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Oakland Okays Medical Marijuana Mega-Grows

The Oakland city council last week approved an application process for commercial-scale medical marijuana grow ops. That same night, the city council also approved a separate measure doubling the number of dispensaries licensed to operate in the city from four to eight.

coming to Oakland -- licensed commercial-scale marijuana grows (Wikimedia)
The move makes Oakland the first city in the nation to approve marijuana cultivation on such a large scale. City council members said it was designed to take medical marijuana cultivation out of the shadows.

"Oakland is a leader in this industry, and I'm hoping that this will continue to grow," said Councilman Larry Reid in remarks reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Under the regulations approved Tuesday, applicants for the four grow licenses must undergo extensive financial background checks, provide security, and show themselves to be well-backed financially. The regulations also require that applicants pay back taxes for marijuana they have sold to Oakland dispensaries over the years, as well as interest and penalties.

It is unclear just how much marijuana large growers seeking one of the four permits have sold to city dispensaries. Much of the marijuana in the dispensaries is produced by small growers. The council earlier this year promised to create regulations to include them too, but has not yet done so.

Oakland, CA
United States

Kamala Harris Takes Late Lead in CA AG Race
California's next attorney general? Let's hope so (Wikimedia)
Democratic California Attorney General candidate Kamala Harris has overtaken Republican Steve Cooley as absentee and provisional ballots continued to be counted. As of Wednesday afternoon, the last time the California Secretary of State's office updated the figures, Harris was leading 46.0% to 45.6%, a lead of some 30,000 votes out of more than nine million cast.

About 898,000 votes remain to be counted, with some 200,000 of them coming from Los Angeles County, where Cooley is the sitting county prosecutor. But Harris is whipping Cooley on his home turf, leading him by more than 12 points in the votes that have already been counted.

Cooley is adamantly opposed by California's medical marijuana community. He has been a persistent foe of Southern California medical marijuana dispensaries, and has argued that all dispensaries in the state are illegal.

One mathematical model that has proven accurate so far predicts that Harris will win a squeaker by about 13,000 votes. Now, it looks like that model was slightly too conservative.

Harris would be the first woman, the first African-American, and the first Asian-American to hold the office of California attorney general, and the first Indian-American to be attorney general in any state. 

United States

Arizona Medical Marijuana Initiative Wins

After trailing on Election Day and all the way through most of the late vote counting, Arizona's medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 203, pulled ahead Friday and, with all votes counted, was declared the unofficial winner Saturday. The final tally had the measure winning, 50.1% to 49.9%. The measure won by fewer than 5,700 votes out of more than 1.6 million cast.

"Voters in Arizona have sided with science and compassion while dealing yet another blow to our nation's cruel and irrational prohibition on marijuana," said Rob Kampia, Marijuana Policy Project executive director, in a statement greeting the outcome. "Arizona's law now reflects the mainstream public opinion that seriously ill people should not be treated like criminals if marijuana can provide them relief, and that doctors should be able to recommend marijuana to patients if they believe it can help alleviate their suffering."

The Marijuana Policy Project had advised and helped finance the campaign. Arizona will now become the 15th medical marijuana state when official results are announced November 29. The state will then have 120 days to create regulations. 

United States

Marianas Islands Marijuana Legalization Bill Passes House

A bill to legalize marijuana passed the House in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), a US territory, November 4. But the governor says he would only sign a medical marijuana bill, and the Senate appears poised to kill it.

Saipan -- moving toward a tropical paradise
Still, its passage marks the first time a pot legalization bill has passed in a legislative chamber in any US territory.

The bill, HB 17-45, was championed by Rep. Stanley Torres (I-Saipan). It would "allow individuals 21 years or older to possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use; permit the regulation and taxation of the commercial production and sale to people 21 years old or older," while barring pot possession on school grounds and use in the presence of minors.

Earlier this year, a cost-benefit analysis performed by the House Committee on Natural Resources said enacting the bill into law "will possibly result in the loss of federal funds but at the same time the Commonwealth government will generate funds through taxation."

Torres and other legalization supporters also argued that the bill would allow access to marijuana by the ill and reduce crime and violence in black markets.

But Senate President Paul Manglona (R-Rota) said Wednesday that the Senate will kill the bill next. "It's for the same reasons I mentioned before," he told the Saipan Tribune, citing concerns about marijuana use's impact on CNMI youth and other ill effects on the community.

And Gov. Beningno Fitial signaled that he was okay with medical marijuana, but not for non-medical.
"I support it for medicinal use," Fitial told reporters. "I never smoke marijuana myself so I cannot talk much about it because I don't have the experience."

United States Minor Outlying Islands

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A sticky-fingered sheriff leads this week's list of law enforcement miscreants. Let's get to it:

(photo from, via Wikimedia)
In Williamsburg, Kentucky, the Whitley County sheriff was indicted Monday on charges he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds. Sheriff Lawrence Hodge faces 18 felony counts of abuse of public trust and three felony counts of tampering with physical evidence. Most of the counts allege he took money from office accounts, but some charge that he sold or gave away guns that had been seized. He is accused of stealing around $350,000 over a seven-year period, including $100,000 he claimed was to be used in drug investigations. He faces five to 10 years in prison on most of the counts.

In Monongahela, Pennsylvania, a fired Monongahela police officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to peddling cocaine and interfering in an undercover investigation of his drug-dealing friend. George Langan, a 16-year veteran of the department, was also accused of snorting cocaine at the home of his chief's ex-wife while in uniform and carrying his weapon. He went down after a local dealer jailed on drug charges snitched him out. He will begin serving a one to two year prison sentence in January.

In Batavia, Ohio, a Felicity Police Department captain pleaded guilty Tuesday to an evidence tampering charge after being caught in a sting where he seized fake Oxycontin tablets from an undercover agent and failed to turn them in. Capt. Delmas "Gee" Pack Jr., 42, is free on his own recognizance while awaiting sentencing.  He faces up to 10 years in prison. Pack went down after years of complaints that a Felicity police officer confiscated illegal drugs, but never filed charges or turned in the drugs.

In Houston, a Harris County jail guard was arrested November 3 for trying to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the facility. Guard Henry Fairlie, 51, went down after an investigation by the Harris County Sheriff's Department. He is charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (Xanax) and introducing contraband into a penal institution.

In Brownsville, Texas, a fugitive US Customs and Border Protection officer was arrested October 31 as he crossed a bridge back into the United States. Officer Luiz Enrique Ramirez, 38, had been on the run since February 2009, two months before an indictment naming him was issued. The 13-count indictment charges him with trafficking, drug trafficking, and bribery. According to the criminal complaint, since August 2005, Ramirez allegedly conspired to bring undocumented immigrants into the country by using his official capacity as a government official for financial gain. From November 2007, Ramirez is accused of conspiring to use his official capacity to bring kilogram quantities of cocaine into the country.

Heritage Foundation Says Cut Drug Czar's Office, Byrne Grants, More

In an attempt to provide some specifics for Republican promises to reduce the budget deficit by cutting federal spending, the conservative Heritage Foundation has issued a backgrounder report saying Congress should eliminate the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the drug czar's office), the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities state grant program, and all Justice Department grant programs, except those for the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice. That means the drug task force-funding Justice Assistance Grants (JAG, formerly known as the Byrne grant) are on the chopping block, too.
Goodbye Gil?
The report said the federal government could cut a whopping $434 billion and the savings could come from eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and outdated or ineffective programs;consolidating duplicative programs, targeting programs more precisely, privatization, and "empowering state and local governments" by reducing federal funding for them.

Taxpayers could save $30 million by axing the "duplicative" drug czar's office and $298 million by eliminating the Safe and Drug Free Schools state grants, which are used for violence and drug and alcohol prevention programs. The Byrne grant program, which can also be used to fund drug treatment and prevention, is set at $598 million in the Obama administration's FY 2011 budget request. 

The drug budget cuts are only a tiny fraction of  the $343 billion that Heritage said should be cut. The report takes the budget ax to nearly $20 billion in agriculture funding, nearly $8 billion in community development grants, nearly $8 billion in federal education spending, more than $7 billion in energy and environmental spending, nearly $92 billion from federal government operations (including federal employee pay freezes), and nearly $7 billion by cutting federal job training and Job Corps funds.

If the cuts proposed by the Heritage Foundation in its entirety were to be enacted, they would radically shrink the federal government and redraw the picture of what the people expect from government. But the Republicans only control one chamber of Congress, some of the proposed cuts could lead to dissent even within GOP ranks, and Democrats and people who stand to lose out are sure to fight them.

Still, it would be nice if the spirit of bipartisanship could prevail long enough to begin closing the book on decades of wasted and counter-productive federal drug prohibition spending, even though we wouldn't want to see proven prevention programs slashed.

Washington, DC
United States

New Jersey Legislature Committees Reject Proposed Medical Marijuana Regulations

After hearing overwhelmingly negative testimony about proposed medical marijuana regulations developed by the state Department of Health and Senior Services, committees in both the New Jersey Assembly and Senate voted Monday in favor of resolutions demanding that the department rewrite the regs to increase patient access, reduce burdens on doctors, and remove onerous rules.

The resolution gives the department 30 days to rewrite the rules. Although Gov. Chris Christie (R) could heed the signal from today's vote and allow the process to move forward, that's not likely, said Ken Wolski of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. Instead, he said, the resolutions will most likely have to be approved in floor votes.

"The concurrent resolutions in the Senate Health Committee and the Assembly Legislative Oversight Committee said the draft regulations were not consistent with the legislation," said Wolski. "There were hearings all afternoon, and testimony in favor of the resolutions was overwhelming."

New Jersey's medical marijuana law was signed in January by outgoing Gov. Richard Corzine (D). When Christie took office, he sought a six month delay in implementing the program, but the legislature only gave him three. The health department issued draft regulations for the medical marijuana program last month. Among the new limitations: A physician registry, capping THC content, having just three strains of cannabis and limiting cultivation to just two centers.

If the health department refuses to rewrite the regulations or comes back with another restrictive draft, the legislature could simply take over and draft regulations itself. But perhaps Gov. Christie and the executive branch will get the message now and quit standing in the way of patients, doctors, and providers.

Trenton, NJ
United States

Dr. Mollie Fry's Medical Marijuana Conviction Upheld

A panel on the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the marijuana cultivation and distribution conspiracy convictions of California Dr. Marion "Mollie" Fry and her partner, Dale Schafer. Fry and Schafer, both medical marijuana patients, had been sentenced to five years in federal prison in the case, but were free on bail pending the appeal. There is no word yet on when they will have to report to prison or whether they will try further appeals.

After developing breast cancer, Dr. Fry turned to medical marijuana, and she and Schafer built up a medical marijuana practice, with Dr. Fry writing recommendations and she and Schafer growing and distributing marijuana to patients. They did so with the understanding from local law enforcement that they were in compliance with state law.

But local law enforcement was working with the DEA, and the couple was raided, arrested, and convicted of violating federal drug control laws. Because they were convicted of growing more than 100 plants, they face mandatory minimum five-year prison sentences.

They appealed the conviction, arguing that because local law enforcement agents were cooperating with the DEA at the same time they were assuring the couple they were in compliance with state law, local law enforcement was in effect working for the feds to entrap them. They also argued that local law enforcement entrapped them for sentencing purposes by encouraging them to grow more than 100 plants, the number that triggers a mandatory minimum sentence. And they argued their convictions should be overturned because they were not allowed to mount a medical marijuana defense.

But the 9th Circuit panel didn't buy any of it. In the opinion authored by Judge Richard Tallman, the court held that Fry and Schafer did not prove they were entrapped and that they were correctly precluded by Supreme Court precedent from mounting a medical marijuana defense. Now, the health-care providing couple are most likely headed to federal prison for their efforts.   

San Francisco, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Likely Coming Soon to Israeli Pharmacies

The Israeli Health Ministry committee on medical marijuana recommended last Wednesday that marijuana be added the list of medicinal drugs. That means it should be available in pharmacies in Israel within six months, provided that the recommendation is accepted by the ministry.

Israel Medical Marijuana Banner (
The news was reported Sunday by the International Association for Cannabis as Medicine, which in turn cited a Thursday newsletter from the Israeli embassy in Germany. (That letter, in German, is available at this Israeli diplomatic service web page. Click on the link for November 4.)

Medical marijuana committee head and, until recently, the sole authorized medical marijuana prescriber in Israel, Dr. Yehuda Baruch, made the recommendation. The next step is to form an inter-ministerial committee to resolve open questions.

Baruch said medical marijuana is helpful for multiple sclerosis, patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, and for the relief of chronic pain.

The announcement is just the latest step in medical marijuana's march to acceptance in Israel. Up until September, only Dr. Baruch had been authorized to prescribe medical marijuana. But the health ministry announced that month that five more doctors will be allowed to prescribe.

The number of Israelis who have been prescribed marijuana was two in 2000, 10 in 2005, 700 in the middle of last year, and may be as high as 2,000 now. A Health Ministry official estimated that, with the lessening of the prescribing bottleneck, the number could increase to 5,000 by year's end and tens of thousands in the future.


Election 2010: Races Still Undecided and Odds and Ends

It ain't over 'til it's over, and in a trio of races of interest to drug reformers, it ain't over. There are also a handful of other races of interest that we haven't mentioned yet. Here's a post-election roundup:

In California, in a race critical to the state's medical marijuana industry that is still close to call, Republican attorney general candidate Steve Cooley Saturday retook the lead from Democratic candidate Kamala Harris. Cooley is a determined foe of the existing dispensary system and has said he believes any dispensary sales of marijuana are illegal. As of Thursday morning (11/11), with only some absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted, Cooley has 45.9% of the vote to Harris's 45.7%. The Greens got 2.6% of the vote, the Libertarians got 2.5% of the vote, and the Peace and Freedom Party got 1.6% of the vote. As of this writing, Harris trails by about 22,000 votes.

In Arizona, in a race that is still too close to call, the medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 203, trails by slightly more than 5,000 votes out of 1.5 million cast, but with fewer than 130,000 mail-in and provisional votes yet to be counted. As of Wednesday night, Prop 203 trails with 49.9% of the vote, compared to 50.1% opposed. 

In Washington state, drug reformer and incumbent state Rep. Roger Goodman is leading narrowly in a race that probably won't be called until December 2, the last day for the secretary of state to certify election results. Goodman, the head of the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, a national organization affiliated with the King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project that Goodman founded, leads challenger Kevin Haistings by a margin of 51.2 to 48.8%.

Only 60% of the votes were counted election night, and Goodman was down by 500 votes then. Since then, the percentage counted is up to 91%, and Goodman has pulled ahead by more than 1,200 votes. For Haistings to pull it out, the late vote trend would have to dramatically reverse.

Also in Washington state, a drug law reforming candidate for Snohomish County prosecuting attorney, Jim Kenny, failed in his bid to win office. Kenney got only 30.03% of the vote, compared to 68.76% for his opponent, Mark Roe. Both ran as Democrats.

In Florida, drug reformer Jodi James was defeated in her bid to be elected state representative in District 31. Running as a Democrat, James got 37.81% of the vote, while Republican candidate John Tobia won with 62.19%.

In New York, Rockefeller drug law reformer Eric Schneiderman was elected attorney general. He won 54.9% of the vote, beating Republican candidate Dan Donovan, who had 43.7%. Also in New York, anti-prohibitionist candidates Randy Credico and Kirsten Davis picked up 0.6% and 0.5% respectively in their races for US senator and New York governor.

In Vermont, pro-marijuana decriminalization Democrat Peter Shumlin eked out a narrow victory over Republican Brian Dubie. Shumlin got 49.24% of the vote to Dubie's 47.46%.

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