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National Geographic "American Weed" Series Premiering Tonight

The Family Business: The Stanley brothers inspect young crops at their medical marijuana growhouse. (Steve Schrenzel / NGT)
The new National Geographic series "American Weed," exploring the Colorado's booming medical marijuana industry and the pushback, premieres tonight at 10:00pm ET/PT. Watch, then come back here to the Speakeasy and let us know what you think.

More info on "American Weed" is online at http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/american-weed/. A series of video previews is online here, or can be viewed below on this page.

Here's the announcement NatGeo emailed us this morning:
 

American Weed
 
Premieres Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT
 

All-new series American Weed finds Colorado medical marijuana businesses under scrutiny and facing mounting pressures from local residents. Medical cannabis entrepreneur and Fort Collins dispensary owner Josh Stanley works aggressively to counter such pressure with radio ads and fundraisers. As the oldest of 11 kids, Josh relies heavily on several of his brothers to work at the grove and keep his business supplied in medical marijuana. Meanwhile, Sgt. Jim Gerhardt and fellow officers on the North Metro Task Force continue to find illegal grows by residents claiming to be growing medical marijuana. Is the pendulum swinging back to curb the 10-year proliferation of medical marijuana in Colorado?

 

American Weed: Marijuana Drama

Premieres Wednesday, February 22, 2012, at 10 p.m. ET/PT

Fort Collins dispensary owner Dawn Clifford and her husband, John, are facing the possibility of their business being shut down due to a proposed marijuana dispensaries ban.  If it happens, all owners are on the chopping block, and hundreds of patients will be left in the cold. The Stanley brothers are growing their medicinal marijuana to sell at their dispensaries throughout the state.  But the guys face a problem: their $250,000 crop must be moved before the plants outgrow the space and the crop is lost. Meanwhile, Scoot Crandall is rounding up votes to stop Fort Collins from being what he calls the “pot capital of Northern Colorado.” And Sgt. Jim Gerhardt discovers marijuana is growing in a suburban neighborhood within reach of children — who have picked leaves and taken them to school.

 

California Marijuana Initiatives Starving for Cash [FEATURE]

Proponents of four out of five of the California marijuana initiative campaigns came together to tout the merits of their various measures at a public meeting in Mill Valley, just across the Golden Gate Bridge and up the road from San Francisco, Tuesday night. But the take away message from the confab was that every single one of the initiatives is in serious trouble if it doesn't get a large cash injection -- and soon.

the crowd listens in Mill Valley
Three of the initiatives, Regulate Marijuana Like Wine 2012 (RMLW), the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act of 2012 (RCPA), and the California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative of 2012 (CCHHI), offer competing, though mostly similar, versions of legalization, while the  Marijuana Penalties Act of 2012 would expand decriminalization. The fifth initiative, the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act of 2012 (MMRCTA), seeks to bring statewide regulation to the state's confused and chaotic medical marijuana marketplace.

Disinterested but detailed summaries of each initiative are available at the state Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) initiative fiscal analysis web page, and are highly recommended reading for those interested in the finer picture of what each initiative does. But in summary, according to the LAO, each of the three legalization initiatives would change state law to legalize marijuana possession by adults and regulate the legal commerce in it.

Equally striking, in the LAO's analysis, each of the three legalization initiatives would save the state either "potentially tens of millions of dollars" (RMLW) or "potentially the low hundreds of millions" (RCPA, CCHHI) annually in pot prohibition enforcement costs foregone. At the same time, any of the three would generate "potentially hundreds of millions of dollars" annually in tax revenues, while the MMRCTA would generate "tens of millions of dollars" in potential additional revenues.

The LAO took care, however, to point out that its fiscal impact estimates, and especially its revenue estimates, depended highly on the nature of the federal response to marijuana legalization in California. The figures cited above happen only if the federal government allows  a legal marijuana commerce to thrive.

With that pot of green gold from legalization enticingly foreseeable, even if the path past federal intransigence is unclear, the frustration of initiative campaigners at their inability to raise money to get on the ballot is evident. With each day that passes without a paid professional signature-gathering campaign underway, the cost of gathering each signature goes up. And the clock is ticking. The initiatives have only until April 20 to turn in 504,000 valid voter signatures.

"Time is running out to get these initiatives on the ballot," RMLW campaign presenter Steve Collett, a Los Angeles attorney, told the crowd. "We're going to need to raise some money to do it. We think we need about $2 million to get on the ballot, and then we can reap $230 million a year forever."

Collett pointed to RMLW's list of endorsements and a poll it commissioned showing 62% support for the measure as enticements to potential funders. RMLW is going to need those funders, and it's in the best shape of any of the legalization initiatives.

The RMLW campaign had only raised $131,000 by the end of December, according to the California Secretary of State, and only another $20,000 since then. It currently has only 40,000-50,000 signatures gathered. The other campaigns are in even worse shape.

"We're all down to the last minute," said Oakland attorney Bill Panzer, spokesman for the RCPA campaign. "If we don't get money to get professional signature-gatherers, we don't get on the ballot," he added. "But," he reminded the audience, "with Proposition 215, we got most of the signatures in five weeks with the professionals."

Dale Gieringer of MMCTR and Bill Panzer of Repeal
CCHHI campaign spokesman Buddy Dusy was mum about fundraising, but said the campaign had 130 paid signature-gatherers. "We need to do it for Jack Herer," he said.

California NORML
head Dale Gieringer, who acted as spokesman for the MMRCTA campaign, said it was in do or die negotiations with potential funders right now and has a team of experienced campaign professionals ready to go.

"These are very critical negotiations going on right now, and we will know within another week or so if this comes through," he said. "If we don't get the money, we're not going to get on the ballot."

"Proposition 19 was the wrong election year, it was poorly drafted, and it was opposed by people in our movement who feared for patients' rights, but it still did very well," said Panzer. "Any of these initiatives can pass if they make it to the ballot."

But Gieringer argued that fixing medical marijuana needed to come first.

"All the polls I've seen show that legalization is very dicey in California, but when you talk about medical marijuana and the need for regulation, support is in the 60s," he told the crowd. "It's hard to call on the public to further liberalize the marijuana laws when they feel things are chaotic enough with medical marijuana. We have to demonstrate that we can regulate medical marijuana to make the public comfortable enough to move on to the next step, legalization."

Although there was talk Tuesday about forging unity, none of the initiative campaigns was prepared to give up and go to work for the other. That leaves three legalization campaigns and the medical marijuana initiative all competing for the same funding, and all of them -- so far at least -- coming up short.

While, barring a miracle, seeing marijuana legalization on the California ballot this year looks extremely unlikely, perhaps the movement can get its act together for 2014 or 2016. At least, the campaigns are starting to talk about it.

"We need a coalition of all the legalization people to create an organization that will be a true legalization coalition in California," said Collett. "We have the same long-term objectives, but differences about how to go about it. Sometimes egos get in the way, but we have to focus on the 70,000 Californians getting arrested for marijuana every year."

Mill Valley, CA
United States

Haarlem Cannabis Cafes Reject Dutch-Only Member Passes

All 16 cannabis coffee shops in the city of Haarlem have united in opposition to the Dutch government's "Weed Pass" program, which would bar foreigners from entry to the coffee shops and make the coffee shops "members only" for Dutch citizens. The plan foresees placing a cap on the number of members each coffee shop could have.

Haarlem, The Netherlands (wikimedia.org)
The conservative coalition governing the Netherlands doesn't like marijuana. It has created the Weed Pass program first as a measure to reduce "drug tourism" in Dutch border cities, and second as a means of restricting coffee shop numbers within the county. It was supposed to be rolled out in the border towns in January, but has been delayed until May, and is supposed to go nationwide next year, despite objections from, among others, the city of Amsterdam.

The Haarlem coffee shop owners, unified as Team Haarlems' Coffeeshopentrepreneurs (THC), announced Friday that they "have decided not to comply with the new criteria for tolerated coffee shops, like registering Dutch citizens as cannabis users, and discriminating against all non-Dutch coffee shop visitors."

The Weed Pass plan would bankrupt their businesses and lead to increases in street drug dealing and personal marijuana cultivation, the association warned. It cited the results of a poll of 700 coffee shop patrons it had conducted.

That poll found that only 12.4% of participants would register under the Weed Pass program. Nearly 63% said they would buy marijuana on the black market, while 21.7% said they would grow their own instead.

If coffee shops lost nearly 90% of their clientele, they would go broke, so complying with the Weed Pass "is simply no option," the association said. Closing up shop would result in the loss of about 90 "budtender" jobs in the city, they added.

"We cannot beat bankruptcy, so our staff, customers and ourselves are ready to start a struggle with Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten, before our civilized city will be divided in working areas for street dealers and drug runners," the association vowed.

Haarlem is a city of about 150,000 people just west of Amsterdam and on the northern fringe of the Randstad, a conurbation of 7.1 million people, that includes Amsterdam, The Hague,  Rotterdam, and Utrecht, and is one of the largest metropolitan areas in Europe.

Haarlem
Netherlands

Colorado Marijuana Initiative Turns in Final Signatures

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The proponents of a Colorado initiative to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 14,000 additional voter signatures Friday in a last bid to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative needs only 2,400 valid signatures to qualify, meaning a whopping four out of five signatures handed in would have to be invalidated to keep the measure off the ballot.

The campaign had earlier turned in 159,000 signatures, nearly twice the 86,000 needed to qualify. But on examining the signatures, state election officials found that nearly half were invalid, an usually high percentage.

The initiative would amend the state constitution to allow the use, possession, and limited growing of marijuana by persons aged 21 or over. It would also establish a system through which marijuana is taxed and regulated -- like alcohol.

If the initiative qualifies for the ballot, Colorado will become the second state to ask voters to choose to legalize marijuana this year. New Approach Washington has successfully placed a similar measure, I-502, on the Washington ballot. Legalization initiative campaigns are also underway in California, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, and Oregon, but none of those have passed the signature-gathering hurdle.

Denver, CO
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana patients are taking to the streets Thursday, Feb. 16, to protest the Obama administration's clampdown on medical marijuana across the country. And then, there's the action at the state and local level. Here's the latest:

National

Americans for Safe Access is calling for a coordinated day of action Thursday to protest the Department of Justice crackdown on medical marijuana providers. Rallies will go on in nine cities in six states. Rallies are planned to take place at an Obama fundraiser in San Francisco, as well as at the president's campaign headquarters in Sacramento (CA) and San Diego (CA), and at federal buildings in several cities, including Trenton (NJ), Phoenix (AZ), Seattle (WA), Eugene (OR), and Portland (ME). For more detailed rally information, go here.

Arizona

Potential Arizona dispensary operators are chomping at the bit in the Phoenix metro area's East Valley. Now that a lawsuit filed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has been dismissed and the state has announced it will go ahead with licensing and regulating, there are more than 80 active applications for dispensaries in the East Valley. But under Arizona law, there can only be 12 in the area.

California

Last Wednesday, the Elk Grove City Council approved an ordinance restricting medical marijuana grows in the community to inside homes or detached backyard buildings. The 3-2 vote will allow patients or their primary caregivers to grow pot only on limited space indoors. The ordinance will take effect 30 days after a second reading. Other restrictions in the ordinance include a ban on growing within 1,000 feet of school or public park, an upper limit on grow lights of 1,200 watts, city-approved ventilation and security systems must be installed, and a cultivation permit is required.

Last Thursday, the San Francisco Examiner reported that the DEA had asked the city's Department of Public Health to turn over records for 12 of the city's remaining 21 dispensaries. Last year, the DEA asked for information on five dispensaries, whose landlords then received threat letters from federal prosecutors.  All five dispensaries closed. San Francisco was the first city in California to license and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries under its Medical Cannabis Act, which became law in 2005.

On Monday, the Atwater City Council voted to continue a now year-long temporary dispensary ban. The Merced County town first approved the moratorium for 45 days on February 14, 2011, then extended it for another 10 ½ months. It would have expired Wednesday had the council not acted. The new extension is for 45 days, which can also be extended for 10 ½ more months. The city said it is looking into drafting an ordinance.

On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council repealed its dispensary regulation ordinance. Council members had voted to limit dispensaries in September, which prompted a municipal initiative campaign to overturn the ordinance.

Also on Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council voted to ban dispensaries, although it gave 18 existing dispensaries that had played by the rules a six-month exemption. The council was pressed to act after an appeals court threw out its regulatory ordinance last year. The council can revisit the exemption for the existing dispensaries in four months, and it could increase the extension, shorten the extension, or do nothing.

Colorado

On Tuesday, the last dispensaries in Fort Collins closed their doors. That was the end result of a November election where voters approved an ordinance that banned the 20 or so dispensaries operating in the city.

Also on Tuesday, a bill in the state Senate that would have helped dispensaries with banking problems died in committee. Under federal pressure, banks and other financial institutions refuse to do business with Colorado medical marijuana enterprises. Senate Bill 75 would have allowed patients and dispensaries to join financial co-ops, but failed on a 5-2 vote in the Senate Finance Committee after being opposed by the banking industry.

Delaware

Last Friday, Gov. Jack Markell suspended the regulatory and licensing process for his state's dispensaries. He acted after federal prosecutors responded threateningly to a request for clarification Markell's office had made. Now, Delaware has a medical marijuana law with no dispensaries and no provision for patients to grow their own.

Hawaii

Last Friday, House Bill 1973, which is opposed by medical marijuana supporters, advanced on a committee vote and is now before the House Judiciary Committee. Among other provisions, the bill would remove severe pain as a qualifying condition, making about half of existing patients ineligible for the program.

Maryland

Last Thursday, Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) filed two bills based on working group approved by the legislature last year. House Bill 1024 would allow medical marijuana distribution only through university-affiliated hospitals, while House Bill 1158 would allow distribution through registered dispensaries. Maryland has a medical marijuana law, but it does not allow for access to medical marijuana and it only provides for a defense in court -- not protection from arrest. A broader bill was introduced last month as well.

Michigan

On Monday, a Chesterfield Township dispensary avoided being shut down by performing a legal end-run on Attorney General Bill Schuette. Big Daddy's Hydroponics and Compassion Center got a judge to agree that Schuette improperly attempted to have the judge find the facility in civil contempt and potentially shut it down and/or jail the owners. Because the claim sought punitive, not coercive, action, the case should be treated as criminal contempt, Big Daddy's attorney successfully argued. They now face criminal contempt charges, though, but at least they're still open for business.

Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse 2012 [FEATURE]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alabama

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

Connecticut

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

Idaho

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

Illinois

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

Indiana

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

Iowa

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

Kansas

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

Maryland

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

Massachusetts

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

Mississippi

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

Missouri

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

New Hampshire

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

New York

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

Ohio

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

Oklahoma

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

Pennsylvania

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

West Virginia

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

Wisconsin

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

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

Delaware Suspends Medical Marijuana Program

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) Friday suspended the regulation-writing and licensing process for the state's medical marijuana dispensaries, essentially killing medical marijuana in a state whose law does not allow patients or caregivers to grow their own.

Markell acted after the US Attorney for Delaware, Charles M. Oberly III, responded threateningly to a December request for clarification about his attitude toward the state's law from Markell's legal counsel, Michael Barlow. In line with the Justice Department's most recent iteration of its stance toward medical marijuana, last June's memo from Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Oberly warned that state employees who regulated the medical marijuana industry might not be safe from federal prosecution.

"Growing, distributing and possessing marijuana, in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities," Oberly wrote in a letter delivered last Thursday to Barlow. "Moreover, those who engage in financial transactions involving the proceeds of such activities may also be in violation of federal money laundering statutes… "State employees who conduct activities mandated by the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act are not immune from liability under" the Controlled Substances Act, Oberly added.

Markell's office told the Wilmington News Journal Friday that Oberly's stance prevented the Department of Health and Social Services from moving forward on licensing dispensaries, which, under Delaware's law, would be limited to three nonprofit operations.

"To do otherwise would put our state employees in legal jeopardy, and I will not do that," Markell said.

"If you look at the Cole memo, it focuses on this large-scale, industrial distribution model, and what we have in Delaware is a distribution model that centralizes that into one place," Barlow told the News Journal. "It seems to be something the Cole memo is looking to specifically. The governor's concern is that we're not doing things to put state employees potentially in the way of the federal government's new enforcement."

Ironically, some of the impetus for the passage of Delaware's medical marijuana law was the Obama administration's earlier adoption of a hands-off position on medical marijuana, the October 2009 memo from Cole's predecessor, David Ogden. That memo said federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers was "unlikely to be an efficient use of federal resources."

Delaware passed its medical marijuana law last May. A month later, the Cole memo came out, and the new wave of federal medical marijuana threats, raids, and prosecutions began.

Wilmington, DE
United States

Washington Voters to Decide Marijuana Legalization

An initiative that would legalize the limited possession of marijuana in the state of Washington and tax and regulate its commerce is headed for the November ballot to be decided by the voters after the state legislature punted on the matter last Thursday.

Initiative 502 campaigners handed in more than the 241,153 valid voter signatures required to be certified for the ballot by state officials. But under Washington law, such initiatives are first considered by the legislature, which has the chance to approve them itself.

The initiative was before the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee, but its chair, Rep. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia) said Thursday the committee, and thus the legislature, would take no action.

Passage would have been difficult in the legislature under ordinary circumstances, but was even more difficult because the initiative includes provisions raising taxes (in this case, on marijuana). Any initiative with tax increases requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature.

If passed, the measure would make Washington the first state to legalize the possession and commerce in marijuana and would put it on a collision course with the federal government.

The measure would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot or a pound of marijuana edibles, and they could buy it through state-run stores, much the same way the state handles liquor sales. The state stores would obtain their product from state-licensed growers and processors, with a 25% excise tax at each stage.

The initiative campaign is being run by New Approach Washington, which has brought together an impressive roster of endorsers and supporters, including TV personality and travel writer Rick Steves, former US Attorney for Western Washington, and a number of current and former state elected officials.

"Locking people up and putting handcuffs on them is not the way to resolve our society's issues with regard to marijuana," McKay, told legislators Thursday.

While most of the opposition to the initiative so far is coming from the usual suspects -- law enforcement, drug treatment providers -- some of it is coming from a segment of the state's medical marijuana community, which worries that the measure's setting a limit on THC levels to determine impairment in drivers could result in non-impaired patients being prosecuted.

But Dr. Kim Thorburn, Spokane County's former top public-health official, who spoke in support of the initiative, said those concerns were overblown. "In order to be stopped for impaired driving you have to show impairment," she said. "This is not a concern for medical-marijuana users and has been kind of a red herring that has been raised."

Now, it will be up to the voters to decide whether Washington becomes the first state to legalize marijuana, although by election time, they may not be alone. A similar initiative in Colorado is busy seeking a final 2,500 signatures to qualify for the ballot, while legalization initiative efforts are ongoing in California, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, and Nebraska.

Olympia, WA
United States

Marijuana Law Reform at the Statehouse 2012 [FEATURE]

State legislatures have convened or are convening all around the country, and once again this year, marijuana decriminalization or legalization are hot topics at the statehouse. Legalization bills are pending in three states (as well as on the ballot as initiatives in Washington and almost certainly Colorado), decriminalization bills are alive in nine states, and bills that would improve existing decriminalization laws have been filed in two states.

And this is still early in the legislative season. Bills can still be introduced in many states, and bills that have already been introduced can advance or be killed. By around the beginning of May, a clearer picture should emerge, but 2012 is already looking to be even more active than last year when it comes to decriminalization and legalization bills.

There's a reason for that, said leading reformers.

"We're seeing more bills introduced, and they're having stronger and more sponsors," said Karen O'Keefe, state policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "We're also seeing more and more public support for decriminalization and legalization. We're approaching critical mass as more and more people see marijuana prohibition as a failed public policy, and in legislatures because of fiscal constraints and changing public sentiment."

"Each year, these bills are easier to introduce, there is less controversy, and the media reaction is generally neutral to positive," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. "Baby boomers, medical marijuana, the Internet, and the state of the economy have all had an impact, even, finally, on legislators and their staffs," he explained.

"Before 1996, nobody invited NORML; now our staff is regularly going to meetings requested by legislators around the country," St. Pierre recalled. "First, we couldn't get them to return our phone calls; now they're calling us. Everything is in play because of activists around the country doing years of work."

That contact with legislators has led to results, St. Pierre said. "We've been involved in almost all of this legislation. Either we helped write it or legislators contacted us for deep background and we're testifying at public hearings on these bills."

MPP has been busy, too, O'Keefe said. "We have paid lobbyists in Rhode Island and Vermont, and one of our legislative analysts, Matt Simon, is from New Hampshire and has been working on bills up there," she said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, O'Keefe thought the prospects of passage were best in Rhode Island and Vermont. "In Rhode Island, more than half of both chambers are cosponsors of the decriminalization bill, while in Vermont, Gov. Shumlin has been very supportive, and for the first time we have a Republican sponsor in the Senate -- we already had one in the House," she said.

Getting a marijuana bill through a state legislature is a frustrating, time-consuming process, and there is a chance that none of these bills will pass this year. But there is also a chance some will, and some will pass eventually, if not this year, next year, or the year after.

Here is what is currently going on around marijuana law reform at the state house (compiled from our Legislative Center, with additional information from MPP's list of bills and from cantaxreg.com):

Legalization Bills

Massachusetts


Thirteen months ago, Rep. Ellen Story introduced House Bill 1371, which would allow the legal and regulated sale of marijuana to adults. It was referred to the Joint Committee on Judiciary then, and it is still pending. A hearing is scheduled on March 6.

New Hampshire

Last month, Rep. Calvin Pratt (R) introduced HB 1705, which would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and allow for regulated retail and wholesale sales. Marijuana would be taxed at a rate of $45 an ounce at wholesale and at 19% of the wholesale price at retail. The bill is now before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Washington

Last year, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D) and 13 cosponsors introduced House Bill 1550, which would replace prohibition with regulation. It and a companion bill, Senate Bill 5598, are still both alive. Dickerson's bill is pending in the House Committee on Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness.

Decriminalization Bills

Arizona


On January 9, Rep. John Fillmore (R) filed House Bill 2044, which would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a petty offense punishable by up to a $400 fine. Simple possession is currently a Class 6 felony in Arizona.

Hawaii

In March 2011, the Hawaii Senate passed Senate Bill 1460, which would reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce to a civil fine capped at $100. The current law specifies a jail stay of up to 30 days and a $1,000 fine. That bill was carried over and is now before the House Health, Public and Military Affairs, and Judiciary committees. Also carried over is House Bill 544, which would make possession of less than an ounce a violation instead of a misdemeanor and impose a maximum $500 fine. That bill is before the House Judiciary Committee.

Illinois

In January 2011, Rep. LaShawn Ford introduced House Bill 100, which would reduce the penalty for possession of up to 28.35 grams of marijuana to a $500 fine for a first offense, $750 for the second, and $1,000 for a subsequent offense. It would also reduce the charge from a misdemeanor to a petty offense. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce can be penalized with up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine. The bill has been referred to House Rules Committee, and is still alive in Illinois' two-year session.

Indiana

Last month, Sen. Karen Tallian introduced Senate Bill 347, which would reduce several marijuana-related penalties, including by making possession of up to three ounces of marijuana a civil infraction, punishable by up to a $500 fine and court costs. SB 347 was referred to the Committee on Corrections, Criminal, and Civil Matters.

New Hampshire

Last week, House Bill 1526, which would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce, got a hearing in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Sponsored by Rep. William Panek (R),the bill would mandate a maximum $100 fine. It also provides for notification of parents of minor offenders, who could be ordered to attend a drug awareness program.

New Jersey

Last month, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D) introduced Assembly Bill 1465, which would reduce the penalty for 15 grams or less of marijuana to a civil penalty. The first violation would be punishable by a $150 fine, $200 fine for a second offense, and $500 after that. Any adult caught three times would be ordered to undertake a drug education program, as would any minor regardless of prior offenses. The bill is currently before the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Rhode Island

Last month, more than half of the Rhode Island House of Representatives cosponsored Rep. John Edwards' bill to fine adults for simple possession of marijuana and to sentence minors to drug awareness classes. The bill, House Bill 7092, was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Current law provides for up to a year in jail and $500 fine; the bill would make it a civil offense with a maximum $150 fine.

Tennessee

In February 2011, Rep. Mike Kernell introduced House Bill 1737, which would reduce the penalty for less than 1/8 of an ounce of marijuana to a fine between $250 and $2,500. Possession would remain a Class A misdemeanor, but the bill would remove the possibility of a year-long jail sentence. Fines would remain the same.  A companion bill, Senate Bill 1597, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both bills remain alive in the state's two-year legislative session.

Vermont

Last year, a tri-partisan group of legislators led by Rep. Jason Lorber filed House Bill 427, which would reduce the penalty for adults' possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to civil fine of up to $150. Minors would be sent to drug education and community service for a first offense, as would adults under 21 convicted of a second or subsequent offense. The current penalty for first offense possession of marijuana is a fine of up to $500 and/or up to six months in jail. Second offense possession is currently punishable by up to two years in prison and/or up to a $1,000 fine. The bill is still alive in the state's two-year legislative session. Last month, Sen. Joe Benning (R) and Sen. Philip Baruth (D) filed Senate Bill 134, which would reduce marijuana penalties, including by reducing the penalty for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana to a civil fine of up to $100. It has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Decriminalization Improvement Bills

New York


Last year, legislators filed bills aimed at removing New York City's reputation as the world's marijuana arrest capital. The state's current decriminalization law creates an exception for marijuana possessed in a public place and which is burning or open to the public view. The NYPD has used that exception to arrest more than 50,000 people a year on misdemeanor charges instead of issuing them tickets. In May, Sen. Mark Grisanti (R) filed Senate Bill 5187, while Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries introduced a companion bill, A 7620. Both bills were referred to their chambers’ Codes Committees and are still alive.

North Carolina

A bill that would reclassify possession of an ounce as an infraction instead of a misdemeanor has been filed in North Carolina. HB 324 increases the decrim amount from a half-ounce, but removes the automatic suspended sentence for a first offense.

Twelve states have decriminalized marijuana possession so far (and possession in small amounts at home is legal under the Alaska constitution), but between an initial burst of reform activity in the 1970s and Nevada's decriminalization in 2002, there were three decades of stagnation. Since then, three more states- -- California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts -- have come on board, and chances are more will follow shortly, Legalization remains a tougher nut to crack, but so far, there are opportunities in five states this year.

Medical Marijuana Update

Busy, busy, busy, at every level from federal rescheduling through bills in the states to local decision-making. The medical marijuana world continues to be very active.

Alabama

On Tuesday, Rep. K.L. Brown (R-40th District) filed House Bill 66, the Alabama Medical Marijuana Patients Rights Act. It would allow patients with certain conditions to use marijuana to treat their conditions with a doctor's recommendation. The bill is backed by the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, which held a public meeting in Huntsville last Saturday to garner more awareness on the proposal.

Arizona

The House has passed a bill, HB 2349, which bars registered medical marijuana patients from possessing their medicine on college campuses, including dormitories. The bill, authored by Rep. Amanda Reeve (R-Phoenix), applies to universities, technical colleges, colleges, and public schools. It amends a portion of the state's medical marijuana law that bans the use or possession of medical marijuana at public schools or jails.

California

Last Wednesday, the Studio City Neighborhood Council rejected a "gentle ban" on dispensaries on a 5-4 vote. The vote was on a motion to show support for a law being considered by the Los Angeles City Council that would prohibit all medical marijuana businesses citywide.

Last Thursday, Citrus Heights police arrested two people in connection with the operation of a dispensary. Police said the dispensary was "illegal" because the proprietors were profiting from the criminal sale of marijuana. Police also noted that the city of Citrus Heights has a moratorium barring dispensaries within the city limits.

Last Tuesday, Riverside police in SWAT gear arrested a dispensary operator who they said used fake information to get a business license after his initial request was refused. Jimmie Sutterfield, the proprietor of Discount Patient Care, was booked on suspicion of filing false documents in a public office, perjury and burglary, all felony charges.

In a January 26 letter made public last week, Riverside city officials asked federal prosecutors to enforce the marijuana ban in their city. Riverside City Attorney Greg Priamos and Police Chief Sergio Diaz US Attorney André Birotte Jr., who has jurisdiction over the Inland area, for assistance "in combating the illegal storefront marijuana distribution in the city of Riverside that openly flouts federal, state and local law."

Last Friday, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled that the city can refuse to issue a certain type of business license to medical marijuana distributors. Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp ruled the city cannot be required to take actions that amount to an illegal act. Because federal law takes precedence over state law, Trapp held, "issuing a business tax certificate under these circumstances would tend to aid in an unlawful purpose." The suit had been brought by Wisdom Organics, which had applied for a license to operate a medical marijuana delivery service.

Over the weekend, medical marijuana pioneer Dennis Peron said he opposed a medical marijuana initiative that would tax and regulate the industry. The Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Tax Act (MMRCTA) is "too vague," Peron said. He also worried that allowing the UCFW to cosponsor the measure and have a seat on its proposed board would mean "that they can force every one of those entities to join their union and pay them dues."

On Monday, the Coalition for a Drug Free California urged people around the state to inform on dispensaries to the IRS in hopes of garnering a hefty reward.

On Tuesday, the Lake County Board of Supervisors voted to shut down a Middleton dispensary. The 4-1 vote will finish the process of shutting down the H2C Collective. The county is in the process of using abatement proceedings to shut down dispensaries after public discontent forced it to rescind a regulatory ordinance. The county argues that dispensaries are not allowed under county zoning laws.

On Tuesday, the city of Vallejo settled a lawsuit with a former dispensary operator. Stan the Man's Collective was sued by the city in July 2010 as a public nuisance, and fines reaching thousands of dollars had piled up before Stan's closed in October 2010. Under the agreement, Stan's will stay closed, but the fines are dismissed, and no other dispensaries are affected.

Also on Tuesday, the Costa Mesa City Council got an earful from unhappy patients and dispensary operators for inviting federal officials to crack down on dispensaries there. Federal authorities cracked down on Costa Mesa dispensaries last month, raiding two of them and issuing warning letters to at least two-dozen others.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Ana medical marijuana supporters began a municipal initiative effort to allow dispensaries to operate under certain guidelines, for instance, limiting hours to 9:00am to 9:00pm, forbidding loitering and smoking on the premises, and restricting patients to 21 and older, unless there's a parent or guardian. Proponents said they were responding to complaints from residents.

Also on Tuesday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted to cap the number of dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county at nine. The county joins three local cities that have allowed dispensaries with caps. There are two outlets in Santa Rosa, one in Cotati and one in Sebastopol. The remaining six cities in the county ban dispensaries.

Colorado

Last Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that people on probation cannot use medical marijuana because it is a violation of federal law. The case is Colorado v. Watkins.

Last Friday, a state district court judge in Fort Collins issued a temporary restraining order directing city and state officials to not enforce provisions of voter-approved ban on dispensaries until a hearing can be conducted on a lawsuit challenging its legality. Voters approved the ban in November, but six local businesses filed a lawsuit over it last week. The lawsuit claims the ban violates the state constitution and would irreparably harm their livelihoods.

On Tuesday, the Boulder City Council approved a nine-month moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses. The council originally was considering a blanket six-month moratorium, but the leaders decided to extend the length of the ban to nine months and exempt existing businesses so they can make changes -- such as seek an expansion or relocation -- if needed. The exemption will kick in March 8. According to city records, Boulder now has 37 cultivation facilities, 32 dispensaries and six marijuana-infused product manufacturing sites. Twelve applications for new business licenses were submitted before the moratorium was enacted and will be reviewed. City officials said they needed "a time-out."

Kentucky

Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) has introduced SB 129, a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients with debilitating illnesses and reschedule marijuana under state law. There are some technical problems with the language in the bill vis-à-vis federal law, but those issues can be worked out through amendments down the road, supporters say. The bill is known as the Gatewood Galbraith Memorial Medical Marijuana Act, after the late Gatewood Galbraith, a five-time gubernatorial candidate and outspoken proponent of ending marijuana prohibition.

New Jersey

A nonprofit that wants to grow and sell medical marijuana was suing
after being denied a site in Burlington County. The Compassionate Care Foundation Inc. wants a judge to overturn the decision of the Westhampton Land Development Board, which voted 4-3 against the bid to operate at a vacant warehouse. A hearing is set for March 23. On Tuesday, however, Compassionate Care changed its mind and instead announced an agreement with center and township officials in Egg Harbor Township to open a dispensary there.

Compassionate Care, which is based in Mount Laurel, is one of two state-approved providers of medical marijuana struggling to find a home in South Jersey. The other supplier, Compassionate Sciences ATC, was rebuffed in October when it sought to open a marijuana dispensary at a former furniture store on Route 73. New Jersey legalized medical marijuana in January 2010, authorizing six nonprofit groups to operate in distinct zones across the state. But Gov. Chris Christie, citing concerns over federal laws against the drug's sale, did not give his approval until July of last year. So far, no marijuana has been sold legally in New Jersey and at least four town boards have turned away the businesses.

But, if the deal goes through, Compassionate Care will become become only the second out of six centers with confirmed locations. Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair got local approval and finalized its plans back in September, becoming the first center to do so.

New Mexico

Late last month, Senator Cisco McSorley (D) introduced and Senator Rod Adair (R), Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D), and Senator John Ryan (R) cosponsored Senate Bill 240, which would create a medical marijuana fund. sustained by the producer and patient production licensing fees currently being collected by the Department of Health. The Department of Health will be able to use these funds to directly administer the program. The bill is currently before the Senate Finance Committee.

Washington

Last Thursday, a bill calling on the federal government to reschedule marijuana passed a Senate committee. Senate Joint Memorial 8017 bolsters support for Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), who sent a letter last week requesting that the federal government reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to Schedule II status, where it would be permitted for medical use. The bill passed the Senate Committee on Health and Long Term Care with unanimous approval. It now heads to the Senate Rules Committee. Its lead sponsor is Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle).

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