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Medical Marijuana Update

It's been a relatively quiet week on the medical marijuana front, with the big news being the DC Circuit Court's interest in determining whether Air Force vet Michael Krawitz has standing to challenge the federal government's refusal to reschedule marijuana. But that isn't all. Let's get to it:

National

On Monday, plaintiffs in the federal marijuana rescheduling case filed an additional brief at the court's request after it heard oral arguments last week. In the case Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, the DC Circuit issued an order last week seeking details on the harm sustained by plaintiff and disabled US Air Force veteran Michael Krawitz as a result of the federal government's policy on medical marijuana. The federal appeals court will use this additional briefing to decide whether the plaintiffs have legal "standing" to bring such a lawsuit against the government. The lawsuit argues that the government has acted arbitrarily and capriciously by keeping marijuana classified as a Schedule I substance, a dangerous drug with no medical value. By ignoring the overwhelming scientific evidence, ASA argues that the federal government has kept marijuana out of reach for millions of Americans who would otherwise benefit from its therapeutic value.

Arizona

Last Friday, a lawsuit against Maricopa County officials for refusing to process dispensary applications got underway. The White Mountain Health Center filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County after it refused to provide documentation and information required in order to obtain a dispensary permit under the voter approved 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. White Mountain was the first to apply for a dispensary permit under county jurisdiction, but Maricopa County DA Bill Montgomery opposes the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act because he says it would force public employees in Arizona to violate federal drug laws that prohibit the use, sale and cultivation of marijuana. Lawyers from the ACLU, who are representing White Mountain, argued that the state has the right to have a medical marijuana law, and that the federal government has not punished officials in any of the other 17 states where it is legal. The case continues.

California

Last Friday, San Francisco's first unionized dispensary opened. The Mission Organic Center applied for its permit more than three years ago, but had to navigate the permit process and overcome an appeal at City Hall before opening. Dispensary owner Eugene Popov has been paying rent on the storefront the whole time, as well as shelling out $10,000 in permit fees. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 has supported the dispensary throughout the process and now has the union shop dispensary in the city.

Also last Friday, neighbors of a Berkeley dispensary threatened to sue the building owner if the dispensary does not stop "all illegal drug activities at the location" associated with the Perfect Plants Patient's Group. Residents complained of bags from the business in neighborhood yards, drug deals openly occurring on the street and kids loitering and smoking marijuana, all of which they attribute to the continued operation of the dispensary. The city is contemplating ordering the dispensary shut down, but the neighbors issued their lawsuit threats because they felt the city wasn’t moving fast enough. The dispensary is not on the city's list of permitted dispensaries.

On Wednesday, the San Francisco Weekly revealed that Mayor Ed Lee blocked a plan to let shuttered dispensaries operate on city property. The number of dispensaries in the city has shrunk from 30 to 20 under the federal onslaught, and city officials had bruited about the idea of letting some of them open on city property while they sought new locations. But Lee's office nixed the idea earlier this month, according to emails retrieved by the Weekly.

Late Wednesday afternoon, an alert went out on the San Diego Americans for Safe Access email list saying San Diego's only known dispensary, Next Generation on San Ysidro Boulevard, was being raided. The dispensary is "currently under attack and in full raid condition," the alert said.

Michigan

On Wednesday, a Big Rapids medical marijuana provider was sentenced to federal prison. John Clemens Marcinkewciz was a registered caregiver when he was arrested on state charges, which were then handed off to the feds. After the federal court ruled that he could not mention the state's medical marijuana law in his defense, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and manufacture of 100 or more marijuana plants. While there was no word at press time what sentence he received, he was looking at at least a five-year mandatory minimum.

Oregon

Last week, Lane County authorities filed an asset forfeiture complaint against a dispensary they raided in August. They hit Kannabosm on August 30 and arrested the owner, Curtis Shimmin, on marijuana and money laundering charges. The store had been open for a year. Now, they want to seize $60,637 in cash, Shimmin's personal automobile, and an ATM machine that was at the business. Shimmin had argued that cash-for-marijuana transactions were not illegal under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act because they were not technically sales, but compensation to growers for their expenses. Lane County begged to differ.

When Losing Means Winning: The Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative [FEATURE]

Last year wasn't a good year for medical marijuana in Montana. Between the federal raids in the spring of 2011 and the Republican-dominated legislature's efforts first to repeal the voter-approved 2004 medical marijuana law, which was vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), and then to gut it with Senate Bill 423, which Schweitzer reluctantly allowed to become law, the state's medical marijuana industry has been practically decimated.

But although 2012 is nearly over, Big Sky County medical marijuana supporters are hoping this year will end up differently. That's because they have an initiated referendum on the ballot, IR-124, that would undo the legislature's passage of Senate Bill 423 and restore the status quo ante.

From an initiative organizer's standpoint, IR-124 has some interesting attributes. First, the medical marijuana people behind IR-124 want it to be defeated. A "no" vote on the initiative is a vote against Senate Bill 423, and the conventional wisdom on initiatives is that voters who are uncertain on an issue vote "no." Second, Montanans who oppose the free-wheeling medical marijuana system that was in place prior to Senate Bill 423 may well be confused by the fact that IR-124 is being run by medical marijuana supporters and vote "no" mistakenly thinking they are voting against medical marijuana.

"Our opponents have accused us of muddying the water, but it wasn't a strategic ploy; it's just a thumbs up or thumbs down on the current law," said Chris Lindsay of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which is fighting SB 423 in the courts as well as supporting IR-124.

There hasn't been a lot of polling on IR-124, but what there is suggests repeal of SB 423 could well be within reach. There has been no scientific polling this month, but two September polls, one from Mason-Dixon and one from Public Policy Polling, had IR-124 losing with 44% and 46% of the vote, respectively. And that's just what Patients for Reform -- Not Repeal, the primary group behind the campaign, wants.

"We're urging voters to vote 'no' on IR-124, because it is a slap in the face to voters as well as cruel and harmful to the seriously sick patients Montanans sought to help," said Bob Brigham, campaign manager for the group. "The legislature should have fixed the medical marijuana program, not broken it completely with a 'repeal and destroy' law," he explained. "With the federal government also punishing patients and providers and even threatening their gun rights, it is vitally important that Montana voters stand solidly for their own rights."

But while the polls had IR-124 losing, campaign proponents aren't feeling comfortable. Those same polls showed only around 30% of voters committed to voting "no," with about 25% of voters undecided. While undecided voters typically break towards a "no" vote on initiatives, Patients for Reform -- Not Repeal is going to have to win about four out of five of those undecided voters to undo SB 423.

The campaign is counting on Montana voters to reject the legislature's interference with the voter-approved 2004 initiative that established the state's medical marijuana program, Brigham said.

"We're calling attention to the fact that this is an issue that revolves around voter rights and the will of the people," he said. "Rather than work on consensus proposals for strict regulation, all the legislature wanted to do was repeal the law voters had adopted -- and they did it twice. Senate Bill 423 was written deliberately to accomplish complete repeal. The tragedy is that the very patients Montanans care about, the sickest among us, are now suffering unnecessarily and unfairly as a result," Brigham concluded.

Under the 2004 law, and especially after the Obama administration took office and signaled it would not target medical marijuana patients and providers, the Montana medical marijuana scene took off, with dispensaries and multi-patient grow operations sprouting up and some entrepreneurs pushing the limits of public acceptance by pulling stunts like taking recommendation-writing caravans across the state and publicly smoking marijuana.

The legislature's attempted outright repeal, followed by SB 423, was in part in a response to the perceived excesses of the program. But SB 423 pretty much wiped out everything except patients growing their own. It limited growers to three patients each, prohibited providers from being compensated, gave local governments the ability to ban dispensaries, tightened standards for demonstrating chronic pain, and required doctors who recommended marijuana for more than 25 patients in a year to undergo reviews at their own expense.

The Montana Cannabis Industry Association has been fighting SB 423 in the state courts, but in August, the state Supreme Court overturned a lower court injunction blocking most of its provisions from taking effect. Now the high court is set to rule on a final appeal from the group any time now. Lindsay said Tuesday morning he hoped the election would come before the court rules.

"The moment the Supreme Court is done, we expect that 5,500 Montana patients will be told they no longer have a provider and they will have to find a new one, which is unlikely, or grow their own," he said. "We're hoping we get to the election first, because a victory there would render moot what the Supreme Court is considering."

That didn't happen. Tuesday afternoon, the state Supreme Court ruled against the Montana Cannabis Industries Association.

"We expect the Department of Health and Human Services to start sending letters out to 5,500 patients saying they no longer have a provider," Lindsay said in a late afternoon call to the Chronicle breaking the news.

While the late ruling hurts patients, it may prove a boon to the "no" campaign. Now, patients and providers who may have thought that life under SB 423 would not be so bad are being confronted with the reality of its actual implementation.

It will probably also make life tougher for supporters of SB 423. Although there isn't a lot of organized support for the law, it does have cheerleaders among the Republican legislators who passed it and among social conservative groups like the Billings-based Safe Communities, Safe Kids.

But Safe Communities, Safe Kids doesn't have money for much of an advertising campaign and is relying on local radio and TV talk show appearances to get its message out. It also tried holding a press conference last week to attack state Attorney General Steve Bullock over the ballot language, but that didn't work out too well for the church ladies.

"You're trying to pull a political stunt using a mechanism that is not set up for this purpose," said Jim Molloy, an assistant attorney general to Bullock, who crashed the press conference and noted that the ballot language had been vetted and settled on two months ago. The threat to file a late complaint was "nothing more than political theater," he said.

"We didn't realize it was going to be such a big problem until the ballots came out," the group's Cherie Brady tried to explain. She said after absentee ballots came out on October 9, her group began getting calls from voters unsure of how to fill out their ballots.

While foes of medical marijuana are reduced to morning talk shows and exploding press conferences, Patients for Reform -- Not Repeal is running limited radio and TV ads urging a "no" vote. It is also preparing a final push to get voters to the polls on election day.

"It's an exciting campaign," said Lindsay. "We've got a lot of momentum behind trying to repeal the law. We're hoping for the best."



MT
United States

Latest Polls Show Washington Marijuana Initiative Tightening, Oregon Trailing

New polling data released in the past week shows Washington's I-502 marijuana legalization initiative still ahead, but not comfortably so, and Oregon's Measure 80 continuing to trail. The polls come as the campaign season enters its final weeks.

In Washington, a SurveyUSA/KING 5 News poll showed I-502 winning with 55% in favor and 36% opposed. Only 8% said they were still undecided. That's good news since because it suggests that for I-502 to lose, it would not only have to lose every undecided voter, but also one out of ten of the people who say they are voting for it.

But a second poll, released Thursday, is a bit more concerning. In the KCTS 9 Washington poll of registered and likely voters, I-502 led by 50.9% to 40.8% among registered voters and 47.1% to 40.1% among likely voters. That's still a seven-to-ten-point lead, but the measure polls that high only when counting not only "certain" yes voters, but also "Yes -- could change" and "Undecided -- leaning yes" voters.

Using only "certain" voters, the race gets tighter. Among registered "certain" voters, 38.4% were voting yes, while 35.0% were voting no. Among likely "certain" voters, 37.2% were voting yes, while 31.8% were voting no.

I-502 still appears favored to win, but it's white-knuckle time for those steering the campaign.

It's not looking as good in Oregon. Measure 80 continues to trail in a new SurveyUSA poll and is in fact declining slightly in popularity from a SurveyUSA poll done five weeks ago. Only 36% of respondents said they were voting for Measure 80, while 43% said they were voting against. The initiative has lost one point since the previous poll, while the opposition has gained two points.

That still leaves more than one out of five voters undecided, meaning Measure 80 could theoretically still triumph. But it would have to hold onto all of its "yes" voters and pick up two-thirds of the undecideds to do so, and that is an exceedingly tall order.

Measure 80 has majority support among only one demographic group, liberals, where it garners 60%. It has lost previous majority support among Democrats and independents and trails among all age groups. It looks like it will be back to the drawing board for Oregon activists.

Gary Johnson Supporters Robocall Colorado Democrats Over Marijuana Crackdown

Colorado is a tightly-contested swing state. According to the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls, Republican challenger Mitt Romney holds a vanishingly narrow lead over President Obama of 47.8% to 47.6%. In a national election that appears to be growing tighter in the final weeks, Colorado could end up deciding who wins.

Gary Johnson
It is also a state where there are two reasons marijuana is at play as a political issue. Most significantly, it is the site of the Amendment 64 Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol legalization campaign, which maintains a shrinking lead in recent polls, and which has generated reams of media coverage in recent weeks. But it is also one of the medical marijuana states that have seen their dispensary systems threatened by heavy-handed federal interventions, which has generated ill-feeling toward the Obama administration in some quarters.

And it is a state where Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of neighboring New Mexico, is making a strong push, with marijuana legalization and marijuana policy as one of his strongest talking points. Johnson isn't included in those polls mentioned above, but when pollsters do bother to include him, as Public Policy Polling did last month and Politico did this month, he's bringing in about 5% of the vote -- and he takes three votes away from Obama for every two he takes from Romney. [Update: The latest PPP poll, released Monday, shows Johnson taking away slightly more from Romney than Obama.]

Democrats may have been hoping that turnout by supporters of marijuana legalization would help them cruise to victory in Colorado, but Johnson is doing his best to separate those voters from the Democrats who hope to own them. Johnson has been stumping feverishly on legalization, and his campaign has smartly used all the attention paid to the initiative to generate attention for his position and his candidacy.

Now, as David Sirota points out in an excellent analysis of pot and presidential politics in Colorado in Salon, things have escalated, with pro-Johnson robo-call ads identified with the Utah-based libertarian think tank the Libertas Institute going out to Democratic voters with a message that should be chilling for Democrats:

"Hello, fellow Democrat," a friendly male voice says. "Like you I was thrilled to vote for Barack Obama in 2008. In 2008, candidate Obama promised not to use the Justice Department to prosecute medical marijuana in states where it was legal. But the real Obama did just that, more than doubling prosecutions, putting people in prisons and shutting down medical marijuana facilities in Colorado. That's not the change you wanted on health freedom. But you can still be a force for hope and change by voting for Gary Johnson."

Could Gary Johnson peel off enough voters disenchanted with the Obama administration's medical marijuana stance and motivated by a chance to vote for marijuana legalization to throw the state, and just possibly, the national election, to Romney? We will know in less than two weeks.

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

CO
United States

Post-Election, Fate of Dutch "Weed Pass" Uncertain

The conservative Dutch government was all set to introduce the controversial "weed pass" system, in which Dutch citizens would have to register with the government to buy marijuana at the county's famous cannabis cafes or coffee shops and foreigners would be out of luck, nationwide on January 1, but then the government fell in a September election.

Now the leading conservative party, the VVD, is in talks to form a new government with the Labor Party, which opposes the weed pass, and Dutch News is reporting that the two parties are working on a compromise solution. In any case, it looks like nationwide introduction of the weed pass is now dead.

The weed pass system is already in place in selected Dutch border towns, where it was imposed in a bid to stanch the flow of "drug tourists" from more repressive France, Germany, and Belgium. The VVD justice minister, Ivo Opstelten, has described it as "a great success," but there have also been numerous reports of increased street dealing and other prohibition-related nuisances in its wake.

The weed pass system has been strongly opposed by cannabis cafe operators, as well as the administrations of major Dutch cities, such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Weed pass foes organized to get out the vote for left-leaning parties during the brief election campaign, but they may not be happy with the reported compromise solution.

According to Dutch News, the proposed agreement would end the weed pass system for Dutch nationals, but foreigners would not be allowed into the coffee shops. That solution would remove the fear that some Dutch have expressed of being on a government list of marijuana consumers, but would leave foreign visitors to Holland to look for their marijuana on the streets -- one of the very ills the coffee houses were meant to address.

The weed pass issue is one of the few remaining bones of contention between Labor and the VVD. The two parties will have to come up with some sort of compromise on it before they can form a new government.

Netherlands

Initiative Watch

With less than three weeks to go until election day, there is a lot of activity on the state-level initiative front- -- but not everywhere. Some campaigns are staying mighty quiet, and that's a strategy that could work for them. Let's get to it:

National

On Monday, former DEA heads and drug czars reiterated their call for the Justice Department to attack marijuana legalization initiatives. The drug warriors are attempting to pressure Attorney General Eric Holder to take a public stand against the initiatives.

"Next month in Colorado, Oregon and Washington states, voters will vote on legalizing marijuana," Peter Bensinger, the moderater of the call and former administrator of the DEA during the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations, began the call. "Federal law, the US Constitution and Supreme Court decisions say that this cannot be done because federal law preempts state law. And there is a bigger danger that touches every one of us -- legalizing marijuana threatens public health and safety. In states that have legalized medical marijuana, drug driving arrests, accidents, and drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed. Drug treatment admissions are up and the number of teens using this gateway drug is up dramatically."

That prompted a response from the Marijuana Policy Project: "These former officials are stuck in the mindset that we can arrest our way to decreased marijuana use," said Morgan Fox, the group's communications manager. "This policy has obviously failed and at great cost. We need to treat marijuana as a public health issue and stop wasting resources arresting adults for using something that is demonstrably safer than alcohol. Unfortunately, people like these former officials, who have made careers out of keeping marijuana illegal, are promoting federal interference against reform efforts. Individual states need to be free to experiment with polices that give control of the marijuana market to legitimate businesses instead of criminals and that do not include arrest or incarceration. The federal government should be encouraging states to explore alternatives to ineffective policies rather than expensively and uniformly pursuing continued failure."

Arkansas

On Monday, the Arkansas Pharmacists Association said it would oppose Issue 5, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act. The association said it opposed the measure because it does not incorporate pharmacists and would lead to conflicts with federal law. The pharmacists said they weren't taking a position on medical marijuana, only on the initiative. They said if Arkansas wants medical marijuana, it should pursue regulatory changes to get it rescheduled.

On Wednesday, the Arkansas Times endorsed Issue 5. The Little Rock alternative weekly said it has "misgivings" about legalizing medical marijuana given federal opposition, but said it was always a safe bet to line up opposite the "hateful" Arkansas Family Council, which opposes it.

California

See our feature story on the Three Strikes sentencing reform initiative, Proposition 36, this week here.

Colorado

Last Friday, musician Melissa Etheridge endorsed Amendment 64, the state's legalization initiative. She appears on a new radio ad and talks about her personal experience with marijuana, first as a cancer patient, and then as a legalization advocate.

On Sunday, a new poll had Amendment 64 still winning, but with a shrinking margin. The initiative was ahead 48% to 43%, but was seeing declines in support among women, people with a college degree, and some other demographics. A poll a week earlier had Amendment 64 at 50% with a 10-point lead.

On Monday, the United Food and Commercial Workers endorsed Amendment 64, saying it would create jobs and bolster the state and local economies. UFCW Local 7, which represents 25,000 workers in Colorado and Wyoming is the state's largest union. "Amendment 64 will foster economic growth and enhance public safety for our members across Colorado," said UFCW Local 7 president Kim Cordova. "Removing marijuana from the underground market and regulating it similarly to alcohol will create living-wage jobs and bolster our state and local economies with tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue and savings. By taking marijuana off the streets and putting it in retail stores, we can stop steering money toward gangs and drug cartels, and start directing it toward legitimate, job-producing Colorado businesses."

On Tuesday, two dozen state clergy and faith leaders endorsed Amendment 64. "How we punish people and what we punish them for are central moral questions," said the Rev. Bill Kurton. "If a punishment policy fails to meet its objectives and causes harms to humans, I believe we have a moral obligation to support change. Our laws punishing marijuana use have caused more harm than good to our society and that is why I am supporting replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of strict regulation with sensible safeguards."

Massachusetts

The buttoned-down Question 3 campaign is keeping mighty quiet as its medical marijuana initiative maintains a comfortable lead in polls.

Montana

The I-124 campaign, which seeks a "no" vote to repeal the legislature's gutting last year of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, is also staying quiet.

Oregon

Last Friday, Clear Channel Communications agreed to take down a series of billboards put up by groups tied to the Florida-based Drug Free America Foundation, operated by long-time drug warriors Mel and Betty Sembler. The communications giant acted after online protests by Women for Measure 80, the state's legalization initiative. The billboards featured a photograph of a young woman who appeared strung out on crack or meth, not marijuana. "The ads protesting marijuana are being removed because our policy is transparency of advertising campaigns and the advertisers who are sponsoring them," said a Clear Channel spokesman. "These ads include a misleading website that we believe needed to honestly represent the advertiser so the ads are being removed."

On Monday, Measure 80 supporters rallied at the state capitol. Several dozen showed up to show their support.

Washington

Last Thursday, researchers reported that there had been 240,000 marijuana possession arrests in the state in the past 25 years. Police made more than half of those marijuana arrests in just the last 10 years. Nearly four out of five arrested were under age 35, and ethnic minorities were arrested at rates disproportionate to their makeup of the population. The report was prepared by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, which has produced studies of marijuana possession arrests in New York, California, and major US cities.

Last Friday, I-502 proponent Rick Steves was heckled at the state capitol rotunda by about 20 noisy protestors, including medical marijuana advocates who bitterly oppose the initiative. Four or five of the protestors were escorted out of the building by state police, and Rep. Sam Hunt, an I-502 supporter, got into a scuffle with one of the opponents.

Medical Marijuana Update

The federal rescheduling petition got a day in court, the feds keep up the pressure in California, a dispensary may actually open in New Jersey, and those are just the headlines. There's much more going on, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last week, the National League of Cities adopted a resolution on medical marijuana. The resolution calls on the federal government "to consider a precise interpretation of the CSA to recognize and address whether the medicinal use of marijuana in prescribed circumstances is or is not in conflict with the CSA." The cities complained that they are wasting valuable resources trying to address the conflict between state laws allowing medical marijuana and the federal government's absolutist position.

On Tuesday, the DC Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on an appeal of the DEA's decision to reject the marijuana rescheduling petition. Click on the link to read our feature story on it.

Arizona

Last Friday, a medical marijuana patient sued the state after police seized her marijuana-infused oil. Charise Voss Arfa claims police wrongfully considered the oil labeled "Soccer Moms Tincture" a narcotic instead of marijuana. A tincture is typically an alcoholic extract of plant or animal material or solution. The lawsuit argues the statute defining cannabis is too vague and should not apply to medical-marijuana cardholders who legally participate in the state program. The lawsuit asks the courts to order police to return the oil; to ban police from arresting, prosecuting or taking property from medical-marijuana cardholders; and to declare the state's criminal statute related to cannabis void as it applies to medical-marijuana patients and caregivers.

California

Last Wednesday, the DEA and local police raided seven Long Beach dispensaries and arrested more than 40 people. The raid is just the latest, though possibly the largest, crackdown on medical marijuana in Long Beach since the city's ban went into full effect in August. The ban was a reaction by city officials to a court ruling that the city can't regulate the drug because it is illegal under federal law. City Hall had worked for two years to come up with a permitting system and regulations to control the number of collectives, and once that law was voided, the city council voted to ban medical marijuana rather than risk its unregulated proliferation throughout the city.

Last Friday, G3 Holistic dispensary owner Aaron Sandusky was convicted of federal marijuana charges by a jury that heard no mention of medical marijuana. Sandusky, who operated three Southern California dispensaries, was convicted on two charges, but the jury could not agree on four other counts. He is now looking at a mandatory minimum 10 years in federal prison, and up to a life sentence. Sandusky, who had been free on bail, was immediately jailed.

Also last Friday, Concord elected officials said they are considering an ordinance to restrict medical marijuana cultivation. The move comes after complaints from residents about smelly outdoor grows. "Perhaps looking at having the growth indoors instead of outdoors, that would take care of some of the major concerns we have," said Mayor Ron Leone.

Also last Friday, activists filed papers with the city of Los Angeles for a May referendum to regulate -- not ban -- dispensaries in the city. The Angelenos for Safe Access Committee needs to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. The proposed initiative would increase the city tax on dispensaries from 5% to 6% of revenues, require dispensaries to register with the city, require background checks for operators and employees, and require that dispensaries respect distance requirements from schools and churches. The move comes after the city council first banned dispensaries, then voted to un-ban them in the face of another, successful petition drive.

Also last Friday, the city of Covina took legal action to shut down a dispensary. The city attorney had sought and won a temporary restraining order to shut down the LPC Center, which had opened in the city during the summer, but the dispensary didn't shut its doors. The new complaint alleges that the dispensary operators lack a business license and that the dispensary is a public nuisance because it is in violation of the city's municipal code. There will be a hearing next week where a judge will consider granting Covina a preliminary injunction to force the cooperative to close. According to the complaint, "distributing marijuana, whether for medical purposes or otherwise, is not a permitted use" under Covina's municipal code.

Last Saturday, voters in Eagle Rock rejected most of the medical marijuana slate in neighborhood council elections. The neighborhood has been hit hard by police actions against dispensaries, with support from the neighborhood council. Dispensary operators and supporters had called on Los Angeles residents to vote in the neighborhood election in support of dispensaries, leading to charges of unfair election practices.

On Monday, DEA agents visited some LA dispensaries that had received federal threat letters in September. Agents visited up to 21 dispensaries, reminding them that they needed to shut down. "We do have a couple agents doing follow up," said DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen. "It's routine since these letters are going out. We wanted to determine the status of where these places are at." In late September, the DEA targeted 68 dispensaries with threat letters and raided three. The feds aim at wiping out dispensaries in Eagle Rock and downtown LA.

On Tuesday, DEA agents visited an Eagle Rock dispensary, prompting it to close its doors. The Together for Change dispensary had opened in May, after the American Eagle Collective, which operated at the same location, was raided and shut down by LAPD. Together for Change is one of the 68 dispensaries targeted by September federal threat letters.

Also on Tuesday, the Sacramento city council moved to prohibit outdoor marijuana grows. The council voted 8-1 to direct city staffers to draft an ordinance barring them. Council members said the grows were a magnet for crime and a nuisance to neighbors. The council also voted to keep in place existing location restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries. Those restrictions prohibit the shops from operating within 1,000 feet of other dispensaries, 300 feet from residences and 600 feet from schools and parks. The city has a moratorium on new dispensaries following the federal crackdown, but allows 17 already existing dispensaries to operate.

Colorado

As of the end of July, the number of registered medical marijuana patients passed the 100,000 mark for the first time since September 2011. That's according to figures released last week by the state Department of Public Health and Environment. The number of patients had peaked at more than 128,000 people in June 2011 before shrinking over a five-month period to just over 80,000. The decline was variously attributed to increased dispensary regulations, a glut of medical marijuana available from growers, and the $90 fee for registering.

On Tuesday, Carbondale trustees narrowly rejected a dispensary application. They voted 4-3 to deny CMED a business permit, even though the dispensary has been open for two years. CMED owner Michael Weisser, who has been caught in a regulatory wringer the entire time, demanded to know whether the town was shutting him down and was told the trustees would let him know."You'd better do it quick, because I'm going to move immediately for an injunction against the board," Weisser replied.

Maine

Last Saturday, Maine police returned plants stolen from a medical marijuana grower in Ellsworth. Police initially hesitated to return the plants, citing concerns about violating federal law, but then relented. The grower said he was able to save only part of the crop.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a case that will help determine whether dispensaries can sell marijuana to patients who don't grow their own. The case involves a Mount Pleasant dispensary that allowed members to sell marijuana to each other. It was prosecuted by Isabella County authorities, and the conviction was upheld last year by a state appeals court.

New Jersey

On Monday, the Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair received state permission to open. It would be the first in the state, and the permission comes nearly three years after the Garden State approved medical marijuana.

On Wednesday, the Compassionate Care Foundation said it wouldn't open a dispensary until next year. The foundation, which plans to open a dispensary in Egg Harbor Township near Atlantic City, has faced delays because of the state's extensive background check process.

New Mexico

On Monday, advocates announced a campaign to keep PTSD as a qualifying condition for the state's medical marijuana program. PTSD is currently a qualifying condition, but its status is threatened by a request to remove it. Advocates aid more than 3,000 New Mexico residents with PTSD are enrolled in the state's program. The advocates, including the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Alliance, the Drug Policy Alliance, and others are calling the campaign Don't Take Away Our Medicine. "We deserve access to effective medical treatments whether we’ve just come home from combat or we are suffering debilitating symptoms from other trauma," said Chris Hsu, NM Medical Cannabis Patient’s Alliance’s Vice President.

Rhode Island

On Monday, the Rhode Island Medical Society joined a lawsuit against the state health department over its recent decision to only allow physicians -- not nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants -- to sign medical marijuana applications. The state ACLU had sued last week on behalf of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, Rhode Island Academy of Physician Assistants and a Bristol patient. Applications signed by nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants had previously been accepted. The medical society said the new policy was arbitrary and that doctors needed to be able to delegate responsibilities to other medical professionals.

Decriminalize Drug Possession, UK Experts Say

In a report six years in the making, the United Kingdom Drug Policy Commission, a non-governmental advisory body chaired by Dame Edith Runciman, has called for a reboot of British drug policy and for decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.

The report, A Fresh Approach to Drugs, found that the UK is wasting much of the $4.8 billion a year it spends fighting illegal drugs, and that the annual cost to the country of hard drug use was about $20 billion. A smarter set of drug policies emphasizing prevention, diversion, and treatment would be a more effective use of public resources, the report found.

Some 42,000 people in the UK are convicted each year of drug possession offenses and another 160,000 given citations for marijuana possession. Arresting, citing, and jailing all those people "amounts to a lot of time and money for police, prosecution, and courts," the report said.

"To address these costs, there is evidence to suggest that the law on the possession of small amounts of controlled drugs, for personal use only, could be changed so that it is no longer a criminal offence. Criminal sanctions could be replaced with simple civil penalties, such as a fine, perhaps a referral to a drug awareness session run by a public health body, or if  there was a demonstrable need, to a drug treatment program. The evidence from other countries that have done this is that it would not necessarily lead to any significant increase in use, while providing opportunities to address some of the harms associated with existing drug laws," the report recommended.

"Given its relatively low level of harm, its wide usage, and international developments, the obvious drug to focus on as a first step is cannabis, which is already subject to lesser sanctions than previously with the use of cannabis warnings. If evaluations indicated that there were no substantial negative consequences, similar incremental measures could be considered, with caution and careful further evaluation, for other drugs," the report said.

But while the commission was ready to embrace decriminalization, it was not ready to go as far as legalizing drug sales.

"We do not believe that there is sufficient evidence at the moment to support the case for removing criminal penalties for the major production or supply offenses of most drugs," it said.

Still, policymakers might want to consider lowering the penalties for growing small numbers of marijuana plants to "undermine the commercialization of production, with the associated involvement of organized crime."

The report also called for a review of harsh sentences for drug offenses, a consistent framework for regulating all psychoactive substances -- from nicotine to heroin -- and for moving the policy prism through which drug policy is enacted from the criminal justice system to the public health system.

But the Home Office, which currently administers drug policy in Britain, wasn't having any of it. Things are going swimmingly already, a Home Office spokesperson said.

"While the government welcomes the UKDPC's contribution to the drugs debate, we remain confident that our ambitious approach to tackling drugs -- outlined in our drugs strategy -- is the right one," the spokesperson said. "Drug usage is at its lowest level since records began. Drug treatment completions are increasing and individuals are now significantly better placed to achieve recovery and live their lives free from drugs. "I want to take this opportunity to thank the UKDPC for its work in this area over the past six years."

United Kingdom

Colorado Marijuana Measure Sees Lead Shrink in New Poll

A SurveyUSA poll released Sunday shows Colorado's marijuana legalization initiative, Amendment 64, still winning, but with a shrinking lead and with approval under 50%. A University of Denver poll released a week earlier had Amendment 64 right at 50%. These latest polls only add to the sense that the marijuana legalization vote in Colorado is going to be a nail-biter.

The SurveyUSA poll had support for Amendment 64 at 48%, with those opposed at 43%, and 9% undecided. That's a five-point lead, down from 11 points in a SurveyUSA poll done five weeks ago.

According to the latest poll, the initiative is losing support among women, who five weeks ago favored it by 10 points, but now oppose it by eight. It is also losing support among people with a college degree, who favored it by nine points five weeks ago, but now oppose it by five. It is also losing ground among upper-income voters.

The erosion of support for drug reform initiatives in the final weeks of a campaign is not unexpected. Voters begin to finally pay attention as the campaign season goes into its frantic final weeks, and the opposition gears up its efforts to defeat them. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, though, has a pre-paid $700,000 advertising campaign ready to go and is aiming to win over those groups where support is weakening.

The latest SurveyUSA poll also had President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a virtual dead heat, with Romney winning 48% to 47% head-to-head and 46% to 45% in a three-way race that includes Libertarian Gary Johnson polling at 2%. Johnson supports marijuana legalization, and some reform activists have been hoping that he will pull pro-legalization voters away from the major party candidates, but this poll doesn't suggest that is the case.

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

CO
United States

Initiative Watch

There's less than a month to go, but some initiatives are more active than others.

Arkansas

Both the Arkansas Issue 5 campaign and the opposition were very quiet this week.

California

Proposition 36, the three-strikes sentencing initiative is finally getting some attention. The stealthy campaign was the subject of at least eight news stories in the past few days, but remains mostly under the radar.

Colorado

Last week, the National Cannabis Coalition donated $3,000 to Amendment 64 and said it had another $3,000 in matching funds from a generous donor. The Coalition has also supported the marijuana decriminalization measure in Springfield, Missouri, and the successful campaigns of Ellen Rosenblum in Oregon and Beto O’Rourke in Texas.

On Tuesday, the Amendment 64 campaign announced it had the endorsements of more than 300 doctors. The move came after the Colorado branch of the American Academy of Pediatrics came out in opposition to the initiative. The announcement came at a news conference featuring Dr. Larry Bedard, a former president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Massachusetts

On Sunday, a Boston Globe poll had Question 3, the medical marijuana initiative, cruising toward victory. The poll had support at 69%, with opposition at only 22% and 9% undecided. Even Republicans favored the initiative.

Montana

The I-124 campaign continues to try to explain why voters should vote "no" on election day
. The initiative would repeal restrictions imposed on the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program and reinstate the original program. A "yes" vote upholds the restrictions; a "no" vote would undo them.

Oregon

See our feature article on Measure 80 here.

On Wednesday, GOP state Senate candidate Cliff Hutchinson endorsed Measure 80. He is the first Oregon Republican to do so. He is also head of the libertarian-leaning Republican Liberty Caucus. “From historical figures like William F. Buckley to current Republican national voices like Jeff Flake and Tom Tancredo, to up-and-coming conservatives like Meghan McCain, more and more conservatives are supporting sensible marijuana policy because it aligns with their core values and political platforms,” said Roy Kaufmann, spokesman for the Yes on 80 campaign. “We’re proud to have Cliff’s support and look forward to adding more conservative Oregonians to our movement.”

Next Monday,.a Measure 80 women's rally will take place at the state capitol. The Oregon Women for Measure 80 rally is being held in solidarity with the national Moms for Marijuana rally on the steps of our nation’s capitol that same day.

Washington

Last Wednesday, the I-502 campaign picked up a surprising endorsement: GOP US Senate hopeful Michael Baumgartner. The endorsement gives the campaign one of its highest-profile Republican supporters yet. Baumgartner, a state senator from Spokane who is running a long-shot bid to unseat Democratic US Sen. Maria Cantwell, said drug law reform isn't typically supported by his party, but he believes I-502 is a good step toward changing what he described as a wasteful policy of marijuana prohibition. According to electful.com, Cantwell supports "modernized" drug laws and drug courts, but not legalization.

On Wednesday, New Approach Washington announced its final push media campaign. The campaign will feature two thirty-second ads that will air on broadcast and cable television throughout western Washington and Spokane. The ads will feature two former US Attorneys and a former FBI agent and will run during early morning news shows in Seattle and Spokane and on MSNBC and CNN early morning news programs in Vancouver and Longview.

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