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Cities Can Ban Marijuana Dispensaries, CA Court Rules

In a decision that is already having an impact on medical marijuana access, a California appeals court ruled November 9 that cities and counties can lawfully ban medical marijuana dispensaries. In the days since the ruling was announced, a number of localities have already either moved to enact bans or halted plans to regulate dispensaries.

California laws "do not provide individuals with inalienable rights to establish, operate or use" dispensaries, nor do they say that dispensaries "shall be permitted within every city and county," wrote Justice Carol Codrington for a unanimous court in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center.

California law expressly allows localities to regulate dispensaries and restrict their locations, Codrington wrote, adding that a total ban is "simply a means of regulation or restriction."

The issue is one that has been roiling the waters for years, but the decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals in Riverside is clear and unambiguous. Combined with an appeals court ruling last month that the city of Long Beach could not adopt regulations allowing dispensaries because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the ruling paves the way for a reinvigorated crackdown on dispensaries by local governments across the state.

Access to medical marijuana is already problematic in large areas of the state. According to Americans for Safe Access, 168 cities and 17 counties have banned dispensaries and another 80 cities and 10 counties have enacted moratoriums. On the other side of the coin, only about 40 cities and 10 counties have enacted ordinances to allow dispensaries.

Localities were already getting nervous in the wake of the Long Beach decision last month, and the number of locales enacting bans is likely to grow quickly after the ruling. Santa Cruz County is likely to impose a moratorium this week, while the city of South Lake Tahoe is looking to repeal its recently enacted dispensary ordinance. The city of Long Beach is now considering a ban, and other cities that have been facing court challenges on similar issues, like Rancho Mirage, are now more confident their bans will be upheld.

While the city of Riverside now plans to move ahead with shutting down all 15 dispensaries in its jurisdiction, Inland Empire founder Lanny Swerdlow told the Los Angeles Times he expects the collective will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"We think that it's wrong that a city can ban a state-permitted activity by zoning it out of existence," he said. "By allowing cities to ban, it just makes a crazy-quilt pattern across the state."

This pair of appeals courts decisions are yet another blow to a medical marijuana industry beset by a renewed federal offensive against distribution and cultivation. Federal prosecutors across the state last month moved to shut down a number of dispensaries, have threatened landlords with asset forfeiture and possible prosecution, and have even warned elected officials they were not immune to possible federal action.

Riverside, CA
United States

NORML Sues Feds in CA Medical Marijuana Fight [FEATURE]

Attorneys with NORML have filed suit against the federal government over its crackdown on medical marijuana distribution and cultivation in California. In lawsuits filed last week in the four US Attorney districts in the state, the NORML attorneys bring a number of legal and constitutional arguments to bear in asserting that the federal government has overstepped its boundaries in interfering with the state's medical marijuana business.

Leading the legal charge are San Francisco attorneys Matt Kumin, David Michael, and Alan Silber.

The lawsuits seek a temporary injunction to block the state's four US Attorneys, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA administrator Michele Leonhardt, "from arresting or prosecuting Plaintiffs or those similarly situated, seizing their medical cannabis, forfeiting their property or the property of their landlords or threatening to seize property, or seeking civil or administrative sanctions against them or parties whose property is used to assist them" while the case is being heard.

The plaintiffs in the case are California medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, and patients. Some targeted dispensaries have already been forced to shut down by a deadline last Friday to avoid possible federal reprisals if the temporary injunction is not granted.

The lawsuits also seek a permanent injunction barring further federal action against lawful (under state law) medical marijuana operators and patients. And they ask the courts to declare the federal Controlled Substances Act unconstitutional to the extent that it blocks California residents from obtaining marijuana as medicine as is legal under state law.

The lawsuits are a response to a federal offensive against medical marijuana in California unleashed last month, when the Justice Department sent dozens of letters to California landlords and dispensaries ordering them to close down or face possible seizure of their properties and criminal prosecution. Dozens of dispensaries have already closed in response to the threats.

The federal offensive has also included SWAT-style DEA raids on medical marijuana operations, including some that are among the most closely regulated under state law. In Mendocino County, for example, the DEA raided Northstone Organics, a cultivation operation so regulated by local authorities that every plant had a sheriff's tag on it.

The lawsuits claim the federal government "entrapped" medical marijuana suppliers by seeming to give the okay to their operations in an October 2009 Justice Department memo. They also claim that the federal actions violate the 9th, 10th, and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution.

The 9th Amendment says that merely because some rights are enshrined in the Constitution does not mean the federal government can "deny or disparage others retained by the people." The NORML attorneys argue that threatening seizure of property and criminal sanctions violates the rights of the people to "consult with their doctors about their bodies and health."

The 10th Amendment gives powers not delegated to the federal government "to the States respectively, or to the people." The NORML attorneys argue that the States have the "primary plenary power to protect the health of its citizens," and since the government has recognized and not attempted to stop Colorado's state-run medical marijuana dispensary program, it cannot suggest Colorado has a state's right that California does not.

A lawsuit challenging the federal crackdown filed last month by Americans for Safe Access also makes a 10th Amendment argument. The feds have "instituted a policy to dismantle the medical marijuana laws of the state of California and to coerce its municipalities to pass bans on medical marijuana dispensaries," the advocacy group complained.

"Although the Obama Administration is entitled to enforce federal marijuana laws, the 10th Amendment forbids it from using coercive tactics to commandeer the law-making functions of the State," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the lawsuit in San Francisco. "This case is aimed at restoring California's sovereign and constitutional right to establish its own public health laws based on this country's federalist principles."

The 14th Amendment provides all citizens equal protection under the law. The NORML attorneys argue that because the federal government allows a handful of people access to marijuana through the Investigational New Drug program, allows a state-licensed medical marijuana system in Colorado to go unharassed, and blocks scientific research into medical marijuana, it is effectively denying equal protection to California residents.

The NORML attorneys also take issue with the US Supreme Court decision in Raich v. Gonzalez, which upheld the use of the Constitution's interstate commerce clause to stop California patients from legally growing their own medicine.

While acknowledging the Raich decision, they wrote that "it is still difficult to imagine that marijuana grown only in California, pursuant to California state law, and distributed only within California, only to California residents holding state-issued cards, and only for medical purposes, can be subject to federal regulation pursuant to the Commerce Clause. For that reason, Plaintiffs preserve the issue for further Supreme Court review, if necessary and deemed appropriate."

The courts are going to be busy with this matter for awhile, but a preliminary injunction would allow the California medical marijuana industry to go about its business unmolested while the matter gets sorted out.

CA
United States

The 2011 International Drug Policy Reform Conference Meets in Los Angeles [FEATURE]

For three days last weekend, the towering Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles was awash with drug reform activists running from presentation to presentation and chatting in hallway confabs while discussing myriad topics on the streets outside. It was the Drug Policy Alliance's 2011 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, and it was the largest yet, with more than 1,200 people from around the country and the world in attendance.

conference plenary session (photo courtesy HCLU, drogireporter.hu/en)
Police officers from Brazil and the US (mainly members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) mingled with drug user activists from Latin America and Europe, college kids from Students for Sensible Drug Policy sat down with grizzled veteran activists, former drug war prisoners discussed issues with elected officials, Southeast Asian harm reductionists swapped stories with American social workers, East European AIDS workers talked shop with their counterparts from the US and Canada, Mexican poets shared panels with American city council members. And medical marijuana and pot legalization activists, especially from host state California, were everywhere.

In all, people from more than 30 countries and probably every state in the union, representing dozens of different drug reform, harm reduction, human rights, reproductive rights, and other groups flooded into Los Angeles to get the latest skinny on drug reform, drug legalization, and ending drug prohibition.

The reform conference is so large and the issues so complex and interconnected that for a single person to attend all the sessions would require an army of clones. Over the three-day conference, five or six fascinating panels went on simultaneously throughout the day, not to mention the mobile workshops (medical marijuana, Skid Row, juvenile justice) taking attendees on themed city tours, the open rooms where various groups maintained a continuous presence, the evening events, and, last but not least, the Thursday night "End the Drug War" rally in MacArthur Park that drew several thousand people.

Some highlights follow.

Republican Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson

In the conference's opening plenary session, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who is struggling to gain traction in the Republican presidential nomination contest, found a friendly audience and threw it some red meat. Marijuana should be legalized and pot prisoners freed, he said to loud cheers and applause.

Johnson, who has been an advocate of drug legalization since his days as governor, said it was his stance on drug reform, rather than his record as governor or his advocacy of small government, that gets him noticed. "That's the marijuana guy," people always say when they see him, he said.

California NAACP president Alice Huffman (courtesy HCLU)
Politicians are behind the curve when it comes to drug reform, Johnson said. "Fifty percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana," he said. "But zero percent of the universe of politicians support this." Certainly not his Republican rivals, who look at the drug wars ravaging Mexico and compete to see who can sound tougher. "They all talk about border violence and adding guns to the equation instead of looking at the root of the problem, which is prohibition," he said.

The only other Republican presidential contender to take a firm line on ending the drug war is Texas Rep. Ron Paul. But Paul and Johnson together are only polling at about 10% of the Republican electorate, with Paul polling the majority of that. Johnson said he was concentrating on the New Hampshire primary, where he hopes a strong showing can keep his candidacy and his strong anti-drug war message alive.

[DRCNet Foundation and the Drug War Chronicle do not take positions on candidates. As a precaution, this article was produced by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network.]

Mexico's Symbol of Drug War Resistance Tells Us It's Our Fight, Too

Read our feature story on this here.

Whither Medical Marijuana?

In the context of renewed federal repression aimed at medical marijuana production and distribution, not just in California, but in medical marijuana states around the country, panels on the future of medical marijuana understandably generated great interest. A nationally-focused panel noted that the Justice Department has not explained itself and its apparent change of heart, nor has it given any indication whether the raids and other actions against medical marijuana will continue, stop, or escalate.

Meanwhile, a second, California-centric panel worried about medical marijuana's future in the Golden State and bruited about ideas about how best to preserve it.

"There is a historic backlash against medical marijuana, and that is a result of our success," said Don Duncan, Southern California leader for Americans for Safe Access. "We made a strategic decision to go to localities, but now is the time to go back to Sacramento because we could lose ground in the towns. It is time for the legislature to adopt statewide regulations to protect safe access," he said.

Mikki Norris and Chris Conrad at Thursday's rally and concert in Macarthur Park (courtesy HCLU)
"We need to authorize storefront distribution, protect cultivators, and protect the civil rights of patients," Duncan continued, citing housing discrimination, employment problems, and custody issues.

But it's going to be a tough battle in Sacramento, he suggested. "Even the Democrats say the dispensaries are out of control, the patients don't look sick, the doctors are too lenient," he said. "Our base of support in Sacramento is eroding."

"I will call out my own party," said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). "It's time to get militant. There is a pro-marijuana vote, it's bipartisan, and it's populist."

There is support for medical marijuana on the right side of the aisle in Sacramento, too. "Very few, even in my party, still believe in Reefer Madness," said Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-Orange County).

Pending California Marijuana Initiatives

A session on pending California marijuana legalization, decriminalization, and medical marijuana initiatives was useful for sorting out the competing proposals, with representatives of all serious proposals at the table. Here they are:

The Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act would simply repeal the sections of California law prohibiting marijuana. It would also create a California Cannabis Commission to create a system of regulated cannabis commerce.

"If conduct is not prohibited, the feds cannot force a state to prohibit it," said Joe Rogoway, one of the initiative's sponsors. "This initiative eviscerates cannabis prohibition in California, all the laws would be wiped off the books," he said.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative would also repeal marijuana prohibition and set up a system of regulated distribution. It mandates the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to set up regulations for sales by 2013. It is sponsored by, among others, long-time Libertarian and legalization activist Steve Kubby and retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray.

"We've done our homework," said Gray. "We address those things that scare voters. We will have 10,000 valid signatures in two weeks," he vowed.

conference audience (courtesy HCLU)
Unlike the two legalization initiatives above, political consultant Bill Zimmerman's Marijuana Penalties Act would not legalize it, but would extend California's current decriminalization of up to an ounce to up to two ounces.

"California is not ready to legalize marijuana," argued Zimmerman, "but a strong majority agree that private adult use should not result in jail time. It seems sensible to try to move the ball forward this year."

Then there is the California Economic, Environmental, Hemp Restoration Act of 2012, a project of the Budget Economic Environmental Protection Alliance, which would legalize industrial hemp, medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana for people 21 and over. This initiative is still in the drafting phase.

"We want to create green jobs now," said initiative promoter Mark O'Hara. "Let's legalize industrial hemp and adult marijuana."

Finally, the folks who brought you Proposition 19, the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, have decided to forego another legalization bid for 2012, and are instead working on an initiative to regulate medical marijuana statewide.

"We want to create a robust environment for our members," said United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) cannabis division head Dan Rush. "Our initiative isn't done yet, but we want to be inclusive, serve people, the industry, and patients."

Rush was the only one to mention the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the mountain of cash it will take for any of the initiatives to make the ballot, let alone win in November 2012.

"We need to raise $15 million for the initiative and legislative action," he said. "We need a broad coalition beyond our movement."

More to Come

This article has touched on only a tiny fraction of what was discussed in Los Angeles last weekend. Look for more about and/or inspired by the conference in the near future. In the meantime, the Drug Policy Alliance deserves praise for once again putting together a reform conference that is staggering in its breadth and depth, and, as just about everyone agreed, maximally inspirational.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

Dutch Bar Foreigners from Southern Cannabis Cafes

No one other than Dutch residents will be allowed to buy marijuana in southern Holland cannabis coffee shops after January 1, the Dutch Justice Ministry said Tuesday. The stated objective of the move is to spare locals the nuisance of drug tourism, but if the experience of one city is any indicator, it will also spare locals millions of dollars in receipts.

coffee shop in Amsterdam (wikimedia.org)
For more than a year, the center right government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte has been considering making coffee shops members only clubs, with a "cannabis card" reserved for Dutch nationals required to enter one of the country's 670 cannabis cafes. The new policy is being rolled out regionally, with southern border provinces the first to see it go into effect.

"The measure will come into force for the provinces of Limburg, North-Brabant and Zeeland, the provinces most affected by drug tourism, on January 1," Justice Ministry spokeswoman Charlotte Menten said.

The new policy will be extended nationwide in January 2013, Menten added.

The southern city of Maastricht holds some clues as to what impact the new policy will have. In a pilot program since October 1, the city's 13 cannabis cafes have been allowed to serve only Dutch, Belgian, and German customers in a bid to reduce drug tourism from France. The Daily Telegraph reported this week that cutting off the French will cost the city nearly $42 million a year in revenues, the equivalent of the loss of 345 full-time jobs.

Netherlands

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Approved for Circulation

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced Monday that two initiatives for marijuana legalization measures have been approved for circulation. Both were filed by attorney Dan Viets, a long-time marijuana legalization advocate and a member of the national NORML Legal Committee and board of directors.

Viets and Missouri NORML chapters have aligned themselves with other marijuana legalization advocates and supporters as Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, a reference to Missouri's nickname as the "Show Me" state.

The two measures are identical, except that one would amend the state constitution and the other would amend state law.

The initiatives call for marijuana legalization for persons 21 and over, a process for licensing marijuana establishments, and the lifting of criminal justice system sanctions against people imprisoned or under state supervision for nonviolent marijuana offenses that would no longer be illegal and the expunging of all criminal records for such offenses. The initiatives would also allow for the use of marijuana for medical reasons by minors and allow the legislature to enact a tax of $100 a pound on retail marijuana sales.

The initiatives now move on to the signature-gathering phase. To qualify for the November 2012 ballot, the constitutional amendment initiative must obtain the signatures of a number of registered voters equal to 8% of the total votes cast in the 2008 governor's race from six of the state's nine congressional districts. The requirements for the statutory amendment are slightly looser; it needs the signatures of 5% of the voters in those districts. Signatures must be turned in by May 6, 2012.

If marijuana legalization makes the ballot in Missouri next year, the state is likely to join Washington and Colorado in taking the issue before the voters. Efforts in those two states are the most advanced and likely to make the ballot, although there is a possibility that similar efforts could make the ballot in California and Oregon.

Columbia, MO
United States

US Reps, CA AG Chide Feds on Medical Marijuana

The unhappy reaction to the renewed federal offensive against medical marijuana growers and distributors continues to spread, with several members of Congress and California's attorney general among the latest to voice their displeasure.

Since the Sacramento press conference last month where California's four US Attorneys announced a crackdown on the medical marijuana using heavy-handed raids on businesses in exemplary compliance with state and local laws and a wave of letters to dispensary landlords threaten property seizure or even criminal prosecution if they don't throw out their medical marijuana tenants, reaction among medical marijuana supporters, including elected officials, has been growing.

On Friday, nine members of Congress, led by Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), sent a letter to President Obama expressing "concern with the recent activity by the Department of Justice against legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries in California that are operating legally under state law." The other congressional signers were Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Pete Stark (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Bob Filner (D-CA).

Citing "aggressive SWAT-style federal raids in at least seven states," as well as threats directed at landlords and elected officials, the solons told the president such actions "directly interfere with California's 15-year-old medical cannabis law by eliminating safe access to medication for the state's thousands of medical marijuana patients."

The nine US representatives called on the president to reschedule marijuana as either a Schedule II or Schedule III drug with recognized medicinal uses, either by administrative action or by supporting legislation to achieve that end. A bill that would do just that, H.R. 1983, the States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, has already been filed, they helpfully pointed out.

A week before the congressional letter, California Attorney General Kamala Harris added her voice to the choir of the concerned. "Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill," she noted in a statement.

"While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California," the state's highest elected law enforcement officer said. "I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.'"

In mid-October, state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), stalwart friends of marijuana law reform, were among the first to speak out against the federal crackdown, followed shortly by fellow San Franciscan state Sen. Leland Yee (D).

"Medical marijuana dispensaries are helping our economy, creating jobs, and most importantly, providing a necessary service for suffering patients," Lee said in a statement. "There are real issues and real problems that the US Attorney's Office should be focused on rather than using their limited resources to prosecute legitimate businesses or newspapers. Shutting down state-authorized dispensaries will cost California billions of dollars and unfairly harm thousands of lives."

In the face of widespread criticism, the US Attorneys have attempted to insulate their boss from the political heat, with a spokesperson making pains to tell the Huffington Post they had coordinated only with the Justice Department, not the Obama administration. But it is ultimately President Obama who is in charge, and who will pay whatever political price is to be paid.

Canada Mandatory Minimum Crime Bill Set to Pass [FEATURE]

The Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been trying for years to pass a harsh drug crime bill that includes mandatory minimum sentences for growing as few as six marijuana plants. This year, with the Conservatives now holding an absolute majority in parliament, it looks like the Conservatives will get their wish..

Parliament Hill, Ottawa
"The bill will pass," said Eugene Oscapella, head of the Canadian Drug Policy Foundation, who testified against the bill in parliament last week and who was attacked by Conservatives for doing so. "The government has a clear majority, and under the parliamentary system, MPs will vote like trained seals. Even though I know Conservative MPs who disagree with this, if you spit in the face of the prime minister, you will be out of the caucus."

The Tories rolled out this year's version of their perennial drug bill last month as part of an omnibus anti-crime bill known as Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act. Ironically, the government's "tough on crime" initiative came just weeks before Statistics Canada reported that the country's homicide rate had declined to levels not seen since 1966. Overall violent crime is down, too.

The omnibus bill runs to 110 pages and brings together nine separate previous proposals to strengthen police and prosecutorial powers aimed at child sex predators, violent offenders, drug traffickers, and "out of control" youthful offenders. In addition to Canada's first mandatory minimum sentences, the package also includes tougher pre-trial custody conditions, restrictions on the use of probation, and lengthier sentences for violent and youthful repeat offenders.

"Since coming into office, our government has accomplished a great deal when it comes to cracking down on crime and better protecting Canadians," said Justice Minister Rob Nicholson as he introduced the omnibus bill last month. "By moving quickly to reintroduce and pass the Safe Streets and Communities Act, we are fulfilling our promise to Canadians by taking action to protect families, stand up for victims and hold criminals accountable."

"Our government remains committed to fighting crime, protecting Canadians and holding offenders accountable," said Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews. "Canadians gave us a strong mandate to improve safety for Canadians where they live, work and raise their families."

Voters may have given the Tories a mandate at the polls, but it's not clear that it was Tory crime policies driving the vote. A Nanos poll earlier this summer had only 2% of respondents selecting "fighting crime" as their highest priority for the Harper government. Instead, respondents were much more concerned about the provision of health care (40%) and reducing the deficit (26%).

Canada's other major political parties, the Liberals and the New Democrats, both oppose the bill, as does a broad swath of civil society. The Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network are among the groups opposing the bill, as are criminal defense attorneys, prisoners' advocates, and critics who point toward falling crime numbers and question whether the country can afford a massive expansion of its prison system.

The government has so far declined to specify projected costs of the bill or reveal its own projections about how much the prison population would increase under the bill.

"We believe the substance of this legislation both to be self-defeating and counterproductive, if the goal is to enhance public safety," vice-chair of the Canadian Bar Association's National Criminal Justice Section Eric Gottardi said last week. "It represents a profound shift in orientation from a system that emphasizes public safety, rehabilitation and reintegration to one that puts vengeance first."

"The Conservatives are completely divorced from the reality of what's going on," said NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies (Vancouver East) during a 10-minute House of Commons speech attacking the bill. "They have branded themselves and wrapped themselves in a cloak of crime and punishment, and as a result they are blind to evidence, they are blind to the costs, they are blind to the fact that we have the lowest crime rate since 1973, they are blind to building safe and healthy communities, they are blind to the horrendous experience of the United States and its war on drugs regime that is now being slowly repealed -- including the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing... because of its catastrophic failure on people and society overall. They are blind to the evidence here in Canada and they are blind to the real impacts of what these bills will have on the lives of people and on communities overall."

The Tories are "only interested in manipulating people, creating fear, division, and creating a 'them and us' scenario," Davies continued. "I believe from the bottom of my heart that this omnibus bill is offensive because it is politically motivated and will have enormous negative impacts."

It's not just progressives, or even Canadians, who are upset by the bill. Crime-fighting conservative Texans have come out against it, citing their own unhappy experience with "lock 'em up and throw away the key" policies. "You will spend billions and billions and billions on locking people up," said Judge John Creuzot of the Dallas County Court. "And there will come a point in time where the public says, 'Enough!' And you'll wind up letting them out."

Still, with the Conservatives holding a solid parliamentary majority, the bill's passage now appears to be all but a done deal. That doesn't mean the fight against it will go away, though -- not before it passes and not after it passes. The lawyers are already gearing up for that second phase of the struggle.

"They are trying to ram this through as quickly as possible, and I don't know what can be done to stop it," said Oscapella. "It will have to be done at the back end, by means of constitutional challenges under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But that will take years."

Canada

Obama Met With San Francisco Medical Marijuana Protest [FEATURE]

Hundreds of angry medical marijuana patients and supporters gathered in San Francisco's South of Market Tuesday to greet President Obama as he appeared at a $5,000 a head fundraiser at the W Hotel. They were joined by hundreds of other protestors, mainly Occupy San Francisco members and environmentalists upset with the Keystone pipeline.

Boisterous crowds tried to send the president a message in San Francisco (Image: Phil Smith)
The president never saw the demonstrators -- he entered the building through a back entrance a block away from where protestors had gathered -- but boisterous chants of "DEA, Go Away!" and "Whose State? Our State! Whose Medicine? Our medicine!" echoed through the streets as police watched impassively.

It was the second straight day of medical marijuana protests aimed at the president. He got similar treatment Monday in Los Angeles.

The California medical marijuana community is upset with the president over what it sees as a multi-pronged attack on medical marijuana production and distribution by agencies of the federal government (sometimes in cahoots with recalcitrant local officials). Despite Obama's campaign pledges and the Department of Justice's October 2009 memo directing federal prosecutors to back off from medical marijuana businesses operating in compliance with state law, the pace of DEA raids has only accelerated since he took office in January 2009.

It's not just the DEA. The Department of the Treasury has been going after financial institutions that do business with the medical marijuana industry, forcing banks to submit to onerous record-keeping of their dealings and persuading some of them to drop their medical marijuana customers. Similarly, the IRS has joined the attack, refusing to allow dispensaries to deduct standard business expenses and hitting them with whopping past due tax bills.

Most recently, the four US Attorneys who cover California held a much ballyhooed press conference in Sacramento announcing that they were going after what they described as an industry out of control. They announced a campaign aimed at dispensary and grow operations landlords, sending out a wave of letters threatening property owners with asset forfeiture and even stiff criminal charges if they don't throw out their clients.

But while the feds say they are targeting people who abuse the system  for profit, they have recently gone after some of the most respected, regulated and compliant operations in the state. Steve De Angelo's Harborside Health Center in Oakland is the biggest target of the IRS and was recently handed a $2 million tax bill after its expenses were disallowed; Lynette Shaw's Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana is the longest-licensed dispensary in the state and enjoys impeccable relations with local officials, but its landlord was hit with a threat letter; and Matt Cohen's Northstone Organics Cooperative is the first licensed grow -- with every plant tagged -- under Mendocino County's cutting edge regulatory scheme, but was raided by the DEA earlier this month.

Occupy San Francisco makes an appearance. (Image: Phil Smith)
The effects of the renewed federal campaign of raids and intimidation couldn't be any clearer than the message that now greets visitors to Northstone's web page. "We are closed due to a federal raid on our farm," the message reads. "The entire crop was eradicated. We are closed until further notice. We will be sending out an e-letter informing memberships of what they can do as well as upcoming protests. We apologize for the inconvenience."

"Contrary to DOJ claims that they are targeting abusive profiteers, their list of targets includes some of the most respected and best regulated facilities in the state," said California NORML director Dale Gieringer.

Federal prosecutors are also targeting a trio of San Francisco dispensaries for being within a thousand feet of a school or playground, citing a federal drug-free school zone statute that enhances penalties for drug crimes committed within that forbidden zone. But California law allows dispensaries within 600 feet of schools and playgrounds.

In the case of the two Mission area dispensaries within a thousand feet of a school, the dispensaries operated there before the school arrived, and the school has made it known that it has no problems with them. In the case of the dispensary located near a playground, advocates point out that several bars and sex clubs nearby are in closer proximity to the kids.

"The DOJ's complaints represent a frivolous and cynical attack on land use decisions that properly belong to local government," said Gieringer. "This is a blatant example of federal government over-regulation run amok."

"It feels a little Kafkaesque," said medical marijuana and legalization proponent state Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) at a press conference preceding the protest. "We've been sandbagged by US Attorneys acting like thugs. I almost expect a drone to come down on a dispensary in Fresno one of these days," he said, barely cracking a smile.

Ammiano wants a meeting with Department of Justice officials on the issue, he said. "Why don't they lean on the banks for the foreclosures, instead of medical marijuana?" he asked. "I'll be damned if I know what Justice, IRS, and the rest are thinking right now."

What a difference a couple of years makes. (Image: Phil Smith)
Lynette Shaw, whose Marin Alliance dispensary is being threatened, called out the president. "After we helped put Obama in office, I thought we were in the clear," she said. "Obama, you have the power to issue an executive order and stop this," she challenged.

"The US Attorneys said they were going after the criminals, but that's not true," said Harborside's DeAngelo. "Northstone Organics, the Marin Alliance, and Harborside are all 100% compliant. The targeting by US Attorneys suggests they either need to learn how to aim or to learn how to tell the truth," he said.

It's not just about patients and dispensaries, but also about jobs and the economy, said several speakers. "If the federal government closes down the dispensaries, thousands of hard-working Californians stand to lose their jobs," said United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 Cannabis Division Coordinator Mike Witemeyer, whose union has organized dispensary workers. "We stand with the patients."

"With the federal budget on empty, the economy in disarray, our prisons overflowing, and prohibition-related violence raging across the border, it's an outrageous misuse of federal resources to wage war on medical marijuana," said California NORML's Gieringer. "Federal anti-drug bureaucrats are afraid because the dispensaries are proving that it's possible for marijuana to become a safe, legal, tax-paying industry and so expose their own last-century policies as bankrupt and obsolete."

It's unclear what the Obama administration thinks it is gaining with its ever more hostile policies toward medical marijuana production and distribution in California. What is clear is that it is alienating many people in California who voted for Obama in 2008.

San Francisco, CA
United States

Prop 19 Backers Eye 2012 Medical Marijuana Initiative

A budding coalition of medical marijuana reform backers, including some of the same folks behind last year's Proposition 19, is working on an initiative for the 2012 ballot that would impose statewide regulation on California's crazy-quilt medical marijuana dispensary scene. The announcement came during a San Francisco press conference Tuesday preceding a demonstration during a visit to the city by President Obama.

"We need statewide regulation," said Dale Sky Jones, spokeswoman for last year's Prop 19 campaign and for the organization's current incarnation, the California Coalition for Cannabis Reform. "We are working on a regulatory framework for 2012, but it's still being drafted. Many Prop 19 supporters back this."

It's not just Prop 19 supporters, added Steve De Angelo, proprietor of Harborside Health Center, Oakland's largest dispensary -- which is now under attack by the IRS as part of the new federal offensive against medical marijuana distribution. "There is a broad based recognition that it's time for state regulation," he said.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 is also behind the effort. "We will speak to the specifics of the initiative within a couple of weeks," said the union's Cannabis Division Coordinator, Matthew Witemeyer.

Although California has a statewide medical marijuana law, cities and counties have created a patchwork of rules and regulations, so that what may be permissible in one area would leave someone subject to prosecution for undertaking the same activity in another one. Conflicting rulings from state courts have not resolved the situation, leaving Californians with varying levels of access to medical marijuana through dispensaries. Local approaches range from cooperative regulation and taxation to hostile permanent moratoria on dispensaries.

San Francisco, CA
United States

Bay Area Pols Slam Feds' Medical Marijuana Crackdown

A pair of Northern California elected officials last week urged the federal government to back off on its "senseless assault" on medical marijuana dispensaries. At the same time, they said they want to meet with federal officials to see what's behind the crackdown.

Stalwart supporters of medical marijuana state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) took to the microphones at a news conference at the State Building in San Francisco.

"I urge the federal government to stand down in its massive attack on medical marijuana dispensaries," Leno said in remarks reported by KTVU-TV. "California voters intended that patients should have safe and affordable access to medical marijuana," he said.

Leno and Ammiano said they are pondering new state legislation to regulate dispensaries, but added that such laws would be workable only if California legislators hear from the Justice Department that such regulations would have an impact on federal enforcement efforts. They said they hoped to speak with Justice Department officials in the next few days.

"To be successful legislatively, we would need some indication from the federal government that (the state legislation) would impact" the Justice Department offensive, Ammiano said. 

"Call the dogs off and let's sit down," Leno said.

The news conference came in response to the October 7 announcement by California's four US Attorneys that they are ramping up federal persecution of medical marijuana providers in the state. Even though California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996, the federal government refuses to recognize such laws.

While the Justice Department has said it is not targeting patients, it is clearly targeting dispensaries and medical marijuana grow operations, with DEA raids ongoing and threatening letters being sent to dispensary landlords in a bid to force them to evict their medical marijuana tenants.

At the press conference, Ammiano conceded that California has little recourse when it comes to federal interference in its medical marijuana program. "In the end, they'll probably do whatever they want," he said.

Now, the federal government needs to be convinced that raiding medical marijuana providers operating in compliance with state laws is not what it wants. President Obama had a chance to get that message when he visited California on a fundraising swing this week. He was met by organized protestors when he came to San Francisco Tuesday.

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