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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

Medical Marijuana Update

Marijuana rescheduling is headed for the US Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court upheld local dispensary bans, the feds strike again in Berkeley and Washington state, and there is action in state legislatures, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last week, Americans for Safe Access announced it was appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the DC Court of Appeals' ruling upholding the DEA's refusal to reclassify marijuana out of Schedule I. ASA's appeal to the Supreme Court asks that the DEA be required to apply the same standard to evaluating cannabis that it uses for other substances. The DEA claims there are no "adequate and well-controlled studies" that show cannabis has medical use, despite the many clinical trials and peer-reviewed scientific studies that show cannabis to be a safe and effective medicine for treating a wide variety of conditions.

Last Wednesday, a Fox News poll had support for medical marijuana at 85% nationwide. The figure included 80% of Republicans and is the highest level of support for medical marijuana ever in the Fox News poll.

Arizona

On Tuesday, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill that will allow medical marijuana research on university campuses. Brewer had last year supported successful legislation that banned even medical marijuana on state college and university campuses, but the ban aimed primarily at students had the unintended consequence of blocking serious academic research being undertaken on medical marijuana and PTSD by University of Arizona psychiatrist Sue Sisley. The new law allows medical marijuana on campus for carefully controlled and approved studies.

California

Last Wednesday, prosecutors in Tuolumne County dropped marijuana trafficking charges against the owners of a local medical marijuana collective. Charges were dropped in the case of the Today's Health Collective, which had been raided in May 2011. Prosecutors complained that "inconsistencies in opinions from different courts have required a shift in the focus of law enforcement and jury instruction" and "the cumulative effect of evidence collected in 2011 has been weakened by this development."

On Monday, the state Supreme Court upheld the right of localities to ban dispensaries. Some 200 California towns and counties have already done so, but others had held off because of uncertainty over the legality of bans. The ruling means that patients' access to medical marijuana will depend in part on where in the state they live.

On Tuesday, the dispensary operator in the Monday Supreme Court case said he had closed his shop. Operator and medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow said he would comply with the high court ruling and shut down Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center.

Also on Tuesday, federal prosecutors filed an asset forfeiture lawsuit against the landlord for the Berkeley Patients Group, one of the most well-respected dispensaries in the state. The feds already forced BPG to move last year, saying it was too close to a school. The dispensary relocated to a site even further from schools, but US Attorney Melinda Haag filed the forfeiture suit without warning anyway.

Also on Tuesday, the Yuba City city council adopted a marijuana cultivation ordinance requiring people growing medical marijuana at home to register with the city and trim their plants out of public view. They also have to install security fences and carbon filtration systems to reduce odor. The ordinance had been in place on a temporary basis since March 2012, but became permanent with Tuesday's 3-2 vote.

Illinois

On Wednesday, a hearing on a medical marijuana bill was underway in the Senate Executive Committee. The bill would allow residents with serious illnesses, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, to access and use medical marijuana if their physicians recommend it. If approved, the measure will be considered by the full Senate. It received approval from the full House of Representatives on April 17.

Maryland

Last Thursday, Gov. O'Malley signed a medical marijuana bill into law. The measure, House Bill 1101, will allow patients to qualify for protections from arrest and prosecution if they are enrolled in a program administered by one of Maryland’s teaching hospitals. The law takes effect October 1. But it's not clear how many of the state's teaching hospitals will participate.

Massachusetts

On Wednesday, the Public Health Council approved medical marijuana regulations. The regulations include requiring doctors to complete a full clinical checkup before issuing a recommendations, recommendations will expire after one year, and patients will not be allowed to use medical marijuana at dispensaries. The regulations approved today will go into effect on May 25. They allow the department to establish a competitive application process for non-profits seeking certifications that will permit them to operate. DPH is required to certify at least 14, but no more than 35, medical marijuana treatment centers to open by January, 2014.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters outlined their bill, but conceded that no action on it is likely until next year. The measure dictates the amount of marijuana someone can possess, the types of health conditions that would permit use and the rules medical professionals must follow when issuing prescriptions. It would continue to bar smoking of marijuana on school buses and school grounds, on public transportation, in the presence of a child and while operating vehicles, boats or other transportation equipment.

New Hampshire

On Monday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Human Services approved a medical marijuana bill, but not before removing PTSD as a qualifying condition and removing a home cultivation provision at the insistence of Gov. Maggie Hassan. Other changes to the bill reduced the number of authorized dispensaries allowed statewide from five to four, added a requirement that patients get written permission from a property owner before using medical marijuana on privately owned land, and eliminated protections for out of state medical marijuana patients traveling with marijuana in  New Hampshire. The measure had already overwhelmingly passed the House. Medical marijuana advocates are continuing to fight for a better version of the bill.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd said two more dispensaries will likely open soon. Years after medical marijuana was legalized in the state, only one dispensary is open. The first dispensary opened in Montclair, Essex County, in December, but is limiting its clientele to North Jersey residents. A second dispensary operator is renovating a former warehouse in Egg Harbor, Atlantic County, and plans an opening in September. A third dispensary operator is renovating its location in Woodbridge, O'Dowd said.

Washington

Last Wednesday, news broke that the DEA had sent cease-and-desist letters to 11 dispensaries. The agency complained in the April 29 letters they were within 1,000 feet of schools. The DEA told recipients of the letters to stop distributing marijuana within 30 days or face property seizure and forfeiture.

California Supreme Court Rules Localities Can Ban Medical Marijuana Dispensaries [FEATURE]

In a ruling that will leave California's patchwork approach to medical marijuana dispensary regulation in place, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that local governments can ban dispensaries from operating within their jurisdictions. For patients, that means access to medical marijuana at dispensaries will depend on the political currents in their city or county.

The decision likely means that cities and counties that had been holding off on banning dispensaries will now take steps to do so. It will also increase pressure on the state legislature to come up with a means of statewide medical marijuana regulation, something it is working on right now.

The case was City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Inc., in which Inland Empire sued the city after Riverside using its zoning power to declare that dispensaries were nuisances and ordered them shut down. Inland Empire went to court to block the city from forcing it to close.

The decision was eagerly -- and anxiously -- awaited by all sides. Cases on local bans had been percolating through the state court system for several years, with state appeals courts splitting on the issue. An appeals court had earlier sided with the city of Riverside, but a trial court last summer held that Riverside County could not ban dispensaries, and an appeals court in Southern California had struck down Los Angeles County's ban on dispensaries.

The move by the city of Riverside was part of a broader counter-offensive against the proliferation of dispensaries after the Obama administration signaled in 2009 that it would take a largely hands-off approach. According to the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access, more than 200 cities or counties in the state have since moved to ban dispensaries. That move toward local bans has since slowed, in part because of uncertainty over their legality and in part because the federal offensive since the Obama administration shifted gears in the fall of 2011 has driven hundreds of dispensaries out of business.

Patient and industry advocates had argued that allowing localities to ban dispensaries ran counter to the intent of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. The law called for making medical marijuana accessible to people with doctors' recommendations for its use. But the state's high court sided with the localities.

"The issue in this case is whether California's medical marijuana statutes preempt a local ban on facilities that distribute medical marijuana. We conclude they do not," wrote Justice Marvin Baxter for a unanimous court. "The CUA and the MMP [state medical marijuana laws] do not expressly or impliedly preempt Riverside's zoning provisions declaring a medical marijuana dispensary, as therein defined, to be a prohibited use, and a public nuisance, anywhere within the city limits."

"While the California Supreme Court ruling ignores the needs of thousands of patients across the state, it simply maintains the status quo," said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access, which filed an amicus 'friend of the court' brief in the case. "Notably, the high court deferred to the state legislature to establish a clearer regulatory system for the distribution of medical marijuana, which advocates and state officials are currently working on."

"There is nothing surprising about this; it affirms the status quo," said Dale Gieringer, longtime head of California NORML. "I've been following the court cases and reading the state constitution, and it seems pretty clear that local governments have broad authority under California law."

"Today's decision allowing localities to ban will likely lead to reduced patient access in California unless the state finally steps up to provide regulatory oversight and guidance," said Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The good news though is that this problem is fixable. It is time for the state legislature to enact state-wide medical marijuana oversight and regulation that both protects patient access and eases the burden on localities to deal with this issue on their own. Localities will stop enacting bans once the state has stepped up and assumed its responsibility to regulate."

"We're hoping that we can fix this by having some sort of state regulation system where people have access wherever they live in the state, if not by local dispensaries, then at least by some sort of delivery service," Gieringer said. "I think they're trying very hard to do something this year. Remember, last year, the Assembly passed a regulation bill and the Senate came very close, and now we have the leader of the state Senate supporting the same concept, so I think the prospects are pretty good for action."

The statewide medical marijuana regulation bills this year are Assembly Bill 473, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), and Senate Bill 439, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). Both bills have passed their first committee votes and are supported by a broad coalition of patients, dispensaries, and law enforcement groups.

But until and unless statewide regulation is passed in Sacramento, the battle over patient access to dispensaries is now going to be fought in city council chambers and county supervisor meeting rooms in cities and counties across the state. That is going to mean differential access to medical marijuana depending on the political complexion of the localities where patients reside.

San Francisco, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Lots of action in California this past week, including more raids and more threat letters, plus action in various state legislatures and elsewhere. Let's get to it:

California

Last Wednesday, local law enforcement raided three San Bernardino dispensaries. City Attorney's office officials, and police, fire, and code enforcement officers served search warrants and issued demands that they cease and desist from allegedly unlawful activities. The dispensaries hit were Trio Holistic Center, Berdo Medical Center, and THC First Time Patients. San Bernardino authorities banned dispensaries last year. In February, they raided three other dispensaries.

Last Tuesday, the Vallejo city council approved a 45-day moratorium on new dispensary applications. A number of dispensaries already operate in Vallejo without the city's permission, although voters last year approved a 10% tax on their sales. The city quit accepting business license tax applications for dispensaries in January. City officials said they need time to sort out the confusion. Now, the city must move forward to either regulate or ban dispensaries, although the moratorium could be extended another two years.

On Wednesday, Vallejo police returned marijuana to two dispensaries raided last year. Nearly 60 pounds of medical marijuana and hundreds of dead plants were returned to Better Health Group and the LES collective. Police gave the property back after a judge dismissed the criminal cases against the two dispensaries. Police last year raided numerous Vallejo dispensaries, but have lost every criminal case they have brought, and prosecutors have dropped the charges in others.

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee. Senate Bill 439 is described by its sponsor, Sen. Steinberg, as a placeholder, "a vehicle to engage stakeholders" in the process of legislating statewide regulations. Steinberg said he is in close contact with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who has introduced companion legislation, Assembly Bill 473, and that it could take one to two years to complete the process.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee refused to pass a drugged driving bill that could impact medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 289, would create a zero-tolerance drugged driving offense, but the committee was skeptical. It did, however, leave the door open for the bill to be amended.

Also on Tuesday, word emerged that federal prosecutors have sent out more dispensary threat letters. They were issued by the office of US Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag and target the landlords of dispensaries in San Jose, San Francisco, and Ukiah. The letters warn landlords that the facilities are operating too close to a school or park. In addition, the letters warn landlords that they are liable for forfeiture under USC Title 21, Section 881(a) 7. Unlike some previous letters, they do not threaten immediate prosecution or set a deadline for compliance.

Colorado

Last Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that employers can fire medical marijuana users who fail a drug test. The ruling came in the case of a quadriplegic telephone operator for the Dish Network, who was fired after failing a drug test. He argued that he shouldn't have been fired because his actions were legal under state law, but the court held that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the state law he cited did not apply.

Hawaii

On Wednesday, two medical marijuana bills were approved by the state legislature. House Bill 668 transfers control of the medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Public Health, while Senate Bill 642 increases the amount of medicine a patient can possess from three to four ounces and allows patients to have up to seven plants, but also amends the law so that only a patient's primary care physician can recommend marijuana.

Idaho

On Monday, Idaho medical marijuana activists fought back after authorities seized their children. The children were taken from a Boise couple and a Boise single mom who are leading Idaho activists after a child at the school their children attended fell ill and marijuana was blamed. Police and child protective services workers went to the home while the parents were on a retreat and took the kids, as well as some marijuana and paraphernalia. One set of kids has been returned, the other two remain in foster care.

Maryland

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley confirmed he will sign a medical marijuana bill. The formal signing is set for Thursday. The bill allows academic medical research centers to establish programs to dispense marijuana to sick patients.

New Hampshire

 

On Tuesday, Gov. Maggie Hassan said she wants home cultivation stricken from a pending medical marijuana bill. Bill supporters said they were disappointed and that patients with terminal conditions couldn't wait the 18 months to two years it could take for dispensaries to get up and running. The governor "shares the concerns of law enforcement about the state's ability to effectively regulate a home-grow option," spokesman Marc Goldberg said in a statement. Hassan voted for a medical marijuana bill in 2009 that included a home-grow option. The proposal is now being rewritten in a Senate committee.

New Mexico

On Tuesday, the state Department of Health agreed that PTSD should remain a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The move upheld a recommendation by the Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board, which had faced an effort to withdraw PTSD as a qualifying condition.

 

Colorado Appeals Court Rules Employers Can Fire Marijuana Users

Colorado employers can legally fire marijuana users from their jobs, the state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in a 2-1 decision. Although the case was brought by a medical marijuana user, the ruling will have any even broader impact given that the state has now legalized marijuana for all adults.

The case was Coats v. Dish Network LLC, in which Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic telephone operator for Dish Network and registered medical marijuana patient, was fired by Dish Network after testing positive for marijuana during a drug test. Paralyzed by a car crash as a teen, Coats had been a registered patient since 2009. Dish Network cited no other reason for firing Coats other than his positive drug test result.

Coats challenged his firing, citing Colorado's Lawful Activities statute, which prohibits employers from firing workers for "engaging in any legal activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours." But both the trial court and now the appeals court rejected his challenge, holding that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Lawful Activities statute does not apply.

"For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law," the appeals court said.

Judge John Webb dissented, saying he could not find a case addressing whether Colorado judges must consider federal law in determining the meaning of the Colorado statute.

Coats' attorney, Michael Evans, said in a statement that the ruling will have a broad impact in the state.

"This case not only impacts Mr. Coats, but also some 127,816 medical marijuana patient-employees in Colorado who could be summarily terminated even if they are in legal compliance with Colorado state law," Evans said.

And with adult marijuana legalization now in place in the state, it is not just medical marijuana users who stand to be affected.

The ruling is expected to be appealed.

Similar rulings allowing employers to fire medical marijuana users have been upheld by courts in other states, including California, Michigan, and Montana.

Denver, CO
United States

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