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Medical Marijuana Update

Montana caregivers continue to get sentenced in federal court, an Arizona lawmaker wants a redo on medical marijuana, an Illinois bill is delayed, and the DEA gets busy in California. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, a state lawmaker filed a bill to put medical marijuana back before the voters. Rep. John Kavanaugh (R-Fountain Hills) pre-filed House Concurrent Resolution 2003, which would put the issue on the November 2014 ballot. Kavanaugh opposes the state's medical marijuana law and hopes voters will, too. The measure must be approved by the legislature, but does not need the governor's signature.

California

Last Thursday, a Santa Barbara man said he was being evicted from his apartment for smoking medical marijuana. James Cerda, 64, said the Santa Barbara Housing Authority recently imposed new no-smoking rules in his complex and that he had received an eviction notice because of his medical marijuana use. Cerda added that he had lived in the complex for 10 years and that housing officials had known for years that he was a medical marijuana patient.

Last Wednesday, the Los Angeles city clerk announced that an initiative that would reduce the number of dispensaries had gathered the required signatures to go before the voters. The "Medical Marijuana Collectives Initiative Ordinance" would allow about 100 dispensaries to remain open in the city. The initiative now goes to the city council, which can adopt it, call a special election, or place it on the May 21 general election ballot. Another group has submitted a separate initiative that would allow many more dispensaries to stay open. The city clerk is counting those signatures now to see if it, too, will qualify.

Last Friday, a group of dispensaries sued the city of Long Beach, charging it and its police department used illegal methods to run them out of business. The lead plaintiff, the Green Earth Center, claims police used "warrantless" raids and other illegal tactics. The lawsuit also names five Long Beach police officers and seeks an injunction and damages for alleged civil rights violations. More than a half dozen dispensaries were raided after a citywide ban on them took effect.

On Monday, former Upland dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Sandusky had operated G3 Holistic in Upland, Colton, and Moreno Valley, and was convicted in October of two counts of violating federal marijuana law, one for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana plants, possession with intent to distribute marijuana plants, and to maintain a drug-involved premises, as well as a second count of distributing marijuana plants.

Also on Monday, a federal magistrate in Oakland allowed the Harborside dispensary to remain open while it fights federal government efforts to shut it down. Citing threat of seizure of their properties by the federal government, Harborside's Oakland and San Jose landlords had sought to force it stop selling medical marijuana. The federal magistrate ruled that it is up to the federal government, not the landlords, to shut down Harborside for violating the Controlled Substances Act.

Also on Monday, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske slammed medical marijuana during a gathering of law enforcement officials in San Francisco. "Medicinal marijuana has never been through the FDA process," he said. "We have the world’s most renowned process to decide what is medicine and what should go in peoples’ bodies. And marijuana has never been through that process."

On Tuesday, Mendocino County supervisors approved a change to their medical marijuana ordinance to clarify that " all information received by and/or generated by the operation of Chapter 9.31 has always been intended to be treated and held by the County of Mendocino as confidential information to the fullest extent authorized by California and Federal law from 2008 to the present as well as prospectively." The move comes in response to a broad federal subpoena seeking information on the county's medical marijuana program, which the county is contesting.

On Wednesday, the DEA raided three Los Angeles dispensaries, according to preliminary reports.

Illinois

Last Thursday, the state legislature adjourned without addressing a medical marijuana bill. But a new session starts this week, and the bill will be reintroduced. After the November elections, Democrats now hold super-majorities in both houses, which should help the process along.

Montana

On December 28, a Helena man was sentenced to a year in federal prison for growing medical marijuana. Paul Roy Schmidt, 57, had operators Sleeping Giant Caregivers, which was raided during the federal crackdown in the spring of 2011. He was in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. He had faced a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, but was granted a downward departure at sentencing. He was also fined $750,000.

Last Friday, medical marijuana provider Chris Lindsay was sentenced to five years federal probation for his role in Montana Cannabis dispensary, which had locations across the state. It, too, was busted during the 2011 federal crackdown. Lindsey said he would remain head of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, but he must forfeit $288,000 in bank accounts held under the name of the Montana Caregivers Association. Lobbyist Tom Daubert, another partner in Montana Cannabis, previously was sentenced to probation. Partner Richard Flor of Miles City died in federal custody in August. Partner Chris Williams, the only Montana Cannabis member to go to trial, was convicted and faces a mandatory minimum five-year sentence when sentenced on February 1.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been fairly quiet over the holidays, but medical marijuana is legal in Massachusetts now! Let's get to it:

California

On December 19, the Berkeley Patients Group dispensary reopened for business. The longtime community stalwart was forced to shut down at its former location after asset forfeiture threats to its landlord by federal prosecutors. Ever since it was forced to close its doors last spring, it operated as a delivery service, but now it is a storefront dispensary again, and it's just a block and a half down San Pablo Avenue from its former location.

On December 20, there was a hearing in the Harborside Health Center case. Federal prosecutors are seeking to seize properties it leases in Oakland and San Jose, and the hearing featured two landlords, the city of Oakland, Harborside and the federal government arguing about whether the nation's largest dispensary can stay open while it fights the federal forfeiture action. The landlords, who stand to lose their properties, sought an order to force Harborside to close immediately. But Harborside and the city of Oakland argued there was no need to act immediately and the court could wait to hear arguments. There was no ruling, but one is expected shortly.

On December 20, a Solano County Superior Court judge threw out cases against two Vallejo dispensary operators. The two men, Jorge Espinoza, 25, and Jonathan Linares, 22, had been charged with marijuana possession and sale, and operating an illegal dispensary. Their dispensary, the Better Health Group collective, had been raided by Vallejo police three times and closed down after the third raid in June. Judge William Harrison dismissed the charges, saying after the ruling that dispensaries that comply with the Compassionate Use Act and the Medical Marijuana Program Act are allowed to operate. This was the first in a number of Vallejo dispensary cases resulting from a police crackdown last year. The police crackdown came months after Vallejo voters approved an initiative to tax dispensaries.

On December 21, attorneys for Mendocino County filed a motion to quash federal subpoenas seeking "records, letters and any other communications on the Mendocino County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Regulation to include third-party inspectors and the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors" since January 1, 2010. The request was expanded to include all "memoranda, notes, files, or records relating to meetings or conversations concerning" the Zip Tie program or Medical Marijuana Cultivation Regulation. The county argues that "the scope of the subpoenas is overbroad and burdensome, oppressive, and constitutes an improper intrusion into the ability of state and local government to administer programs for the health and welfare of their residents." No court date has been set to hear the motion. The county has until January 8 to comply with the subpoena.

Last Tuesday, the Oroville Planning Commission approved a new medical marijuana growing ordinance that will go before the city council for final approval. The ordinance would require that crops be grown indoors in secured structures and that anyone growing get a permit from the city. To legally grow medical marijuana inside the city, a qualified person must apply for a permit, meet all the requirements and have the growing facilities inspected by the police chief or a person designated by the police chief. The permit will be issued by the police chief or his or her designee.

Massachusetts

On December 22, state Sen. John Keenan called for a delay in implementing the state's new medical marijuana law. Keenan also said he would introduce legislation that would "close loopholes" by imposing controls beyond those approved by the voters, including eliminating home cultivation, requiring marijuana "prescriptions" to be entered in the state's Prescription Monitoring Program to avoid "doctor shopping."

On Tuesday, medical marijuana became legal in Massachusetts as voter-approved Question 3 went into effect. But it will be months before any dispensaries open. The Department of Public Health has until May 1 to develop regulations.

Michigan

On December 19, the state Supreme Court ruled that collective grows are not allowed under the state's medical marijuana law. The ruling came in the case of Ryan Bylsma, a Grand Rapids man who gave others warehouse space to grow. Bylsma is a state-approved caregiver who could grow 24 plants for two people, but he also allowed other caregivers and patients to grow in the same space. When he was raided, there were 88 plants in the warehouse. Kent County authorities said that arrangement was illegal and charged him with manufacturing marijuana. The court agreed, arguing he "exercised dominion and control over all the plants in the warehouse space that he leased, not merely the plants in which he claimed an ownership interest." The Supreme Court sent the case back to Kent County to allow Bylsma to offer an alternative defense.

Vermont

On Monday, the select board in Rutland decided not to prohibit dispensaries. No one has applied to open one, but board members agreed they shouldn't be banned.

Washington

On December 19, the Everett city council banned collective gardens. It declared medical marijuana a nuisance with an order that will expire in 18 months. The vote came ahead of the expiration of the city's moratorium on collective gardens and effectively continues it. Medical marijuana patients set the ban could lead to legal action against the city.

Medical Marijuana Update

Dispensary wars continue in California, a package of restrictive bills passes in Michigan, and DC's long-awaited dispensaries are a step closer to opening.

California

Last Tuesday, a Sacramento dispensary operator pleaded guilty to federal drug charges. Bryan Smith, 28, had operated R&R Wellness Center that was first raided by local law enforcement and then turned over to the feds to prosecute. He and his colleagues got caught with more than 400 marijuana plants and $256,000 in cash. He agreed to a sentence of not less than five years in federal prison.

Also last Tuesday, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said the feds should back off from trying to run Harborside Health Center out of business. The statement came in court filings ahead of a court date set for Thursday.

Last Thursday, two Bakersfield dispensaries sued Kern County, claiming they spent a total of $99,000 to set up under state and local laws, only to have the county fine them $100,000 for doing it. A third dispensary sued earlier, seeking the return of $280,000 in fines.Kern County passed an ordinance in 2009 removing restrictions on where medical marijuana dispensaries could operate. Under the new ordinance, dispensaries could operate anywhere in unincorporated areas except within 1,000 feet of a school. But last year, the county adopted two new ordinances: one banning cultivation of medical marijuana, and the other banning marijuana collectives from unincorporated areas, to take effect 30 days after adoption. The dispensaries want the county to pay for changing the rules on them and they want an end to efforts to ban them.

Last Friday, Murrieta officials shut down the Diamond Star Remedies dispensary for alleged code violations. The dispensary owner, John Szwec, said he had applied for a business license but been denied. Two other dispensaries -- Cooperative Medical Group and Greenhouse Cannabis Club -- that attempted to operate in the city have also since shut their doors.

On Tuesday, LA city officials said a referendum to keep most of the city's dispensaries had enough signatures to go to the voters. The Medical Marijuana Collectives Initiative Ordinance awaits verification of signatures, which could happen as early as January 2. At that point the Clerk will forward the initiative to the City Council, which can vote to make it law, call a special election, or place the matter before voters during the next scheduled election, which is May 21.Another referendum that would allow only 128 dispensaries has already been approved for a vote.

Also on Tuesday, Yuba County supervisors gave final approval to a medical marijuana ordinance. Growing on less than an acre would be limited to 12 mature plants with no more than six growing outdoors, and no more than 18 plants overall. Supervisors and grower advocates said in the long run, the ordinance should push growing out of residential areas and into more rural ones.

Also on Tuesday, the California Supreme Court said it had taken up the appeal of a Temecula dispensary. In City of Temecula v. Cooperative Patients Services Inc., the Riverside-based Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Two, followed its pattern of denying an appeal from the clinic and upholding the city's preliminary injunction against its operation. But unlike others cases from that court, the vote was 2-1.

Colorado

Last Friday, three dispensaries in the town of Dacono sued to stay open. They asked the Weld County District Court to block the city's ban of marijuana-related businesses. Without legal protection, all three will have to shut down at the beginning of the new year. The town council passed a ban in June, but a petition drive will bring the issue to a vote next year. But it won't enable the dispensaries to stay open in the meantime.

On Monday, a medical marijuana grower sued the Larimer County sheriff after his 42 plants were destroyed. Kaleb Young was arrested and his plants and equipment seized during a drug raid even though he was in compliance with state law and had paperwork to prove it. He was acquitted of all criminal charges last year. His attorney, Rob Corry, said he would ask for $5,000 for each destroyed plant, based on sheriffs' estimates of the plants' value when they were seized. "Typically, the agency will preserve the plants as they're required to do under the (Colorado) constitution," Corry said. "Here, they just straight-up cut them down and destroyed them."

Massachusetts

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana evaluation company said it has lost its lease after its landlord received negative feedback from local residents and businesses. California-based CannaMed had announced two weeks earlier that they would open a Framingham office by mid-month, but the building's owner, Jumbo Capital Management, terminated the lease after receiving letters from other tenants objecting to CannaMed moving in.

Michigan

Last Friday, the state legislature passed a package of bills adding restrictions to the state's medical marijuana law. HB 4834 says that registry cards will expire after two years, HB 4856 requires medical marijuana to be transported in the trunk of a car, and HB 4851 puts new limits on when doctors can recommend medical marijuana. Gov. Snyder (R) is expected to sign them, and they will take effect April 1 if he does.

Montana

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors agreed to drop six of eight charges against Chris Williams, who was set to be sentenced to 85 years or more after being convicted of marijuana cultivation and gun charges. Under the deal, the federal government dropped convictions for conspiracy to manufacture and possess with the intent to distribute marijuana; manufacture of marijuana; possession with intent to distribute marijuana; and three counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. His convictions for one count of possessing a firearm in connection with drug trafficking and one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana will stand. He faces a maximum term of five years for the distribution of marijuana charge and a mandatory minimum of five years -- and a maximum of life -- for the firearm-related charge. In return, he waives his right to appeal. He was a partner in Montana Cannabis, which was hit hard by DEA raiders in March 2011.

Washington, DC

On Tuesday, DC officials okayed the occupancy permits for the city's first medical marijuana cultivation center and dispensary. Medical marijuana is coming to the District; it's just taken 14 years since the voters approved it and three years since Congress stepped out of the way.

Medical Marijuana Update

Lots of action -- good, bad, and ugly -- in California this week, plus a Washington appeals court ruling that appears to clear the way for dispensaries. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors extended a moratorium on new dispensaries. The extension was the second one and lasts for one year. The county began the moratorium last December after the federal government began threatening local governments with legal action over medical marijuana-related ordinances.

Last Wednesday, an appeals court ruled a Rancho Mirage dispensary must shut down until the city's efforts to close it are resolved. Rancho Mirage Safe Access Wellness Center must close while the city's appeal of a Riverside County Superior Court judge's ruling allowing it to stay open is under consideration by Division Two of the Fourth District Court of Appeals, the court said, granting a request from the city.

Also last Wednesday, Palm Springs police put un-permitted dispensaries on notice that they must shut down or face fines that begin at $1,000 and rise to $5,000 for each week they remain open. Palm Springs is the only Coachella Valley city to permit the sale of medical marijuana, but it limits the number of available licenses to three. There are about 10 collectives in Palm Springs without a city permit. The city and the un-permitted collectives have battled with competing lawsuits, and no end is in sight.

Also last Wednesday, an appeals court held that medical marijuana use alone is not sufficient cause for removing a child, reversing a trial court order that the father undergo drug testing and parenting courses because of his medical marijuana use. The court found that, "Although father uses medical marijuana pursuant to a physician's recommendation, there is nothing in the record to indicate that he has a substance abuse problem." Accusing a parent of child abuse or neglect merely for using medical marijuana "without any evidence that such usage has caused serious physical harm or illness or places a child at substantial risk of incurring physical harm or illness is unwarranted and will be reversed," the court said.

Last Friday, Los Angeles activists handed in 70,000 voter signatures for a referendum that would regulate but not ban dispensaries in the city. "The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Control Act" is supported by Americans for Safe Access and a local committee and is a response to the city council's effort to ban all dispensaries. If the city fails to regulate the dispensaries, the referendum will be waiting.

On Monday, a new Murrieta dispensary was served notice of the city's moratorium on dispensaries. Diamond Star Remedies opened despite being denied a business license, and its operator, John Szwec, said he had plans to pave his lot and put up a permanent building as soon as the city is willing "to stop harassing and start following state laws." Murrieta city council voted in September to extend its moratorium for one year while it awaits a state Supreme Court decision on whether cities have the power to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in their jurisdictions.

On Tuesday, Yuba County supervisors approved a progressive grow ordinance. The ordinance allows up to 18 plants to be grown on parcels of less than an acre, while up to 99 plants may be grown on parcels greater than 20 acres. The ordinance eliminates a misdemeanor provision for violators and instead allows penalties and gives the county the authority to remove marijuana that doesn't follow growing guidelines.

Also on Tuesday, the city of Concord moved closer to banning outdoor grows. The move comes after the council heard complaints about offensive odors from residential grows and the risk of robbery or theft. The city council voted unanimously to review the city of Moraga's ordinance and possibly follow the Moraga model, which bars outdoor cultivation and demands that indoor grows be hidden from view.

Also on Tuesday, Pittsburg city planners recommended a ban on dispensaries. Planning commissioners approved the ban on a 4-1 vote, with a final vote before the city council set for January 22. The city has had a two-year moratorium on dispensaries, which expires in April, while staff studied whether to permanently ban them.

Also on Tuesday, Mendocino County supervisors hired a San Francisco attorney to deal with the federal government's subpoena of the county's medical marijuana records. Supervisors announced after a closed-door meeting with county counsel that the board "has retained the legal services of William Osterhoudt of San Francisco to assist the county in representation regarding the subpoenas." The subpoenas from the US Attorney Office for Northern California seek "any and all records" for the county's medical marijuana cultivation ordinance from January 1, 2010 to the present, including those with third-party garden inspectors and Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. The county quit issuing permits under its program in March, when federal prosecutors threatened to file an injunction against the county's medical marijuana cultivation ordinance and seek legal action against county officials who supported it. The county has until January 8 to respond to the records request.

Also on Tuesday, Sonoma County supervisors rejected repealing the county's outdoor grow guidelines. The guidelines, in place since 2006, allow patients or caregivers to grow up to 30 plants in up to 100 square feet of space. Repeal would have meant reversion to the "state minimum" of six plants, but was voted down 5-0. Supervisors did agree to consider a proposal to ban the use of unoccupied residential buildings for grows and to establish a working group that would help the county shape its medical marijuana program.

Colorado

Last Friday, the state agency in charge of regulating dispensaries announced it is preparing a broad rewrite of the rules. The Department of Revenue's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, or MMED, said it will release a draft of the rewritten rules by December 28. The draft rules will be the subject of three public hearings beginning in January. "Based on industry feedback, and its own experience, the MMED has determined that the majority of the existing medical marijuana rules... are in need of amendment," MMED said.

Maine

On Monday, a state representative said he would introduce a bill to eliminate the categories that limit when medical marijuana can be authorized by a doctor. The proposed legislation would also allow any physicians to recommend medical marijuana, not just a few licensed to do so. Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland) said he would submit the bill next month.

Montana

Last Thursday, a judge pushed back the trial date for medical marijuana provider and former University of Montana quarterback Jason Washington. He is accused of violating federal drug laws in a case arising from the federal crackdown on medical marijuana in Montana in early 2011. Washington and prosecutors now have a court date of January 14 and a January 3 deadline to reach a plea agreement. If that doesn't happen, Washington will become only the second medical marijuana provider in the state to stand trial. The other, Chris Williams, was convicted and is looking at up to 80 years. Five of Washington's co-defendants have already cut plea deals.

Washington

On Tuesday, an appeals court overturned the conviction of a Spokane dispensary operator. Scott Shupe opened the first dispensary in Spokane, only to be charged with and convicted of marijuana trafficking under state law. But the Division III Court of Appeals threw out the conviction, saying that Spokane Police did not have probable cause to search Shupe’s residence and business and that Spokane County prosecutors did not have sufficient evidence to justify Shupe’s convictions. But the opinion went further, and appears to have agreed with Shupe and that the law allows providers to sell marijuana to one person at a time rather than the state’s interpretation of providers selling only to one person, period.

Medical Marijuana Update

Yes, it's true: Medical marijuana dispensaries really are coming in Arizona and New Jersey, and clinics in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Harborside wins in state court, and Mendocino County ponders a federal subpoena. There's more news, too. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Sunday, Arizona's first legal medical marijuana dispensary opened for business. Southern Arizona Integrated Therapies in Tucson opened its doors to patients and caregivers for pre-registration. It will start actually distributing medicine later this month.

On Wednesday, a state court judge upheld the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, ruling that it is not void under federal law and ordering Maricopa County to move forward with approving the operation of the White Mountain Health Center, which had sued after state and county officials proved recalcitrant. "The state court found that 'no one can argue' that the federal government's ability to enforce its drug laws is impaired to the slightest degree by the Arizona MMA," said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Daniel Pochoda. "This should end the unprecedented spectacle of Maricopa County Attorney Montgomery and Arizona Attorney General Horne arguing that an Arizona state law passed by the voters is unconstitutional."

California

Last week, Harborside Health Centers won a victory in state court. An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled that an attempt by Harborside's Oakland landlord to evict it because of threats from federal authorities was voided because the landlord could not seek relief in state court for Harborside's alleged violations of federal drug laws. "To impose the harsher remedy of declaring a lease terminated and authorizing the sheriff to evict a tenant would be to improperly enforce federal criminal law," the court wrote. The court also noted that the landlord's lease authorized Harborside "to use the premises for the exact purpose -- i.e. distributing medical marijuana -- that Plaintiff now deems 'unlawful' … Thus, at least at first blush, Plaintiff arguably contractually waived … any legal right she had" to ask the court to terminate the lease under state law for that reason." Harborside is the state's largest dispensary, with more than 108,000 patients on its rolls.

Last Wednesday, South Lake Tahoe ordered a dispensary to fix odor problems or be closed down. The Tahoe Wellness Center, the last of three dispensaries that once operated in the city, must fix its odor problems or face revocation of its operating permit, city officials said. The dispensary said the odor was related to harvest time and it was working to resolve the problem.

Last Thursday, the LA city council planning commission approved new dispensary regulations that would require most to shut down if approved. The regulations would force the estimated 600 to 800 dispensaries that opened after September 2007 to shut down, but would allow 182 dispensaries that opened before then and filed proper papers with the city to stay open. But those dispensaries would race restrictions, including operating at least 1,000 feet away from schools, prohibiting patients from using cannabis on the premises, and banning unaccompanied minors from entering.

Also last Thursday, a state appeals court upheld Riverside County's ban on dispensaries. The order from the court’s Division Two, based in Riverside, overturns an August ruling by Superior Court Judge John Vineyard. Vineyard said local government bans of the medical marijuana stores were illegal. While the ruling only addressed one store, it affected all the city's efforts to complete its ban. There are about a dozen dispensaries in the county, down from about 45 open when the ban was first put in place almost a year ago.

On Tuesday, Kern County supervisors fined a dispensary $50,000 for violating Measure G, the rule restricting where dispensaries and medical marijuana cooperatives can operate. Supervisors had fined several other dispensaries last month, but Kern County Kind Collective's landlord had sought more time to file legal action to evict it. It is the last dispensary known to supervisors that is in violation of Measure G.

Also on Tuesday, Mendocino County supervisors agreed to hire an outside attorney to deal with a federal subpoena demanding records the county keeps on its medical marijuana program. Supervisors said they were trying to ascertain what information the US Attorney's Office is interested in and that the subpoena was "extremely broad." The move came after a public hearing where attendees urged supervisors not to release personal information about people who had paid the county for permits for collectives to grow up to 99 medical marijuana plants or for zip ties for growers to show their plants were grown legally under state law. The county stopped issuing the 99-plant permits for collectives in March after the US Attorney's Office threatened to file and injunction against the county's medical marijuana cultivation ordinance and seek legal action against county officials who supported it.

Colorado

Last week, state officials reported September patient numbers. Some 107,666 people were on the medical marijuana registry in September, up 3,500 over the previous month. That was the ninth straight month that active patient numbers have grown. From June 2011 through last December the numbers kept dropping, from 128,698 mid-year to 80,558 at the end of 2011. Of the 107,666 active patients, 100,845 claim severe pain as their primary ailment.

On Tuesday, the Fort Collins city council began moving to undo its ban on dispensaries. Voters had approved the ban last year, but overturned it this year. The council was set to do preliminary votes to establish a licensing system for medical marijuana businesses, recognize them in the city code and allow by ordinance dispensaries, manufacturers of medical marijuana-infused products and cultivators. A final vote is set for December 20.

Illinois

Last week, a vote on a pending medical marijuana bill was delayed after its chief sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) decided he didn't have the votes to pass it. He said he would be working the phones to line up support for a later vote. There are also reports that a Waukegan company's lobbying may have delayed the vote. That company wants to be the only medical marijuana provider if the bill passes.

Massachusetts

On Monday, it was reported that two medical marijuana clinics will open in Cambridge and Framingham once the state's new medical marijuana law goes into effect next month. Last week, the California-based CannaMed began moving into its first Massachusetts location, in Framingham. Integr8 Massachusetts’ website says its medical marijuana recommending clinic will open in Cambridge in January.

Also on Monday, the Massachusetts Medical Society called on the state to develop clear regulations and guidelines for implementing the medical marijuana law. While the group wants medical marijuana to be used only as a last resort, this is an improvement from its earlier position, which opposed medical marijuana.

Montana

Last Tuesday, a US District Court judge throw out the indictment of an accountant for a medical marijuana provider, saying prosecutors unlawfully indicted her by using statements she made when immune from prosecution. Lisa Fleming was an accountant for Jason Washington, who ran Big Sky Health until he was arrested last year in a federal crackdown. She was accused by the feds of helping him launder money, falsifying records, and once purchasing marijuana for him. Prosecutors can re-file the charges, but it is unclear if they will do so.

New Jersey

Today, the state's first dispensary is set to open. Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair initially will be seeing patients by appointment only, starting Thursday morning. About 20 appointments are scheduled, and after being documented and assessed, those patients will walk away with the first legal medical marijuana sold in the state. The opening comes almost three years after the state passed its law.

Washington

On Monday, the Vancouver city council approved collective gardens, but only in certain zones of the city. Gardens must be at least 1,000 feet from schools, community centers, public parks, licensed day care facilities and other collective gardens, and they must be in areas zoned only as light or heavy industrial. The city had imposed a moratorium on collective gardens in July 2011, but that was set to expire at year's end. If the council hadn't acted, the gardens would have been allowed anywhere in the city.

Medical Marijuana Update

Arizona marks a medical marijuana first, there's an ominous move by the feds in Northern California, Illinois is considering a medical marijuana bill, and that's not the half of it. Here we go:

Arizona

On November 15, Arizona Organix became the state's first licensed dispensary. It's not open for business yet, but it has been licensed. A sign on the door says, "We hope to be operating within a few weeks" and encourages potential customers to sign up on an email list. One problem for the new dispensary is finding a place to grow its product. The city of Glendale doesn't allow dispensaries to grow on site, and Arizona Organix is finding that many potential landlords for its grow are wary of possible federal enforcement actions.

Last Wednesday, the state Department of Health reported that there were nearly 34,000 patients with active medical marijuana cards in the state as of November 7.That's an average of 307 potential patients for each of the 97 dispensary applicant finalists selected by the state.

California

Last Tuesday, Mendocino County officials confirmed that the feds have subpoenaed medical marijuana financial records the county keeps. A federal grand jury subpoenaed the records in late October. The county had a program under which the sheriff's office issued permits for collectives wanting to grow up to 99 plants and sold zip ties for $25 that could be affixed to plants to show they were grown in compliance with state law. Now, compliant growers fear their attempts to be scrupulously legal at the state level could come back to haunt them at the federal level.

Also last Tuesday, the Sacramento city council adopted an ordinance barring outdoor grows in residential areas. The 6-2 vote came after council members complained of plant odor, robberies, and occasional violence associated with outdoor grows.

Last Friday, local media said San Francisco's Shambala Healing Center had reopened. The Mission District dispensary had been forced to close its doors after the Justice Department threatened its landlord with property forfeiture, but has quietly reopened as the heat seems to have decreased in the Bay Area.

As of this week, Kern County dispensaries operating near schools and churches can stay open. That's because a judge late last week issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of Measure G, which restricted dispensary locations and was passed by voters in June. Dispensary operators have complained that the measure essentially blocks them from operating because "there are virtually no legal places to set up shop," but county officials said they would appeal.

Illinois

On Tuesday, the Illinois House debated a medical marijuana bill, with a vote expected any day now. The bill, House Bill 30, would be the strictest such law in the nation, forbidding patients from growing their own and requiring that they qualify under a tight list of medical conditions. While legislators debated, patients and supporters rallied.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Peabody city council voted to ban dispensaries. The vote came just three weeks after Massachusetts voters approved a medical marijuana initiative. Rather than deal with regulating dispensaries, it was simpler to ban them, the council decided. Voters in Peabody approved the medical marijuana initiative by more than 3,000 votes. Two other towns, Reading and Wakefield, have already passed municipal bylaws barring dispensaries.

Michigan

Last Friday, the Holly village council voted to deny a business license to a dispensary. The council split 3-3, meaning the motion to grant a license to Well Greens failed. Well Greens is already operating, and the failure to grant a license won't close it, council members said. The license was not designed to grant permission to operate, but rather a registration, acknowledging that the business was up to code. The council may reconsider its vote on December 4.

New Jersey

On Wednesday, New Jersey officials said they would tax medical marijuana. "The State Division of Taxation determined medical marijuana is subject to the sales tax," state Treasury Department spokesman Andy Pratt said. The state sales tax is 7%.

Now, if only someone can manage to get a dispensary actually up and running in the Garden State. That would help Susan Sterner, among others. She faces major eye surgery to reduce dangerously high interocular pressure that threatens her with the possibility of blindness. Sterner has filled out her forms and paid her fees to the state, according to the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, but there are still no operating dispensaries in New Jersey, three years after former governor John Corzine signed the state's medical marijuana bill into law. The only dispensary operator to have received a final permit from the state so far, Greenleaf Alternative Treatment Center in Montclair, has yet to open.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been fairly quiet on the dispensary front, but action is beginning to heat up at state houses in preparation for the 2013 legislative season. Let's get to it:

Alabama

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill got a hearing in the House Health Committee. Again sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), the bill would allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. But after 90 minutes of testimony, the committee chairman and a top legislative leader said it would be a long time before the measure even got a vote. Previous bills have never made it out of the committee, but Todd will keep trying. "This is the beginning of the conversation," she said.

California

Last Tuesday, the Berkeley city council agreed that a local dispensary was operating illegally and should be shut down. The Perfect Plant Patients Group (3PG) is in violation of numerous zoning and permitting regulations, the council found. While the council voted unanimously to shut down 3PG, at least one member, Councilman Kriss Worthington, challenged the city's law limiting the number of dispensaries to four. "We have to expand the number of dispensaries that are legal beyond four," he said, arguing there are hundreds of places in Berkeley where people can get medical cannabis. "We're closing our eyes, pretending it doesn't exist."

Colorado

Last Thursday, the state Court of Appeals ordered Colorado Springs police to return 60 pounds of medical marijuana they seized from a cancer patient who was later acquitted of drug charges. Police had seized the marijuana in May 2011, and a district court judge earlier this month ordered that it must be returned after Bob Crouse, 64, was acquitted. El Paso County prosecutors had won a stay after arguing that police could be at risk of violating federal law if they returned the marijuana, and the appeals court agreed to hear that appeal, but ordered that the marijuana must be returned to Crouse. The returned marijuana is most likely now unusable.

Connecticut

On Tuesday, medical marijuana advocates met in Hartford to discuss creating a business alliance for entrepreneurs and others interested in the subject. The proposed Connecticut Medical Cannabis Business Alliance would be modeled on similar groups in Colorado. The state's medical marijuana program is expected to be up and running by late next year, with the Department of Consumer Protection having until July 1 to submit proposed regulations to the General Assembly.

Iowa

On Monday, state Rep. Bruce Hunter said he would reintroduce a medical marijuana bill. The Des Moines Democrat said he will also introduce a decriminalization bill. State Sen. Joe Bolckom (D-Iowa City) said that he, too, was reintroducing a medical marijuana bill and looking for cosponsors. But it's an uphill road: Gov. Terry Branstad (R) has said he will veto any such bill, and a spokesman for House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said that "as with past efforts to legalize marijuana, House Republicans are unlikely to support the measure and do not believe it is a priority."

Medical Marijuana Update

There was medical marijuana-related election news -- see our Chronicle coverage this week -- but the ongoing battles over medical marijuana also continued. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, the DEA raided two San Bernardino dispensaries, seizing dozens of pounds of marijuana and edibles, but making no arrests except for one man arrested on an outstanding warrant. The two businesses, Alternative Solutions Patient Care and Advanced Healing Qualified Patients Association, had previously been warned by the DEA to shut down for violating federal law.

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana grower sued Shasta County over a raid in which deputies destroyed more than 200 marijuana plants she said were being grown legally for herself and several other patients. Esmeralda Sanchez Garcia alleges her civil rights were violated between August and October 2011 when deputies with the Shasta County Sheriff's Office and other county employees searched her property without warrants and then destroyed 203 plants, as well as unprocessed and processed marijuana, that she said were for medical use for her and several other patients. But her lawsuit will have to wait until criminal charges against her are resolved. She faces three felony counts of marijuana cultivation.

Also last Wednesday, a hearing in the Harborside Health eviction case was postponed. A federal judge pushed the hearing back to Thursday, but that date is likely to change since Harborside head Steve DeAngelo is in Denver to address the National Cannabis Industry Association conference. The feds have threatened Harborside's landlords with civil forfeiture if they continue to let the dispensary operate on their properties in San Jose and Oakland. The San Jose landlord is now trying to evict Harborside to comply with the government's demand. If the judge overseeing the case allows the landlord to do that, it could give the government additional legal ammo for expanding its crackdown on dispensaries.

Also last Wednesday, a Los Angeles dispensary sued the Justice Department and the DEA, claiming the federal agencies are blocking thousands of patients from a means of gaining access to their medicine. The No Grey Sky dispensary is seeking a temporary injunction against DOJ, DEA, and Attorney General Eric Holder, and argues that Holder is acting "in excess of the government's authority granted by the Controlled Substances Act" by threatening to shut it down. Federal agents raided No Grey Sky earlier this year.

Last Thursday, a ban on outdoor cultivation went into effect in Roseville. In June, the city approved an ordinance that said medical marijuana patients must grow their pot indoors. A grace period until November 1 was established to give growers time to harvest any outdoor crop. The ordinance was enacted to allow residents to enjoy their property "without being subjected to odors and safety concerns associated with outdoor medical marijuana cultivation," according to the city.

Also last Thursday, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition to re-hear arguments that medical marijuana is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. A three-judge panel had shot down the notion in May, and following that loss, the patients and their lawyers requested a re-hearing. Now, they've had it.

On Monday, the Corte Madera city council voted to ban new dispensaries. The move came on a 4-1 vote and came as an existing moratorium on dispensaries was set to expire this week. Council members agreed that they would review their decision in June 2013; but the council rejected a recommendation from the town's Planning Commission to have the ban automatically sunset on Feb. 1, 2014.

Colorado

As of the end of October, there were 266 licensed dispensaries in the state, according to the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. More than 200 more potential dispensaries are awaiting licensing by the division.

Last Thursday, the state Court of Appeals rejected a dispensary's claim it should be allowed to stay open despite limits imposed by Jefferson County. Footprints Health and Wellness had opened a dispensary in the county in 2009 and was served with a zoning violation notice shortly thereafter. The court held that the Colorado law allowed local communities to set their own standards.

Medical Marijuana Update

A California appeals court has made a landmark ruling, the DEA keeps on raiding, and a Montana medical marijuana provider refuses a post-conviction plea bargain, and those are just the top stories. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Monday, it was revealed that a Mesa dispensary had been raided on October 5. Gilbert Police raided Arizona Natural Solutions, serving a search warrant and seizing "suspected marijuana, candy, cookies, powder, suspected ecstasy, and US currency." No information was offered about the reason for the raid. Three owner/employees are accusing of selling marijuana and "narcotics" (because Arizona state law defines marijuana products like hash as "narcotics").

California

Last Wednesday, a state appeals court threw out the conviction of a San Diego dispensary operator. In what Americans for Safe Access called a "landmark" decision, the 4th District Court of Appeal reversed the conviction of Jovan Jackson, convicted in September 2010 after being denied a defense in state court. The ruling also reversed the lower court's finding that Jackson was not entitled to a defense, providing the elements for such a defense in future jury trials. The ruling also recognized that collective members do not need to be actively involved in marijuana cultivation to access the marijuana they purchase.

Last Thursday, DEA agents arrested 12 people involved with Southern California dispensaries. Most of the dispensaries had been raided and closed in 2010 and 2011, but at least one was still operating. Charges against those arrested include failure to report taxable income, conspiracy to distribute marijuana and maintaining a drug location near schools.

Also last Thursday, the Santa Monica city council extended a 45-day moratorium on dispensaries. On a unanimous vote, the council voted to extend the moratorium for another 10 months. "This is about waiting for the Supreme Court to settle some law. At least I can hope, that with a little bit of time that the law will become clearer and every city's rights are better understood," said Mayor Richard Bloom.

Also last Thursday, the Napa city council told staff to prepare an ordinance banning outdoor grows. The move came after Police Chief Jackie Rubin told the council police had raided a property where 15-foot-tall marijuana plants were visible from a neighbor's yard.

Over the weekend, the California Medical Association addressed four marijuana resolutions. It rejected one (from a doctor who owns a winery!) to rescind the CMA policy in support of marijuana legalization, it passed one referring that policy to the American Medical Association, it passed another asking the governor to petition the DEA to reschedule marijuana, and it referred for further study one examining medical marijuana use in hospitals.

On Monday, the Los Angeles city clerk approved a petition to regulate dispensaries. Petitioners want to get on the May ballot; to do so, they must gather 41,138 valid signatures by December 7. The proposed initiative would bar new medical marijuana dispensaries, but allow those collectives that registered with the city as of Sept. 14, 2007 and meet other criteria, to continue operating. The ordinance would also establish operating standards, including mandatory annual police background checks and distances from schools, parks and other designated places.

Also on Monday, a state appeals court held that trial judges can ban the use of medical marijuana for some probationers. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal unanimously upheld a sentence in which Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Leslie Landau last year prohibited Daniel Leal, 28, of Antioch, from using medical marijuana during his three years of probation. Leal was on probation for possessing marijuana for sale, and he argued the ban violated his right to use the substance under the state's Compassionate Use Act, which allows patients with a doctor's approval to use marijuana for medical purposes. But the ban on use of the substance was justified by "abundant evidence of need to rehabilitate Leal and protect the public," wrote Judge Andrew Kline. "Leal used Compassionate Use Act authorization as a front for illegal sales of marijuana, sales partly carried out with a loaded semiautomatic handgun in a public park occupied by mothers and their young children."

On Tuesday, DEA agents raided the ASPC dispensary in San Bernadino. The agents "descended in force," making arrests and confiscating evidence from the store.

Montana

Last Thursday, Chris Williams rejected a post-conviction plea offer from federal prosecutors that would have cut his prison sentence from as much as 85 years to as little as 10 years. Williams was part of Montana Cannabis, whose other partners have all either been convicted or pleaded guilty to federal drug charges. He faced the decades-long sentence because four or his charges involved having a gun during the commission of a drug crime. Prosecutors offered to drop some charges if Williams dropped his appeals, but he refused. "I have decided to fight the federal government, because for me not defending the things that I know are right is dishonorable," Williams wrote. "Every citizen has a responsibility to fight for what is right, even if it seems like the struggle will be lost. It is the power of the people to control this government that is supposed to protect us. If we shun this struggle, this government will control us instead of protecting us."

On Monday, a state district court judge blocked the state from enforcing some provisions of its new medical marijuana law. District Judge Jim Reynolds said he will suspend enforcement of the law while evaluating its constitutionality. The suspended parts include the ban on medical marijuana providers receiving money for their product, and other provisions that advocates argue essentially shut the industry down. Voters in Montana will vote on throwing out the new, restrictive law next week.

When Losing Means Winning: The Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative [FEATURE]

Last year wasn't a good year for medical marijuana in Montana. Between the federal raids in the spring of 2011 and the Republican-dominated legislature's efforts first to repeal the voter-approved 2004 medical marijuana law, which was vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), and then to gut it with Senate Bill 423, which Schweitzer reluctantly allowed to become law, the state's medical marijuana industry has been practically decimated.

But although 2012 is nearly over, Big Sky County medical marijuana supporters are hoping this year will end up differently. That's because they have an initiated referendum on the ballot, IR-124, that would undo the legislature's passage of Senate Bill 423 and restore the status quo ante.

From an initiative organizer's standpoint, IR-124 has some interesting attributes. First, the medical marijuana people behind IR-124 want it to be defeated. A "no" vote on the initiative is a vote against Senate Bill 423, and the conventional wisdom on initiatives is that voters who are uncertain on an issue vote "no." Second, Montanans who oppose the free-wheeling medical marijuana system that was in place prior to Senate Bill 423 may well be confused by the fact that IR-124 is being run by medical marijuana supporters and vote "no" mistakenly thinking they are voting against medical marijuana.

"Our opponents have accused us of muddying the water, but it wasn't a strategic ploy; it's just a thumbs up or thumbs down on the current law," said Chris Lindsay of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which is fighting SB 423 in the courts as well as supporting IR-124.

There hasn't been a lot of polling on IR-124, but what there is suggests repeal of SB 423 could well be within reach. There has been no scientific polling this month, but two September polls, one from Mason-Dixon and one from Public Policy Polling, had IR-124 losing with 44% and 46% of the vote, respectively. And that's just what Patients for Reform -- Not Repeal, the primary group behind the campaign, wants.

"We're urging voters to vote 'no' on IR-124, because it is a slap in the face to voters as well as cruel and harmful to the seriously sick patients Montanans sought to help," said Bob Brigham, campaign manager for the group. "The legislature should have fixed the medical marijuana program, not broken it completely with a 'repeal and destroy' law," he explained. "With the federal government also punishing patients and providers and even threatening their gun rights, it is vitally important that Montana voters stand solidly for their own rights."

But while the polls had IR-124 losing, campaign proponents aren't feeling comfortable. Those same polls showed only around 30% of voters committed to voting "no," with about 25% of voters undecided. While undecided voters typically break towards a "no" vote on initiatives, Patients for Reform -- Not Repeal is going to have to win about four out of five of those undecided voters to undo SB 423.

The campaign is counting on Montana voters to reject the legislature's interference with the voter-approved 2004 initiative that established the state's medical marijuana program, Brigham said.

"We're calling attention to the fact that this is an issue that revolves around voter rights and the will of the people," he said. "Rather than work on consensus proposals for strict regulation, all the legislature wanted to do was repeal the law voters had adopted -- and they did it twice. Senate Bill 423 was written deliberately to accomplish complete repeal. The tragedy is that the very patients Montanans care about, the sickest among us, are now suffering unnecessarily and unfairly as a result," Brigham concluded.

Under the 2004 law, and especially after the Obama administration took office and signaled it would not target medical marijuana patients and providers, the Montana medical marijuana scene took off, with dispensaries and multi-patient grow operations sprouting up and some entrepreneurs pushing the limits of public acceptance by pulling stunts like taking recommendation-writing caravans across the state and publicly smoking marijuana.

The legislature's attempted outright repeal, followed by SB 423, was in part in a response to the perceived excesses of the program. But SB 423 pretty much wiped out everything except patients growing their own. It limited growers to three patients each, prohibited providers from being compensated, gave local governments the ability to ban dispensaries, tightened standards for demonstrating chronic pain, and required doctors who recommended marijuana for more than 25 patients in a year to undergo reviews at their own expense.

The Montana Cannabis Industry Association has been fighting SB 423 in the state courts, but in August, the state Supreme Court overturned a lower court injunction blocking most of its provisions from taking effect. Now the high court is set to rule on a final appeal from the group any time now. Lindsay said Tuesday morning he hoped the election would come before the court rules.

"The moment the Supreme Court is done, we expect that 5,500 Montana patients will be told they no longer have a provider and they will have to find a new one, which is unlikely, or grow their own," he said. "We're hoping we get to the election first, because a victory there would render moot what the Supreme Court is considering."

That didn't happen. Tuesday afternoon, the state Supreme Court ruled against the Montana Cannabis Industries Association.

"We expect the Department of Health and Human Services to start sending letters out to 5,500 patients saying they no longer have a provider," Lindsay said in a late afternoon call to the Chronicle breaking the news.

While the late ruling hurts patients, it may prove a boon to the "no" campaign. Now, patients and providers who may have thought that life under SB 423 would not be so bad are being confronted with the reality of its actual implementation.

It will probably also make life tougher for supporters of SB 423. Although there isn't a lot of organized support for the law, it does have cheerleaders among the Republican legislators who passed it and among social conservative groups like the Billings-based Safe Communities, Safe Kids.

But Safe Communities, Safe Kids doesn't have money for much of an advertising campaign and is relying on local radio and TV talk show appearances to get its message out. It also tried holding a press conference last week to attack state Attorney General Steve Bullock over the ballot language, but that didn't work out too well for the church ladies.

"You're trying to pull a political stunt using a mechanism that is not set up for this purpose," said Jim Molloy, an assistant attorney general to Bullock, who crashed the press conference and noted that the ballot language had been vetted and settled on two months ago. The threat to file a late complaint was "nothing more than political theater," he said.

"We didn't realize it was going to be such a big problem until the ballots came out," the group's Cherie Brady tried to explain. She said after absentee ballots came out on October 9, her group began getting calls from voters unsure of how to fill out their ballots.

While foes of medical marijuana are reduced to morning talk shows and exploding press conferences, Patients for Reform -- Not Repeal is running limited radio and TV ads urging a "no" vote. It is also preparing a final push to get voters to the polls on election day.

"It's an exciting campaign," said Lindsay. "We've got a lot of momentum behind trying to repeal the law. We're hoping for the best."



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