 17.

"We think the Inland Empire decision just maintains the status quo -- more than 200 local governments had banned distribution outright in their jurisdictions -- but now, you're seeing local government wielding a bigger stick to shut down dispensaries operating in defiance of existing bans," said Kris Hermes, communications director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA)."Anaheim, San Bernardino, Long Beach, Riverside, mostly in Southern California, where dispensaries were flouting those bans, they are now being forced to shut down."

"Cities that weren't moving forward are now," said Lanny Swerdlow, founder of Inland Empire and member of the Patient Advocacy Network. "A number of cities in Riverside have been closing collectives real fast, with San Bernardino being the most aggressive at the present time. Palm Springs is the only city in the Inland Empire that actually has zoning for collectives, and they have three operating there. The county is moving more slowly -- most collectives have not even been served notices yet -- but it's just a matter of time," he predicted.

Steve DeAngelo and his Harborside Health Center are still open for business, but under federal assault (ssdp.org)
Meanwhile, according to ASA, federal prosecutors have sent out more than 600 "threat letters" since their offensive began, including 103 sent to Los Angeles dispensaries earlier this month. The letters warn either dispensary operators or landlords or both with asset forfeiture and/or criminal prosecution, with the threat of lengthy federal prison sentences hanging over their heads. Not surprisingly, they have been quite effective.

"Before the 103 letters sent out this month, we estimated that about 500 letters had been sent out and about as many closures had occurred as a result of the US Attorneys' efforts to threaten dispensary operators and landlords, said Hermes. "With the combined momentum of the federal attacks and the state Supreme Court decision, I think we've seen more than 700 dispensaries shut down over the past couple of years."

Some of the iconic operations that helped define the dispensary movement are gone, such as the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, scared out of business by federal threats, or Richard Lee's Coffee Shop Blue Sky, shuttered by DEA raiders. Others like San Francisco's Shambala are under attack, while it seems that only the biggest players, such as the Berkeley Patients Group and Harborside Health Care Centers in Oakland and San Jose, have the wherewithal to fight the feds in court. Those latter dispensaries are both contesting federal asset forfeiture actions right now.

Sometimes it's the federal government; sometimes it is recalcitrant local officials. Sometimes, the two work hand in hand.

"The city of Riverside sent letters to the Justice Department requesting they come in and close collectives down, and they've gone to a couple in San Bernardino and closed them down, too," said Swerdlow.

Many dispensaries remain open for business -- ASA's Hermes estimated their number at a thousand or more -- some because local authorities have embraced them instead of trying to run them out on a rail, others because the US Attorneys simply don't have the resources to devote all their time to shutting them down. But the unquestioned reduction in dispensaries numbers, perhaps a decline of as much as 40% over the past couple of years, means that patients are having a more difficult time getting access to their medicine.

"We've been hearing from patients about access problems," said Ellen Komp, deputy director for California NORML, who added that it's not just dispensaries. "More and more places are passing cultivation ordinances, people are having their gardens torn up or being visited by code enforcement. We're reeling from it," she said.

"Patients should not have to drive hundreds of miles to get their medicine, and the tragedy of it is that there are still dozens of localities that have regulatory ordinances that are functioning quite well," said Hermes. "Those facilities are not going away unless they are shut down by the federal government, which has usually stayed away from those places. There is a community of dispensaries across the state, but the access is haphazard."

And there are broad areas of the state with no effective access.

Sorry, Riverside patients. This menu is now null and void. (norml.org)
"It is unacceptable that dispensaries are located only where local governments are tolerant enough to allow them," said Hermes. "The entire county of San Diego has been rid of dispensaries because of intolerance at the local and federal level. The entire Central Valley is virtually devoid of dispensaries, so is almost all the San Francisco peninsula from San Mateo down. Sacramento County is devoid of dispensaries thanks to the federal crackdown."

"What's going on now is absolutely horrid," said Swerdlow. "The only people benefiting from this are the criminals and the police. Patients are having to drive hundreds of miles to cities with collectives, or get their medicine the old-fashioned way, on the black market."

To change the situation is going to require battling at the state, local, and federal level. One immediate response has been an explosion of medical marijuana delivery services, but one immediate reaction has been to move to ban them, too, as Riverside County is considering.

"We've been getting lots of inquiries about starting delivery services," said CANORML's Komp.

Another, ongoing, response is to attempt to pass statewide legislation to regulate dispensaries. That effort in Sacramento is dead for this year, but could be revived next year.

Another possible response is a statewide initiative that would regulate and emphatically legalize dispensaries, but no one is ready to go on the record about that yet.

Ultimately, it's about getting the federal government off California's back. While bills have been filed in Congress, no one is holding their breath on that score. And the Obama administration appears content to maintain its status quo war of attrition.

If the California dispensary industry wants to survive and thrive, it might want to look in the mirror -- part of the problem for California dispensaries, said Swerdlow, was the industry's failure to organize effectively.

"If the DEA sent out letters to gun stores saying they were going to shut them down, there would be a couple of thousand people demonstrating," he argued. "We've done a piss poor job of doing the things that need to be done to protect our rights. Money-grubbing collective owners never formed any useful or meaningful trade associations to protect their rights. Those jerks got what was coming to them," he said bitterly.

If dispensary operators were short-sighted, Swerdlow said, patients have not been much better, despite the efforts of groups like ASA and CANORML to organize them.

"Most patients don't do anything," he said. "They just want to get the marijuana."

Protecting patients and collectives requires effective political action at the local level, Swerdlow said. He has pioneered -- for the medical marijuana movement, at least -- the creation of groups within the Democratic Party to press the party at the local level, known as Brownie Mary Clubs.

"We were the first medical marijuana affinity group ever chartered here, and we've made progress here. We're working for political candidates, and I was a delegate to the state Democratic convention. That's the kind of thing that can make a difference," he said.

But medical marijuana advocates need to understand that this isn't everybody's issue, even if others are sympathetic.

"Everyone is sympathetic, most Democrats get it, at least all the ones I meet," he explained, "but this isn't their issue. They're about health care or the environment or schools. They will support us, but we have to be there to get that support."

There is work to be done to protect patient access to medical marijuana in California. There are various options. It is up to medical marijuana patients and dispensary operators, as well as those ancillary businesses profiting from them, to more effectively take up the cudgel.

But it is ultimately a fight for federal recognition of medical marijuana, or at least, of states' rights to experiment with marijuana policy. That's not just up to California patients and dispensary operators, but all of us.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

CA
United States

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