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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).

Marijuana Reform Polling Well in Rhode Island

Rhode Islanders are ready to decriminalize and maybe even legalize marijuana, according to a new Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). The poll found nearly two-thirds support (65%) decriminalization and bare majority support (52%) for legalization.

The poll comes as the state legislature ponders a pair of bills, House Bill 7092 and Senate Bill 2253, which would reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of weed to a citation with a maximum $150 fine. Under current law, possession is punishable by a $500 fine and up to a year in jail.

Decriminalization had support across the political spectrum, with 73% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans, and 60% of independents in favor of the measure. In addition to political party, the poll provided cross-tabs on age and gender. In no group was there less than majority support for decriminalization. The least supportive group was voters over 65, and even 58% of them supported decriminalization.

But maybe legislators should set their sights a bit higher and go for legalization. It looks like the Rhode Island electorate is just about there already with 52% saying they supported taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol.

Legalization won majority support among men (59%), but not women (45%); among Democrats (55%) and Republicans (54%), but not independents (49%); and among every age group except voters over 65, 55% of whom opposed it.

"As this polling demonstrates, the public is clearly aware that marijuana prohibition is failed policy and they are ready for change," said MPP legislative analyst Robert Capecchi. "The people of Rhode Island understand the need for sensible marijuana policy reform. Ending marijuana prohibition would created entire industries with hundreds of jobs, allow the government to collected needed revenue from responsible sales, and keep marijuana out of the hands of minors through thorough regulations."

The poll also asked about medical marijuana and found strong support (72%) for the state's program. Nearly as many (70%) said they wanted Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) to implement the state's 2009 creating three nonprofit dispensaries for patients. Chafee stopped the program because of fears of federal intervention.

RI
United States

Colorado Marijuana Legalization Initiative Falls Short, But…

The Colorado secretary of state Friday informed the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol that its signature-gathering drive to place a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot had fallen just short. But that's not the end of the effort -- the campaign has 15 days to collect enough valid signatures to cover the shortfall, somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000.

The campaign had handed in more than 159,000, nearly twice the 86,000 valid signatures required to make the ballot. But the secretary of state's review of the signatures found an unusually high number of invalid ones, leaving the campaign just short.

The campaign said Friday it was confident it could get the required signatures. "Given that we collected an average of 3,000 valid signatures per week during the first six months of the petition drive, we are confident we will complete this process successfully," it said. "In fact, we intentionally started the initiative process early to ensure we would have this curing period if necessary."

The initiative would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and six pot plants for people 21 and over. It would also create a regulated legal framework for commercial marijuana operations, including retail sales.

A marijuana legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot in Washington state. Efforts are in the signature-gathering phase in California, Michigan, Missouri, and Oregon.

Denver, CO
United States

California Medical Marijuana Initiative Polls at Nearly 60%

A medical marijuana initiative aiming at the November ballot found nearly 60% support in a poll conducted last week. The Probolsky Research poll reported that 34.5% of respondents would "definitely vote yes," 22.5% would "probably vote yes," and 2.3% were "leaning toward" a yes vote.That comes out to 59.8% saying they favor the initiative

The initiative, the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Tax Act (MMRCTA) would impose comprehensive, statewide regulations on medical marijuana distribution. The act would create a state medical marijuana board, require all dispensaries and commercial cultivation operations to be licensed after July 1, 2013, and impose a 2.5% state medical marijuana sales tax. (For more detail on the initiative, see our recent feature article here.)

Only 23.6% of respondents would definitely vote no, with another 9.7% who would probably vote no, and an additional 2.0% who were leaning toward no, for a total "no" vote of 34.3%. Some 5.5% of respondents were either decisively uncertain or refused to answer.

The question respondents answered was directly about the MMRCTA: "The California Medical Marijuana Regulation Act may appear on the November ballot in California. It reads: 'Creates a state enforcement division to regulate and control all entities involved in the commercial cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana in California; requires their mandatory registration with the state; and establishes a state excise tax of upon all medical marijuana grown for sale in California.' If the election were held today, would you vote Yes to approve or No to reject this initiative? And would you say that you would definitely vote [yes/no] or probably vote [yes/no]? If unsure, would you say that you lean one way or another?"

Only limited additional polling data is available at this point, but Probolsky did provide data on where support for the initiative was strongest: among Democrats (65.8%), unaffiliated voters (67.4%), foreign-born voters (67.5%), Asian voters (66.7%), and those who feel California is on the right track (68.4%). Democratic voters over age 55 are especially supportive at 70.0%.

The poll was conducted last week in English and Spanish using landline and cell phones. A total of 750 surveys were recorded, yielding a margin of error of +-3.7%.

The MMRTC campaign has a self-imposed goal of raising a million dollars by February 9 and estimates it could take twice that much for a successful signature-gathering campaign. This poll should help push them toward that goal. The conventional wisdom is that initiatives need to be polling at 60% or above before the campaign begins, and MMRTC is very, very close.

CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

From action in state legislatures to raids at dispensaries, there's no let-up in the medical marijuana action around the nation. Here's the latest:

National

Last Thursday, Americans for Safe Access filed an appeal brief in the DC Circuit to compel the federal government to reclassify marijuana for medical use. In July 2011, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denied a petition filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC), which was denied only after the coalition sued the government for unreasonable delay. The ASA brief filed is an appeal of the CRC rescheduling denial.

Alabama

The Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 25), which seeks to enact legal protections for authorized medical marijuana patients, has been marked for reintroduction in the Alabama legislature for the session starting on February 7th. It is currently assigned to the House Committee on Health. A separate medical cannabis bill, House Bill 66, has also been prefiled in the House and is also before to the House Committee on Health.

California

Last Tuesday, Union City issued a temporary ban on dispensaries, suspending the approval of business licenses or permits for medical marijuana dispensaries and their operations for 45 days. But the recently opened CHA Wellness Center was still operating as of the weekend and said it had every right to. City officials disagree.

Also last Tuesday, the Fresno city council voted to extend a temporary moratorium on outdoor grows for another 10 months after Police Chief Jerry Dyer told the council the grows were a magnet for crime and violence. Fresno Police say there have been at least five shootings and one homicide as the result of outdoor growing operations within the city limits. Police say many big marijuana growing operations have already moved indoors. Dyer said he expected to have a permanent outdoor cultivation ordinance ready by April.

Last Friday, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed issued a memo calling for the city to kill its medical marijuana ordinance. He cited the California Supreme Court's decision to review four medical marijuana cases dealing with varying interpretations of the state's law, as well as potential ballot initiative that could go before the voters in November. The city will remain in talks with dispensaries and will continue to collect taxes on them.

On Sunday, the last dispensary in La Puente closed its doors in response to the ongoing federal crackdown. La Puente Co-op was the last of three city dispensaries to go out of business in response to threat letters from the Southern California US Attorney. Azusa Patient Remedies and Trinity Wellness Center shut down the previous week. The San Gabriel Valley town was once home to 10 dispensaries.

On Monday, the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients said it had provided the Los Angeles city council with two motions to regulate dispensaries. The move comes as the council inches toward a total ban. The first motion, "public nuisance abatement," proposes that city officials start enforcing current laws to deal with complaints like loitering and sales to minors, just as the police handle such problems around liquor stores. The second motion calls for a "ban with abeyance" or a soft ban, which would create a ban that allows patient associations to prove that they that are operating in compliance with local and state law, allowing the ban to be held in abeyance as long as they continue to be in compliance.

Also on Monday, narcotics officers from the LAPD Devonshire Division raided and shut down the last dispensary in Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. The raid was at the Herbal Medical Care facility, and three people were arrested for suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale, 50 pound of marijuana and 156 plants were seized, and so were the dispensary's medical records. Police vowed to "target" some 200 other San Fernando Valley dispensaries. Since December 2008, police in the Devonshire Division have shut down 37 of what were once 60 dispensaries operating there.

Also on Monday, San Francisco announced it would resume licensing and inspecting dispensaries. The move comes after the agency said last week that the application process was suspended. Under clarified rules, existing dispensaries must sign a statement swearing that all medical marijuana sold on-site is cultivated in California and comes from a grower who is a member of the dispensary's nonprofit collective. New applications stopped being processed in December following a ruling in a state appeals court. In that case, Pack vs. the City of Long Beach, the court ruled that California cities violated federal law by regulating and permitting medical marijuana. That ruling was vacated when the California Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal, and San Francisco's city attorney gave the health department the green light to resume its program January 20, but the department had announced last week that all applications were still on hold indefinitely.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco controller's office reported that dispensaries in the city did an estimated $41 million in sales last year, generating $410,000 in medical marijuana sales tax revenues.

Also on Tuesday, Senate Bill 129 died for lack of action in the state legislature. Introduced by Sen. Mark Leno and sponsored by Americans for Safe Access, the bill would have protected the employment rights of medical marijuana patients.

Also on Tuesday, DEA agents and local law enforcement raided the Balboa Medical Center in Kearney Mesa, near San Diego. They seized medicine and medical records, but made no arrests.The raid came after similar raids on dispensaries in the area last week.

Hawaii

House Bill 1963
, which seeks to restrict the state's medical marijuana program and remove chronic pain as a qualifying condition for patients, is set for a hearing Thursday in the House Committees on Health and Public Safety and Military Affairs.

Montana

On Monday, the Missoulian reported that DEA agents investigating medical marijuana distribution had asked witnesses whether state Sen. Diane Sands (D-Missoula) might be involved in a marijuana conspiracy.Sands has been deeply involved in the state's battles over medical marijuana. She is not the only legislator being looked at; at least one more said he would not speak publicly for fear of "additional harassment."

Vermont

The Vermont Department of Public Safety has announced guidelines for the state's first medical marijuana dispensaries
. Dispensaries must operate as nonprofits and must be more than 1,000 feet from schools or daycare facilities. Would-be operators will have to pay $2,500 just to apply for one of the four dispensary certificates. If approved, dispensaries would pay the state $20,000 dollars for the first year, and $30,000 in the years to follow. Patients can go to dispensaries by appointment only, and only one patient at a time is allowed in the dispensary. There are also stiff requirements for inventory control, building security, and background checks for operators and employees.

Virginia

On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee killed a resolution that would have asked the governor to petition to DEA to reschedule marijuana. The resolution had been filed by Delegate David Englin (D-Alexandria).

Washington

Last Thursday, 42 state legislators signed a letter asking the DEA to reschedule marijuana so that it could be prescribed and sold in pharmacies. That same day, lawmakers introduced a resolution to the same effect. It is scheduled for a hearing Friday in the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee. The letter and resolution piggyback on Gov. Christine Gregoire's existing petition to reschedule marijuana, which is also supported by a handful of other states.

Montana Marijuana Initiative Saddles Up [FEATURE]

Provoked by heavy-handed federal raids and prosecutions aimed at medical marijuana providers and prodded on by the Republican-dominated state legislature's virtual repeal-disguised-as-reform of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, Montana advocates are now rolling out an initiative campaign for a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in Big Sky County.

Now organized as Montana First, this is largely the same group of activists and supporters who last summer and fall organized the successful signature-gathering campaign to put the IR-124 initiative on the November 2012 ballot. That initiative seeks to undo the legislature's destruction of the state medical marijuana distribution network.

And now they're back for more, and they're cutting to the chase.

Constitutional Initiative No.110 (CI-110) is short and sweet. It would add two sentences to the state constitution: "Adults have the right to responsibly purchase, consume, produce, and possess marijuana, subject to reasonable limitations, regulations, and taxation.  Except for actions that endanger minors, children, or public safety, no criminal offense or penalty of this state shall apply to such activities."

In addition to those two sentences, the actual ballot language informs voters which part of the constitution is to be amended, notes that "federal criminal laws regarding marijuana will not be changed by the passage of this initiative," and specifies that it would go into effect July 1, 2013, if approved by the voters.

Passage of the initiative would not directly repeal the state's marijuana laws, but would render them moot, a legal vestige of a bygone era, like laws requiring that horses in front of bars be tethered to rail posts.

"The personal use of marijuana should never result in criminal penalties," explained Barb Trego, a former deputy reserve sheriff in Lewis & Clark County and the measure's proponent. "Whatever you think about marijuana, it's easy to see that we have higher priorities for our law enforcement resources," she said.

"This measure is as simple as it can be," she continued. "The basic principle is clear as day. After voters pass it, there will be work to do to define limits and regulations. This is an appropriate task for elected leaders after the voters signal their preference to stop arresting and jailing adults for personal use of marijuana."

To qualify for the ballot, campaigners need to gather some 45,000 valid voter signatures, and Montana law also requires that those signatures include 10% of voters in at least 40 of 100 of the state's electoral districts. They have until June 22.

While campaigners can point with pride to the successful signature-gathering campaign of a few months ago, this time around, it is going to be more difficult, for a couple of reasons. First, because this is a constitutional initiative, organizers will have to gather more than double the number of signatures they needed for I-124. Second, because the state's once thriving medical marijuana distribution industry has been decimated by state and federal action, the opportunities for fundraising within the industry have largely evaporated.

"We anticipate a mostly volunteer effort; we just don't see any way to have a paid signature-gathering effort, said Montana First treasurer John Masterson, who is also the founder and head of Montana NORML. "We'd like to be able to pay six or seven zone coordinators, people we can count on to work long hours and oversee the petition effort, and we'd like to raise enough money to retain a consulting firm that specializes in making the ballot."

While relying on volunteer efforts to get an initiative on the ballot is usually a death knell for campaigns in high population states -- in California you need more than 500,000; in Michigan, more than 322,000 -- Montana is a different story. Last year's signature-gathering campaign was almost entirely all-volunteer, and it generated a cadre of nearly a thousand petitioners. That's a relatively large activist base for a state with not quite a million residents.

And then there's Montana itself, with its tradition of rugged individualism and suspicion of government. This year, for example, other initiatives being circulated include one that would allow for jury nullification and one that would  "reserve to the people" -- not the legislature -- the right to amend or repeal initiatives, as well as a legislative initiative that would bar mandated health insurance purchases that is already set for the ballot.

"Montana is highly independent," said Masterson, "and it's not just a right-wing thing. Our Democratic Gov. Schweitzer opposed REAL ID. Montana really values its independence, and these continuous and ongoing federal intrusions have people of all political stripes outraged."

It's hard to say what will happen, said political consultant and communications specialist Kate Chowela, who was deeply involved with both the IR-124 campaign and the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, but who is "not officially tied to anybody" right now.

"We need bigger signature numbers than last year, and we've been taking a real beating here," she said. "It will depend on whether people are beaten down or whether they feel called to stand up in the face of injustice. And this is happening in a very dynamic world with a lot of instability as well, with the state of the economy, Occupy Wall Street, the elections. All of these things bump up against and influence each other."

"The people in Montana found out they were not safe, the businesses weren't safe, the patients weren't safe, even being a legislator isn't safe," Chowela said, referring to the recent news that the DEA was investigating state legislators for supposed links to marijuana distribution conspiracies. "To some extent, this is the citizens coming back and looking for a way to make their position clear and look for a sense of safety that we have lost completely."

"We believe our initiative really solves a big part of the marijuana problem in America," said Masterson. "By eliminating all penalties for responsible adult use, we send a message to the federal government that if you want to prohibit this plant, Montana does not agree and will not participate in your campaign. That's how alcohol Prohibition crumbled. We think that Montanans will see that a regulated marijuana commerce and the right of adults to access marijuana is far preferable to the harm and damage caused by prohibition, to say nothing of the waste of our police resources."

The petitions have been printed up, the volunteers are hitting the pavement, and the clock is ticking down toward June. A legalization initiative has already been approved for the ballot in Washington, and one is awaiting almost certain certification in Colorado. Similar initiative campaigns are already underway in California, Michigan, Missouri, and Oregon, but Montana could be the best bet for making it a legalization initiative trifecta come November.

MT
United States

"Regulate Marijuana Like Wine" Wins 62% in CA Poll

A voter survey commissioned by California's Regulate Marijuana Like Wine (RMLW) initiative campaign suggests the initiative could win at the polls in November -- if it manages to make it onto the ballot.

RMLW is one of handful of proposed 2012 California marijuana legalization initiatives, all of them ill-funded. For any of them to make the ballot, they have to come up with more than 500,000 valid voter signatures by April, a task that is considered almost impossibly to accomplish by volunteer efforts alone.

RMLW commissioned the poll in a bid to show potential funders it could win in November, and with these poll results, the campaign can now make that argument. California initiative watchers estimate that it would take between $1 and $2 million in paid signature-gathering to make the ballot.

The statewide poll of 800 likely voters conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates found support for the initiative at 62%, with 35% opposed and 3% undecided. No cross-tabs have been made available.

The poll found even higher levels of support for more general critiques of current drug laws and the level of attention California law enforcement pays to marijuana. Four out of five respondents (80%) agreed with the statement, "State and federal drug laws are outdated and have failed, therefore, we need to take a new approach that makes sense for today," while 71% agreed that law enforcement spends too much, time, money, and resources enforcing marijuana laws.

If RMLW were to pass, the California Legislative Analyst's Office has projected "savings of potentially several tens of millions of dollars annually to state and local governments of the costs of incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders," as well as potentially generating "hundreds of millions of dollars in net additional tax revenues related to the production and sale of marijuana products."

"There is no policy that is more discriminatory or wastes more tax dollars," said RMLW treasurer Steve Collett, who hailed the poll results. "This initiative helps farmers, reduces prison overcrowding, relieves burdens on the courts, generates revenues for the state, and frees up police to work on real crimes."

The results also encouraged Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) co-founder Jack Cole. "LEAP believes the citizens of California are far ahead of the federal government in assessing a policy that will reduce death, disease, crime, and corruption, when they register 62% support for the initiative Regulate Marijuana Like Wine," he said.

Proponents of the competing marijuana legalization initiatives are working to set up a joint meeting, a so-called "Cannadome" in the Bay Area for mid-February. Whether these new poll results will make any difference in forging unity then remains to be seen.

CA
United States

Marijuana Legalization Trails in Michigan Poll

The campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the Michigan ballot is going to have its work cut out for it, if a new poll accurately reflects voter sentiments. The Detroit Free Press/WXYZ-TV poll had respondents rejecting legalization by a margin of 50% to 45%.

The conventional wisdom on initiatives is that those that start with less than 60% popular support face long odds.

The poll was conduct by EPIC-MRA of Lansing and surveyed 600 likely voters. It has a margin of error of +/- four percentage points. The poll specifically asked if respondents would vote for the ongoing initiative effort if it makes the ballot.

Breaking down the numbers, legalization had majority support among Democrats (57%) and independents (51%), but not Republicans (29%). Men were more likely to support legalization (48%) than women (43%). Support was stronger among respondents younger than 50 (49%) than over 50 (44%). And a favorable view toward legalization was more likely in the Detroit metro area (48%) than the rest of the state (43%).

The initiative now in the signature-gathering phase is the Campaign for a Safer Michigan. The campaign needs to gather some 322,000 valid signatures from registered voters by June 9 to qualify for the November ballot.[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of signatures needed and the date they must be turned in.]

A legalization initiative was approved for the Washington state ballot Friday, and a Colorado initiative is awaiting certification after handing in nearly double the number of signatures required. Campaigns are still in the signature-gathering phase in California, Missouri, Montana, and Oregon.

MI
United States

Washington Marijuana Initiative Makes Ballot

The Washington secretary of state's office announced last Friday that an initiative to legalize, license, and regulate marijuana has been certified for the November ballot. Washington is the first state this year to have a marijuana measure qualify for the ballot.

The measure, Initiative 502, would legalize marijuana for adults and regulate and tax it much like liquor. I-502 is sponsored by New Approach Washington, which has garnered an impressive list of sponsors and endorsements.

But not everybody in the Washington marijuana community is happy with it. Sensible Washington, which has twice tried unsuccessfully to get its own initiative on the ballot, is critical of I-502, and so are some elements of the medical marijuana community.

Friday's announcement came after the State Elections Division, using a random sample, determined that sponsors had nearly 278,000 valid signatures, easily enough to cover the minimum 241,153 required. The initiative campaign had turned in 354,608 signatures.

The initiative now goes to the state legislature, which can pass it, reject it, or ignore it. If the legislature rejects or ignores it, it then goes to the voters in November.

At least one state will have a chance to legalize marijuana this year, and it could soon be two. In Colorado, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has turned in nearly double the number of signatures needed for its initiative to make the ballot and is awaiting certification from state officials.

Marijuana legalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns are also currently underway in California, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, and Oregon.

Olympia, WA
United States

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