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LEAP Urges Canada to Reject Harsh Crime Bill

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) has intervened in the debate over the Canadian government's crime bill. The group, composed of current and former members of law enforcement and other criminal justice professionals, sent a letter last Wednesday to Canadian parliamentarians, warning them of the consequences of adopting a harsh approach and urging them to instead regulate and tax marijuana.

The pending crime bill, C-10, has already passed the lower chamber of the parliament and is currently before the Senate. The bill would impose mandatory minimum sentences for a number of offenses, including growing as few as six marijuana plants.

"Through our years of service enforcing anti-marijuana laws, we have seen the devastating consequences of these laws. Among the greatest concerns is the growth in organized crime and gang violence. Just as with alcohol prohibition, gang violence, corruption and social decay have marched in lockstep with marijuana prohibition," the LEAP letter said.

LEAP is not alone in opposing the Tories' crime bill. It is also opposed by the New Democrats and the Liberals. Earlier this month, four former British Columbia attorneys general called for marijuana legalization, and days later, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations criticized the bill. Chief Shawn Atleo said aboriginal peoples with drug problems needed intervention and rehabilitation, not incarceration.

So far, though, the Tories aren't listening to LEAP or anyone else. Responding to the LEAP letter, Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he was unswayed.

"We develop our criminal law legislation looking at the experiences from around the world, from Britain and other countries," Nicholson said at a news conference Wednesday in Regina. "But again, ours is a Canadian solution to Canadian issues and we make no apology for that."

Nicholson also defended mandatory minimums and said the crime bill sends the right message.

"Over the years there has been introduced mandatory penalties by different governments. I think there's about 40 of them in the criminal code, so they're nothing new to this government," he said. "But I believe they send out the right message to individuals that if you start bringing, for instance, drugs into this country, if you're into the business of trafficking, there will be a price to pay and you'll be going to jail."

Although the Conservatives control the Senate, the bill isn't passed until the bill is passed. Organizing against it continues.

Canada

Seattle Mayor Says It's Time to Legalize Marijuana

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn (D) used his state of the city address last Tuesday night to make a heartfelt plea for marijuana legalization. The mayor's remarks came as a new poll showed that an initiative that would legalize marijuana is favored by voters.

Mike McGinn
"It is time we were honest about the problems we face with the drug trade. Drugs are a source of criminal profit, and that has led to shootings and even murders. Just like we learned in the 1920s with the prohibition of alcohol, prohibition of marijuana is fueling violent activity," McGinn said in his prepared remarks.

"Seattle is the kind of place that isn't afraid to try a different approach," he continued. "We support safe access to medical marijuana and made enforcement of possession of marijuana for personal purposes our lowest enforcement priority. But we've learned in the past year that with the federal war on drugs still intact, and with our kids still getting gunned down on the streets, we need to do more.

"I know every one of the city council members sitting to my left and right believe as I do: It's time for this state to legalize marijuana, and stop the violence, stop the incarceration, stop the erosion of civil liberties, and urge the federal government to stop the failed war on drugs."

Mayor McGinn's remarks came as Washingtonians prepare to decide the issue for themselves in the November elections. A marijuana legalization initiative, I-502, has already been approved for the ballot. Sponsored by New Approach Washington, the initiative would create a system of state-licensed and -regulated marijuana commerce and allow adults 21 and over to possess up to one ounce.

A Public Policy Polling survey released this week shows the initiative leading, although not with a majority. In the poll, 47% of voters said they're currently inclined to vote yes on the measure, with 39% saying they are opposed.

A similar initiative is poised to make the ballot in Colorado, having handed in four times the number of signatures it needed for its final push, while legalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns are underway in California, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, and Oregon.

Seattle, WA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

From Alabama to Washington, medical marijuana continues to be a burning issue. Here's the latest:

Alabama

Supporters of a medical marijuana bill pending in the state legislature are tweaking the bill to make it more palatable to lawmakers. The Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, which composed House Bill 66, is working on amendments to assuage concerns of legislators. One would add a 5% sales tax earmarked for city and county law enforcement to fight drugs; another would more closely define the doctor-patient relationship.

Arizona

The lawsuits are not over yet. Last week, the medical marijuana interests who filed a successful lawsuit to force state officials to implement the dispensary portion of the state's medical marijuana law filed an amendment to that lawsuit. Compassion Care First is seeking a summary judgment against state officials over regulations that require that a medical marijuana dispensary employ a licensed physician as a medical director. The requirement to employ a medical director is not found in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act passed by voters in November 2010, the lawsuit charges. Meanwhile, state officials said they were moving forward with the dispensary application and licensing process. Up to 124 dispensaries are allowed under the law.

California

Last Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors quietly voted to amend the county's marijuana cultivation ordinance to eliminate the provision allowing collectives to grow up to 99 plants per parcel with a permit through the Sheriff's Office. The new ordinance reverts to the 25-plant limit for all growers, and is effective March 14. The county acted after the US Attorney's Office threatened to file an injunction against the county's ordinance and "individually go after county officials who were supporting these laws," 5th District Supervisor Dan Hamburg said.

Last Wednesday, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance (GLACA) announced it was supporting the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act of 2012, which would impose statewide regulation on medical marijuana operations. GLACA only lists 13 dispensaries on its roster, but has been a powerful player as city hall deals with the issue. The group said it had donated $50,000 to the campaign, which is in its signature-gathering phase.

Last Thursday, Sacramento County medical marijuana activists announced a local initiative campaign aimed at returning dispensaries to the county. Last year, there were at least 80 dispensaries operating in the county; now, after federal threats and the county's ban, there are nearly none. Longtime local activists Kimberly Cargile and Mickey Martin are behind the Patient Access to Regulated Medical Cannabis Act of 2012. It would allow one dispensary per every 25,000 people, for a total of 20 to 25 dispensaries and tax sales at 4%. It would also limit advertising and impose a 1,000-foot rule on dispensaries near schools and parks.

Also last Thursday, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved three new dispensaries, all in the Excelsior district. There are currently 21 dispensaries in the city, but 12 have been the subject of federal inquiries. Last year, the feds were interested in five other dispensaries; those are all gone now after landlords received threat letters.

Last Friday, the city of Murrieta won a preliminary injunction against a cooperative operating despite a local ban. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club can no longer distribute marijuana at the location, the injunction said.

Also on Friday, President Obama was met by medical marijuana demonstrators when he came to San Francisco on a fund-raising trip. The action was part of a national week of action criticizing the Obama administration's hard-line approach on the issue.

On Monday, Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal announced she intends to create a medical marijuana working group to research and evaluate ordinances in other cities and make recommendations following a review of the city's ordinance by the California Supreme Court. That should take between 12 and 18 months. The working group will include resident and business groups, medical marijuana dispensary representatives, the city attorney, the city prosecutor, city staff and others.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local law enforcement raided a prominent Vallejo dispensary and arrested the owner. The raiders hit the Greenwell Cooperative and arrested owner Matthew Shotwell. The exact charges are not yet clear. While the DEA was present, the cops were executing a state search warrant and included agents from the State Board of Equalization, which deals with tax collections. Employees and patients alike were temporarily detained, and marijuana and other items were seized.

Also on Tuesday, the Lake County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved placing a medical marijuana cultivation initiative on the June 5 ballot. The Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Act of 2012 was brought by Lake County Citizens for Responsible Regulations and the Lake County Green Farmers Association. Supervisors could have just approved the initiative, but decided to punt to voters. The initiative came after the board earlier crafted a restrictive ordinance.

That same day, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to put a new dispensary ordinance on the June 5 ballot. The move comes after Kern Citizens for Patient Rights gathered more than 17,000 signatures to overturn the board's decision last summer to ban dispensaries. The board voted 4-1 to rescind the existing ordinance and put a new measure before voters in June. It includes restrictions on locations of dispensaries.

Also on Tuesday, the Glenn County Board of Supervisors passed a medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. Personal gardens will have to be 300 feet to 1,000 feet away from schools, churches, youth centers and treatment facilities and can be no bigger than 100 square feet. Collectives, dispensaries and collaboratives are banned in the unincorporated areas of the county.

On Wednesday, the city of Berkeley ordered two collectives to shut down. The 40 Acres Medical Marijuana Growers Collective stopped operations in late January after Berkeley Code Enforcement sent it a letter informing the group it was operating in violation of the city's municipal code, but the Perfect Plants Patients Group is still in business. The collectives had run afoul of the city's zoning ordinances.

Colorado

Last week, employees of the Budding Health dispensaries joined the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. They become the first union medical marijuana shop in Denver, though not the first in the state's medical marijuana industry. The UFCW organized some dispensaries in Fort Collins, but those have all been shut down by a local ban. The UFCW has also organized workers in numerous California dispensaries and has become an advocate for marijuana law reform.

Last Thursday, national and state medical marijuana supporters announced the formation of the  Patient Voter Project to inform patients and their supporters about hostile actions taken by the Obama administration against medical marijuana. It's a joint effort by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sensible Colorado, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America (MMAPA), Just Say Now and others with a combined reach in Colorado of more than 40,000 online supporters.

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana banking bill died in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill, Senate Bill 75, would have created the authority for licensed medical marijuana stakeholders to form an exclusive financial cooperative specific to the industry, but committee killed the legislation on a 5-2 vote. The bill was responding to dispensary operators who reported that banks have refused their business for fear of repercussions from the federal government. The bill was opposed by Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, the Colorado attorney general’s office and the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

Delaware

Last Thursday, the sponsor of the state's medical marijuana legislation urged Gov. Jack Markell (D) to reconsider his decision to halt implementation of the law. Senator Margaret Rose Henry (D) said regulation-writing and licensing of dispensaries should continue despite veiled threats of prosecution of state workers by US Attorney Charles Oberly III. Markell had called a halt to the program a week earlier after receiving a threat letter from Oberly. Delaware has no provision for patients to grow their own, so if there are no dispensaries, there is no medical marijuana program.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, the Port Orchard City Council extended a moratorium on dispensaries and another on collective gardens for six more months. The two moratoria have been in effect for a year now and are intended to give city staff more time to develop appropriate land-use and zoning regulations for medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries. The city attorney said regulations could be completed during this six-month period, especially if the state legislature clarifies regulation at the state level.

On Tuesday, the owner of the Herbal Resource dispensary in Owosso was charged with state marijuana cultivation distribution offenses.  The charges stem from a January 19 raid by the Mid-Michigan Area Group Narcotics Enforcement Team (MAGNET).

Montana

The number of medical marijuana patients and providers is plummeting after state and federal crackdowns, the Helena Independent Record reported Sunday. The number of patients peaked at 31,522 in May 2011, but has declined to fewer than 16,000 as of last month. The decline in growers and dispensaries is even more dramatic. For most of last spring, that figure hovered around 4,800, but following federal raids and the state legislature's virtual repeal of the voter-approved law, that number had declined by 90%, to 417. Under the 2011 law, all caregivers’ licenses cards became invalid on July 1, 2011. Those wanting to continue to legally grow and sell marijuana for medical reasons had to register with the department to get providers' cards.The number of participating physicians has also declined, but not so dramatically, dropping from a high of 365 last June to 274 in January.

That same day, the Missoulian reported that medical marijuana providers busted by the feds in raids last year are getting relatively light sentences. Many faced five-year mandatory minimum federal sentences, but the sentences handed down so far, all the result of plea agreements that saw some charges dropped, have been considerably shorter, ranging from six months to 18 months. In the case of three men who had operated businesses in Helena and Great Falls, Senior Judge Charles Lovell criticized agreed-upon sentencing guidelines as "excessive," making particular mention of the fact that the three men believed their work to be legal under state law. He sentenced them to one year, instead of the 2 ½ recommended. More than 60 indictments have resulted from the federal raids, with some people receiving sentences of up to five years in prison -- not the mandatory minimum five years.

Oregon

Hundreds of non-Oregon residents have obtained Oregon medical marijuana cards, the Oregonian reported Sunday. Since June 2010, when the state started issuing cards to non-residents, nearly 600 out-of-staters have traveled here to obtain one, according to the Oregon Health Authority, the agency that oversees the state's medical marijuana program.  Some 72,000 state residents also hold medical marijuana cards. Neighboring states account for nearly two-thirds of out-of-state card-holders, with 309 from Washington, 138 from Idaho, and 50 from California.

Washington

On Wednesday, a bill that would have regulated dispensaries in the state died after failing to move before a legislative deadline. Sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), Senate Bill 6265 was an effort to create a legal framework for dispensaries, but was opposed by some elements of the medical marijuana community.

National Geographic "American Weed" Series Premiering Tonight

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

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

Here's the announcement NatGeo emailed us this morning:
 

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

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

 

American Weed: Marijuana Drama

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

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

 

California Marijuana Initiatives Starving for Cash [FEATURE]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mill Valley, CA
United States

Haarlem Cannabis Cafes Reject Dutch-Only Member Passes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haarlem
Netherlands

Colorado Marijuana Initiative Turns in Final Signatures

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

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

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

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

Denver, CO
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

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

National

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

Arizona

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

California

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado

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

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

Delaware

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

Hawaii

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

Maryland

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

Michigan

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

Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse 2012 [FEATURE]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alabama

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

Connecticut

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

Idaho

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

Illinois

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

Indiana

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

Iowa

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

Kansas

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

Maryland

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

Massachusetts

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

Mississippi

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

Missouri

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

New Hampshire

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

New York

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

Ohio

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

Oklahoma

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

Pennsylvania

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

West Virginia

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

Wisconsin

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

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

Delaware Suspends Medical Marijuana Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilmington, DE
United States

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