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Washington, DC Selects Medical Marijuana Growers

Medical marijuana patients in the nation's capital are one step closer to being able to get access to their medicine after the Washington, DC, Health Department announced last Friday it had selected the winning bidders for six grow operations designed to supply the city's proposed dispensaries, which the city hopes to approve this summer.

The move comes nearly 14 years after DC voters approved medical marijuana in a 1998 initiative vote. Congress blocked the city from implementing the will of the voters until 2009, and an extremely cautious DC city government has taken the past two years to arrive at a medical marijuana supply system it can live with.

Under the DC system, up to 10 medical marijuana grows, or cultivation centers, which can each grow up to 95 plants, could be permitted, although only six were selected Friday. They will provide medical marijuana to up to eight dispensaries. Under the DC system, patients cannot grow their own medicine and even face criminal charges if they possess marijuana that didn't come from a dispensary.

The cultivation centers still must apply for and obtain business licenses and building permits, but can start growing once they've cleared those bureaucratic hurdles. Given that it takes at least three months to produce a crop, the city will likely see its first harvest by July. Dispensaries are set to be selected in June.

How the Obama administration will react to a government-sanctioned medical marijuana production system in the nation's capitol remains to be seen. The Obama Justice Department has in the past year taken an increasingly hard line against large-scale medical marijuana production and sales in other states.

Medical marijuana supporters reacted with a mixture of applause for local officials and misgivings about what could lie ahead from the federal government.

"This is a major step for patients that could benefit from this program toward finally finding relief. Congress and the DC government have been delaying implementation since 1998, and it is good to see that patients will soon have access to their medicine," said Dan Riffle, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The medical marijuana program established in the District is a model of safety and effectiveness. Mayor Vincent Gray should be congratulated for listening to his constituents and serving the seriously ill patients of the District."

"The mayor and council should be commended for moving forward with DC's medical marijuana program, even though the Obama administration has declared open season on medical patients and providers," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Medical marijuana will soon be growing just blocks from the White House and Congress -- opponents of a compassionate marijuana policy need to realize that they're on the losing side of history."

But advocates worry that if the Obama administration moves against the city's cultivation centers and dispensaries, patients will be left in the lurch. Some are calling on the city to allow patients to grow their own.

"Given the Obama administration’s ongoing war on medical marijuana dispensaries, it is irresponsible of the DC Council not to allow patients to grown their own -- and it's outright cruel to subject them to jail time for obtaining their medicine from whatever source they can," said Piper. "The DC Council should pass emergency legislation providing for a backup plan in case the federal government shuts down local dispensaries."

Still, medical marijuana is about to become a reality in the shadow of Congress and the White House.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

More DEA raids in California, more threat letters in Colorado, plus action from the statehouse to the courthouse. Just another week in medical marijuana politics.

Arkansas

Signature gathering is underway for a proposed medical marijuana initiative sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care. The initiative would allow patients with serious or debilitating medical conditions to use and possess marijuana and to purchase it from state-regulated, nonprofit dispensaries. Patients could grow their own if they live more than five miles from a dispensary. The campaign needs to gather 65,000 valid voter signatures by July to make the November ballot.

California

Last Tuesday, the Richmond city council voted to double the number of dispensaries in the city. The council approved an ordinance allowing up to six dispensaries, or one for every 17,000 residents. Oakland, by contrast, only allows one for every 50,000 residents. Right now, though, even the three dispensaries already permitted haven't opened.

Last Wednesday, the LAPD raided the Nature's Answer dispensary in Reseda, seizing 50 pounds of pot and $17,000 in cash. Owner Annie Bishop was arrested for possession for sales of marijuana. They also raided her home in Van Nuys. LAPD is taking the position that medical marijuana sales are illegal.

Last Thursday, DEA and local police raided a Temecula dispensary, the Co-Op Social Club. The raid came just days after the DEA raided another Riverside County dispensary, the Greenhouse Cannabis Club in Murrieta. That same day, the DEA raided a Lake Elsinore medical marijuana grow-op, the Consolidated Container Nursery as part of the same investigation.

That same day, two men struck a plea bargain over their role in the North Bay Dispensary in Newark. The dispensary was raided by the DEA last year, but the pair copped to state charges and received jail sentences of one and five days, which they already served after being arrested. Charges against three dispensary employees were dropped. Meanwhile, a civil dispute between the NBD Collective and the city of Newark, which started almost as soon as the club opened in 2009, is still ongoing.

Also last Thursday, the UFCW announced it was unionizing Los Angeles dispensary workers. "This is the next step in professionalizing and stabilizing this new sector of the health care industry," said Local 770 president Rick Icaza in a press release. "Unionization and collective bargaining bring better training, less turnover, and more stability to the health care industry. This is a positive step towards successfully integrating compassionate care into our system of health care."

Last Friday, signature gathering began for an Imperial Beach initiative, the Safe Access Ordinance, which would overturn the city's current ban on dispensaries and replace it with zoning and other regulations for dispensing collectives and cooperatives wishing to operate in the city. The move comes after more than two years of tussles with the city, which has adopted an outright ban on dispensaries. The initiative is a joint effort of Canvass for a Cause, Americans for Safe Access, and concerned citizens in Imperial Beach. Organizers need 1,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot and hope to collect 2,000.

On Sunday, California NORML reported that Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose) had introduced a bill, Assembly Bill 2465, which would require all medical marijuana patients to register with the state. The bill is sponsored by the Police Officers' Research Association of California, which wants to make it easier for police to distinguish between illegal and legal marijuana users. California NORML strongly opposes the bill, saying it infringes on patients' right under Prop 215 to legally possess and cultivate marijuana given a physician's written OR oral recommendation.

On Tuesday, the Redding city council vote not to appeal a judge's ruling that rejected the city's request for a preliminary injunction on medical marijuana storefront collectives. That means dispensaries can continue to operate in the Shasta County community. Redding's elected officials have said they were surprised and confused by Shasta County Superior Court Judge Stephen Baker's decision, handed down late last Wednesday.

Also on Tuesday, the Daly City city council voted to ban dispensaries, with Councilman David Canepa saying he'd allow the clubs over his "dead body." Council members cited a report from Police Chief Manuel Martinez that noted the city has a problem with illegal indoor pot grows.

Also on Tuesday, a Santa Monica marijuana testing facility filed a lawsuit against the city to force it to give it a business license, which it has so far refused to do. Golden State Collective, the testing firm, applied for a business license in December, but was turned down even though it is not a dispensary. The facility opened this month, but closed again after being informed it could be fined.

Colorado

Last Friday, US Attorney John Walsh sent threat letters to 25 more dispensaries. In January, he sent out 23 threat letters, forcing those dispensaries to close. The latest targets have 45 days to close or face the seizure of their property. And there will be more to come, Walsh's office said.

Michigan

Last weekend, the second annual Detroit Medical Marijuana Expo took place, drawing more than 130 vendors and large crowds.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to decide a key issue in conflicts over the state's medical marijuana law: whether patients can sell marijuana to other patients. The case involves the Compassionate Apothecary in Mt. Pleasant, which was targeted by prosecutors in 2010. A lower court found that sales were permitted, but an appeals court disagreed, leading to the closing of the dispensary and many others around the state after the ruling.

Montana

Last Friday, medical marijuana providers targeted by the DEA in raids last year said they would appeal a federal district court ruling dismissing their challenge to those raids. More than a dozen providers, as well as the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, challenged the legality of the federal enforcement operations, but suffered a defeat in January, when US District Judge Donald Molloy, citing the 2005 Raich decision by the US Supreme Court, ruled that state law does not shield providers from federal prosecution. Their appeal goes to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

On Tuesday, another medical marijuana provider pleaded guilty in federal court to charges stemming from the DEA raids of March 2011. Christopher Ryan Durbin of Whitefish operated several medical marijuana businesses, including Good Medicine Providers and a pair of large warehouse grows. DEA agents made undercover buys at Good Medicine and seized more than 1,000 plants at the warehouses. Durbin copped to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana and structuring bank deposits to avoid IRS reporting requirements. He faces sentencing on June 29.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, sponsors of a medical marijuana bill held a press conference to try to drum up a veto-proof Senate majority for the bill. State Sen. Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford) and state Rep. Evalyn Merrick (D-Lancaster) worry that Gov. John Lynch will veto the bill because of his historical opposition to such measures.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill on a 13-11 vote. That's not enough to overcome a threatened veto, but the bill still has to go through the House, and that gives supporters time to try to pick up the handful of Senate votes they will need.

New Jersey

Last Friday, one of the nonprofit groups trying to set up a dispensary said it is giving up. The Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair is further along in the process than any of the other groups, but CEO Joe Stevens said he was put off by repeated delays and that he has no faith in state officials anymore. The state's law was passed more than two years ago, but none of the six dispensaries allowed by the law have opened, due to delays by the Christie administration and NIMBYism in local communities.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, lawmakers were set to consider compromise dispensary legislation, House Bill 7888, that would allow the three state-designated outlets to open. Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) blocked them last year after the state's US Attorney warned they could be prosecuted under federal law. The compromise would limit the amount of marijuana dispensaries could have, but that had advocates worried limits too low would make them economically unviable. Also getting a hearing Wednesday, are a pair of bills sponsored by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, Senate Bill 2783 and its companion, House Bill 7960, that would impose various restrictions on the state program. Some medical marijuana proponents are cosponsoring the bills in a bid to get a say in their final forms. As of late Wednesday evening, there were no reports back from Providence.

Tennessee

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill advanced in the House. A House Health subcommittee approved House Bill 294 on a voice vote. It now goes before the whole House Health Committee. The bill would allow patients with specified diseases or conditions to use medical marijuana and would set up a state-regulated and -licensed distribution system. Its companion measure, SB 251, remains stuck in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

Washington

Last Friday, city of Issaquah planners approved a permit for the GreenLink Collective to open for business. The facility will process and deliver medical marijuana to qualified patients, offer classes and information, and sell supplies for people to produce and consume marijuana under a framework established by state law. GreenLink does not intend to grow marijuana in the space. State law allows up to 10 qualifying patients to join together and form a collective garden of up to 45 plants, so long as the marijuana is not visible from public spaces. GreenLink operators must also install a security system and cameras onsite. The collective first opened in 2010, but city officials refused to give it a business license, then, in June 2011, the city council imposed a moratorium on collective gardens. The council adopted new rules governing collectives in December, and now GreenLink has its permit.

Washington, DC

On Friday, DC is set to announce who will get the five marijuana cultivation permits for the city's long-awaited medical marijuana dispensaries. The city has authorized up to ten sites, but only five will be announced Friday.

West Virginia

Last Wednesday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced that a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 4498 had been denied a hearing in the House Health and Human Resources Committee. The bill's sponsor, Del. Mike Manypenny (D-Grafton) will attempt to keep the issue alive by offering a resolution, HCR 144, calling for the legislature to study medical marijuana more thoroughly.

West Australia Enacts Mandatory Minimums for Marijuana

Changes to West Australia's Misuse of Drugs Act that came into effect last weekend are shifting the state from among Australia's most marijuana-friendly to one with the most draconian punishments. People convicted of growing a single pot plant or processing the herb could face a mandatory minimum one-year sentence if a child was endangered or suffered harm.

West Australia succumbs to "reefer madness"
People convicted of a second drug offense, even if they were growing only one plant, face a six-month mandatory minimum if by doing so, they endangered a child's health by exposing him to the activity. People could get the mandatory minimum, for example, if a child is exposed to fertilizers or pesticides, if he cut himself on gardening equipment, or if he knocked over a potted marijuana plant and injured himself. In passing the amendments, West Australia is criminalizing and harshly punishing acts that would be considered accidents, or, at worst, incidents that could be investigated for child endangerment, if any other plant were involved.

That's a sea change from last year, when people who were caught growing one or two marijuana plants faced a maximum $150 fine and drug counseling. The amendment is ostensibly aimed at clandestine drug labs -- meth lab busts happened at a rate of every other day in the state last year -- but they also target those who "cultivate or prepare illicit drugs," including marijuana.

A spokeswoman for Police Minister Rob Johnson told the Australian AP that it was "unlikely" small-time users and growers with children would be sentenced under the provision, but there was still a risk.

"If the children are exposed to dangerous chemicals and safety hazards as a result of the cultivation or are injured by the cultivation, the new provisions could be applied," the spokeswoman said.

But the West Australia Law Society criticized the mandatory minimums, saying they removed any discretion in sentencing and were open to abuse.

"You might even find that where the judicial system does not agree with a mandatory jail term for a small-time cannabis grower and user, there will be a reluctance to prosecute or convict," a society spokesman said. "As it stands, the punishment would certainly not fit the crime and would appear to be excessive."

The opposition Labor Party, which had championed the state's earlier progressive marijuana laws, tried to have it both ways. The party voted for the amendments because it didn't want to be seen as "soft on crime," but tried to change the legislation to remove mandatory minimums for marijuana growers and users, spokeswoman Michelle Roberts told the AAP. Failing that, Labor voted for it anyway.

And Labor leader Mark McGowan said he disagreed with the new provisions. "Personally, I wouldn't like to see people go to jail, mandatorily, if they're growing a couple of marijuana plants -- even though we support laws to ensure that is made an offense," he said.

While Labor can share the credit -- or blame -- for passage of the amendments, the bulk of the responsibility lies with the ruling Liberal-National coalition government, which pushed the legislation as part of its "tough on crime" agenda.

The law contains "obvious injustices," Labor spokeswoman Roberts said. "It won't stop drug cultivation -- there's no evidence to suggest that," she said. "What it's going to do is wrap up a whole lot of people unwittingly into a situation where they are facing a mandatory jail term. It's a huge cost to the community -- hundreds of thousands of dollars to incarcerate both parents and to take a child or children into care," she said. And it doesn't actually deal with the main issue," which she identified as drug addiction.

Perth
Australia

Medical Marijuana Update

From California to the nation's capital, medical marijuana keeps making news. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Arizona

Data from the Department of Health Services show that more than 22,200 Arizonans have received permission to use medical marijuana. People aged 31-50 make up 40% of medical marijuana users, those aged 51-81 account for 35%, and those aged 18-39 account for 25%. Nearly three-quarters are men, and the overwhelming majority of patients reported chronic pain as their medical condition, while muscle spasms were also high on the list, health officials reported. Other ailments include hepatitis C, cancer and seizures.

California

Last Wednesday, the city of Redding failed in its effort to force local dispensaries to close. A Shasta County Superior Court judge denied the city's request for a preliminary injunction that would have compelled their closure, saying that the city can't ban dispensaries simply by declaring them a nuisance. The judge relied heavily on a 4th District Court of Appeal decision in which the court struck down the city of Lake Forest's effort to ban dispensaries. That left Redding leaders scratching their heads the next day.

Also last Wednesday, the city of Oakland approved four new potential dispensaries. Only one of the four already has an approved location.The other three will be given four months to find a new location that satisfies city rules requiring dispensaries be located at least 600 feet from schools, parks and youth-serving programs. The city also approved one alternate dispensary group. Whether any of them actually open for business remains to be seen, given the ongoing federal crackdown in the state.

Also last Wednesday, the San Jose Cannabis Buyer's Collective announced that its challenge against its closure by the city of San Jose was revived by the Sixth District Court of Appeal, which ruled that a Santa Clara Superior Court judge erred in denying their petition for writ of mandate on the ground they failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

Last Thursday, the Berkeley Patients Group announced it would move from its current location but relocate elsewhere in Berkeley. The announcement came amid rumors the venerable and well-loved dispensary would close its doors after its landlord received a threat letter from the office of US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag.

Last Thursday, DEA agents raided a dispensary in Murrieta in Riverside County. They were accompanied by Murrieta Police as they hit the Greenhouse Cannabis Club and seized three pounds of marijuana, various edibles, and 18 clones. Two volunteers who were present during the raid said at least a dozen federal agents and local police officers stormed into the nondescript Jefferson Avenue storefront with their rifles drawn. According to the 36-page affidavit filed with the court in support of the search warrants, an undercover federal agent in February was able to purchase a gram of medical marijuana for $20 at the club after presenting a medical marijuana card. Agents also received statements from card-holding patients that they had purchased medical marijuana at the club.

Also last Thursday, US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag did a wide-ranging interview with KQED. Among other things, she signaled a continuing crackdown on dispensaries near schools, playgrounds, or other places where children assemble.

On Tuesday, the city of San Francisco proposed banning hashish, edibles, and tinctures from city dispensaries. In a memo to dispensaries titled "Medical Cannabis Edibles Advisory," the Department of Public Health recommended that dispensaries "do not produce or dispense syrups, capsules, or other extracts that either required [sic] concentrating cannabis active ingredients or that requires a chemical production process." The city says it isn't a ban because there is no provision for enforcement, but dispensaries that want to play by the rules will have to abide. But on Wednesday, the city announced it had reversed its decision.

Also on Tuesday, word leaked out that San Francisco DA George Gascon's office has issued a memo saying all medical marijuana sales in the city are illegal. That would be a shocking policy change from Gascon's predecessors, Terence Hallinan and Kamala Harris, if it actually is a policy change. But there is some uncertainty about whether this marks a real shift or merely the use of boilerplate language by underlings. Stay tuned.

Also on Tuesday, a new medical marijuana initiative was approved for signature-gathering. Secretary of State Sandra Bowen's office announced that the Medical Marijuana Patient Associations initiative had been approved. It would allow patients to form associations to cultivate, process, and distribute medical marijuana and ensure that "neither the state nor any local government may prohibit operation of a medical marijuana patient association, including a storefront, unless a court finds it is an actual nuisance." Proponents have until August 16 to gather 504,000 valid voter signatures.

Colorado

Last Thursday, Denver's 9 News reported that US Attorney John Walsh plans to demand that more dispensaries shut down because they are operating within 1,000 feet of a school. A spokesman declined to say how many more threat letters will go out, but said they will be sent "soon." An earlier round of threat letters to dispensaries and their landlords resulted in 22 closing their doors or relocating. The 1,000-foot rule is based on a federal criminal sentencing enhancement, not the state's medical marijuana law.

On Tuesday, an attorney for six Fort Collins dispensaries forced to close after a voter-approved ban said their lawsuit against the city is likely to be withdrawn. Attorney Brett Barney said the case is "on hold" and that dispensary owners may not want to throw good money after bad. "I advised my clients we were not going to get justice from this court," Barney said. A district court judge had earlier denied a temporary restraining, ruling that the dispensaries had not demonstrated their constitutional rights were violated or that they would suffer irreparable harm.

Also on Tuesday, US Attorney John Walsh sent a letter to Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett responding to Garnett's letter last week highly critical of federal interference in the operation of the state's medical marijuana law. In response, Walsh wrote that enforcing federal law to keep medical marijuana dispensaries away from schools is a "core responsibility" of federal prosecutors, and will continue.

Maryland

The battle over medical marijuana bills in the legislature continues. On Monday, Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation weighed in with a Baltimore Sun op-ed criticizing Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) for saying he would veto any medical marijuana bills because he is worried about state officials being treated like drug traffickers by the feds. Federal prosecutors don't have that power, Sterling argued, nor do federal drug laws prevent states from passing their own laws on medical marijuana or other drugs.

Also on Monday, patients flooded Annapolis in an effort to get lawmakers to act on pending medical marijuana bills. Delegates are working on amendments designed to assuage the fears of the governor and state officials.

Michigan

On Tuesday, a bill that would remove glaucoma from the list of approved conditions for medical marijuana passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 3-0 vote. The bill was supported by several doctors and medical associations. The committee heard one University of Michigan ophthalmologist testify that while using marijuana might relieve pressure on the optic nerve for several hours, a person would have to smoke "3,000 marijuana cigarettes" to ease the condition around the clock. Patients objected, to no avail. Only about 500 of the state's 130,000 medical marijuana patients use it for glaucoma.

Montana

Last Tuesday, four dispensary operators pleaded guilty to federal drug charges that were filed after March 2011 DEA raids across the state. Aaron Durbing, 29, and Justin Maddock, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana for their operation at Good Medicine Providers in Columbia Falls. Mark Siegler, 60, and Valerie Siegler, 38, pleaded guilty to  conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess marijuana for operating Big Sky Patient Care in Dillon, Big Sky, and Bozeman. Since the raids a year ago, the number of registered patients in the state has declined by more than half and the number the of registered providers has declined by more than 90%.

New Hampshire

On Monday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced a statewide radio ad campaign calling on residents to urge their state senators to support SB 409, which would allow doctors to recommend marijuana to qualified patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other debilitating illnesses. The ad features a former Tuftonboro selectman, Ted Wright, whose wife Cindy found relief from the nausea caused by her life-saving breast cancer treatments by using marijuana. Medical marijuana legislation passed the New Hampshire House of Representatives in a 221-96 vote last year. SB 409 could receive a vote in the New Hampshire Senate as soon as next week.

Tennessee

A medical marijuana bill, House Bill 294, was set to get a hearing in the House Health and Human Resources Committee, possibly as early as mid-week this week. If it hasn't happened by the time you read this, it will soon.

Washington

Last Thursday, Bellingham police raided three medical marijuana dispensaries and arrested their employees. Those hit were the Northern Cross Collective, The Joint Cooperative, and the KGB Collective. All three collectives had been hit with cease and desist orders a week earlier after they continued to operate without business permits. The city had begun revoking or denying permits to medical marijuana businesses in late 2011. The city maintains that their sale of marijuana violates state law. The collectives had been preparing to seek a temporary injunction, but the raids came the day before.

Washington, DC

On Tuesday, the DC City Council voted to impose new limits on the city's medical marijuana program. They approved a proposal to ban cultivation centers from opening in "retail priority areas" flagged for development in selected pockets of land across the city. The city Department of Health is set to award 10 cultivation center permits by the end of this month and five dispensary permits by June 8. It's only been more than 13 years since voters approved medical marijuana in the District, and two years since Congress removed its bar blocking the District from proceeding.

Medical Marijuana Update

Federal threats continue to hover over medical marijuana distribution across the country, and local battles continue as well.

California

Last Wednesday, the Yuba City city council voted to ban outdoor grows. The council approved an immediate 45-day ban and could extend it for up to a year, which the city says it plans to do. The council also imposed restrictions on indoor grows, saying patients must register them with the city, limit them to 50 square feet, hide any evidence of a grow from onlookers, and lock up their yards, as well as their greenhouses.

Last Friday, Vallejo police raided the Red Dog Green Collective and arrested its owners. It was the third Vallejo dispensary raid in the past three weeks. Police say the crackdown is part of an ongoing move against local dispensaries. They come at a time when the city was about to begin collecting a 10% tax on dispensary sales that voters approved in November.The owners pleaded not guilty Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a Riverside County judge ruled in favor of a dispensary, ordering the city of Rancho Mirage to move ahead with the inspection and permitting process for the Desert Heart Collective. The collective opened in 2010, but was later shut down by the city. Desert Heart filed a $2 million civil lawsuit against the city in February 2011. The city prohibits dispensaries "due to the significant negative secondary effects that such dispensaries have been found to create -- such as increased crime," the city attorney claimed. The city also argued that granting a permit to Desert Heart would expose it to federal prosecution, but the judge accepted Desert Heart's argument that by granting the permit, the city neither commanded the activity nor had anything to do with marijuana.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA and local police raided an Upland dispensary that has been at odds with the city for the past two years. G3 Holistic was the targeted operation, and the raiders seized 25 pounds of marijuana and 89 pounds of edibles. G3 President Aaron Sandusky said DEA agents entered with guns drawn and handcuffed four patients who were present. There were "acting like a terrorist organization," he said. The city of Upland and G3 have been engaged in a lengthy court battle that will soon find its way to the state Supreme Court.

Also on Tuesday, US District Court Judge Andrew Guilford set a March 26 hearing date in a case in which patients and collectives in Costa Mesa are seeking to enjoin federal authorities from sending letters ordering the closure of medical marijuana collectives in the city. The unique argument in the case is that since Congress belatedly acknowledged the votes of District of Columbia voters to authorize medical marijuana there, California patients are being denied the same right to vote to approve medical marijuana there.

And then there are the Tuesday night city council and county board of supervisors meetings:

On Tuesday, the California Coastal Commission approved a Humboldt County ordinance limiting indoor marijuana grows. The county's Local Coastal Plan limits indoor grows to 50 square feet and has other regulations.

Also on Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors upheld an appeal against a would-be dispensary in Oceano. A resident had complained that the proposed dispensary would be within 1,000 feet of a park.

Also on Tuesday, the Amador County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to lift a 4-month-old ban on medical pot gardens and allow any single garden to be used to grow as many as 12 plants per patient for as many as two patients for a maximum of 24 plants. That is only a third of the capacity recommended in February by the county's Planning Commission. Supervisors cited a deadly marijuana-garden robbery in September as they voted for tighter limits.

Also on Tuesday, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to fine a property owner and tenant of a property where medical marijuana was being cultivated. County inspectors found 82 plants growing on the property in January; county code allows only 12 plants per parcel. The tenant disposed of the out of compliance plants the next day, but the county is still imposing a whopping $58,000 fine.

Also on Tuesday, the Madera County Board of Supervisors voted to ban cultivation within 2,000 feet of a school or church and to require that caregivers and patients live together. California's voter-approved medical marijuana law makes no such requirement.

Also on Tuesday, the Needles city council approved a special election for a proposed city ordinance creating a medical marijuana business tax. The approval is to put a tax in place for up to 10% on gross sales of marijuana. If the tax is approved by voters, the city council would approve an ordinance related to the tax. Language has already been created for that ordinance. The ordinance defines how businesses would pay the tax, defines marijuana, marijuana business and other terms.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Boulder County DA Stan Garnett sent a letter to federal prosecutors asking them to halt their crackdown on dispensaries that are abiding by state law. "I can see no legitimate basis in this judicial district to focus the resources of the United States government on the medical marijuana  dispensaries that are otherwise compliant with Colorado law or local regulation," Garnett wrote in the letter to Colorado US Attorney John Walsh. "The people of Boulder County do not need Washington, DC, or the federal government dictating how far dispensaries should be from schools, or other fine points of local land-use law." Walsh has sent threat letters to 23 Colorado dispensaries, forcing them to close.

Also on Tuesday, a proposed medical marijuana initiative was filed for the November ballot.The new measure, Proposed Initiative No. 65, would give doctors discretion to recommend marijuana for any medical condition. Currently, a doctor must diagnose a patient with one of eight medical conditions in order for the patient to qualify for medical marijuana. Proponents will need to gather 86,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot.

Florida

On Tuesday, medical marijuana advocates unveiled billboards urging viewers to educate themselves about the issue. "Legalize Medical Marijuana" shouts one, with a godlike hand extending from the heavens, a marijuana leaf in its palm. Facing it is the photo of a senior in a wheelchair and the caption "I'm a Patient Not a Criminal." The billboards urge readers to contact the Silver Tour, a group founded by 1970s pot smuggler and recently released federal drug war prisoner Robert Platshorn to enlighten senior citizens about the benefits of the herb.

Maryland

Last Thursday, Gov. Martin O'Malley's office said he would veto any legislation legalizing medical marijuana in the state. His spokesman cited concerns about federal scrutiny. The comments came as legislators began debating three medical marijuana bills in the House of Delegates. "We have some serious concerns about liability," said O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. "Those concerns were raised by US attorneys across the country. Based on those concerns, it is probably likely we would veto any legislation."

Montana

Last Tuesday, the Montana Supreme Court set an April 30 hearing date for arguments over whether a judge was right to block portions of last year's medical marijuana overhaul by the legislature. District Judge Jim Reynolds last year blocked four provisions of the law from taking effect, including a ban on profits from medical marijuana sales. State prosecutors argue that the commercial sale of marijuana is illegal under state and federal law, and that Reynolds abused his discretion with his injunction. The groups challenging the new law, led by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, say Reynolds should have gone further and blocked the entire law.

New Jersey

Last Wednesday, the Plumstead Township Committee reversed itself and voted to support the introduction of an ordinance that would allow a medical marijuana company to apply for an operating permit. Members said they feared the township could be sued for not complying with the state's medical marijuana law, and that without an ordinance, a medical marijuana operation could set up near a school. The committee repealed a December ordinance blocking permit applications not in compliance with federal law. Efforts to open dispensaries in New Jersey have been plagued by NIMBYism.

On Monday, a California man charged for possessing medical marijuana hosted a rally outside the Middletown court house. Eric Hafner was charged with marijuana and paraphernalia possession, but is arguing that his California doctor's recommendation for him to use marijuana should be honored in New Jersey. Hafner suffers from PTSD, but that syndrome is not recognized under New Jersey's law, so he his supporters organized a rally in support of adding PTSD to that list. They walked along Kings Highway, outside of the Middletown courtroom building, before during and after his case was being heard, showing signs and offering information about the cause and Hafner's case to anyone cared to listen.

On Tuesday, Ken Wolski announced that he had been selected Green Party US Senate candidate. Wolski, one of the state's most well-known medical marijuana activists, is head of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey.

(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.)

California Medical Marijuana Measure Dropped in Favor of Legislative Campaign

The coalition of activists who had put together a proposed initiative to enact statewide regulations on California's chaotic medical marijuana system are dropping that effort and will instead focus on getting a nearly identical bill passed in the state legislature, they announced last week.

The initiative, the Medical Marijuana Control, Regulate and Tax Act (MMCRT) had been aimed at the November ballot, but faced daunting challenges in getting there. The act needed more than 500,000 valid voter signatures in the next five weeks to make the ballot, and campaign organizers said they didn't have enough money to pay for signature-gatherers to get over the hump.

Dan Rush, the Oakland-based head of the national UFCW's Medical Cannabis and Hemp Division, told the Sacramento Bee last Thursday that the initiative effort was over. "We're not doing the initiative. We're pulling the plug on it," he said.

Both Rush and Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, which had also backed the initiative, said money was the issue. The campaign had raised $1.2 million, but backers estimated they needed $2 million to make the ballot. While the ballot measure may be dead, the effort to bring some much needed order to the state's medical marijuana scene is not.

"We're not dropping anything," Sherer told the SF Weekly Thursday night, adding that the cash raised would go for a "public awareness campaign" aimed at lawmakers. While the ballot measure won't be on the ballot, it "achieved its dream -- to get something in the legislature," she said.

That "something" is Assembly Bill 2312, introduced by one of marijuana law reform's staunchest allies in the legislature, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).  Like the initiative, it would impose statewide regulation on the commerce in medical marijuana, while protecting the rights of patients.

AB 2312 was introduced at the end of last month, and may get a hearing March 27.

CA
United States

Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing

A bill that would legalize the possession of and commerce in marijuana got a hearing at the Massachusetts legislature's Joint Committee on the Judiciary Tuesday. While even the bill's sponsor conceded it was unlikely to pass, it helps lay the groundwork for a proposed marijuana legalization initiative down the line.

Massachusetts State House, Beacon Hill, Boston (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana possession was decriminalized by popular vote in 2008, but people can still be fined and have their marijuana seized, and marijuana commerce remains illegal.

The bill, House Bill 1371, sponsored by Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst), would legalize marijuana and "establish a tax on the cannabis industry."

"The state needs to make money," Story told her colleagues in the committee. "This would allow the state to benefit from marijuana by regulating it."

Story said she decided to sponsor the bill after a non-binding resolution to legalize marijuana won the approval of 70% of her constituents in the 2010 municipal elections.

"There are a number of legislators who said to me privately that they think it is an excellent idea, but they are nervous about saying it publicly," Story said. "Nobody wants to be seen as soft on drugs."

But some committee members were skeptical.

"If it's OK with marijuana, should we legalize cocaine and LSD?" asked Rep. Sheila Harrington. "I'm not sure that the justification is people are breaking the law all the time and we should just open it up."

Also testifying was Suffolk University senior and campus NORML head Sean McSoley. He related how he was stabbed six times on Boston Commons by men who wanted to take his bag of weed.

"There is nothing about marijuana that makes people violent," he said. "The prohibition is the reason for the crime surrounding marijuana and not the plant itself. This would have never happened if it were a pack of cigarettes or a six pack of beer," he said. "By legalizing this plant, these incentives to rob and kill would no longer exist."

Professional anti-reform activist Kevin Sabet, this time wearing the cap of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, testified that the bill was unnecessary, it would increase drugged driving accidents, and it would cause mental health issues.

"There's no need for legalization," Sabet said. "No one's going to jail for small amounts. If we're worried about Big Tobacco, we need to be worried about Big Marijuana because they're going to be coming up right behind them."

No vote was taken and the bill remains in committee.

Boston, MA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Bills are being considered in some states, busts are going on in others, and local governments grapple with medical marijuana from Washington state to New Jersey. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, the Union City city council extended a moratorium on dispensaries for 10 months and 15 days, pending a separate state Supreme Court review of four cases on the issue. The council issued the initial 45-day moratorium in January, after city officials learned that a dispensary had opened on Niles Road. The city is now acting to force the dispensary to close.

Last Wednesday, a state appeals court overturned an injunction shutting down a collective in Lake Forest. The court held that city officials cannot use their nuisance abatement ordinance as a wholesale ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives. The justices struck down a preliminary injunction from Orange County Superior Court Judge David Chaffee in May 2010 that would have shut down the Evergreen Holistic Collective. A stay on the injunction had been granted while the appellate court reviewed Chaffee's ruling and Evergreen Holistic Collective has been open for business since suing in October 2009.

Also last Wednesday, Vallejo police arrested the operator of the Better Health Group in an ongoing crackdown on dispensaries. Jorge Luis Espinoza, 24, of San Rafael, was arrested for possession for sales of marijuana, sales of marijuana and opening or maintaining an unlawful place. Vallejo police say there are 20 or more marijuana storefronts operating unlawfully in Vallejo. Late last month, Vallejo police and DEA served three search warrants on marijuana dispensaries in Vallejo and Benicia. Espinosa and another jailed dispensary operator, Matthew Shotwell, were released on bail two days later.

Last Thursday, the Mendocino County prosecutor said medical pot growers should tag their plants with sheriff-issued zip ties to lessen their chances of prosecution. Although the county abandoned its path-breaking tagged plant program under federal pressure earlier this year, District Attorney David Eyster said participation in the tagging program would continue to be a factor he considered if confronted with allegations of wrongdoing.

Also last Thursday, California NORML reported that US attorneys have sent landlord letters to over 50 more dispensaries in the Inland Empire area, where local officials have been pressing to close them. In addition, Cal NORML reported new landlord letters in Mendocino, apparently targeted at facilities within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds. The letters give the dispensaries 14 days to stop distributing marijuana.

Also on Thursday, hundreds of people demonstrated outside Los Angeles City Hall against the city's ongoing efforts to ban or limit dispensaries. The crowd was treated to performances or speeches by Cypress Hill's B-Real, the Kottonmouth Kings, Tommy Chong, and Americans for Safe Access state leader Don Duncan. The crowd then marched to the federal building for an hour-long protest there.

Last Friday, Orange County deputies raided a Lake Forest dispensary just after an appeals court ruled the city cannot label dispensaries a nuisance simply for being a dispensary. Two people were arrested as deputies served search warrants at Charles Café, as well as searching two homes. The search warrants were the latest in a years-long battle that authorities and city officials in Lake Forest have had with dispensaries. The raid came the day after a panel from the Fourth Appellate Court found that cities cannot declare dispensaries a nuisance simply for being collectives and overturned a previous injunction against Evergreen Holistics, one of dozens of dispensaries that once operated in Lake Forest.

Also last Friday, two more San Francisco dispensaries reported receiving threat letters from Northern California US Attorney Melina Haag. Shambala Healing Center on Mission Street and the 208 Valencia Caregivers must shut down or their landlords risk property seizure, the letters said. The letter to the Shambala's landlord said the dispensary is operating in violation of a federal law and could be subject to enhanced penalties because it is operating within 1,000 feet of a playground. But the city had permitted the dispensary last year.

Also last Friday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied an injunction to block Long Beach's ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. Under Long Beach's ban, three or fewer people can still form a collective, and 18 dispensaries that secured a license under the city's 2010 permitting process were granted a six-month exemption.

On Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors voted to sue three dispensaries if they don't shut down voluntarily. Two said they would close, but a third could not be reached for comment. The county passed a prohibition on storefront marijuana sales in September -- a response to complaints about traffic and petty crime associated with the trade -- but existing shops were given six months to wind down. All but three or four of some 15 dispensaries that were in business last year have closed, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Also on Tuesday, San Luis Obispo County supervisors voted to deny a permit to a dispensary after a resident appealed the board's decision last fall to give it the okay. The board found that the Compassionate Cannabis Information Center in Oceano was within 1,000-foot minimum distance from a park and the dispensary would be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the residential neighborhood.

Also on Tuesday, the El Centro City Council approved an indefinite moratorium on accepting applications for dispensaries. The moratorium extends to 120 days after the California Supreme Court decides whether cities have a right to ban marijuana dispensaries and regulate them through a permitting process.

Colorado

Last week, Denver medical marijuana attorney Rob Corry suggested after an exchange of correspondence with US Attorney John Walsh that Walsh had suggested a "safe harbor" for dispensaries outside of 1,000 feet from schools. Last Friday, Walsh and his spokesman made clear Corry was mistaken. "That is absolutely, unequivocally false," spokesman Jeff Dorschner said. "There is no safe harbor."

Last week, US Rep. Jared Polis (D) ripped into the new local DEA chief over her tough anti-marijuana stance. On Wednesday, responding to new DEA chief Barbra Roach's assertion that medical marijuana threatens residents because of possible "mold and water damage" to homes, Polis tweeted: "Drug Enforcement Agency's new motto: Protecting America from mold & water damage. Running out of excuses vs. marijuana." The next day, he elaborated on his Facebook page, charging her with insulting his hometown of Boulder, the state's capital, Denver, and other Colorado communities for saying she wanted to live in a community without dispensaries.

Connecticut

On Wednesday, the General Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill that would legalize the use of medical marijuana. A person could qualify to use marijuana for medical purposes if they've been diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition. Qualified users and their primary caregiver would then have to register with the state Department of Consumer Protection. The bill requires the consumer protection commissioner to determine the number of dispensaries needed in Connecticut and to adopt regulations. A similar bill failed last year.

Michigan

Last Wednesday, a Chesterfield Township dispensary agreed to close and move to another Macomb County town after its operator agreed it was in violation of township zoning ordinances. Big Daddy's Hydroponics and Compassion Center agreed to close by Saturday after realizing it would lose its civil trial this week with the township in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens. The trial was in its second day when Big Daddy's settled.

Last Friday, the Michigan marijuana program announced it was buying a new printer for medical marijuana cards. The new printer will crank out 4,000 cards a day, allowing the state to chip away at a backlog of 40,000 patient cards. Currently, those people are making do with a tamper-proof letter from the program. The new printer should be ready by mid-month.

Also last Friday, the Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team raided two dispensaries and is seeking charges against their operators. Caregivers at both locations were selling to people who had medical marijuana cards, but for whom they were not designated caregivers, which is arguably illegal under Michigan law.

This week, the state legislature is considering a number of medical marijuana bills. They are currently being reviewed in the House Judiciary Committee, under the authority of Chairman John Walsh (R-Livonia). Chairman Walsh has determined that the package will be considered in a series of hearings, which include testimony from selected groups and organizations, to be followed by statements from the public. These four bills are being considered simultaneously, as a package, and collectively contain nine different proposed changes to Michigan law.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) rundown on the bills is below:

HB 4834 -- Would make registry ID cards good for two years (they currently expire after one) and require cards to include a photograph of the cardholder. MPP supports the later expiration date and does not oppose requiring a photo, provided it does not add to the lengthy delays patients face getting ID cards. The bill would also allow law enforcement officers to have access to registry information if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that a cardholder has violated the act. MPP sees the value in allowing a police officer with a search warrant to check to see if the target is a cardholder and the raid is unnecessary, but believes the current language is too broad.

HB 4853
 -- Would create a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison, for selling marijuana in violation of registry ID card restrictions. MPP believes that selling marijuana outside of registry ID card restrictions is already a crime, and the only additional punishment needed for a violation is revocation of the ID card.

HB 4851
 -- Would add to the definition of a "bona-fide physician-patient relationship." MPP agrees with the Michigan Board of Medicine that the same standards required for prescribing any other drug should apply, and no special standard, higher or lower, is called for in recommending marijuana. The bill would also clarify that patients may offer evidence of their medical use as a defense to criminal charges. MPP supports this change.

HB 4856
 -- Would require medical marijuana transported by car to be in the trunk, in a case, or otherwise inaccessible from the passenger compartment. MPP does not support or oppose this provision.

New Hampshire

On Thursday, a new medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 409, will get a public hearing. Unlike last year's bill, SB 409 does not allow for state-licensed dispensaries. Instead, it would allow qualifying patients or their designated caregivers to cultivate a limited amount of marijuana for medical use. The change was made after the US Attorney for New Hampshire said that his office will not prosecute patients but could potentially prosecute dispensaries.

New Jersey

Activists keep up the pressure on Gov. Chris Christie (R) to pardon or commute the sentence of medical marijuana grower John Wilson, who is serving five years for growing his medicine.

On Tuesday, the Camden zoning board denied a request to allow a dispensary in the crime-blighted city. Cooper University Hospital and Campbell Soup Company objected to plans to allow the conversion of two vacant buildings into a medical-marijuana operation.

New Mexico

On Monday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed Senate Bill 240, which creates a medical marijuana fund to cover the costs of the state's program. Martinez has been a foe of medical marijuana, but she is also a fiscal conservative.

Rhode Island

On Monday, US Attorney Peter Neronha said he had not approved a state plan to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to open, and that the federal government's policy on dispensaries hasn't changed. Neronha's comments came after state lawmakers last week proposed new limits on dispensary size in a bid to avoid the threat of prosecution.

Washington

Last Tuesday, the Bonney Lake city council voted unanimously to extend a moratorium on collective gardens. It is the council's latest move in prolonging a wait-and-see strategy adopted in the absence of state leadership on holes in cannabis policy, or federal approval.

Oregon Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Moving [FEATURE]

The clock is ticking on marijuana legalization initiatives in Oregon. There are currently four different initiative campaigns underway, but at this point, four months away from when signatures must be handed in, only two look like they have any chance of success this year, and both of them are still tens of thousands of signatures from getting on the November ballot.

view of Mount Hood from Portland (photo from usgs.gov)
If one or both of them makes the ballot, the Pacific Northwest could be a real hotbed of marijuana reform activity this fall. An initiative to tax and regulate marijuana is already on the ballot next door in Washington, and nearby, sparsely populated Montana is also the site of an active initiative signature-gathering campaign for legalization with at least decent prospects of making the ballot.

The two best positioned Oregon initiatives are the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2012 (OCTA) and the Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative (OMPI), which are well into their signature-gathering campaigns. Essentially serving as placemarkers for the next electoral cycle are the Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Cannabis Act (CRTC), which was just approved for a draft title, and an initiative from Sensible Oregon, which has yet to be approved for a draft title.

The initiative currently furthest down the path toward the ballot box is the OCTA (Initiative Petition #9), sponsored by veteran activist and medical marijuana entrepreneur Paul Stanford. It would allow adult Oregonians to possess and grow their own marijuana. It would allow Oregon farmers to grow hemp. And it would license Oregon farmers to grow marijuana to be sold at state-licensed pot stores. An earlier version of OCTA failed to make the ballot last in 2010.

OCTA campaign spokespersons said it had so far collected more than 50,000 signatures. It needs some 87,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot, so OCTA's goal is to gather about 130,000 to have a comfortable cushion to account for invalid signatures.

Also well-placed is the OMPI, a constitutional amendment (Initiative Petition #24) to repeal the state's marijuana laws. It is supported by numerous in-state groups. "Except for actions that endanger minors or public safety, neither the criminal offenses and sanctions nor the laws of civil seizure and forfeiture of this state shall apply to the private personal use, possession or production of marijuana by adults 21 years of age and older," the amendment says. "The State may enact laws and regulations consistent with this amendment to reasonably define, limit and regulate the use, possession, production, sale or taxation of marijuana under state law."

The OMPI campaign, operating as Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement, reported 46,200 signatures handed in as of Sunday. But because it is a constitutional amendment, OMPI must meet a higher signature threshold than other initiatives. It needs 117,000 valid signatures to make the ballot, and the campaign is aiming at turning in 185,000.

The CRTC (Initiative #44) would remove marijuana from the state controlled substances act and give the legislature the ability to enact laws to control, regulate, and tax commerce in marijuana and industrial hemp.

The Sensible Oregon initiative "would remove existing civil and criminal penalties for adults twenty one years of age, who cultivate, possess, transport, exchange or use marijuana" and require the legislature to come up with a regulatory scheme.

The Sensible Oregon initiative has gathered 746 of the initial 1,000 signatures needed to win a ballot title. Activists are gathering them on a volunteer basis.

Doug McVay, a long-time activist now (again) working for Voter Power, the group behind Oregon's successful 1998 medical marijuana initiative, said Voter Power supports any and all of the initiatives, but is concentrating its limited resources on the OMPI and a second initiative that would create a state-regulated medical marijuana dispensary system.

"It's a tough row to hoe to get enough signatures for a constitutional amendment, but we're still working closely with the campaign, and they're well on track to get there," said McVay. "And OCTA, well, God bless them, removing all criminal penalties would be good, and it would be wonderful if they can get it done."

Time is running out on Sensible Oregon, said McVay.

"When they finally turn in their 1,000 signatures to the Secretary of State, it's going to take a minimum of 50 business days before they can start signature-gathering, and that's if there are no challenges," he explained. "They wouldn't be able to start until mid-May at the earliest, and they only have until July 6. They need to fish or cut bait."

"Unfortunately, our effort is suffering from a lack of resources. We don't have strong outreach," said Oregon NORML's Madeline Martinez, wearing her Sensible Oregon hat. "We feel strongly that it has the best language for a draft title, and our years dealing with the legislature and lobbying lead us to believe people will be less likely to vote for a constitutional amendment for marijuana," she said.

But the Sensible Oregon initiative is struggling even to get those first 1,000 signatures. "We would like to at least get those signatures so we can get a draft title and poll on that," Martinez said, "but the chances for this year are pretty slim unless we get that draft title and poll well and people start throwing money at us."

Similarly, Anthony Johnson, proponent for the CRTC, which is just getting its draft title, was setting his sights down the road. "We'll get and improve on our ballot title and do some polling," he said. "We're playing for 2014 and 2016. It looks like the OMPI has the best chance of qualifying and passing, but even if it did pass, there would still be a need to reform the law."

OCTA proponents did not respond to requests for comment this week, but in a recent communication to activists, Stanford said the campaign had 15 paid signature-gatherers and was in the process of hiring 20 more, as well as more than 900 volunteers. He said he had polls that showed OCTA could win with 60%, but copies of those polls were not available.

"We have the money in the bank to pay to put OCTA on the ballot this year and we will do it," he vowed.

But OMPI is also making a big and well-organized push in the final months.

"I have 220 circulators on the street and we're hiring continuously," said OMPI proponent Robert Wolfe. "We have money in the bank or pledges to make it all the way. I think I-24 is a lock for the ballot."

Wolfe said OMPI had polling numbers, but declined to share the actual poll results or crosstabs.

"We see a standard response that every quasi- or full legalization question gets, in the mid-50s, but we are heartened by crosstabs that show we have strong support among youth and the middle aged voters," he said. "Our polling also tells us that a couple of messages resonate. The statement 'We shouldn't be wasting valuable police time and resources arresting marijuana users' polls over 70%, while the statement 'Individuals shouldn't go to jail for growing plants for personal use polls at 68%."

While the OMPI still needs to gather more than 100,000 signatures, it is confident enough to be looking beyond making the ballot to the actual campaign itself. The effort is looking to tie itself to the strong progressive elements that permeate Oregon politics.

"We are hopeful that we are going to gain the support of the progressive infrastructure here, including labor and the Democratic Party," said campaign strategist Adam Smith. "We feel that our ability to motivate and turn out young voters will be a very valuable part of the progressive campaign here in Oregon. Close to 70% of Democrats here already support legalizing marijuana and a majority of voters overall. This is not a radical idea here; it's not going to be a huge political step for people to get behind it," he said.

They have a fundraising strategy for the general campaign, Smith said.

"We're reaching out to the business community. Like all the states, Oregon is short on resources, and we're spending tens of millions of dollars enforcing low-level marijuana violations," he noted. "Everyone understands that money could be better spent actually protecting people. We think people here in the state will step up. Everyone understands we have a real chance to win," he said.

"We're also hoping that the general momentum of having for the first time multiple states ending marijuana prohibition will get the attention of folks around the country who care about the issue, and they can make donations on our web site or Facebook page. Those small donations are key, because the large donors look to see that we have a lot of individual people behind us."

Factionalism and infighting has been the bane of the marijuana movement in Oregon, as in so many other places, but this time around, there is hope that once the dust settles, people will buckle down and support an initiative even if it was the one they supported in the beginning.

"I believe that as it becomes clear we're making the ballot and the others don't have the resources, they will in the end coalesce behind us," OMPI's Wolfe predicted. "The old style of marijuana politicking has not worked for some time in Oregon; it's time to view this as an important social justice issue like gay rights, equal opportunity, and unions. We're modernizing and mainstreaming this. We will not be having smoke-ins, but we will be putting on ties."

"I'm supporting whatever makes the ballot and I think can win," Martinez said. "I'm on that bus; I don't care who's driving. I just don't want to lose again at the ballot box. Every time they see us lose, it chips away at our credibility."

But first, one or more of the initiatives has to qualify for the ballot. It is by no means a done deal, but it is looking doable.

OR
United States

Judge Challenges Nevada Medical Marijuana Restrictions

In a ruling Friday, a Nevada district court judge ruled that the state's laws for the distribution of medical marijuana were unconstitutional because they seemed designed to thwart their ostensible purpose. The ruling came in the case of two dispensary operators, Nathan Hamilton and Leonard Schwingdorf, who had been charged with drug trafficking for taking money to grow marijuana for patients.

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada
Clark County District Court Judge Donald Mosley dismissed the charges against them, calling the law "ridiculous" and "absurd." Mosley said he was "not a proponent of medical marijuana," but that his job was to uphold the state constitution.

"It is apparent to the Court that the statutory scheme set out for the lawful distribution of medical marijuana is either poorly contemplated or purposely constructed to frustrate the implementation of constitutionally mandated access to the substance," Mosley wrote in his decision.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing patients to use medical marijuana in 2000. That amendment charged the legislature with crafting "appropriate methods for supply of the plant to patients authorized to use it."

But the legislature didn't do that. While the law allows patient cardholders to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana, other state laws make it illegal to buy or sell it.

Although a number of dispensaries opened up in Las Vegas, they have mostly vanished now, after police and prosecutors made several dozen arrests of dispensary operators who charged set prices and thus received "consideration." Such a legal situation was "mind-boggling," Judge Mosley wrote.

"The law falls short however in providing a realistic manner in which a qualified purchaser and a qualified distributor of marijuana may function, thus frustrating the clear intent of the Nevada Constitutional Amendment," the judge's decision read.

Mosley found that disallowing any payment for the marijuana, as well as limiting anyone from possessing more than one what patient can possess, was simply unworkable.

"It is absurd to suppose that from an unspecified source 'free' marijuana will be provided to those who are lawfully empowered to receive it," Mosley wrote. As to the limited amounts, "This arrangement is of course ridiculous and in effect would make impossible any commercial distribution of medical marijuana," Mosley said.

Another Clark County judge has ruled differently, setting up a showdown over the law at the state Supreme Court. District Judge Douglas Smith denied a motion to dismiss another Las Vegas case even as he acknowledged that the legislature had not adequately addressed "methods of supply of medicinal marijuana to patients authorized to use it."

Las Vegas, NV
United States

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