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Colorado Business Groups Ask Feds to Enforce Marijuana Laws

Some 20 Colorado business organizations wrote a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder last Friday urging him to enforce federal laws barring the sale and possession of marijuana. In doing so, the business groups are taking direct aim at the will of the voters, who passed Amendment 64 legalizing marijuana with 55% of the vote last month.

"Passage of Amendment 64 left considerable uncertainty for employers and business in Colorado with regard to their legal rights and obligations," the letter said. "We encourage enforcement of the [federal Controlled Substances Act] to provide the certainty and clarity of law we seek."

Amendment 64 legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants by adults 21 and over. That part of the amendment will go into effect by January 5 at the latest. It also directs the state to craft a system of regulations for commercial marijuana cultivation and sales. The state has until October 2013 to complete that task.

Still, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the Justice Department headed by Holder has yet to signal how it will respond. The Obama administration initially backed off enforcing federal laws in medical marijuana states, but for the last two years has stepped up enforcement actions.

For Coloradans and others who want to know who is attempting to undercut the will of the voters and respond in an informed and appropriate manner, here is the complete list of signatory organizations:

  • Colorado Concern
  • Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance
  • Associated Builders and Contractors -- Rocky Mountain Chapter
  • Colorado Technology Association
  • Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce
  • Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce
  • Greeley Chamber of Commerce
  • Pueblo Chamber of Commerce
  • Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance
  • Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation
  • Upstate Colorado Economic Development Association
  • Colorado Contractors Association
  • International Electrical Contractors -- Rocky Mountain Chapter
  • National Federation of Independent Business -- Colorado and Wyoming Chapter
  • Club 20
  • Loveland Chamber of Commerce
  • Colorado Bankers Association
  • Colorado Auto Recyclers Association
  • Chrisland Commercial
  • Douglas County Business Alliance

(Update: One of our readers has posted contact information for these organizations, here in the comments section.)

CO
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds continue to play hardball in California and local elected officials across the state are grappling with the issues. Meanwhile, Vermont moves ahead on dispensaries while New Hampshire's medical marijuana bill can't overcome a gubernatorial veto, and that's not all. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Monday, an applicant for a dispensary and grow site sued Maricopa County, accusing the county of purposefully stalling action on its application to prevent it from seeking a state operating license. The lawsuit by White Mountain Health Center Inc. charges the county would not certify or reject its registration certificate, one of the Arizona Department of Health Services' first requirements for obtaining a dispensary license. Maricopa County last year decided to not allow employees to accept, process, or issue permits for dispensaries or grows until marijuana becomes a federally approved drug, but that puts the county at odds with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which only allows local jurisdictions to impose "reasonable" zoning restrictions for dispensaries, and requires local zoning approval before a permit is processed by the state.

California

Last Tuesday, the Del Mar City Council opted to hear a report on a ballot initiative that seeks to improve access to medical marijuana in the city. The move came after activists handed in almost double the number of signatures required to place the initiative on the November ballot. The council could have adopted the initiative as written, put the issue on the ballot, or ordered a report, and it chose the latter. The proposed ordinance would allow dispensaries in the city and tax and regulate them. The council will have 10 days after receiving the report to either adopt the ordinance or order an election. The report is due by July 13.

Also last Tuesday, the Roseville City Council voted to ban outdoor grows. The council voted 4-1 to ban the grows after some residents complained about odors. The ordinance will take effect November 1, at the end of the outdoor growing season. The ordinance also limits indoor grows to fewer than 50 square feet in the grower's primary residence. Opponents of the ordinance argued to no avail that because Roseville doesn't allow dispensaries, patients must grow their own, and that indoor grows will cost patients money for equipment and operating costs.

Also last Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council held a contentious meeting as it considered whether to completely ban dispensaries later this summer. No votes were taken, but discussion was heated at times as the council revisited its ban on dispensaries and the temporary exemptions for 18 of them, which are slated to terminate on August 12.

Last Wednesday, Malibu's only two dispensaries announced they were closing, saying they had been hit with letters from federal prosecutors threatening prosecution and forfeiture. The letters to the Malibu dispensaries were among 34 sent to what the feds called "illegal marijuana operations" in Los Angeles County. The warning letters targeted all known dispensaries in the communities of Santa Fe Springs, Whittier, South El Monte, La Mirada, Diamond Bar, Artesia, Paramount, South Gate, City of Commerce, Agoura Hills and Malibu.

Last Thursday, Imperial Beach officials approved an initiative to repeal the city's ban on dispensaries and replace it with reasonable regulations. The county registrar said petitioners from Americans for Safe Access and the LGBT nonprofit Canvass for a Cause turned in enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The city could vitiate the need for a special election on the issue by approving the initiative at the City Council, which will be discussing the matter at its July 18 meeting.

Also last Thursday, Fresno made permanent its ban on outdoor marijuana grows. The city council in January approved a temporary ban, and last week decided to join the rest of Kern County in banning outdoor grows. Police said indoor grows were less likely to attract criminals, but medical marijuana advocates countered that instead of thieves jumping fences to steal plants, there will now be home invasion robberies. Advocates also complained that indoor grows require expensive equipment and waste energy.

Last Friday, Lake County's Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Committee met to hear an update about an urgency measure to adopt an interim law for marijuana growth but was precluded from directly discussing the merits of the proposal on Friday. The committee chair charged with making recommendations said it would be improper for the panel to discuss the ordinance at that meeting. The proposed temporary law would ban commercial medical marijuana cultivation as well as all growing on vacant properties and ban any grows within 600 feet of a school. It would also limit outdoor cultivation to three mature female or six immature marijuana plants on parcels smaller than half an acre, and six mature female or 12 immature plants on lands half an acre or larger, accessory to an approved residential use. Collective or cooperative organizations consisting of qualified patients and primary caregivers could grow as many as 36 mature female plants on parcels of at least five acres. Those groups would have to adhere to several rules, including that their site must contain a permitted residence and that their growing area must be screened from public view with a wooden fence.

Also last Friday, Vallejo police raided the Better Health Group Collective for the third time in the last three months. Better Health is one of at least five Vallejo dispensaries targeted in recent raids. Local prosecutors have charged six operators with felony drug charges, but dismissed charges against one.

Also last Friday, the mayor of Cudahy and two other city officials were arrested on federal charges they took bribes to support the opening of a dispensary in the city. Mayor David Silva and two city council members are accused of accepting $15,000 in cash from an informant working with the FBI. They're looking at up to 10 years in prison each. The city has a temporary moratorium on dispensaries, which will probably be renewed later this year.

On Monday, a bill to regulate and tax medical marijuana statewide died in Sacramento. Sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Assembly Bill 2312, would have created a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement to license and regulate industry enterprises. But the bill ran into opposition from some legislators over its provision requiring localities to allow dispensaries unless they are voted down in a referendum. When Ammiano amended the bill to allow local officials to ban dispensaries, the bill began to lose favor among some medical marijuana advocates. Ammiano said he didn't have the votes to get it out of committee, but that a committee will study the bill this summer and he will reintroduce it next year.

On Tuesday, Yuba County supervisors approved the introduction of amendments to the county's public nuisance ordinance for medical marijuana. But while the county is still fine-tuning its ordinance, local growers said it is ignoring critical issues, such as a collective grows and are threatening legal action if the county doesn't move faster. The amendments are supposed to be voted on at the board's July 10 meeting, but that may not happen after one supervisor said more work was needed.

Also on Tuesday, hundreds of unhappy medical marijuana advocates piled into the Lake County supervisors' meeting to protest a pending medical marijuana ordinance. The multitude created a log-jam at the Lakeport courthouse security station, causing the hearing to be delayed until July. The crowd cheered when they learned the hearing was rescheduled for a larger venue. The hearing will be held July 9 in the fairgrounds' theater in Lakeport.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Fort Collins officials announced that an initiative to repeal a ban on dispensaries had qualified for the November ballot. Organizers needed 4,214 valid voter signatures, and election officials stopped counting at 4,302 with 743 more signatures unchecked. They had turned in more than 9,000 signatures last week. The city attorney's office will now draft language for the initiative at the next meeting of the city council on July 17. Last year, voters in the city approved the ban; this year, they will now have a chance to change their minds.

Montana

Last Friday, Montana Republicans approved a resolution calling for regulated medical marijuana. Republicans in the state legislature were responsible for gutting the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law last year, but the new position is that state Republicans would "support action by the next legislature to create a workable and realistic regulatory structure." Montana Democrats a week earlier approved a change in their platform saying they supported access for those who need medical marijuana.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, the state Senate fell short in a bid to override a veto of the medical marijuana bill passed earlier by the legislature. As he did in 2009, Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed it, and as in 2009, proponents were unable to get enough votes to override.

Vermont

Last Friday, state officials received four applications from potential dispensary operators. State officials are not revealing who the applicants are and where they want to operate, saying they consider that information confidential. The first dispensaries could be operating by the end of the year, but their locations and identities would be revealed when they seek local approvals.

Washington

On Tuesday, the Tacoma City Council heard testimony about a proposal to allow dispensaries and collective grows to operate in the city. Nearly 11 months after the council issued a moratorium on business licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries, Tuesday's hearing gave the public a chance to weigh in on a zoning framework that since has been formulated to allow such businesses, but regulate them. About a dozen people spoke, most in favor of the proposal. The proposal would allow collective gardens in the city's industrial zones and in certain downtown and mixed-use zones. That essentially would concentrate such operations in Tacoma’s port area and along South Tacoma Way. Dispensaries would be allowed in city zoning districts where commercial uses now are allowed.

Dutch-Only Cannabis Coffee Shop Policy Meets Resistance [FEATURE]

A Dutch government policy aimed at barring foreign tourists from buying marijuana in the Netherlands went into effect in three southern border provinces Tuesday, but it didn't go exactly as authorities planned.

Amsterdam cannabis "coffee shop" (wikimedia.org)
In the southern border city of Maastricht, hundreds of demonstrators filled a central square to protest the move, waving signs saying "Away with the Weed Pass," "No Discrimination Against Belgians," and "Dealers Wanted!" and toting a six-foot long joint. Meanwhile, cannabis coffee shop owners across the city closed their doors to protest the imposition of the scheme, leaving the city's mayor ruffled and pot-buyers to seek out street dealers.

The weed pass plan is the brainchild of the rightist Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition government, which collapsed last month. But the Dutch parliament had already approved the plan, and it is still scheduled to go into effect nationwide beginning January 1.

Under the weed pass plan, cannabis coffee shops will be forced to become "members only" clubs, with membership limited to 2,000 people per club. Members must register their identities, and only Dutch citizens and residents will be allowed to join the clubs.

Marijuana remains illegal in the Netherlands, but under a policy of pragmatic tolerance in effect since 1976, the Dutch government has allowed for the sale of small amounts of marijuana through the coffee shops. The current lame duck government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, playing to its conservative base, has moved against the coffee shops as part of a broader anti-drug campaign that has also seen it label hashish a "hard drug" and move to criminalize khat, which is used almost exclusively by the country's small Somali immigrant population.

The weed pass plan is now in effect in the provinces of Brabant, Limburg, and Zeeland, which border Belgium and/or Germany. Reuters reported that most coffee shops in cities such as Eindhoven, Roermond, and Tilburg were also shut, or were ignoring the weed pass.

"We've been selling cannabis to anybody who comes, as normal," said William Vugs, owner of the 't Oermelijn coffee shop in Tilburg. "We are being forced to discriminate against foreigners. They don't just spend their money here, they buy groceries and fill up their cars, too," he said.

Vugs said his shop served 800 customers a day, about one-fifth of them from Belgium. Turning them away would have economic consequences beyond the coffee shops, he said.

Vugs is one of the coffee shop owners who hopes to block the weed pass in court by arguing that it is discriminatory. That's the plan concocted by the Maastricht Coffee Shop Union (VOCM), which announced in a press release Monday that it would challenge the law in court.

"Too much is still unclear about the privacy concerns, but also on the exact requirements of the minister, said VOCM leader Marc Josemans, owner of the Easy Going coffee shop in Maastricht. "Therefore we will not register customers and will continue to sell to anyone aged 18 and older who can identify himself. "

Instead, in a surprise move, the city's coffee shops closed their doors -- except for Easy Going. Josemans opened long enough to refuse to sell pot to a group of foreigners, who then proceeded to a local police station to file a discrimination complaint. Such complaints will be the basis of the looming legal challenge to the weed pass.

Josemans then stayed open, selling marijuana to anyone who asked for it, and local police arrived shortly.

"The police paid me a visit about a half an hour later and warned me I was violating the new rules, and if I do it again, I'll be closed down for a month," he said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. But he added that he planned to continue selling to all comers and that he expected his shop to be shut down. He would then take his case to the European Court of Justice, he said. "Discrimination is never the right answer,"Joseman said.

Previous efforts to overturn the law, both in the Dutch courts and the European Court of Justice, have failed, but the coffee shop owners and their supporters are determined to try again.

Tuesday also saw competing press conferences in Maastricht, with the mayor and city officials at one and coffee shop supporters at the other, held in front of Easy Going.

Maastricht Mayor Onno Hoes said the city supported the weed pass plan and that the coffee shop owners were "rude" to close their doors. "I did not think the owners would be so cheeky," he complained. "By doing this, they are hurting the local population."

But not the street drug dealers, who, according to the VOCM, are flocking to the city to take advantage of the ban on sales to foreigners.

"Maastricht is now faced with drug runners who have never been spotted in the city before, coming from Liege, eastern Europe and northern France," the group said. "They are using flyers explaining the new rules that were issued by the city of Maastricht in order to lure tourists! Thus we are rapidly returning to a long gone past where a separation of markets for cannabis and hard drugs did not exist and dealers controlled the streets."

Former head of the Netherlands Police Union Hans van Duijn echoed that sentiment at the press conference in front of Easy Going. "Everyone who is rejected here will walk a few meters down the street to the drug dealers who drive over from Rotterdam, among other places, and ride around in large numbers," he said.

The primary reasons the Dutch adopted the pragmatic tolerance policy allowing for the coffee shops were to separate "soft" and "hard" drug markets and to reduce the number of street dealers. But it appears the weed pass policy will have the opposite effect.

"This weed pass is a bizarre U-turn by a government of moralistic politicians looking for ways to score points among the conservative part of the nation," said Joep Oomen, director of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) from his home next door in Belgium. "It is a slap in the face of the millions of non-Dutch residents who visit the coffee shops every year without ever causing any nuisance, as well as of Dutch society as a whole, that will now be faced with an increasing illegal cannabis circuit."

Oomen noted that street dealers in Maastricht Tuesday were openly defying authorities by giving interviews on Dutch TV.

"Nobody expects that people looking for good quality cannabis will now cease to do that," he continued. "They will just not be allowed in the coffee shops anymore and will instead find their stuff on the streets."

For ENCOD, the weed pass plan is a repressive last gasp that could have unintended consequences, good as well as bad.

"We consider this as a last convulsion of a dying body," Oomen said. "The problems that this effort to end the coffee shop model will create will cause the Dutch public to see that the only real solution is to regulate the 'back door' of the coffee shops."

Oomen was referring to the peculiarity in the current Dutch system which allows for marijuana to be sold, but does not allow for a legal supply for the coffee shops. That has resulted in increasing black market pot production.

The issue of the "back door" was also on Joseman's mind.

"Let's forget this right wing hobby and focus on the real problem -- the 'back door,'" he said. "This is the Achilles heel of Dutch cannabis policy. When we finally start to regulate the cultivation of cannabis and supply to the coffee shops, we will kill three birds with one stone: significantly less crime, huge profits for public health, and one billion euros a year extra in the national treasury."

But first, the coffee shops have to deal with their current "front door" problem. The looming court cases are one avenue, but the September elections set to replace the current government provide another one.

"Our hope is on the outcome of the trial processes that have started today in Maastricht and Tilburg by the closure of the coffee shops that refuse to carry out the new measure, and on the general elections in September," said Oomen. "Predictions are that at least two of the five left-wing parties that are currently in opposition will participate in the next government, and they will cancel the new measures or at least diminish their impact."

Netherlands

Dutch Court Upholds Cannabis Café Ban on Foreigners

A Dutch judge in The Hague last Friday upheld a law banning foreigners from entering the country's famous marijuana coffee houses. That means that as of this week, foreigners will be unable to purchase marijuana at coffee houses in three southern border provinces.

Amsterdam coffee shop (wikimedia.org)
The ban on foreigners is expected to go into effect nationwide by next year, but whether that will actually happen is unclear, given strong opposition from Amsterdam and other cities, and given that the conservative coalition government that crafted the policy has fallen, and the country will have elections to select a new government this fall.

The government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte has moved on several fronts to rein in the Netherlands' decades-long tradition of tolerance for marijuana and marijuana sales. It has labeled hashish and stronger strains of marijuana as "hard drugs" and forbidden their sale in the coffee houses. And it has moved not only to ban foreigners from the coffee houses, but also to make them "members only" clubs with a membership limited to 2,000 per club. Entry would be allowed only to persons holding a "weed pass," or membership card.

Coffee shop owners in the southern provinces where the ban took effect Monday filed suit to block it, arguing that the ban discriminates against other members of the European Union. But the court in The Hague upheld the law.

Lawyers for the coffee shop owners said they would immediately appeal. They said they would take the case to the European Court for Human Rights and argue that the Dutch government should not be able to discriminate against people based on where they live.

"It's going to cost me 90% of my turnover," said coffee shop owner Michael Veling, who is also a spokesman for the Dutch Cannabis Retailers Association. "That is a very good reason for anyone to oppose any plan. Second, it puts our customers in a very difficult spot, because why do you have to register to buy a substance that is still illegal?" he told the BBC.

The battle over Holland's iconic cannabis cafes is by no means over. In addition to the continuing fights in the courts, both national and European, the issue will undoubtedly be addressed in the coming election campaign.

Netherlands

West Virginia Governor Orders Job Trainee Drug Testing

It's not just Republicans hopping on the drug testing bandwagon. On Tuesday, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, issued an executive order requiring people who seek state-funding job training to first pass a drug test.

The order turns a pledge from this year's State of the State address into reality. It calls for mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of all participants in the Workforce West Virginia program, which provides training for youths, adults, and displaced workers.

"I continuously hear from business leaders located all across the state, that they have jobs available but the candidates cannot pass a pre-employment drug screening," Tomblin said in a statement. "When this happens, we have wasted taxpayer dollars, hurt our businesses, and limit our economic growth."

Tuesday's order requires testing for 10 categories of drugs and will deny training for applicants for 90 days if they test positive. A second flunked test will bar them for one year. The order allows applicants to appeal over test results. The state will pay for the drug tests and will hire an outside contractor to administer them.

Last year, Indiana became the first state to require people seeking job training to undergo drug tests. West Virginia is so far the only other state to follow.

Tomblin has proven quite a fan of drug testing. He successfully championed a measure this year that requires random drug tests for safety-sensitive jobs in the state's coal-mining industry. The bill was part of a broader mine safety package inspired by the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster in which 29 miners died. Autopsy results showed no evidence that any of those men were using drugs.

Labor leaders and other workers' rights advocates have questioned the need for drug testing. West Virginia AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue has challenged industries to show more evidence that drug use among the state's workforce is a problem. He told the Charleston Daily Mail he thought it was an excuse for companies to hire out-of-state.

"I do believe that the over-abuse of drugs in this state is not as bad as everybody makes it to be," Perdue said Tuesday. "I've talked to too many people and learned of too many cases that show that it's not as serious as they say."

No word yet on any legal challenges to the executive order or the miner drug testing bill.

Charleston, WV
United States

Federal Court Blocks DEA Effort to Close Florida Pharmacies

In its effort to prevent the diversion of prescription pain medications into the illicit market, the DEA moved last month to bar two Florida CVS drug stores from selling the drugs. But last Wednesday, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the agency had gone too far and temporary blocked the DEA's order.

The case is Holiday CVS LLC v. Eric Holder, No. 12-5072.

The DEA had argued that the two CVS pharmacies in Sanford, Florida, were inappropriately filling prescriptions for oxycodone, an opioid pain reliever that is widely used. The DEA also said there were "suspicious" sales of other controlled substances.

But CVS argued that the DEA's enforcement actions were "arbitrary and capricious," that it had already taken steps to address DEA concerns, and that it would suffer "irreparable harm" if not allowed to fill prescriptions for controlled substances at its pharmacies.

A federal district court judge had initially blocked the DEA order, but allowed it to take effect on last Tuesday. CVS immediately appealed the decision.

This is the second prescription medicine provider the DEA has gone after in this manner in Florida. Earlier, the agency issued an order to Cardinal Health Inc. to prevent it from selling prescription drugs from its warehouse facility in Lakeland, Florida. Cardinal Health's client pharmacies include the two Sanford CVS stores. Cardinal Health had already won a similar stay, but last Friday, the same DC appeals court upheld the DEA order.

The DEA has identified Florida as an epicenter of an "epidemic" of non-presciption use of opioid pain relievers and has moved aggressively against doctors it accused of operating "pill mills" in the state. Florida is the home of more than 500 pain clinics, down from more than 700 last year after the state tightened regulations on them this year.

DEA and CVS must file responses to the appeals court order next week. In the meantime, CVS can still fill prescriptions and its customers can still pick them up.

Washington, DC
United States

Perry, Romney Burnish Drug Warrior Credentials

Two of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination sought to win votes by talking tough on drugs this week, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry calling for unmanned drones to overfly the US-Mexico border and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney saying the war on drugs must continue.

Rick Perry wants drones to overfly the US-Mexico border to surveil the drug traffic, but they already are. (image via Wikimedia)
Meanwhile Rep. Ron Paul, one of two GOP contenders who have staked out positions critical of the drug war (the other is former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson), has seemingly vanished from the mainstream media despite coming in a very close second to Rep. Michele Bachmann in last weekend's Iowa straw poll.

Going on the offensive against President Obama as he announced his candidacy Saturday, Perry accused Obama of being "an abject failure in his constitutional duty to protect our borders in the United States." Perry waved his right hand toward Mexico as he made those remarks.

Later the same day, at a campaign event in New Hampshire, the tough-talking Texan again laid into Obama, this time calling for the use of unmanned drones to track the flow of drugs coming from Mexico. The Predator drones can stay aloft for up to 20 hours and are equipped with video and tracking technologies.

"We know that there are Predator drones being flown for practice every day because we're seeing them; we're preparing these young people to fly missions in these war zones that we have," Perry told the crowd. "But some of those, they have all the equipment, they're obviously unarmed, they've got the downward-looking radar, they've got the ability to do night work and through clouds. Why not be flying those missions and using (that) real-time information to help our law enforcement?" he asked.

That could be a valid question if one accepts the war on drugs paradigm, which Perry obviously does. The only problem with Perry's query is that the Department of Homeland Security is already deploying drones along the entirety of the US-Mexico border.

Romney, for his part, addressed substance use and the war on drugs in response to questions from the audience, including one from drug war zealot Steven Steiner, who founded Dads and Mad Moms Against Drug Dealers (DAMMAD) after his 19-year-old son died of a drug overdose.

"We've got to not only continue our war on drugs from a police standpoint, but also to market again to our young people about the perils of drugs," the front-running candidate said in response to questions in Littleton.

Romney was responding to one local businessman who complained that he and fellow rural business owners had trouble finding educated workers who can pass a drug test. He replied that people have to teach their children to get an education and stay away from drugs.

Later that evening, at a Berlin town hall, Steiner stood up and said he was frustrated with presidential candidates not talking more about drugs. Romney offered his condolences, said parents must do a better job of warning young people, mentioned his advisors on drug policy are worried about the medical marijuana movement, and offered a joke about it.

"There's a lot of marijuana on the beach," Romney said, referring to California and his home there. "It's amazing how many teenagers have medical problems that require marijuana. I'm saying that facetiously."

Drug policy is beginning to emerge as a campaign issue for the Republican contenders. Look for an in-depth Chronicle article on the candidates and their positions after Labor Day.



(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Montana Judge Blocks Restrictive Medical Marijuana Provisions

A state judge has blocked some of the most onerous provisions of a new law designed to rein in Montana's medical marijuana industry from taking effect. But other provisions of the law, which will make life more difficult for patients and providers, are now in effect.

medical marijuana containers and vaporizer (image via wikimedia)
District Court Judge James Reynolds issued a preliminary injunction late Thursday to block those portions of the law from going into effect hours later. But the rest of the repressive "reform" is in effect as of July 1.

Reynolds ruled that lawmakers went too far in trying to clamp down. He blocked a provision of the new law that outlawed anyone making money in the business, including growers being compensated for their efforts. He blocked the law's ban on advertising and promotion of medical marijuana. And he threw out the new law's provision limiting providers to growing for no more than three patients.

"The court is unaware of and has not been shown where any person in any other licensed and lawful industry in Montana -- be he a barber, an accountant, a lawyer or a doctor -- who, providing a legal product or service, is denied the right to charge for that service or is limited in the number of people he or she can serve," Reynolds wrote.

Those provisions in the law "will certainly limit the number of willing providers and will thereby deny the access of Montanans otherwise eligible for medical marijuana to this legal product and thereby deny these persons this fundamental right of seeking their health in a lawful manner," Reynolds continued.

The lawsuit against the new law was brought by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which is also organizing a referendum effort to block the law from going into effect until it can go before the voters in November 2012. Montana voters approved the old, less restrictive, medical marijuana law in 2004 with 62% of the vote.

The association called the ruling "a partial victory," noting that "caregivers" have been eliminated and must now become registered "providers." "This, of course, temporarily breaks down the entire system, Yet, it was clearly the judge's intention to allow commercial activity," the group noted.

For a more detailed look at the new law and how the judge's order modified it, visit this Montana NORML web page.

Helena, MT
United States

Three Medical Marijuana Bills Filed in Congress [FEATURE]

A bipartisan group of US representatives filed three medical marijuana-related bills in Congress Wednesday. The three bills aim at protecting medical marijuana patients, caregivers, and providers from ongoing federal arrests, prosecutions, and harassment.

Medical marijuana is on the agenda at the US Capitol (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The trio of bills is a clear signal to the Obama administration that disenchantment with its approach to medical marijuana is growing in Congress. While the Obama Justice Department declared in its famous 2009 memo that it would not go after medical marijuana operations in compliance with state laws in states where it is legal, federal prosecutors and the DEA have continued to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana providers.

In the past few month, US attorneys in states implementing or contemplating regulated and licensed medical marijuana dispensaries have sent threatening letters to state officials warning that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and that even state employees could be at risk of arrest. Meanwhile, the DEA has been sitting on a nine-year-old petition to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.

HR 1983
, the State's Medical Marijuana Protection Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), would explicitly exempt people complying with state medical marijuana laws from federal arrest and prosecution. It also directs the federal government to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. It is cosponsored by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

"The time has come for the federal government to stop preempting states' medical marijuana laws," Frank said. "For the federal government to come in and supersede state law is a real mistake for those in pain for whom nothing else seems to work. This bill would block the federal prosecution of those patients who reside in those states that allow medical marijuana."

HR 1984
, the Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Polis, would protect banks that accept deposits from medical marijuana from federal fines or seizures and allow them to avoid the onerous "suspicious activity" reports they now have to file when accepting deposits from medical marijuana businesses. That has led financial institutions including Wells Fargo, CitiCorp, and Bank of America to refuse to do business with medical marijuana entities. The bill is cosponsored by Reps. Frank and Pete Stark (D-CA), as well as Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).

"When a small business, such as a medical marijuana dispensary, can't access basic banking services they either have to become cash-only -- and become targets of crime -- or they'll end up out-of-business," said Polis. "In states that have legalized medical marijuana, and for businesses that have been state-approved, it is simply wrong for the federal government to intrude and threaten banks that are involved in legal transactions."

HR 1985
, the Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to deduct business expenses from their federal taxes like any other business. It is designed to prevent unnecessary audits of medical marijuana businesses by the IRS and put an end to the dozens of industry audits already underway. The bill is cosponsored by Reps. Rohrabacher  and Paul, as well as Frank and Polis.

"Our tax code undercuts legal medical marijuana dispensaries by preventing them from taking all the deductions allowed for other small businesses," Stark said. "While unfair to these small business owners, the tax code also punishes the patients who rely on them for safe and reliable access to medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor. The Small Business Tax Equity Act would correct these shortcomings."

"It is time to get the federal government out of state criminal matters, so states can determine sensible drug policy for themselves," said Rep. Paul. "It is quite obvious the federal war on drugs is a disaster. Respect for states' rights means that different policies can be tried in different states and we can see which are the most successful. This legislation is a step in the right direction as it removes a major federal road block impeding businesses that states have determined should be allowed within their borders."

The congressional action was welcomed by drug reformers and medical marijuana advocates.  "All of these bills will have a positive effect on hundreds of thousands of Americans and only a negligible impact to the rest of the country," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "This kind of policy shift is a no-brainer and should garner the bipartisan support of Congress."

"The Justice Department thinks it can bully not just state elected officials but also patients and those who provide for them," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "Members of Congress need to stand up for patients and the will of the American people and push back against this federal overreach."

"The Department of Justice's new policy is forcing the public and patients to deal with a chaotic, unregulated medical marijuana market," said DPA staff attorney Tamar Todd. "It is beyond question that states want to and have the right to legalize medical marijuana under state law. The question now is whether states should be able to implement medical marijuana programs consistent with the needs of patients and of public safety and health.  The legislation introduced today would allow states to implement reasonable, responsible regulations."

The Obama administration, with its ambivalent approach to medical marijuana, has left a political opening. Reps. Frank, Polis, Stark and their congressional allies are now rushing to fill it.

Bills to Ensure Fair Treatment of Medical Cannabis Industry Members Are Introduced in U.S. House (Press Release)

National Cannabis Industry Association

For Immediate Release -- WEDNESDAY, MAY 25

Bills to Ensure Fair Treatment of Medical Cannabis Industry Members Are Introduced in U.S. House

The logic behind the introduction of the “Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011” and the “Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011” stands in sharp contrast to the actions of U.S. Attorneys who hope to keep medical cannabis sales underground, untaxed and unregulated

CONTACT: Steve Fox, NCIA dir. of public affairs at 202-379-4861 ext. 2 or Steve@TheCannabisIndustry.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, for the first time in history, two bills that would benefit members of the medical cannabis industry were introduced in Congress. The introduction of the bills, which address banking and tax issues faced by medical cannabis providers, follow months of advocacy by the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). The bills were part of a coordinated introduction of three bills to protect and support medical marijuana patients and providers in states where the use of medical marijuana is legal. The third bill, the “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act,” would modify federal law so that individuals acting in compliance with state law are immune from federal prosecution.

            The industry bills were introduced with bipartisan lead sponsors. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) are the lead sponsors of the “Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011,” which would amend Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code so that medical marijuana providers can take standard business deductions like any other business. The “Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011,” sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), would allow financial institutions to work with medical marijuana businesses without the fear of running afoul of federal banking regulations.

            These bills have been introduced at a time when the nation is witnessing a strange reaction by U.S. Attorneys to the development of state-regulated systems of medical marijuana distribution. In October 2009, the Department of Justice issued a memo to federal prosecutors, instructing them to de-prioritize the prosecution of individuals acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. This has given states like New Mexico, Colorado and Maine the ability to establish tightly regulated system. Yet some U.S. Attorneys, faced with the prospect of sensible regulations being established in other states, have issued misleading and threatening letters to sidetrack legislative and administrative progress.

            “There are hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients in this country who benefit when they are able to purchase their medicine from safe, reliable and regulated establishments,” said Steve Fox, NCIA’s director of public affairs. “It is time for the federal government to acknowledge that these businesses are providing a service to their communities, not causing them harm. Without these regulated, tax-paying businesses, all medical marijuana sales would occur underground. The profits would bolster the criminal market and local, state and federal governments would receive no tax revenue. These medical marijuana providers are not looking for special treatment. They just want to be able to function in a manner similar to any other legal business. That is what these tax and banking bills would allow.”

*     *     *     *     *

            The mission of the National Cannabis Industry Association is to defend, promote and advance the interests of the cannabis industry and its members. NCIA publicly advocates for the unique needs of the emerging cannabis industry and defends against those aiming to eliminate the legal market for cannabis and cannabis-related products. For more information, please visit www.TheCannabisIndustry.org.

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