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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

Medical Marijuana Update

From Alabama to Washington, medical marijuana continues to be a burning issue. Here's the latest:

Alabama

Supporters of a medical marijuana bill pending in the state legislature are tweaking the bill to make it more palatable to lawmakers. The Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, which composed House Bill 66, is working on amendments to assuage concerns of legislators. One would add a 5% sales tax earmarked for city and county law enforcement to fight drugs; another would more closely define the doctor-patient relationship.

Arizona

The lawsuits are not over yet. Last week, the medical marijuana interests who filed a successful lawsuit to force state officials to implement the dispensary portion of the state's medical marijuana law filed an amendment to that lawsuit. Compassion Care First is seeking a summary judgment against state officials over regulations that require that a medical marijuana dispensary employ a licensed physician as a medical director. The requirement to employ a medical director is not found in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act passed by voters in November 2010, the lawsuit charges. Meanwhile, state officials said they were moving forward with the dispensary application and licensing process. Up to 124 dispensaries are allowed under the law.

California

Last Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors quietly voted to amend the county's marijuana cultivation ordinance to eliminate the provision allowing collectives to grow up to 99 plants per parcel with a permit through the Sheriff's Office. The new ordinance reverts to the 25-plant limit for all growers, and is effective March 14. The county acted after the US Attorney's Office threatened to file an injunction against the county's ordinance and "individually go after county officials who were supporting these laws," 5th District Supervisor Dan Hamburg said.

Last Wednesday, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance (GLACA) announced it was supporting the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act of 2012, which would impose statewide regulation on medical marijuana operations. GLACA only lists 13 dispensaries on its roster, but has been a powerful player as city hall deals with the issue. The group said it had donated $50,000 to the campaign, which is in its signature-gathering phase.

Last Thursday, Sacramento County medical marijuana activists announced a local initiative campaign aimed at returning dispensaries to the county. Last year, there were at least 80 dispensaries operating in the county; now, after federal threats and the county's ban, there are nearly none. Longtime local activists Kimberly Cargile and Mickey Martin are behind the Patient Access to Regulated Medical Cannabis Act of 2012. It would allow one dispensary per every 25,000 people, for a total of 20 to 25 dispensaries and tax sales at 4%. It would also limit advertising and impose a 1,000-foot rule on dispensaries near schools and parks.

Also last Thursday, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved three new dispensaries, all in the Excelsior district. There are currently 21 dispensaries in the city, but 12 have been the subject of federal inquiries. Last year, the feds were interested in five other dispensaries; those are all gone now after landlords received threat letters.

Last Friday, the city of Murrieta won a preliminary injunction against a cooperative operating despite a local ban. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club can no longer distribute marijuana at the location, the injunction said.

Also on Friday, President Obama was met by medical marijuana demonstrators when he came to San Francisco on a fund-raising trip. The action was part of a national week of action criticizing the Obama administration's hard-line approach on the issue.

On Monday, Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal announced she intends to create a medical marijuana working group to research and evaluate ordinances in other cities and make recommendations following a review of the city's ordinance by the California Supreme Court. That should take between 12 and 18 months. The working group will include resident and business groups, medical marijuana dispensary representatives, the city attorney, the city prosecutor, city staff and others.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local law enforcement raided a prominent Vallejo dispensary and arrested the owner. The raiders hit the Greenwell Cooperative and arrested owner Matthew Shotwell. The exact charges are not yet clear. While the DEA was present, the cops were executing a state search warrant and included agents from the State Board of Equalization, which deals with tax collections. Employees and patients alike were temporarily detained, and marijuana and other items were seized.

Also on Tuesday, the Lake County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved placing a medical marijuana cultivation initiative on the June 5 ballot. The Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Act of 2012 was brought by Lake County Citizens for Responsible Regulations and the Lake County Green Farmers Association. Supervisors could have just approved the initiative, but decided to punt to voters. The initiative came after the board earlier crafted a restrictive ordinance.

That same day, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to put a new dispensary ordinance on the June 5 ballot. The move comes after Kern Citizens for Patient Rights gathered more than 17,000 signatures to overturn the board's decision last summer to ban dispensaries. The board voted 4-1 to rescind the existing ordinance and put a new measure before voters in June. It includes restrictions on locations of dispensaries.

Also on Tuesday, the Glenn County Board of Supervisors passed a medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. Personal gardens will have to be 300 feet to 1,000 feet away from schools, churches, youth centers and treatment facilities and can be no bigger than 100 square feet. Collectives, dispensaries and collaboratives are banned in the unincorporated areas of the county.

On Wednesday, the city of Berkeley ordered two collectives to shut down. The 40 Acres Medical Marijuana Growers Collective stopped operations in late January after Berkeley Code Enforcement sent it a letter informing the group it was operating in violation of the city's municipal code, but the Perfect Plants Patients Group is still in business. The collectives had run afoul of the city's zoning ordinances.

Colorado

Last week, employees of the Budding Health dispensaries joined the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. They become the first union medical marijuana shop in Denver, though not the first in the state's medical marijuana industry. The UFCW organized some dispensaries in Fort Collins, but those have all been shut down by a local ban. The UFCW has also organized workers in numerous California dispensaries and has become an advocate for marijuana law reform.

Last Thursday, national and state medical marijuana supporters announced the formation of the  Patient Voter Project to inform patients and their supporters about hostile actions taken by the Obama administration against medical marijuana. It's a joint effort by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sensible Colorado, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America (MMAPA), Just Say Now and others with a combined reach in Colorado of more than 40,000 online supporters.

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana banking bill died in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill, Senate Bill 75, would have created the authority for licensed medical marijuana stakeholders to form an exclusive financial cooperative specific to the industry, but committee killed the legislation on a 5-2 vote. The bill was responding to dispensary operators who reported that banks have refused their business for fear of repercussions from the federal government. The bill was opposed by Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, the Colorado attorney general’s office and the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

Delaware

Last Thursday, the sponsor of the state's medical marijuana legislation urged Gov. Jack Markell (D) to reconsider his decision to halt implementation of the law. Senator Margaret Rose Henry (D) said regulation-writing and licensing of dispensaries should continue despite veiled threats of prosecution of state workers by US Attorney Charles Oberly III. Markell had called a halt to the program a week earlier after receiving a threat letter from Oberly. Delaware has no provision for patients to grow their own, so if there are no dispensaries, there is no medical marijuana program.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, the Port Orchard City Council extended a moratorium on dispensaries and another on collective gardens for six more months. The two moratoria have been in effect for a year now and are intended to give city staff more time to develop appropriate land-use and zoning regulations for medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries. The city attorney said regulations could be completed during this six-month period, especially if the state legislature clarifies regulation at the state level.

On Tuesday, the owner of the Herbal Resource dispensary in Owosso was charged with state marijuana cultivation distribution offenses.  The charges stem from a January 19 raid by the Mid-Michigan Area Group Narcotics Enforcement Team (MAGNET).

Montana

The number of medical marijuana patients and providers is plummeting after state and federal crackdowns, the Helena Independent Record reported Sunday. The number of patients peaked at 31,522 in May 2011, but has declined to fewer than 16,000 as of last month. The decline in growers and dispensaries is even more dramatic. For most of last spring, that figure hovered around 4,800, but following federal raids and the state legislature's virtual repeal of the voter-approved law, that number had declined by 90%, to 417. Under the 2011 law, all caregivers’ licenses cards became invalid on July 1, 2011. Those wanting to continue to legally grow and sell marijuana for medical reasons had to register with the department to get providers' cards.The number of participating physicians has also declined, but not so dramatically, dropping from a high of 365 last June to 274 in January.

That same day, the Missoulian reported that medical marijuana providers busted by the feds in raids last year are getting relatively light sentences. Many faced five-year mandatory minimum federal sentences, but the sentences handed down so far, all the result of plea agreements that saw some charges dropped, have been considerably shorter, ranging from six months to 18 months. In the case of three men who had operated businesses in Helena and Great Falls, Senior Judge Charles Lovell criticized agreed-upon sentencing guidelines as "excessive," making particular mention of the fact that the three men believed their work to be legal under state law. He sentenced them to one year, instead of the 2 ½ recommended. More than 60 indictments have resulted from the federal raids, with some people receiving sentences of up to five years in prison -- not the mandatory minimum five years.

Oregon

Hundreds of non-Oregon residents have obtained Oregon medical marijuana cards, the Oregonian reported Sunday. Since June 2010, when the state started issuing cards to non-residents, nearly 600 out-of-staters have traveled here to obtain one, according to the Oregon Health Authority, the agency that oversees the state's medical marijuana program.  Some 72,000 state residents also hold medical marijuana cards. Neighboring states account for nearly two-thirds of out-of-state card-holders, with 309 from Washington, 138 from Idaho, and 50 from California.

Washington

On Wednesday, a bill that would have regulated dispensaries in the state died after failing to move before a legislative deadline. Sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), Senate Bill 6265 was an effort to create a legal framework for dispensaries, but was opposed by some elements of the medical marijuana community.

Meet Obama's Proposed 2013 Federal Drug Budget [FEATURE]

The Obama administration this week released its Fiscal Year 2013 National Drug Control Budget, and it wants to spend nearly $26 billion on federal anti-drug programs. Despite all the talk about the staggering federal debt problem and current budget deficits, the administration found nothing to cut here. Instead, the proposed budget increases federal anti-drug funding by 1.6% over fiscal year 2012.

Drug War Autopilot and Co-Autopilot: ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske with President Obama
The proposed budget is remarkable for how closely it hews to previous years, especially in regard to the allocation of resources for demand reduction (treatment and prevention) versus those for supply reduction (domestic and international law enforcement and interdiction). The roughly 40:60 ratio that has been in place for years has shifted, but only incrementally. The 2013 budget allocates 41.2% for treatment and prevention and 58.2% for law enforcement.

"This is very much the same drug budget we've been seeing for years," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "The Obama drug budget is the Bush drug budget, which was the Clinton drug budget. Little has changed."

"It's really just more of the same," said Sean Dunagan, a former DEA intelligence analyst whose last assignment in northeastern Mexico between 2008 and 2010, a when prohibition-related violence there was soaring, helped change his perspective. Dunagan quit the DEA and is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

"There are very minor adjustments in how the drug spending is allocated and bit more money for treatment, but there's a significant increase in interdiction, as well as a $61 million increase for domestic law enforcement," Dunagan noted. "They're trying to argue that they're abandoning the drug war and shifting the focus, but the numbers don't really back that up."

The proposed budget also demonstrates the breadth of the federal drug spending largesse among the bureaucratic fiefdoms in Washington. Departments that catch a ride on the drug war gravy train include Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, and Veterans' Affairs, as well as the federal judiciary, District of Columbia courts, the Small Business Administration, and, of course, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office).

"It's just the same old programs being funded through the same old stove-pipes," said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "In a way, it's ironic. When Congress passed the legislation creating the drug czar's office in 1988, the idea was for the drug czar to look at all the federal anti-drug spending and come in and say he was going to take the funds from one program and shift them to a more effective program. I think many in Congress hoped he would shift resources from law enforcement to treatment and prevention because there was evidence that those sorts of programs were more effective and a better use of resources. That didn't happen," he said.

"The people who run the bureaucratic fiefdoms at Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, State and Treasury have outmuscled the drug czar, and now the drug czar's budget announcements are reduced to public relations and spin," Sterling continued. "They take some $15 or $20 million program and bullet-point it as significant, but that's almost nothing when it comes to federal drug dollars."

The Justice Department alone would get $7.85 billion, up almost $400 million from FY 2012, with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the DEA among those Justice components seeing funding increases. BOP spending would increase by about 8%, while the DEA budget would increase from $2.35 billion to $2.38 billion. On the other hand, the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which lost its congressional patron with the death of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), has been zeroed out.
 

"The hundreds of millions of dollar increases in funding requested for the Federal Bureau of Prisons is particularly outrageous," said Sterling. "There are too many people doing too much time they don't need to be doing. Obama has the power to save hundreds of millions of dollars by commuting excessively long sentences. He could reduce the deficit and increase the amount of justice in America.

"He could tell the BOP he was ordering a cap on the federal prison population that now has a sentenced population of 198,000, Sterling continued, on a roll. "He could order them that whenever a new prisoner arrives, they have to send him the names of prisoners who may have served enough time for their crimes for him to consider for immediate release from prison. He could ask all the federal judges to send him the names of people they have sentenced to longer terms than they think are just. If he had the heart to reach out to those prisoners who are serving decades for minor roles and their suffering families, if he had the brains to put in place the means to achieve those cost-serving measures, and if he had the guts to actually use the constitutional power he has to do it, that would be great."

"That increase in incarceration spending really jumps out at me, too" said Dunagan. "To make their claim that they're not going to be locking up small-time dealers and users is pretty disingenuous."

Pentagon spending on interdiction and other anti-drug activities would decline somewhat, with the budget proposing $1.725 billion for 2013, a decline of $200 million from the 2012 budget. But interdiction spending goes up elsewhere, as Dunagan noted.

And State Department drug spending would take a hit. Spending would decline by just more than $100 million to $687 million, but most of that decrease would come from reduced funding for alternative development assistance, while State's other drug-related program, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), would see only a $6 million decrease.

While funding for prevention and treatment would increase by 4.6% under the proposed budget, some treatment and grant programs are seeing cuts, while criminal justice system-based approaches are getting more money.

"I'm concerned that the budget seems to be emphasizing drug courts and criminal justice-based drug treatment," said Piper. "They're cutting SAMHSA, which funds a lot of treatment, but increasing spending for prison-based treatment."

The $364 million earmarked for SAMHSA's treatment programs is a $61 million reduction from FY 2012, while drug courts saw a $17 million increase to $52 million and BOP drug treatment programs saw a $16 million increase to $109 million.

The new drug budget also resurrects the drug czar's widely criticized National Youth Media Campaign, dropped last year when Congress failed to fund it.

"I'm also disappointed that they put back in funding for the drug czar's failed youth media campaign, which Congress eliminated last year," said Piper. "It's only $20 million, and you can hardly do a national media campaign with that, but still."

This is only the administration's budget proposal, of course, and Congress will have plenty of opportunities to try to cut (or increase) portions of it. Still, the proposed budget is a window on the thinking of administration that has talked the talk about how we are no longer in a war on drugs, but has taken only stumblingly tiny steps toward walking the walk. And drug reformers aren't liking what they're seeing.

"LEAP thinks this is misguided," said Dunagan. "The only thing that's different is the rhetoric used to spin it, and even that is a sort of tacit acknowledgment by the administration that people don't really like the drug war, but substantively, there's very little different from the past."

"Between the drug budgets and his war on medical marijuana, we're very disappointed in Obama," said DPA's Piper.

"We should be disappointed in the Obama administration," said Sterling. "There was supposed to be change. This was the University of Chicago law professor, the Harvard-trained lawyer, who was going to bring in his own people and make real change. I'm very disappointed in his drug policies and criminal justice policies. My disappointment with his policy failures don't have anything to do with the economic crisis or the geostrategic situation he inherited.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse 2012 [FEATURE]

Since California voters made it the first medical marijuana state in 1996, other states have come on board at a rate a little better than one a year. Now, 15 years later, 16 states and the District of Columbia have effective medical marijuana laws, and by year's end, we could have 17, 18 or even more.

Connecticut State House
Especially in the early years, much of the movement toward medical marijuana came through the initiative process, with California followed by Alaska, Oregon, and Washington (1998), Maine (1999), Colorado and Nevada (2000), Montana (2004), Michigan (2008), and Arizona (2010). Washington, DC, could also be included on this list, since voters passed an initiative there in 1998, even though Congress wouldn't allow it to actually happen until 2010.

While there are a number of states that allow initiatives left, those early victories have removed the low-hanging fruit. Medical marijuana initiative campaigns are underway in some of the remaining states, such as Massachusetts and Ohio, but increasingly -- and out of necessity in states without the initiative process -- patients, advocates, and activists have turned to the legislative process to pass medical marijuana bills. The first state to do so was Hawaii in 2000, followed by Vermont (2004), Rhode Island (2006), New Mexico (2007), New Jersey (2010), and Delaware (2011).

This year, legislation to allow for the use of medical marijuana has been (or will be) filed in 18 states. Some have good prospects of passage, some have been percolating for years but are still unlikely to pass this year, and some are a first stab at what are usually frustrating multi-year educational efforts.

The Chronicle talked to a number of people at national drug and marijuana reform groups to try to get a sense of where the prospects are best and what impact the Obama administration's crackdown in recent months could have at the state house. The early favorites look to be Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

"Connecticut has a good chance of becoming the next medical marijuana state," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. "Our Connecticut NORML chapter is very active and helped get it decriminalized last year. This year, they have legislation already written and the governor lined up with a pen. Can Connecticut not only pass medical marijuana legislation, but actually implement it by July 1? It looks like it could happen," he said.

The Drug Policy Alliance  (DPA) also thought Connecticut's chances were good this year. Jill Harris, the group's managing director for strategic initiatives, said it was working with the local group A Better Way Foundation to get a bill passed there.

"A Better Way is on the ground there, and they are coming back with a bill this session," she said. "The governor is likely to support it this time."

"Connecticut is one of the states with the best chance," concurred Karen O'Keefe, state policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Both chambers passed a medical marijuana bill there, only to see it vetoed. But the new governor looks to be on board; he sponsored the decriminalization legislation last year."

"Most recently, we've been involved with advocates in New Hampshire and Indiana," said Mike Liszewski, policy director for Americans for Safe Access. "The New Hampshire bill looks like it has a solid chance of getting adopted in some form, but Connecticut also looks like it has a good chance, and Massachusetts is one that could pass."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/illinoisstatehouse.jpg
Illinois State House
"We have paid lobbyists or legislative analysts in Illinois, which I think has a good chance of passage, in New Hampshire, which also looks good, and Maryland, and we'll be working with DPA in New York," said MPP's O'Keefe.

"In New Hampshire, an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature passed it only to fall two votes shy of overturning a veto in 2009," said O'Keefe. "We're very excited that this time around, the House has already passed it, and now we're working on the Senate."

All of this legislative work will be taking place against the backdrop of DEA raids on dispensaries, threat letters from US Attorneys to state officials, and the specter of federal agents swooping in on staid, state-employed regulators.

The federal clampdown wasn't helping, DPA's Harris said. "The more threatening the administration acts, the more difficult it is," she noted. "The argument that 'We can't do this because it's against federal law' is pretty potent," she said. "We've sent our legal staff to different states to testify that states can enact their own laws, but a lot of officials believe that notion that they can't do it because it's against federal law."

"We've seen this federal clampdown hurting with legislators," said ASA's Liszewski. "We're seeing this have effects throughout the country. Even though some states are still moving forward, it really comes down to whether individual politicians are feeling brave and are willing to put the interests of patients above federal intimidation."

But for MPP's O'Keefe the hostility emanating from the Obama Justice Department is nothing new and nothing especially intimidating.

"The federal government has, by and large, been hostile to medical marijuana since the first law was passed in 1996," she said. "Remember, the Clinton administration threatened doctors and had to be slapped down in federal court. Although there was a brief period where we thought Obama would live up to his pledge, federal policy has always been a challenge. It would be easier if the federal government was not so obstinate, but I don't think the federal attitudes are decisive."

Time will tell about that, but in the meantime, here are the states where passing medical marijuana is on the agenda at the statehouse [compiled via StoptheDrugWar.org's Legislative Action Center, MPP's medical marijuana legislation list, and the Procon.org list of medical marijuana bills]:

[Editor's Note: This list does not include pending legislation to modify (for better or worse) existing state medical marijuana laws, symbolic measures in support of medical marijuana, or other medical marijuana miscellanea.]

Alabama

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/mass-state-house.jpg
Massachusetts State House
Two bills are pending in Alabama. House Bill 25, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), would allow patients or caregivers to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of usable marijuana and six mature plants. It would create compassion centers to distribute medical marijuana, create a state ID card system, and provide protections regarding employment, housing, and child custody.  House Bill 66, sponsored by Rep. K.L. Brown (R-Jacksonville), would allow patients or caregivers to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana, allow for collective cultivation, create a state ID card system, and provide protections regarding employment, housing, and child custody. The bills have been referred to the Committee on Health.

Connecticut

No bill has been formally filed yet, but one is expected shortly. Medical marijuana passed the state legislature in 2007, only to be vetoed by then Gov. Jodi Rell (R), who is not around to veto legislation this year.

Idaho

Last month, Rep. Tom Trail (R-Moscow) introduced House Bill 370, which would create state-regulated dispensaries to serve registered patients. The bill has been referred to the State Affairs Committee.

Illinois

House Bill 30
, which was introduced last year by House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang (D-Skokie), would create a three-year pilot program allowing registered patients to grow up to six plants or obtain marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries. A similar bill passed the Senate in the 2009-2010 session, but HB 30 fell shy during a floor vote in May 2011. Because Illinois has a two-year session, HB 30 is still alive, as is its companion measure, Senate Bill 1548, introduced by Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton). SB 1548 passed a Senate Judiciary Committee vote last year.

Indiana

Last month, Rep. Tom Knollman (R-House District 55) introduced House Bill 1370, which would allow patients to obtain marijuana from state-registered dispensaries. There is no provision for patients to grow their own. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Public Policy.

Iowa

Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) introduced Senate File 266 in February 2011, and the bill was referred the Human Services Committee and then to a Human Services subcommittee that same month. Because Iowa has a two-year legislative session, the bill is still alive. It would allow patients to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of usable marijuana, obtained from growing up to six plants or by buying it at a nonprofit dispensary.

Kansas

Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita) introduced House Bill 2330 a year ago this week, and it remains alive because Kansas has a two-year legislative session. It was referred to the House Committee on Health and Human Services a few days later, and had an informational hearing last month. The bill would allow registered patients to grow their own or buy it from state-registered dispensaries. Last month, Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City), introduced identical legislation, Senate Bill 354, which has been assigned to the Committee on Federal and State Affairs.

Maryland

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New Hampshire State House
Last month, Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore) introduced House Bill 15, which would allow for patients to grow their own or obtain it at dispensaries. It is now before the Health and Government Operations & Judiciary Committees. Last week, Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) filed two bills based on working group approved by the legislature last year. House Bill 1024 would allow medical marijuana distribution only through university-affiliated hospitals, while House Bill 1158 would allow distribution through registered dispensaries.  Maryland has a medical marijuana law, but it does not allow for access to medical marijuana and it only provides for a defense in court -- not protection from arrest.

Massachusetts

In January 2011, Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) introduced House Bill 625, which would allow registered patients or their caregivers to possess up to four ounces of usable marijuana and up to 24 plants or to obtain their medicine from registered dispensaries. Senate President Pro Tem Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) introduced a companion bill, Senate Bill 1161 at the same time. The two bills were referred to the Joint Committee on Public Health and received hearings in July. Also, Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) introduced Senate Bill 818, which would allow patients or caregivers to possess up to four ounces and 10 plants. It has been referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. All three bills are still alive because the state has a two-year legislative session.

Mississippi

Last month, Sen. Deborah Dawkins (D-Pass Christian) introduced Senate Bill 2252, which would allow allow qualifying patients to cultivate and use medical marijuana. The bill has been  referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Division A.

Missouri

Last month, Rep. Mike Colona (D-St. Louis) introduced House Bill 1421, which would allow people with a debilitating medical condition and a doctor's recommendation to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and seven plants (three mature) or obtain it from registered nonprofit dispensaries. The bill has had its first and second readings, but has not been referred to a committee.

New Hampshire

Sen. Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford) has pre-filed Senate Bill 2994, which would allow the medical use of marijuana and permit a limited number of state-regulated dispensaries. The House approved a similar bill, House Bill 442 eleven months ago on 221-96 vote. That bill is still alive because the state has a two-year legislative session.

New York

A year ago, Sen Tom Duane (D-Manhattan) introduced Senate Bill 2774, which would allow pharmacies, nonprofits, and health departments to dispense marijuana cultivated by registered producers. Patients could not grow their own, but could possess up to 2 ½ ounces. The bill is still alive because of the state's two-year legislative session and was re-referred to the Senate Health Committee last month. Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) last year introduced a similar bill, Assembly Bill 7347, which passed the Assembly Health, Assembly Codes, and Ways & Means Committees in May and June 2011. It, too, is still alive.

Ohio

In April 2011, Rep. Kenny Yuko (D-Euclid) introduced House Bill 214, which would allow the medical use and cultivation of marijuana by qualified patients. The bill is still alive because of the state's two-year legislative session.

Oklahoma

A year ago, Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) introduced Senate Bill 573, which would remove criminal penalties for possession and cultivation of marijuana from patients and caregivers who cultivate marijuana for a patient’s medical use, upon a doctor's recommendation. The bill was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee and remains alive because of the state's two-year legislative session.

Pennsylvania

Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Norristown) introduced Senate Bill 1003, in April, and Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) filed a companion bill, House Bill 1653 in June. The bills would allow qualified patients to possess and grow their own medical marijuana, or obtain it from one of three dispensaries. SB 1003 was referred to the Senate Committee on Public Health and and HB 1653 was referred to the House Health Committee. Both bills carry over because of the state's two-year legislative session.

West Virginia

A year ago this month, Rep. Mike Manypenny (D-Morgantown) introduced House Bill 3251, which would allow patients registered with the state to grow their own medical marijuana or obtain it from dispensaries. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, and is still alive because of the state's two-year legislative session.

Wisconsin

Last month, Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middletown) introduced Senate Bill 371, the Jackie Rickert Medical Marijuana Act, and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) introduced companion legislation, Assembly Bill 475. The bills would allow patients registered with the state to possess and cultivate medical marijuana or obtain it from regulated dispensaries. The two bills have been referred to their respective health committees.

There you have it. Eighteen states that could pass medical marijuana through the legislative process this year. We will be watching with great interest as these bills move forward (or not) and in hopes that we can actually add one, two, three, or more this year.

Medical Marijuana Update

From action in state legislatures to raids at dispensaries, there's no let-up in the medical marijuana action around the nation. Here's the latest:

National

Last Thursday, Americans for Safe Access filed an appeal brief in the DC Circuit to compel the federal government to reclassify marijuana for medical use. In July 2011, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denied a petition filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC), which was denied only after the coalition sued the government for unreasonable delay. The ASA brief filed is an appeal of the CRC rescheduling denial.

Alabama

The Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 25), which seeks to enact legal protections for authorized medical marijuana patients, has been marked for reintroduction in the Alabama legislature for the session starting on February 7th. It is currently assigned to the House Committee on Health. A separate medical cannabis bill, House Bill 66, has also been prefiled in the House and is also before to the House Committee on Health.

California

Last Tuesday, Union City issued a temporary ban on dispensaries, suspending the approval of business licenses or permits for medical marijuana dispensaries and their operations for 45 days. But the recently opened CHA Wellness Center was still operating as of the weekend and said it had every right to. City officials disagree.

Also last Tuesday, the Fresno city council voted to extend a temporary moratorium on outdoor grows for another 10 months after Police Chief Jerry Dyer told the council the grows were a magnet for crime and violence. Fresno Police say there have been at least five shootings and one homicide as the result of outdoor growing operations within the city limits. Police say many big marijuana growing operations have already moved indoors. Dyer said he expected to have a permanent outdoor cultivation ordinance ready by April.

Last Friday, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed issued a memo calling for the city to kill its medical marijuana ordinance. He cited the California Supreme Court's decision to review four medical marijuana cases dealing with varying interpretations of the state's law, as well as potential ballot initiative that could go before the voters in November. The city will remain in talks with dispensaries and will continue to collect taxes on them.

On Sunday, the last dispensary in La Puente closed its doors in response to the ongoing federal crackdown. La Puente Co-op was the last of three city dispensaries to go out of business in response to threat letters from the Southern California US Attorney. Azusa Patient Remedies and Trinity Wellness Center shut down the previous week. The San Gabriel Valley town was once home to 10 dispensaries.

On Monday, the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients said it had provided the Los Angeles city council with two motions to regulate dispensaries. The move comes as the council inches toward a total ban. The first motion, "public nuisance abatement," proposes that city officials start enforcing current laws to deal with complaints like loitering and sales to minors, just as the police handle such problems around liquor stores. The second motion calls for a "ban with abeyance" or a soft ban, which would create a ban that allows patient associations to prove that they that are operating in compliance with local and state law, allowing the ban to be held in abeyance as long as they continue to be in compliance.

Also on Monday, narcotics officers from the LAPD Devonshire Division raided and shut down the last dispensary in Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. The raid was at the Herbal Medical Care facility, and three people were arrested for suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale, 50 pound of marijuana and 156 plants were seized, and so were the dispensary's medical records. Police vowed to "target" some 200 other San Fernando Valley dispensaries. Since December 2008, police in the Devonshire Division have shut down 37 of what were once 60 dispensaries operating there.

Also on Monday, San Francisco announced it would resume licensing and inspecting dispensaries. The move comes after the agency said last week that the application process was suspended. Under clarified rules, existing dispensaries must sign a statement swearing that all medical marijuana sold on-site is cultivated in California and comes from a grower who is a member of the dispensary's nonprofit collective. New applications stopped being processed in December following a ruling in a state appeals court. In that case, Pack vs. the City of Long Beach, the court ruled that California cities violated federal law by regulating and permitting medical marijuana. That ruling was vacated when the California Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal, and San Francisco's city attorney gave the health department the green light to resume its program January 20, but the department had announced last week that all applications were still on hold indefinitely.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco controller's office reported that dispensaries in the city did an estimated $41 million in sales last year, generating $410,000 in medical marijuana sales tax revenues.

Also on Tuesday, Senate Bill 129 died for lack of action in the state legislature. Introduced by Sen. Mark Leno and sponsored by Americans for Safe Access, the bill would have protected the employment rights of medical marijuana patients.

Also on Tuesday, DEA agents and local law enforcement raided the Balboa Medical Center in Kearney Mesa, near San Diego. They seized medicine and medical records, but made no arrests.The raid came after similar raids on dispensaries in the area last week.

Hawaii

House Bill 1963
, which seeks to restrict the state's medical marijuana program and remove chronic pain as a qualifying condition for patients, is set for a hearing Thursday in the House Committees on Health and Public Safety and Military Affairs.

Montana

On Monday, the Missoulian reported that DEA agents investigating medical marijuana distribution had asked witnesses whether state Sen. Diane Sands (D-Missoula) might be involved in a marijuana conspiracy.Sands has been deeply involved in the state's battles over medical marijuana. She is not the only legislator being looked at; at least one more said he would not speak publicly for fear of "additional harassment."

Vermont

The Vermont Department of Public Safety has announced guidelines for the state's first medical marijuana dispensaries
. Dispensaries must operate as nonprofits and must be more than 1,000 feet from schools or daycare facilities. Would-be operators will have to pay $2,500 just to apply for one of the four dispensary certificates. If approved, dispensaries would pay the state $20,000 dollars for the first year, and $30,000 in the years to follow. Patients can go to dispensaries by appointment only, and only one patient at a time is allowed in the dispensary. There are also stiff requirements for inventory control, building security, and background checks for operators and employees.

Virginia

On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee killed a resolution that would have asked the governor to petition to DEA to reschedule marijuana. The resolution had been filed by Delegate David Englin (D-Alexandria).

Washington

Last Thursday, 42 state legislators signed a letter asking the DEA to reschedule marijuana so that it could be prescribed and sold in pharmacies. That same day, lawmakers introduced a resolution to the same effect. It is scheduled for a hearing Friday in the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee. The letter and resolution piggyback on Gov. Christine Gregoire's existing petition to reschedule marijuana, which is also supported by a handful of other states.

Montana Marijuana Initiative Saddles Up [FEATURE]

Provoked by heavy-handed federal raids and prosecutions aimed at medical marijuana providers and prodded on by the Republican-dominated state legislature's virtual repeal-disguised-as-reform of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, Montana advocates are now rolling out an initiative campaign for a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in Big Sky County.

Now organized as Montana First, this is largely the same group of activists and supporters who last summer and fall organized the successful signature-gathering campaign to put the IR-124 initiative on the November 2012 ballot. That initiative seeks to undo the legislature's destruction of the state medical marijuana distribution network.

And now they're back for more, and they're cutting to the chase.

Constitutional Initiative No.110 (CI-110) is short and sweet. It would add two sentences to the state constitution: "Adults have the right to responsibly purchase, consume, produce, and possess marijuana, subject to reasonable limitations, regulations, and taxation.  Except for actions that endanger minors, children, or public safety, no criminal offense or penalty of this state shall apply to such activities."

In addition to those two sentences, the actual ballot language informs voters which part of the constitution is to be amended, notes that "federal criminal laws regarding marijuana will not be changed by the passage of this initiative," and specifies that it would go into effect July 1, 2013, if approved by the voters.

Passage of the initiative would not directly repeal the state's marijuana laws, but would render them moot, a legal vestige of a bygone era, like laws requiring that horses in front of bars be tethered to rail posts.

"The personal use of marijuana should never result in criminal penalties," explained Barb Trego, a former deputy reserve sheriff in Lewis & Clark County and the measure's proponent. "Whatever you think about marijuana, it's easy to see that we have higher priorities for our law enforcement resources," she said.

"This measure is as simple as it can be," she continued. "The basic principle is clear as day. After voters pass it, there will be work to do to define limits and regulations. This is an appropriate task for elected leaders after the voters signal their preference to stop arresting and jailing adults for personal use of marijuana."

To qualify for the ballot, campaigners need to gather some 45,000 valid voter signatures, and Montana law also requires that those signatures include 10% of voters in at least 40 of 100 of the state's electoral districts. They have until June 22.

While campaigners can point with pride to the successful signature-gathering campaign of a few months ago, this time around, it is going to be more difficult, for a couple of reasons. First, because this is a constitutional initiative, organizers will have to gather more than double the number of signatures they needed for I-124. Second, because the state's once thriving medical marijuana distribution industry has been decimated by state and federal action, the opportunities for fundraising within the industry have largely evaporated.

"We anticipate a mostly volunteer effort; we just don't see any way to have a paid signature-gathering effort, said Montana First treasurer John Masterson, who is also the founder and head of Montana NORML. "We'd like to be able to pay six or seven zone coordinators, people we can count on to work long hours and oversee the petition effort, and we'd like to raise enough money to retain a consulting firm that specializes in making the ballot."

While relying on volunteer efforts to get an initiative on the ballot is usually a death knell for campaigns in high population states -- in California you need more than 500,000; in Michigan, more than 322,000 -- Montana is a different story. Last year's signature-gathering campaign was almost entirely all-volunteer, and it generated a cadre of nearly a thousand petitioners. That's a relatively large activist base for a state with not quite a million residents.

And then there's Montana itself, with its tradition of rugged individualism and suspicion of government. This year, for example, other initiatives being circulated include one that would allow for jury nullification and one that would  "reserve to the people" -- not the legislature -- the right to amend or repeal initiatives, as well as a legislative initiative that would bar mandated health insurance purchases that is already set for the ballot.

"Montana is highly independent," said Masterson, "and it's not just a right-wing thing. Our Democratic Gov. Schweitzer opposed REAL ID. Montana really values its independence, and these continuous and ongoing federal intrusions have people of all political stripes outraged."

It's hard to say what will happen, said political consultant and communications specialist Kate Chowela, who was deeply involved with both the IR-124 campaign and the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, but who is "not officially tied to anybody" right now.

"We need bigger signature numbers than last year, and we've been taking a real beating here," she said. "It will depend on whether people are beaten down or whether they feel called to stand up in the face of injustice. And this is happening in a very dynamic world with a lot of instability as well, with the state of the economy, Occupy Wall Street, the elections. All of these things bump up against and influence each other."

"The people in Montana found out they were not safe, the businesses weren't safe, the patients weren't safe, even being a legislator isn't safe," Chowela said, referring to the recent news that the DEA was investigating state legislators for supposed links to marijuana distribution conspiracies. "To some extent, this is the citizens coming back and looking for a way to make their position clear and look for a sense of safety that we have lost completely."

"We believe our initiative really solves a big part of the marijuana problem in America," said Masterson. "By eliminating all penalties for responsible adult use, we send a message to the federal government that if you want to prohibit this plant, Montana does not agree and will not participate in your campaign. That's how alcohol Prohibition crumbled. We think that Montanans will see that a regulated marijuana commerce and the right of adults to access marijuana is far preferable to the harm and damage caused by prohibition, to say nothing of the waste of our police resources."

The petitions have been printed up, the volunteers are hitting the pavement, and the clock is ticking down toward June. A legalization initiative has already been approved for the ballot in Washington, and one is awaiting almost certain certification in Colorado. Similar initiative campaigns are already underway in California, Michigan, Missouri, and Oregon, but Montana could be the best bet for making it a legalization initiative trifecta come November.

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