Medical Marijuana Update

Well, at least the DEA didn't raid any dispensaries in the last week. In California, the battle continues at the local level, while progress is being made in several states. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, researchers reported that youth marijuana use rates did not increase in medical marijuana states. "Medical marijuana laws have not measurably impacted adolescent marijuana use," researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine report in a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. "In 40 planned comparisons of adolescents exposed and not exposed to MMLs [medical marijuana laws] across states over time, only two significant effects were found, an outcome expected according to chance alone. Further examination of the (nonsignificant) estimates revealed no discernible patterns suggesting an effect on either self-reported prevalence or frequency of marijuana use."

Also last Thursday, Americans for Safe Access reported that the Obama administration had spent nearly $300 million aggressively targeting medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal. That spending includes at least $8 million spent by the DEA conducting some 270 paramilitary-style raids, accounting for 4% of the agency's budget in 2011 and 2012. But that amount was dwarfed by the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on investigations before raids, indictments, lawsuits, and prosecutions, which totaled more than $200 million.

Also last Thursday, California NORML reported that medical marijuana providers have been sentenced to a cumulative nearly 500 years in federal prisons. More than 335 people have been charged with federal offenses for medical marijuana production or distribution, and 158 of them have been sentenced to a combined 480 years in federal prison. Some 50 people are still doing their federal sentences, while more are waiting to start theirs.

California

Last Tuesday, the Riverside city council voted to ban medical marijuana delivery services. The city had earlier banned dispensaries. Citing worries of running afoul of federal drug laws, council members voted to adopt an emergency ban on mobile marijuana dispensaries that took effect immediately. Attorneys for medical marijuana providers vowed to fight if the city took action against the delivery services.

Also last Tuesday, the city of Santa Ana reported that the number of dispensaries had dropped to 17. City officials had managed to shut down 42 more in the past month, bringing the total of dispensaries shut down there to 109. The city said it has closed a majority of the dispensaries through cease operations orders, a formal notice that serious consequences may follow. Both the US Attorney's Office and the city will be sending additional letters to the 17 dispensaries known to be still in operation with the goal of closing them. The letters will be followed by inspections and further enforcement. In addition to fines, the city can seek misdemeanor charges and sue. Dispensaries refusing to close operations will be issued criminal citations, city officials warned. The city attorney's office will work on the most problematic locations with the intent of filing civil action, while the Police Department, with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration, will continue its efforts to rid the city of the dispensaries.

Also last Tuesday, the Lakeport city council approved a new marijuana cultivation ordinance. The ordinance requires that marijuana grows be conducted in accessory outdoor structures, prohibiting outside grows and, according to city officials, placing emphasis on a complaint-driven process in which acts of noncompliance are infractions that garner citations and are handled through the city's administrative citation process. The council's vote was 5-0.

Last Wednesday, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner told dispensaries to stay closed until a new ordinance regulating them is adopted. "It's still illegal," Filner said. "There is no (land-use) zone that allows it and we will enforce it. And, in fact, code enforcement is investigating any report that we have of those violations. "The mayor was responding to a local media report that at least 15 dispensaries were operating within the city limits. Dozens of complaints have been filed with the city, yet no action has been taken since January when Filner ordered police and code compliance officers to stop investigating dispensaries. A draft proposal for a new dispensary ordinance has been created and it is currently going before local community and planning groups for review. No date has been set for a council vote. [Ed: Filner is one of a number of mayors sponsoring a US Conference of Mayors resolution calling on the federal government to respect state marijuana laws. Click the Marijuana Majority action link here to contact your mayor and to read more about it.]

Last Thursday, the Clearlake city council refused to pass a cultivation ordinance, instead sending it back to city staff for reconsideration. The ordinance would have limited plants according to parcel size, from six plants on parcels of half an acre or less up to 48 plants on 40 acres or more, and would also prohibit growing in mobile home parks -- unless garden areas are established and specified by management -- and multifamily dwellings and limits processing to the number of plants that can be grown on the site. The proposed ordinance had garnered little public comment at the May 23 meeting, but last week community members voiced concerns about the impact of marijuana cultivation in the city, urging the council to instead ban grows. Now, the council is looking at stiffening penalties for violating the ordinance.

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz county board of supervisor said it would address local marijuana cultivation as part of a revised set of regulations on the distribution of medical pot. While the board made clear it didn't intend to cut off access to medical marijuana, it said unregulated grows, both in houses and on hilltops, is a land use, public safety and environmental problem that needed to be addressed. The county passed regulations in 2011, but they were suspended pending the recent state Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of localities to regulate or ban dispensaries. Those regulations are set to go into effect once a moratorium on new clubs is lifted in November, though the board is targeting that date for tweaking the rules.

District of Columbia

Last Tuesday, the Department of Health released patient application forms for medical marijuana. That was the last bit of lawmaking needed before patients could start seeking approval to use marijuana legally under DC law. Dispensaries are already stocked up and ready to do business, so they should be selling medicine to patients anytime now. It only took 15 years since voters approved medical marijuana in 1998.

Massachusetts

Last Monday, the Lakeville town meeting voted to impose a moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will last for at least a year, to give the Planning Board a chance to create regulations.

On Tuesday, the Department of Public Health held a hearing on the dispensary licensing process. Some 70 people showed up with suggestions for improving the licensing process. Some call for forcing applicants to prove they have raised the mandated $500,000 application fee (!), while others called for the department to take community-service plans under consideration as well. The state licensing system will be merit-based, but regulators have yet to detail precisely what factors they will consider in awarding licenses.

Nevada

Last Wednesday, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill that will allow dispensaries to operate in the state. The legislation foresees up to 66 statewide, with at least one in each county, 10 in Washoe County (Reno) and up to 40 in Clark County (Las Vegas). The new law also applies to other medical marijuana facilities and imposes taxes.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, Gov. Maggie Hassan said she would sign compromise medical marijuana legislation, putting the Granite State in line to become the 19th medical marijuana state. The compromise eliminates patients' ability to grow their own and their ability to raise a medical defense before the state gets around to issuing patient IDs, but will allow for four nonprofit dispensaries to operate.

Oregon

On Monday, prosecutors announced new charges against three dispensary operators who were raided last month. Southern Oregon NORML leader Lori Duckworth, her husband Leland, and David James Bond already faced multiple counts of conspiracy to deliver marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school and manufacturing marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school. They have all now been hit with additional charges of racketeering and money laundering. The SONORML office on West Sixth Street in Medford was one of four medical cannabis dispensaries raided by police on May 23. The office is a local affiliate of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Police allege the dispensaries were storefronts for illegal marijuana sales, but the Duckworths said they were in compliance with all state laws.

On Tuesday, it was revealed the state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum endorsed a pending dispensary bill. She did so in a June 10 letter to legislative leaders Sen. Floyd Prozanski and Rep. Peter Buckley. The bill, House Bill 3460, would create a system of state-licensed and -regulated dispensaries. Dispensaries already exist in Oregon, Rosenblum noted. "These facilities operate in a climate of uncertain legality and the absence of a clear regulatory structure makes ensuring compliance with the law difficult," she wrote.

On Wednesday, the League of Oregon Cities endorsed House Bill 3460. The bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee that same day and is now headed for a House floor vote.

Washington

On Wednesday, medical marijuana supporters rallied at the state capitol in Olympia to protest an amendment to budget bills that would give the state Liquor Control Board control over the medical marijuana program. Patients worry that could lead to taxation of their purchases, as well as regulating their medical use.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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