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Oaksterdam University Will Carry On, But Without Richard Lee [FEATURE]

At an Oakland press conference Wednesday, Oaksterdam University announced that it would attempt to stay open in the wake of the April 2 federal raid on its campus and associated businesses, but that its founder, Richard Lee, would no longer be involved with the business. Lee, Oaksterdam representatives, and others also used the press conference to call for a national day of action Friday (4/20) and for people to barrage the Obama White House with phone calls demanding it end its policy of repression aimed at medical marijuana providers.

"My future is very uncertain," Lee said. "I'm waiting for a possible legal case. But I hope to be free to support marijuana legalization campaigns like in Colorado and Washington and medical marijuana campaigns like in Ohio. This is a big issue and getting bigger. If I can use my notoriety to help, I will do what I can."

Lee will be replaced at Oaksterdam University by Dale Sky Jones, who was the school's executive chancellor and who worked closely with Lee in 2010's Proposition 19 campaign. Jones and Oaksterdam will face some tough challenges. The federal raiders stripped the campus of all its equipment and computers, and the school has been unable to hold classes or pay staff. Instead, some 45 people are working on a volunteer basis to get it up and running again.

"The raid knocked the wind out of us," said Jones. "We will need help to get back on our feet in the short term, but in the long term, we will come back."

The school will have to move to a smaller, more affordable, space, Jones said.

"It's not sustainable in the current building," she explained. "We'll keep leasing the auditorium where we teach classes until further notice, and that will allow us to continue to enroll new students, which will allow us to buy new computers. But our office will move to a new location. We're staying in the heart of Oaksterdam, but with a much smaller office space. We've created a new parent company that will have the Oaksterdam trademark. Oaksterdam University will survive, just with a new parent company."

Some 15,000 people have taken courses at Oaksterdam, with a curriculum covering all aspects of the medical marijuana industry, from the basics of growing to how to run a business to how to navigate the maze of state, federal, and local laws and regulations. The school has been at the heart of the revitalization of Broadway in downtown Oakland, as well as at the heart of the East Bay medical marijuana community.

"In terms of public safety, I've been to downtown Oakland on numerous occasions, and if you think this will make it a safer community, it will do just the opposite," said Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore police commander in the city's Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement, and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Effective public safety is the result of healthy communities, not police action. When people come together, as they did in Oaksterdam, that's when crime is reduced. Now, we'll have patients forced back into the criminal market, funding organized crime. The public is trying to send a message to Washington, DC, that it's time to move away from these destructive prohibition policies."

"This cost the jobs of 100 union members, and those were good jobs with a decent wage," said Ron Lind, president of the UFCW's Local 5, which represents Bay area dispensary workers. "This misguided policy doesn't only impact patients; it also impacts workers. We will continue to support Oaksterdam and its reemergence. There is a huge potential for good middle-class jobs throughout this industry, and it's time for the federal government to stop undermining it."

"This administration is out of touch not only with the public, but with its own campaign pledges," said Franklin. "Obama won last time after forcefully pledging to back off from the federal attacks. Anyone who thinks this is a good electoral strategy needs to look at the polling," in which support for medical marijuana typically runs at 70% or higher.

Richard Lee surrounded by supporters in San Francisco a day after the April 2 raid
Given the ongoing federal crackdown, it is time for Oaksterdam University to broaden its mission, said Jones.

"Our focus has been on providing quality education to the cannabis community, but we need to start focusing on creating safer communities by controlling, taxing, and regulating cannabis," she said. "These days, it's more accessible than any other drugs. You're not getting it at the store, but behind the store. You don't see legal wine grape growers wielding machine guns."

"We want to thank Richard Lee and Oaksterdam for all you do," said Laura Thomas, interim state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, "both to increase access to medical cannabis and for Proposition 19. We join in calling on people to let the president know what you think of this raid and his drug policies in general. Obama has for the first time acknowledged that there needs to be debate on this topic. We need to let him know that legalization is something that should be talked about."

Oaksterdam supporters will gather at the campus Friday for a demonstration and march to the Oakland federal building. They are also urging sympathizers to sign a petition to President Obama urging him to stop the raids. It has more than 23,000 signatures so far.

"This is a big political issue," said Lee. "We're getting a lot of support right now, and the most recent polls show legalization with about a 5% lead across the country. The opponents of ending cannabis prohibition are fighting back. This issue is at the tipping point."

Oakland, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Monday's federal raid on Oaksterdam University in Oakland has ignited a firestorm of criticism of heavy-handed federal efforts to clamp down on medical marijuana distribution. Meanwhile, battles continue to be fought from Washington, DC, to local city halls.

National

On Monday, lawmakers from five states urged the Obama administration to back off from its policy of interference in state medical marijuana programs. The lawmakers are Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-CA), Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-WA), Rep. Antonio Maestas (D-NM), Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-NM), Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-CA), Rep. Deborah Sanderson (R-ME) and Sen. Pat Steadman (D-CO). They called on President Obama to live up to his campaign promise to leave the regulation of medical marijuana to the states, adding raids would only "force patients underground" into the illegal drug market. "Please respect our state laws," the lawmakers wrote. "And don't use our employees as pawns in your zealous and misguided war on medical marijuana."

On Tuesday, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson criticized the Oaksterdam raids, saying the Obama administration needs to "find better things to do with our tax dollars than raiding Richard Lee's home in selective enforcement of a bad law." Johnson, who governed as a Republican, is seeking the Libertarian Party presidential nomination this year.

On Wednesday, six national drug policy groups called on the Obama administration to end its assault on medical marijuana providers. They were the Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "You have turned your back as career law enforcement officials have run roughshod over some of the most professional and well-regulated medical marijuana providers," the groups said in a letter to President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and drug czar Gil Kerlikowske. "We simply cannot understand why you have reneged on your administration's earlier policy of respecting state medical marijuana laws… "We hope that you will immediately reconsider your drug control strategy and will work with, not against, states and organizations that are attempting to shift control of marijuana cultivation and sales, at least as it applies to medical marijuana, to a controlled and regulated market."

California

Last Monday, three San Francisco supervisors expressed concerns about the city Health Department's stance on medical marijuana. Supervisors David Campos, Scott Wiener, and Christina Olague signed on to a letter to the department questioning "some recent media statements" from the department, especially regarding its decision -- since rescinded -- to ban edible medical marijuana products.

Last Thursday, collective members in Murrieta said they were being targeted by police. The conservative Riverside County town is in an ongoing fight with the Green House Cannabis Collective, and collective members told Fox LA that police were pulling them over on pretexts to search their vehicles. One patient and volunteer showed Fox LA a GPS tracking device he found attached to his vehicle after being pulled over by police. The property owner of the collective said he was being fined $109,000, but that city officials offered to drop the fine if he would evict the collective. City officials had no comment, but one told the station off-camera that they don't want marijuana businesses in their city. Period.

Also last Thursday, an Arcata woman sued the city and the police over a raid at her home. Barbara Sage, 64, alleges that officers had an unlawful search warrant and used excessive force in investigating marijuana cultivation at the residence she shared with her husband. She argues that police didn't have sufficient probable cause for the search because they failed to present any evidence that the Sages' suspected marijuana cultivation fell outside the bounds of state and local medical marijuana laws and regulations. The Sages had grown medical marijuana in compliance with state law and local regulations, but were not growing any when police arrived. Aside from the probable cause issue, Sage argues that police violated the "knock-notice" rule, which requires them to announce their presence and that they are serving a warrant when entering someone's home, and that Hoffman failed to include a statement of expertise and qualifications to support the warrant. She also claims officers used unnecessary force when they came into her home with guns drawn, allegedly pulled her sick husband from bed -- tearing oxygen tubes from his nose -- and put him on the ground in handcuffs. "This rough treatment affected his mood drastically, and he went into a state of depression after the search that hastened his death," the suit claims.

Last Friday, an appeals court ruled that a dispensary does not owe the city of Dana Point $2.4 million. The city had shut down the Beach Cities Collective in January 2011, alleging violations of building codes and state law, and the two sides have been embroiled in lawsuits ever since. The city won the $2.4 million summary judgment from an Orange County Superior Court judge, but the 4th District Court of Appeals threw out the judgment, finding that it was improper because the facts in the case are still in dispute. The city has spent $400,000 trying similar tactics against two other dispensaries. Once there were six dispensaries in Dana Point; now, there are none.

Also last Friday, Vallejo police raided the same dispensary for the second time in a month. Police hit the Better Health Group and arrested owner Jorge Espinoza, 25, and three workers on suspicion of selling marijuana. That makes the fourth dispensary raid in the city since February 21. Better Health was raided the first time on February 29. The city has passed a measure to tax dispensaries, but its police continue to raid them anyway.

Also last Friday, medical marijuana regulation initiatives were announced in five cities in the San Diego area. The cities are Encinitas, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Lemon Grove and La Mesa. The proposed ballot measures largely mirror one planned for the city of San Diego. All are being coordinated by Citizens for Patient Rights in connection with the Patient Care Association, a trade organization of and for nonprofit dispensaries. None of the five cities currently allow medical marijuana dispensaries. A judge last year ordered the lone collective in Del Mar closed. A separate group of medical marijuana supporters has launched a citizen-initiated petition to reverse a dispensary ban in Imperial Beach.

On Saturday, San Francisco's HopeNet Cooperative stayed open in defiance of federal threats. US Attorney Melinda Haag had warned the dispensary's landlords it had to close by last Friday or the property could be seized and the owners imprisoned. Similar letters from Haag have led five other San Francisco dispensaries to shut down since October 7. The letters warn of 40-year prison terms and asset forfeitures if the "marijuana distribution" is not stopped.

On Monday, DEA and other federal agents raided Oaksterdam University, associated businesses, and the home of Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee. Lee was briefly detained, but later released without charges. DEA and IRS agents accompanied by US marshals seized seedlings, computers, and records, effectively shutting down the school, although it has vowed to reopen. Oakland police had to provide crowd control for the feds as angry emergency response protestors spilled onto Broadway.

On Tuesday, hundreds of medical marijuana supporters rallied in San Francisco. Although the rally had been planned in advance of Monday's Oaksterdam raids, the federal assault on the movement icon energized and outraged attendees, who marched from city hall to the federal building to tell US Attorney Melinda Haag to knock it off. The rally drew support from city supervisors, state legislators, and state officials.

Also on Tuesday, a Los Angeles judge denied a business license for a medical marijuana testing lab. Golden State Collective Cannabis Laboratories had sought the license, but was denied by city officials. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge upheld the city's decision.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles NORML director Bruce Margolin announced he is running for Congress. He is challenging veteran Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman in the newly created 33rd District. He emphasized ending the failed war on drugs in his announcement.

Also on Wednesday, a Butte County judge denied a motion to suppress the evidence in a medical marijuana case that is fueling outrage over the seizure of children from their parents. Daisy Jean Bram and Jayme Jeff Walsh are charged with marijuana cultivation and sales as well as child abuse charges -- apparently for nothing more than having children in a home where marijuana was being grown. Earlier, a judge had thrown out the child abuse charges, saying there wasn't sufficient evidence for them, but Butte County prosecutors refilled them. The children have since been returned to Bram's care.

Arizona

On Tuesday, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed a bill barring medical marijuana on college campuses. The law prohibits the possession or use of medical marijuana at public universities, community colleges, and child-care facilities. The bill was the brainchild of Rep. Amanda Reeve (R-Phoenix) and was supported by prosecutors. Medical marijuana advocates foresee a legal challenge on state constitutional grounds.

Colorado

On Tuesday, the state announced it is cutting its medical marijuana regulatory staff because the state isn't collecting enough revenues from licensing fees to pay for them. The Department of Revenue said it would lay off 20 of 37 staffers at the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. The department blamed the shortfall on a state moratorium on medical marijuana licenses, which is set to end this summer.

Maine

Last Wednesday, Portland saw its first dispensary open for business. The dispensary will eventually serve about 100 patients. It is the second Wellness Connection of Maine dispensary to open in the state.

Michigan

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee approved four medical marijuana bills that compromise patients' rights. The Marijuana Policy Project says it will absolutely oppose one and will oppose two more if not amended. Click the link above for details on the bills.

Montana

On Tuesday, four medical marijuana providers suing the federal government were arrested on federal drug charges. The attorney representing the four in their civil lawsuit over last year's raids on medical marijuana businesses across the state said they were indicted on Tuesday and last Thursday. The lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the searches of more than 26 homes, businesses and warehouses is before the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Their claim was rejected by a district judge in January.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, the Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment campaign held a press conference to kick start its signature-gathering effort. They have until July 4 to turn in 385,000 valid voter signatures in order to make the November ballot.

Washington, DC

Last Friday, DC officials selected six growers for the city's medical marijuana program. Later this summer, the city will select up to eight dispensary operators. By then, the chosen growers should have a crop to provide to the dispensaries, and the law approved by voters in 1998, but blocked by Congress until 2009 will finally be in effect.

Also on Friday, the weGrow medical marijuana superstore opened on Rhode Island Avenue NE. The supplier of lights, hydroponic equipment and other growers' goods advertises itself as "the one-stop-shop for the products and services one would need to grow plants indoors -- from tomatoes to medical marijuana."

Medical Marijuana Crackdown Sparks San Francisco Protest [FEATURE]

Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and representatives of the city attorney, state legislators, and state officials jointed hundreds of medical marijuana patients and supporters for an energized rally at City Hall Tuesday afternoon before marching to the nearby federal building to demand that US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag cease and desist in her attacks on the locally-regulated and -tolerated medical marijuana distribution in the city, the Bay area, and the state of California.

The crowd was large and outraged by Monday morning's federal raid on the movement's iconic Oaksterdam University, associated properties, and the home of Oaksterdam University founder and Proposition 19 funder Richard Lee. But that raid, which drew a heated reaction from activists who gathered in an emergency response to armed DEA, IRS, and US Marshals, went down after Tuesday's rallied had already been scheduled, and was only the latest in a recurring pattern of federal strikes against the movement and the industry going back to last fall.

Since October, when California's four US Attorneys jointly opened their campaign against the dispensaries, five have been forced to close because of federal threats in San Francisco alone, and others are under current threat. Across the state, the number of federally-induced shutdowns is in the dozens, including some of the state's most venerable and most regulated medical marijuana enterprises.

In San Francisco, patients, advocates, dispensary operators, the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access, and members of the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Task Force are launching a campaign, San Francisco United, to push city officials to take action to protect medical marijuana distribution in the city. It's not that they need a whole lot of pushing, given their recognition of the broad popularity of medical marijuana in the city where the movement was born.

Oaksterdam's Richard Lee made it to the rally after being detained Monday. He heard multiple expressions of support.
"By opposing federal interference, San Francisco officials are taking a stand for patients and for sensible public health policy," said ASA founder and Executive Director Steph Sherer. "The federal government must not be allowed to push patients into the illicit market without consequence."

Looking out at the crowd gathered around the steps of City Hall waving a sea of "Cannabis Is Medicine, Let States Regulate" signs, Sherer told her audience the movement is having an impact. "Haag and Holder are watching you. You're frightening them," she said to wild cheers.

"You're not alone; you have friends in city hall," Supervisor David Campos said as he stepped before the microphone. "This is a social justice issue; this is about safe access for patients," he said. "The voters have spoken, and we understand the importance of this issue. We need to expedite the permitting process so those closed dispensaries can reopen quickly."

Supervisor Christina Olague assailed Haag's campaign against the dispensaries. "This is absurd," she told the crowd, calling for solidarity. "When one of us is attacked, all of us are attacked," she said.

Cardboard cutouts of Haag's face on sticks allowed crowd members to wear "Haag masks" complete with blank speech balloons, on which protestors wrote "Quit vomiting and grow your own," "I love Romney," and similar witticisms.

Supervisor David Campos on the steps of city hall
"Melinda Haag didn't know what she was getting into," said Quintin Mecke, spokesman for drug reformer state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). "California is a sanctuary state, and California law is at stake. But this isn't just a San Francisco issue or a California issue, it's a national issue."

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws. In the past year, the DEA and other federal agencies have unleashed offensives against dispensaries in California, Colorado, and Montana, and have attempted to intimidate state officials in other medical marijuana states contemplating state-regulated distribution systems.

Mecke also announced that Ammiano's Assembly Bill 2312, which would set up a statewide system of regulated medical marijuana distribution, will get a first hearing next Tuesday in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

"I urge the federal government to halt its assault on dispensaries and cease its cruel attacks on patients and caregivers," said a spokesman for state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), another friend of drug reform in Sacramento. "Those federal dollars are better spent on programs that actually help people, and I'm concerned about this having a deleterious impact on the state's economy."

The "Haag mask"
Medical marijuana's contribution to the state economy is substantial, according to state Board of Equalization representative Allen Defazio. "The federal government needs to back off," he said. "The California system works, despite the federal government. Medical marijuana is generating $100 million a year in taxes."

Passing motorists honked frequently in support as protestors made the brief march down Golden Gate Avenue to the federal building, where US Attorney Haag has offices on the 19th floor. Stone-faced, uniformed federal police looked on as the crowd gathered on the building's plaza to chant and shake its fists at her towering aerie.

"This is an insult to San Francisco and California," fumed Dale Gieringer, longtime leader of California NORML. "The Department of Justice doesn't want patients to have safe, law-abiding access to medical marijuana. They want it to be criminal."

As the federal building action wound down, Americans for Safe Access national director Stephanie Sherer, who emceed the day's events, urged the crowd to chant loud enough for Haag to hear their voices on the 19th floor. There is no sign yet that she is hearing those voices, but the clamor is growing, and as long as she continues to go after dispensaries in Northern California, the racket there is just going to get louder and louder.

San Francisco, CA
United States

Feds Raid Oaksterdam University

Federal agents raided Oaksterdam University and associated businesses in downtown Oakland Monday morning shortly before 8:00am local time. The entire building was surrounded by yellow crime scene tape, and an hour later, agents were spotted carrying trash bags filled with unknown materials to a waiting van.

Also hit in the early morning raids were the nearby Oaksterdam Museum, the Oaksterdam gift shop, and the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club. None of those businesses actually distribute medical marijuana.

The Bay Citizen reported that Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee had been detained at his home and that four university plant tenders had been arrested. The Bay Citizen also reported that the former location of Lee's Blue Sky dispensary had been raided.

Oaksterdam University is the beating heart of the Oakland cannabis revival, which has helped revitalize the city's downtown core. Founded in 2007, it was the first institution in the country devoted to providing instruction in medical marijuana cultivation.

Owned and operated by Richard Lee, who put his personal fortune into getting 2010's Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana on the ballot, the university has trained thousands of people in how to grow their own medicine and other aspects of medical marijuana business. It has also served as an organizing center for the Bay area medical marijuana movement.

Medical marijuana defense groups, such as Americans for Safe Access, were mobilizing their members Monday morning and calling for supporters to head to the scene. They did so in large and angry numbers, shouting obscenities and imprecations at the federal agents. Oakland police were called in for crowd control after protestors spilled onto Broadway. Two people were arrested during the protest.

Federal officials were tight-lipped, with IRS spokeswoman Arlette Lee saying little more than that the raids were part of "an ongoing investigation."

Federal officials have been cracking down on California dispensaries for the past year, breaking with an earlier Obama administration stance that it would not bother operations that were in compliance with state law.

While in some cases, the federal crackdown has been assisted, or even instigated by, local officials, that is not the case in cannabis-friendly Oakland. The city has worked closely with medical marijuana providers and derives substantial tax revenues from them. It recently announced plans to double the number of dispensaries in the city from four to eight.

A previously scheduled press conference and protest march in San Francisco set for Tuesday should be even more energized after Monday's raids directed at what many see as the heart of the California medical marijuana scene.

Stay tuned.

Oakland , CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

More DEA raids in California, more threat letters in Colorado, plus action from the statehouse to the courthouse. Just another week in medical marijuana politics.

Arkansas

Signature gathering is underway for a proposed medical marijuana initiative sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care. The initiative would allow patients with serious or debilitating medical conditions to use and possess marijuana and to purchase it from state-regulated, nonprofit dispensaries. Patients could grow their own if they live more than five miles from a dispensary. The campaign needs to gather 65,000 valid voter signatures by July to make the November ballot.

California

Last Tuesday, the Richmond city council voted to double the number of dispensaries in the city. The council approved an ordinance allowing up to six dispensaries, or one for every 17,000 residents. Oakland, by contrast, only allows one for every 50,000 residents. Right now, though, even the three dispensaries already permitted haven't opened.

Last Wednesday, the LAPD raided the Nature's Answer dispensary in Reseda, seizing 50 pounds of pot and $17,000 in cash. Owner Annie Bishop was arrested for possession for sales of marijuana. They also raided her home in Van Nuys. LAPD is taking the position that medical marijuana sales are illegal.

Last Thursday, DEA and local police raided a Temecula dispensary, the Co-Op Social Club. The raid came just days after the DEA raided another Riverside County dispensary, the Greenhouse Cannabis Club in Murrieta. That same day, the DEA raided a Lake Elsinore medical marijuana grow-op, the Consolidated Container Nursery as part of the same investigation.

That same day, two men struck a plea bargain over their role in the North Bay Dispensary in Newark. The dispensary was raided by the DEA last year, but the pair copped to state charges and received jail sentences of one and five days, which they already served after being arrested. Charges against three dispensary employees were dropped. Meanwhile, a civil dispute between the NBD Collective and the city of Newark, which started almost as soon as the club opened in 2009, is still ongoing.

Also last Thursday, the UFCW announced it was unionizing Los Angeles dispensary workers. "This is the next step in professionalizing and stabilizing this new sector of the health care industry," said Local 770 president Rick Icaza in a press release. "Unionization and collective bargaining bring better training, less turnover, and more stability to the health care industry. This is a positive step towards successfully integrating compassionate care into our system of health care."

Last Friday, signature gathering began for an Imperial Beach initiative, the Safe Access Ordinance, which would overturn the city's current ban on dispensaries and replace it with zoning and other regulations for dispensing collectives and cooperatives wishing to operate in the city. The move comes after more than two years of tussles with the city, which has adopted an outright ban on dispensaries. The initiative is a joint effort of Canvass for a Cause, Americans for Safe Access, and concerned citizens in Imperial Beach. Organizers need 1,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot and hope to collect 2,000.

On Sunday, California NORML reported that Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose) had introduced a bill, Assembly Bill 2465, which would require all medical marijuana patients to register with the state. The bill is sponsored by the Police Officers' Research Association of California, which wants to make it easier for police to distinguish between illegal and legal marijuana users. California NORML strongly opposes the bill, saying it infringes on patients' right under Prop 215 to legally possess and cultivate marijuana given a physician's written OR oral recommendation.

On Tuesday, the Redding city council vote not to appeal a judge's ruling that rejected the city's request for a preliminary injunction on medical marijuana storefront collectives. That means dispensaries can continue to operate in the Shasta County community. Redding's elected officials have said they were surprised and confused by Shasta County Superior Court Judge Stephen Baker's decision, handed down late last Wednesday.

Also on Tuesday, the Daly City city council voted to ban dispensaries, with Councilman David Canepa saying he'd allow the clubs over his "dead body." Council members cited a report from Police Chief Manuel Martinez that noted the city has a problem with illegal indoor pot grows.

Also on Tuesday, a Santa Monica marijuana testing facility filed a lawsuit against the city to force it to give it a business license, which it has so far refused to do. Golden State Collective, the testing firm, applied for a business license in December, but was turned down even though it is not a dispensary. The facility opened this month, but closed again after being informed it could be fined.

Colorado

Last Friday, US Attorney John Walsh sent threat letters to 25 more dispensaries. In January, he sent out 23 threat letters, forcing those dispensaries to close. The latest targets have 45 days to close or face the seizure of their property. And there will be more to come, Walsh's office said.

Michigan

Last weekend, the second annual Detroit Medical Marijuana Expo took place, drawing more than 130 vendors and large crowds.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to decide a key issue in conflicts over the state's medical marijuana law: whether patients can sell marijuana to other patients. The case involves the Compassionate Apothecary in Mt. Pleasant, which was targeted by prosecutors in 2010. A lower court found that sales were permitted, but an appeals court disagreed, leading to the closing of the dispensary and many others around the state after the ruling.

Montana

Last Friday, medical marijuana providers targeted by the DEA in raids last year said they would appeal a federal district court ruling dismissing their challenge to those raids. More than a dozen providers, as well as the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, challenged the legality of the federal enforcement operations, but suffered a defeat in January, when US District Judge Donald Molloy, citing the 2005 Raich decision by the US Supreme Court, ruled that state law does not shield providers from federal prosecution. Their appeal goes to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

On Tuesday, another medical marijuana provider pleaded guilty in federal court to charges stemming from the DEA raids of March 2011. Christopher Ryan Durbin of Whitefish operated several medical marijuana businesses, including Good Medicine Providers and a pair of large warehouse grows. DEA agents made undercover buys at Good Medicine and seized more than 1,000 plants at the warehouses. Durbin copped to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana and structuring bank deposits to avoid IRS reporting requirements. He faces sentencing on June 29.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, sponsors of a medical marijuana bill held a press conference to try to drum up a veto-proof Senate majority for the bill. State Sen. Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford) and state Rep. Evalyn Merrick (D-Lancaster) worry that Gov. John Lynch will veto the bill because of his historical opposition to such measures.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill on a 13-11 vote. That's not enough to overcome a threatened veto, but the bill still has to go through the House, and that gives supporters time to try to pick up the handful of Senate votes they will need.

New Jersey

Last Friday, one of the nonprofit groups trying to set up a dispensary said it is giving up. The Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair is further along in the process than any of the other groups, but CEO Joe Stevens said he was put off by repeated delays and that he has no faith in state officials anymore. The state's law was passed more than two years ago, but none of the six dispensaries allowed by the law have opened, due to delays by the Christie administration and NIMBYism in local communities.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, lawmakers were set to consider compromise dispensary legislation, House Bill 7888, that would allow the three state-designated outlets to open. Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) blocked them last year after the state's US Attorney warned they could be prosecuted under federal law. The compromise would limit the amount of marijuana dispensaries could have, but that had advocates worried limits too low would make them economically unviable. Also getting a hearing Wednesday, are a pair of bills sponsored by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, Senate Bill 2783 and its companion, House Bill 7960, that would impose various restrictions on the state program. Some medical marijuana proponents are cosponsoring the bills in a bid to get a say in their final forms. As of late Wednesday evening, there were no reports back from Providence.

Tennessee

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill advanced in the House. A House Health subcommittee approved House Bill 294 on a voice vote. It now goes before the whole House Health Committee. The bill would allow patients with specified diseases or conditions to use medical marijuana and would set up a state-regulated and -licensed distribution system. Its companion measure, SB 251, remains stuck in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

Washington

Last Friday, city of Issaquah planners approved a permit for the GreenLink Collective to open for business. The facility will process and deliver medical marijuana to qualified patients, offer classes and information, and sell supplies for people to produce and consume marijuana under a framework established by state law. GreenLink does not intend to grow marijuana in the space. State law allows up to 10 qualifying patients to join together and form a collective garden of up to 45 plants, so long as the marijuana is not visible from public spaces. GreenLink operators must also install a security system and cameras onsite. The collective first opened in 2010, but city officials refused to give it a business license, then, in June 2011, the city council imposed a moratorium on collective gardens. The council adopted new rules governing collectives in December, and now GreenLink has its permit.

Washington, DC

On Friday, DC is set to announce who will get the five marijuana cultivation permits for the city's long-awaited medical marijuana dispensaries. The city has authorized up to ten sites, but only five will be announced Friday.

West Virginia

Last Wednesday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced that a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 4498 had been denied a hearing in the House Health and Human Resources Committee. The bill's sponsor, Del. Mike Manypenny (D-Grafton) will attempt to keep the issue alive by offering a resolution, HCR 144, calling for the legislature to study medical marijuana more thoroughly.

DEA Agent Kills Man in Cartel Murder-for-Hire Sting

An unnamed DEA agent in Laredo, Texas, Saturday shot and killed one of four men he and other agents were trying to arrest as they wrapped up an undercover operation in which DEA agents posed as Mexican cartel members seeking assassins. The dead man, Jerome Corley, becomes the 18th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to Reuters, citing court documents filed Monday, undercover DEA agents working the months-long sting sent in an arrest team to detain the four men. One of the agents shot Corley repeatedly, killing him. The court documents provided no other details on the circumstances of the shooting.

The sting operation began in January 2011, when undercover DEA agents posing as members of the Zetas, a notoriously violent cartel originally composed of US-trained former Mexican elite soldiers, were told by two men in South Carolina that Corley's cousin, Kevin Corley, a lieutenant in the US military until two weeks ago, could sell them automatic weapons and ammunition.

As the months ticked by, the DEA agents developed the relationship with Kevin Corley, who told them he was an Army officer who trained soldiers and said he could put together a murder-for-hire ring to raid a South Texas ranch, kill the owner, and recover 20 kilograms of stolen cocaine. He said he and his cousin would carry out the hit for $50,000 and five kilos of coke.

Earlier this month, Kevin Corley sold three assault rifles, five stolen bullet-proof vests, and other equipment to an undercover DEA agent in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for $10,000, the court documents said. At that meeting, Corley discussed the pending hit, saying he had purchased a knife to carve a "Z" in the victim's chest and a hatchet to dismember his body.

At that point, the DEA decided to wrap things up and sent in its arrest team. The surviving members of the wannabe hit squad, including one active duty member of the US Army, are now in federal custody in Laredo and facing federal drug conspiracy and weapons charges.

Laredo, TX
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

From California to the nation's capital, medical marijuana keeps making news. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Arizona

Data from the Department of Health Services show that more than 22,200 Arizonans have received permission to use medical marijuana. People aged 31-50 make up 40% of medical marijuana users, those aged 51-81 account for 35%, and those aged 18-39 account for 25%. Nearly three-quarters are men, and the overwhelming majority of patients reported chronic pain as their medical condition, while muscle spasms were also high on the list, health officials reported. Other ailments include hepatitis C, cancer and seizures.

California

Last Wednesday, the city of Redding failed in its effort to force local dispensaries to close. A Shasta County Superior Court judge denied the city's request for a preliminary injunction that would have compelled their closure, saying that the city can't ban dispensaries simply by declaring them a nuisance. The judge relied heavily on a 4th District Court of Appeal decision in which the court struck down the city of Lake Forest's effort to ban dispensaries. That left Redding leaders scratching their heads the next day.

Also last Wednesday, the city of Oakland approved four new potential dispensaries. Only one of the four already has an approved location.The other three will be given four months to find a new location that satisfies city rules requiring dispensaries be located at least 600 feet from schools, parks and youth-serving programs. The city also approved one alternate dispensary group. Whether any of them actually open for business remains to be seen, given the ongoing federal crackdown in the state.

Also last Wednesday, the San Jose Cannabis Buyer's Collective announced that its challenge against its closure by the city of San Jose was revived by the Sixth District Court of Appeal, which ruled that a Santa Clara Superior Court judge erred in denying their petition for writ of mandate on the ground they failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

Last Thursday, the Berkeley Patients Group announced it would move from its current location but relocate elsewhere in Berkeley. The announcement came amid rumors the venerable and well-loved dispensary would close its doors after its landlord received a threat letter from the office of US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag.

Last Thursday, DEA agents raided a dispensary in Murrieta in Riverside County. They were accompanied by Murrieta Police as they hit the Greenhouse Cannabis Club and seized three pounds of marijuana, various edibles, and 18 clones. Two volunteers who were present during the raid said at least a dozen federal agents and local police officers stormed into the nondescript Jefferson Avenue storefront with their rifles drawn. According to the 36-page affidavit filed with the court in support of the search warrants, an undercover federal agent in February was able to purchase a gram of medical marijuana for $20 at the club after presenting a medical marijuana card. Agents also received statements from card-holding patients that they had purchased medical marijuana at the club.

Also last Thursday, US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag did a wide-ranging interview with KQED. Among other things, she signaled a continuing crackdown on dispensaries near schools, playgrounds, or other places where children assemble.

On Tuesday, the city of San Francisco proposed banning hashish, edibles, and tinctures from city dispensaries. In a memo to dispensaries titled "Medical Cannabis Edibles Advisory," the Department of Public Health recommended that dispensaries "do not produce or dispense syrups, capsules, or other extracts that either required [sic] concentrating cannabis active ingredients or that requires a chemical production process." The city says it isn't a ban because there is no provision for enforcement, but dispensaries that want to play by the rules will have to abide. But on Wednesday, the city announced it had reversed its decision.

Also on Tuesday, word leaked out that San Francisco DA George Gascon's office has issued a memo saying all medical marijuana sales in the city are illegal. That would be a shocking policy change from Gascon's predecessors, Terence Hallinan and Kamala Harris, if it actually is a policy change. But there is some uncertainty about whether this marks a real shift or merely the use of boilerplate language by underlings. Stay tuned.

Also on Tuesday, a new medical marijuana initiative was approved for signature-gathering. Secretary of State Sandra Bowen's office announced that the Medical Marijuana Patient Associations initiative had been approved. It would allow patients to form associations to cultivate, process, and distribute medical marijuana and ensure that "neither the state nor any local government may prohibit operation of a medical marijuana patient association, including a storefront, unless a court finds it is an actual nuisance." Proponents have until August 16 to gather 504,000 valid voter signatures.

Colorado

Last Thursday, Denver's 9 News reported that US Attorney John Walsh plans to demand that more dispensaries shut down because they are operating within 1,000 feet of a school. A spokesman declined to say how many more threat letters will go out, but said they will be sent "soon." An earlier round of threat letters to dispensaries and their landlords resulted in 22 closing their doors or relocating. The 1,000-foot rule is based on a federal criminal sentencing enhancement, not the state's medical marijuana law.

On Tuesday, an attorney for six Fort Collins dispensaries forced to close after a voter-approved ban said their lawsuit against the city is likely to be withdrawn. Attorney Brett Barney said the case is "on hold" and that dispensary owners may not want to throw good money after bad. "I advised my clients we were not going to get justice from this court," Barney said. A district court judge had earlier denied a temporary restraining, ruling that the dispensaries had not demonstrated their constitutional rights were violated or that they would suffer irreparable harm.

Also on Tuesday, US Attorney John Walsh sent a letter to Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett responding to Garnett's letter last week highly critical of federal interference in the operation of the state's medical marijuana law. In response, Walsh wrote that enforcing federal law to keep medical marijuana dispensaries away from schools is a "core responsibility" of federal prosecutors, and will continue.

Maryland

The battle over medical marijuana bills in the legislature continues. On Monday, Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation weighed in with a Baltimore Sun op-ed criticizing Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) for saying he would veto any medical marijuana bills because he is worried about state officials being treated like drug traffickers by the feds. Federal prosecutors don't have that power, Sterling argued, nor do federal drug laws prevent states from passing their own laws on medical marijuana or other drugs.

Also on Monday, patients flooded Annapolis in an effort to get lawmakers to act on pending medical marijuana bills. Delegates are working on amendments designed to assuage the fears of the governor and state officials.

Michigan

On Tuesday, a bill that would remove glaucoma from the list of approved conditions for medical marijuana passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 3-0 vote. The bill was supported by several doctors and medical associations. The committee heard one University of Michigan ophthalmologist testify that while using marijuana might relieve pressure on the optic nerve for several hours, a person would have to smoke "3,000 marijuana cigarettes" to ease the condition around the clock. Patients objected, to no avail. Only about 500 of the state's 130,000 medical marijuana patients use it for glaucoma.

Montana

Last Tuesday, four dispensary operators pleaded guilty to federal drug charges that were filed after March 2011 DEA raids across the state. Aaron Durbing, 29, and Justin Maddock, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana for their operation at Good Medicine Providers in Columbia Falls. Mark Siegler, 60, and Valerie Siegler, 38, pleaded guilty to  conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess marijuana for operating Big Sky Patient Care in Dillon, Big Sky, and Bozeman. Since the raids a year ago, the number of registered patients in the state has declined by more than half and the number the of registered providers has declined by more than 90%.

New Hampshire

On Monday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced a statewide radio ad campaign calling on residents to urge their state senators to support SB 409, which would allow doctors to recommend marijuana to qualified patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other debilitating illnesses. The ad features a former Tuftonboro selectman, Ted Wright, whose wife Cindy found relief from the nausea caused by her life-saving breast cancer treatments by using marijuana. Medical marijuana legislation passed the New Hampshire House of Representatives in a 221-96 vote last year. SB 409 could receive a vote in the New Hampshire Senate as soon as next week.

Tennessee

A medical marijuana bill, House Bill 294, was set to get a hearing in the House Health and Human Resources Committee, possibly as early as mid-week this week. If it hasn't happened by the time you read this, it will soon.

Washington

Last Thursday, Bellingham police raided three medical marijuana dispensaries and arrested their employees. Those hit were the Northern Cross Collective, The Joint Cooperative, and the KGB Collective. All three collectives had been hit with cease and desist orders a week earlier after they continued to operate without business permits. The city had begun revoking or denying permits to medical marijuana businesses in late 2011. The city maintains that their sale of marijuana violates state law. The collectives had been preparing to seek a temporary injunction, but the raids came the day before.

Washington, DC

On Tuesday, the DC City Council voted to impose new limits on the city's medical marijuana program. They approved a proposal to ban cultivation centers from opening in "retail priority areas" flagged for development in selected pockets of land across the city. The city Department of Health is set to award 10 cultivation center permits by the end of this month and five dispensary permits by June 8. It's only been more than 13 years since voters approved medical marijuana in the District, and two years since Congress removed its bar blocking the District from proceeding.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

Bills are being considered in some states, busts are going on in others, and local governments grapple with medical marijuana from Washington state to New Jersey. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, the Union City city council extended a moratorium on dispensaries for 10 months and 15 days, pending a separate state Supreme Court review of four cases on the issue. The council issued the initial 45-day moratorium in January, after city officials learned that a dispensary had opened on Niles Road. The city is now acting to force the dispensary to close.

Last Wednesday, a state appeals court overturned an injunction shutting down a collective in Lake Forest. The court held that city officials cannot use their nuisance abatement ordinance as a wholesale ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives. The justices struck down a preliminary injunction from Orange County Superior Court Judge David Chaffee in May 2010 that would have shut down the Evergreen Holistic Collective. A stay on the injunction had been granted while the appellate court reviewed Chaffee's ruling and Evergreen Holistic Collective has been open for business since suing in October 2009.

Also last Wednesday, Vallejo police arrested the operator of the Better Health Group in an ongoing crackdown on dispensaries. Jorge Luis Espinoza, 24, of San Rafael, was arrested for possession for sales of marijuana, sales of marijuana and opening or maintaining an unlawful place. Vallejo police say there are 20 or more marijuana storefronts operating unlawfully in Vallejo. Late last month, Vallejo police and DEA served three search warrants on marijuana dispensaries in Vallejo and Benicia. Espinosa and another jailed dispensary operator, Matthew Shotwell, were released on bail two days later.

Last Thursday, the Mendocino County prosecutor said medical pot growers should tag their plants with sheriff-issued zip ties to lessen their chances of prosecution. Although the county abandoned its path-breaking tagged plant program under federal pressure earlier this year, District Attorney David Eyster said participation in the tagging program would continue to be a factor he considered if confronted with allegations of wrongdoing.

Also last Thursday, California NORML reported that US attorneys have sent landlord letters to over 50 more dispensaries in the Inland Empire area, where local officials have been pressing to close them. In addition, Cal NORML reported new landlord letters in Mendocino, apparently targeted at facilities within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds. The letters give the dispensaries 14 days to stop distributing marijuana.

Also on Thursday, hundreds of people demonstrated outside Los Angeles City Hall against the city's ongoing efforts to ban or limit dispensaries. The crowd was treated to performances or speeches by Cypress Hill's B-Real, the Kottonmouth Kings, Tommy Chong, and Americans for Safe Access state leader Don Duncan. The crowd then marched to the federal building for an hour-long protest there.

Last Friday, Orange County deputies raided a Lake Forest dispensary just after an appeals court ruled the city cannot label dispensaries a nuisance simply for being a dispensary. Two people were arrested as deputies served search warrants at Charles Café, as well as searching two homes. The search warrants were the latest in a years-long battle that authorities and city officials in Lake Forest have had with dispensaries. The raid came the day after a panel from the Fourth Appellate Court found that cities cannot declare dispensaries a nuisance simply for being collectives and overturned a previous injunction against Evergreen Holistics, one of dozens of dispensaries that once operated in Lake Forest.

Also last Friday, two more San Francisco dispensaries reported receiving threat letters from Northern California US Attorney Melina Haag. Shambala Healing Center on Mission Street and the 208 Valencia Caregivers must shut down or their landlords risk property seizure, the letters said. The letter to the Shambala's landlord said the dispensary is operating in violation of a federal law and could be subject to enhanced penalties because it is operating within 1,000 feet of a playground. But the city had permitted the dispensary last year.

Also last Friday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied an injunction to block Long Beach's ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. Under Long Beach's ban, three or fewer people can still form a collective, and 18 dispensaries that secured a license under the city's 2010 permitting process were granted a six-month exemption.

On Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors voted to sue three dispensaries if they don't shut down voluntarily. Two said they would close, but a third could not be reached for comment. The county passed a prohibition on storefront marijuana sales in September -- a response to complaints about traffic and petty crime associated with the trade -- but existing shops were given six months to wind down. All but three or four of some 15 dispensaries that were in business last year have closed, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Also on Tuesday, San Luis Obispo County supervisors voted to deny a permit to a dispensary after a resident appealed the board's decision last fall to give it the okay. The board found that the Compassionate Cannabis Information Center in Oceano was within 1,000-foot minimum distance from a park and the dispensary would be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the residential neighborhood.

Also on Tuesday, the El Centro City Council approved an indefinite moratorium on accepting applications for dispensaries. The moratorium extends to 120 days after the California Supreme Court decides whether cities have a right to ban marijuana dispensaries and regulate them through a permitting process.

Colorado

Last week, Denver medical marijuana attorney Rob Corry suggested after an exchange of correspondence with US Attorney John Walsh that Walsh had suggested a "safe harbor" for dispensaries outside of 1,000 feet from schools. Last Friday, Walsh and his spokesman made clear Corry was mistaken. "That is absolutely, unequivocally false," spokesman Jeff Dorschner said. "There is no safe harbor."

Last week, US Rep. Jared Polis (D) ripped into the new local DEA chief over her tough anti-marijuana stance. On Wednesday, responding to new DEA chief Barbra Roach's assertion that medical marijuana threatens residents because of possible "mold and water damage" to homes, Polis tweeted: "Drug Enforcement Agency's new motto: Protecting America from mold & water damage. Running out of excuses vs. marijuana." The next day, he elaborated on his Facebook page, charging her with insulting his hometown of Boulder, the state's capital, Denver, and other Colorado communities for saying she wanted to live in a community without dispensaries.

Connecticut

On Wednesday, the General Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill that would legalize the use of medical marijuana. A person could qualify to use marijuana for medical purposes if they've been diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition. Qualified users and their primary caregiver would then have to register with the state Department of Consumer Protection. The bill requires the consumer protection commissioner to determine the number of dispensaries needed in Connecticut and to adopt regulations. A similar bill failed last year.

Michigan

Last Wednesday, a Chesterfield Township dispensary agreed to close and move to another Macomb County town after its operator agreed it was in violation of township zoning ordinances. Big Daddy's Hydroponics and Compassion Center agreed to close by Saturday after realizing it would lose its civil trial this week with the township in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens. The trial was in its second day when Big Daddy's settled.

Last Friday, the Michigan marijuana program announced it was buying a new printer for medical marijuana cards. The new printer will crank out 4,000 cards a day, allowing the state to chip away at a backlog of 40,000 patient cards. Currently, those people are making do with a tamper-proof letter from the program. The new printer should be ready by mid-month.

Also last Friday, the Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team raided two dispensaries and is seeking charges against their operators. Caregivers at both locations were selling to people who had medical marijuana cards, but for whom they were not designated caregivers, which is arguably illegal under Michigan law.

This week, the state legislature is considering a number of medical marijuana bills. They are currently being reviewed in the House Judiciary Committee, under the authority of Chairman John Walsh (R-Livonia). Chairman Walsh has determined that the package will be considered in a series of hearings, which include testimony from selected groups and organizations, to be followed by statements from the public. These four bills are being considered simultaneously, as a package, and collectively contain nine different proposed changes to Michigan law.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) rundown on the bills is below:

HB 4834 -- Would make registry ID cards good for two years (they currently expire after one) and require cards to include a photograph of the cardholder. MPP supports the later expiration date and does not oppose requiring a photo, provided it does not add to the lengthy delays patients face getting ID cards. The bill would also allow law enforcement officers to have access to registry information if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that a cardholder has violated the act. MPP sees the value in allowing a police officer with a search warrant to check to see if the target is a cardholder and the raid is unnecessary, but believes the current language is too broad.

HB 4853
 -- Would create a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison, for selling marijuana in violation of registry ID card restrictions. MPP believes that selling marijuana outside of registry ID card restrictions is already a crime, and the only additional punishment needed for a violation is revocation of the ID card.

HB 4851
 -- Would add to the definition of a "bona-fide physician-patient relationship." MPP agrees with the Michigan Board of Medicine that the same standards required for prescribing any other drug should apply, and no special standard, higher or lower, is called for in recommending marijuana. The bill would also clarify that patients may offer evidence of their medical use as a defense to criminal charges. MPP supports this change.

HB 4856
 -- Would require medical marijuana transported by car to be in the trunk, in a case, or otherwise inaccessible from the passenger compartment. MPP does not support or oppose this provision.

New Hampshire

On Thursday, a new medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 409, will get a public hearing. Unlike last year's bill, SB 409 does not allow for state-licensed dispensaries. Instead, it would allow qualifying patients or their designated caregivers to cultivate a limited amount of marijuana for medical use. The change was made after the US Attorney for New Hampshire said that his office will not prosecute patients but could potentially prosecute dispensaries.

New Jersey

Activists keep up the pressure on Gov. Chris Christie (R) to pardon or commute the sentence of medical marijuana grower John Wilson, who is serving five years for growing his medicine.

On Tuesday, the Camden zoning board denied a request to allow a dispensary in the crime-blighted city. Cooper University Hospital and Campbell Soup Company objected to plans to allow the conversion of two vacant buildings into a medical-marijuana operation.

New Mexico

On Monday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed Senate Bill 240, which creates a medical marijuana fund to cover the costs of the state's program. Martinez has been a foe of medical marijuana, but she is also a fiscal conservative.

Rhode Island

On Monday, US Attorney Peter Neronha said he had not approved a state plan to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to open, and that the federal government's policy on dispensaries hasn't changed. Neronha's comments came after state lawmakers last week proposed new limits on dispensary size in a bid to avoid the threat of prosecution.

Washington

Last Tuesday, the Bonney Lake city council voted unanimously to extend a moratorium on collective gardens. It is the council's latest move in prolonging a wait-and-see strategy adopted in the absence of state leadership on holes in cannabis policy, or federal approval.

DEA Extends Ban on Fake Marijuana Chemicals

The DEA has extended for another six months its emergency ban on five synthetic cannabinoids used to manufacture "fake weed" products. The chemicals are sprayed on herbal mixtures and the resulting product is sold under names including Spice and K2.

The agency first enacted the ban a year ago, but that emergency ban was set to expire last Thursday. The DEA published the extension in the federal register that same day.

The extension continues the ban on five synthetic cannabinoids: JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497 (that's all one chemical CP-47,497) and cannabicyclohexanol. The ban means those substances are treated as Schedule I drugs under federal law.

"Schedule 1 substances are reserved for those substances with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision," the DEA reminded in a press release last Wednesday.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported last month that after synthetic marijuana products first appeared on their radar in 2009, generating several hundred calls, the number jumped to 2,906 calls in 2010 and 6,956 last year. Their data also showed that the number of calls peaked in July 2011 at 705 and have declined since then, with 551 calls reported in December.

The poison centers and emergency room doctors have reported such symptoms as disorientation, elevated heart rates, and vomiting, similar to those reported from adverse reactions to marijuana. There are no confirmed reports of overdose deaths, and only a handful of deaths potentially linked to synthetic marijuana, including a trio of suicides after use, a young man killed in a traffic accident while driving after use, and a 13-year-old Pennsylvania boy who smoked synthetic weed out of a plastic Pez dispenser and later died of complications from a lung transplant.

"We continue to address the problems of synthetic drug manufacturing, trafficking, and abuse. Our efforts have clearly shown that these chemicals present an imminent threat to public safety," said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. "This six month extension is critical and gives us the time necessary to conduct the administrative scheduling process for permanent control.

A number of states have and localities have already banned synthetic marijuana, and more are moving to do so this year. Federal legislation that would ban both synthetic marijuana and new synthetic stimulants ("bath salts") has passed the House, but is being blocked in the Senate by a hold placed on it by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

This week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) joined the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP and nearly 40 other organizations on a letter to members of the Senate urging them to oppose the legislation. In a separate press release, DPA urged Congress to not just reject the synthetic drug legislation but also overhaul US drug policy, pointing out that last year marked the 40th Anniversary of President Nixon declaring a war on drugs, and despite the government arresting tens of millions of nonviolent Americans and spending more than a trillion dollars, drugs are cheap, potent, and readily available in every community.

"Senator Rand Paul is standing up to both political parties and doing what it takes to protect Kentucky taxpayers from the career politicians in Washington who want to waste more money on failed drug policies," said Bill Piper, DPA director of national affairs. "He should be applauded for opposing government waste and supporting public safety. The failed war on drugs costs too much and achieves too little; it is time for a new approach."

Washington, DC
United States

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