Medical Marijuana

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Medical Marijuana: California's Booming Market Offers Substantial Tax Revenues, Report Finds

Medical marijuana is a billion dollar a year business in California, according to a new report, and the state's bottom line could improve dramatically if it were taxed like other herbal medicines. The report, "Revenue and Taxes from Oakland's Cannabis Economy," was prepared for that city's Measure Z Oversight Committee by California NORML head Dale Gieringer and and Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance board member Richard Lee.

While the report focused on Oakland, which has seen medical marijuana revenues and the taxes derived from them decline dramatically since the city tightened regulations on dispensaries in recent years, it also looked at state and federal data to attempt to draw a state-wide picture of the size of the therapeutic cannabis industry. According to the data, the state's medical marijuana patients are currently consuming somewhere between $870 million and $2 billion worth of weed a year. That would translate to somewhere between $70 million and $120 million in state sales tax revenues, the authors estimated.

But currently, the state treasury is receiving nowhere near that because many dispensaries do not pay sales taxes or keep financial records that could be used against them in a federal investigation. Other dispensaries and patient groups argue that nonprofit collectives and co-ops should be exempt from taxes.

The study estimated the number of California medical marijuana patients at between 150,000 and 350,000. There is no firm figure, because unlike many other medical marijuana states, there is no comprehensive, statewide registry of patients. Those patients each smoke about a pound of pot a year.

Medical marijuana patients account for about 10% of California marijuana users, the study found, suggesting that tax revenues from a legal recreational marijuana market would skyrocket into the low billions of dollars each year. The state is currently spending about $160 million a year to arrest, prosecute, and imprison marijuana offenders, and not collecting any tax revenue from recreational sales.

State officials have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens they represent. This report makes clear just how miserably California officials are shirking that responsibility.

Azusa council poised to approve ban on pot dispensaries

Location: 
Azusa, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Mercury News (CA)
URL: 
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/breaking_news/16366483.htm

DEA targets larger marijuana providers

Location: 
Hayward, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-potbusts1jan01,0,4150684.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Pot law in peril

Location: 
Providence, RI
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Pawtucket Times (RI)
URL: 
http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=17636596&BRD=1713&PAG=461&dept_id=24491&rfi=6

Medical Marijuana in New York

Presented by the Drugs and the Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 42 West 44th Street (off Fifth Ave.) Thousands of patients obtain and use marijuana under the laws of eleven states providing for its medical use. Except in the case of the handful of patients who obtain marijuana from the federal government, federal law prohibits any use, sale, or cultivation of marijuana. Join the Drugs and the Law Committee for a discussion of proposed medical marijuana legislation for New York and the growing body of cases addressing this conflict between state and federal law. Moderator Eric E. Sterling, J.D. President, The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation Panelists Richard N. Gottfried Chair, New York State Assembly Committee on Health, and sponsor of medical marijuana legislation Susan N. Herman, J.D. Centennial Professor of Law Brooklyn Law School Edward H. Jurith, J.D. General Counsel Office of National Drug Control Policy Karen O'Keefe, J.D. Assistant Director of State Policies Marijuana Policy Project Robert A. Raich, J.D. Robert A. Raich, P.C. Counsel for respondents in Gonzales v. Raich, 125 U.S. 2195 (2005), and United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, 532 U.S. 483 (2001) Attendees are asked to pre-register for this event online at http://www.nycbar.org/EventsCalendar/show_event.php?eventid=599
Date: 
Wed, 02/07/2007 - 6:30pm - 8:00pm
Location: 
42 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036-6604
United States

Medical Marijuana Debate: Should the sick be able to smoke?

The Donald & Paula Smith Family Foundation Presents a debate: Medical Marijuana: Should the sick be able to smoke? Featuring: Bob Barr Former Congressman 21st Century Liberties Chair for Freedom and Privacy at the American Conservative Union V. Ethan Nadelmann Executive Director, Drug Policy Alliance Moderator: James E. Fleming Professor at Fordham Law, author of Securing Constitutional Democracy Co-Sponsors: Fordham Law Federalist Society & American Constitution Society Eleven states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This has been largely accomplished by voter initiative but the issue is getting politicians’ attention. In Gonzales v. Raich the Supreme Court majority sided against California and medical marijuana but said “these respondents may one day be heard in the halls of Congress.” The new Democratic majority may be more receptive to their calls. What is the medicinal efficacy of marijuana? Was Raich the last gasp of the Rehnquist Court’s “federalism revolution?” What is the connection between this and broader drug legalization? What has been the experience in these eleven legalized states? (Free and open to the public - Reception to follow) RSVP here http://thesmithfamilyfoundation.org/register.cfm
Date: 
Thu, 01/18/2007 - 6:30pm - 9:00pm
Location: 
140 W 62nd Street, McNally Hall
New York, NY
United States

9th Annual Medical Marijuana Benefit Concert

On Saturday, January 20, 2007 Ploppy Palace Productions and Tobacco Road will be hosting the 9th Annual Medical Marijuana Benefit Concert to raise funds for FL NORML’s (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) medical marijuana campaign and the protection of patients’ rights. As part of this four stage extravaganza, some of South Florida's top bands, spoken word artists and community activists will join together for patients’ and physicians’ right to use medical cannabis. As a testament to the diversity of supporters for this cause, there will be a broad variety of musical styles including rock, reggae, folk, hip-hop, funk, experimental, tribal rhythms, world beat fusion, Hatian, Traditional Peruvian, psychedelic grooves and various interactive jams. Johnny Dread, Sweetbone, Jahfe, Kuyayky, Aurapool, Out Of The Anonymous, Addax, Day Music Died, Under No Order, Carl Ferrari & Friends, The Tribe, Val C. Wisecracker, Robby Hunter, Mike Matthews, Charissa Johnson, Andrew Vait, ZP Tepi, January, Jon Ryczek, Outereach, Brimstone127, Anodize and more will be showcasing original music. Alonso, Kristie Soares and other spoken word artists will be presenting innovative spoken word poetry with musical accompaniment. Mark A.S. will be presenting social satire about the laws concerning medical marijuana and the drug war. In addition, the TranZenDance Dance Company, Shri-Shambhala Tribe and other dancers will be performing a variety of dance and movement pieces to energetic, rhythmic percussion and ambient tones. Plus Carlos Rodriguez and Anibal Fernandez will be rendering a live painting demonstration to visually complement the music. As an extra feature, Lumonics Light Museum will be presenting a special video projection showcase. Irvin Rosenfeld and Elvy Musikka, legal medical marijuana patients, will be describing their experiences with obtaining his medicine through the federal government. The 9th Annual Medical Marijuana Benefit Concert will also feature a selection of community speakers who will present information about the issues including Toni Latino from Florida NORML. FL NORML, Emerge Miami, Miami-Dade Green Party, the Improvised Action Collective and various other organizations will have informational booths with literature and handouts to help educate about community issues and the medical marijuana campaign in Florida. The event will work to raise funds and awareness for FL NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) medical marijuana campaign and the protection of patients’ rights. Previously, a person's right to use medical necessity as a defense to marijuana charges has been upheld by several appeals courts in Florida. Marijuana has proven therapeutically useful in treating numerous medical conditions including muscle spasticity, arthritis, and the nausea related to AIDS and cancer chemotherapy. Currently there are 10 states that have laws allowing marijuana to be used as medicine. In addition there will be vendors and small businesses promoting and selling their merchandise, including The Wallflower Gallery and selected independent corporations Production support provided by Ploppy Palace Productions, Beach Sound, Anamaze Productions, Atlas Sound and 7th Circuit Productions. The 9th Annual Medical Marijuana Benefit Concert at Tobacco Road is currently looking for supportive sponsors and unique vendors to help to build up the community outreach and contribute to the cause. The 9th Annual Medical Marijuana Benefit Concert at Tobacco Road is sponsored by Ploppy Palace Productions, Beach Sound, OnlineGigs.com, 7th Circuit Productions and FL NORML. 21 Years Old + with ID Admission is $ 10. www.myspace.com/medmj For more information, please email Ploppy Palace Productions at [email protected].
Date: 
Sat, 01/20/2007 - 4:00pm - Sun, 01/21/2007 - 3:00am
Location: 
626 South Miami Ave.
Brickell, FL
United States

It Was the Worst of Times: Drug Reform Defeats, Downers, and Disappointments in 2006

As Drug War Chronicle publishes its last issue of the year -- we will be on vacation next week -- it is time to look back at 2006. In a companion piece, we looked at the highlights for drug reform this year; here, we look at the lowlights, from failures at the polls to bad court rulings to negative trends. Below -- in no particular order -- is our necessarily somewhat arbitrary list of the ten most significant defeats and disappointments for the cause of drug law reform. (We also publish a "best of 2006" list in this issue, above.)

The drug war continues unabated on the streets of America. Despite two decades of drug reform efforts, the war on drugs continues to make America a country that eats its young. In May, we reported that the US prisoner count topped 2.1 million -- a new high -- and included more than 500,000 drug war prisoners. In September, the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report, showing nearly 800,000 marijuana arrests and 1.8 million drug arrests in 2005 -- another new high. And just two weeks ago, we reported that more than seven million people are in jail or prison or on probation or parole -- yet another new high.

Methamphetamine hysteria continues unabated and becomes an excuse for old-school, repressive drug laws and bad, newfangled ones, too. The drug war always needs a demon drug du jour to scare the public, and this year, like the past few years, meth is it. Never mind that the stuff has been around for decades and that there is less to the "meth epidemic" than meets the eye. The "dangers of meth" have been cited as a reason for everything from targeting South Asian convenience store clerks to restricting access to cold medications containing pseudoephedrine to harsh new penalties for meth offenses to more than 20 states defining meth use or production as child abuse. Michigan even went so far as to pass legislation banning meth recipes on the Internet, while Arizona voters felt impelled to roll back a decade-old sentencing reform. Under that reform, first- and second-time drug possession offenders couldn't be sentenced to jail or prison, but now Arizona has created an exception for meth offenders. The drug warriors like to say meth is the new crack, and in the way meth is used as an excuse for "tough" approaches to drug policy, that is certainly true.

The US Supreme Court upholds unannounced police searches. In a June decision, the court upheld a Michigan drug raid where police called out their presence at the door, but then immediately rushed in before the homeowner could respond. Previously, the courts had allowed such surprise entries only in the case of "no-knock" warrants, but this ruling, which goes against hundreds of years of common law and precedent, effectively eviscerates that distinction. "No-knock" raids are dangerous, as we reported that same month, and as Atlanta senior citizen Kathryn Johnston would tell you if she could. But she can't -- Johnston was killed in a "no-knock" raid last month.

Marijuana legalization initiatives lose in Colorado and Nevada. After four years of effort, the Marijuana Policy Project still couldn't get over the top with its "tax and regulate" initiative in Nevada, although it increased its share of the vote from 39% to 44%. In Colorado, SAFER Colorado took its "marijuana is safer than alcohol" message statewide after successes at state universities and in Denver last year, but failed to convince voters, winning only 41% of the vote.

South Dakota becomes the first state where voters defeat an initiative to legalize medical marijuana. In every state where it had gone to the voters as a ballot measure, medical marijuana had emerged victorious. But voters in the socially conservative, lightly populated Upper Midwest state narrowly rejected it in November. The measure lost 48% to 52%.

California's medical marijuana movement is under sustained attack by the feds and recalcitrant state and local officials and law enforcement. This year, it seems like barely a week goes by without a new raid by the DEA or unreconstructed drug warriors in one county or another. San Diego has been particularly hard-hit, but we also reported on a spate of raids in October, and there have been more since. The feds have also started their first medical marijuana prosecution since the 2003 Ed Rosenthal fiasco, with Merced County medical marijuana patient and provider Dustin Costa going on trial last month.

Hundreds die from overdoses of heroin cut with fentanyl, but the official response is almost nonexistent -- except for increased law enforcement pressure. With injection drug users falling over dead from Boston to Baltimore, Philadelphia to Detroit and Chicago, an estimated 700 people have been killed by the deadly cocktail. We reported on it in June, but the wave of deaths continues to the present. Just last week, more than 120 medical experts, public health departments, and drug user advocates sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt urging him to take aggressive action. Ho-hum, who cares about dead junkies? Not the federal government, at least so far.

Plan Colombia continues to roll along, adding fuel to the flames of Colombia's civil war while achieving little in the realm of actually reducing the supply of cocaine. The US Congress continues to fund Plan Colombia to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, even though despite six years of military assistance and widespread aerial eradication using herbicides, it now appears that production is higher than anyone ever thought. Perhaps a Democratic Congress will put an end to this fiasco next year, but Democrats certainly can count influential Plan Colombia supporters among their ranks -- incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and presidential hopeful Joe Biden (DE), to name just one.

Afghanistan is well on its way to becoming a true narco-state. The US war on terror and the US war on drugs are on a collision course in Afghanistan, which now, five years after the US invaded, produces more than 90% of the world's illicit opium. This year, Afghanistan's opium crop hit a new record high of 6,100 metric tons, and now, US drug czar John Walters is pressuring the Afghans to embrace eradication with herbicides. But each move the US and the Afghans make to suppress the opium trade just drives more Afghans into the waiting arms of the Taliban, which is also making enough money off the trade to finance its reborn insurgency. Meanwhile, the Afghan government is also full of people getting rich off opium. Everyone is ignoring the sensible proposals that have put on the table for dealing with the problem, which range from an economic development and anti-corruption approach put forward by the UN and World Bank as an alternative to eradication, and the Senlis Council proposal to license production and divert it to the legitimate medicinal market.

Australia is in the grips of Reefer Madness. While some Australian states enacted reforms to soften their marijuana laws in years past, the government of Prime Minister John Howard would like to roll back those reforms. The Australians seem particularly susceptible to hysterical pronouncements about the links between marijuana and mental illness, and they also hold the unfathomable notion that marijuana grown hydroponically is somehow more dangerous than marijuana grown in soil. Over the weekend, the national health secretary announced he wants to ban bongs. That's not so surprising coming from a man who in May announced that marijuana is more dangerous than heroin. Hopefully, saner heads will prevail Down Under, but it isn't happening just yet.

It Was the Best of Times: Drug Reform Victories and Advances in 2006

As Drug War Chronicle publishes its last issue of the year -- we will be on vacation next week -- it is time to look back at 2006. Both here at home and abroad, the year saw significant progress on various fronts, from marijuana law reform to harm reduction advances to the rollback of repressive drug laws in Europe and Latin America. Below -- in no particular order -- is our necessarily somewhat arbitrary list of the ten most significant victories and advances for the cause of drug law reform. (We also publish a top ten most significant defeats for drug law reform in 2006 below.)

Marijuana possession stays legal in Alaska. A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court case gave Alaskans the right to possess up to a quarter-pound of marijuana in the privacy of their homes, but in 1991, voters recriminalized possession. A series of court cases this decade reestablished the right to possess marijuana, provoking Gov. Frank Murkowski to spend two years in an ultimately successful battle to get the legislature to re-recriminalize it. But in July, an Alaska Superior Court threw out the new law's provision banning pot possession at home. The court did reduce the amount to one ounce, and the state Supreme Court has yet to weigh in, but given its past rulings, there is little reason to think it will reverse itself.

Local initiatives making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority win across the board. In the November elections, lowest priority initiatives swept to victory in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica, California, as well as Missoula County, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Earlier this year, West Hollywood adopted a similar ordinance, and last month, San Francisco did the same thing. Look for more initiatives like these next year and in 2008.

Rhode Island becomes the 11th state to approve medical marijuana and the third to do so via the legislative process. In January, legislators overrode a veto by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) to make the bill law. The bill had passed both houses in 2005, only to be vetoed by Carcieri. The state Senate voted to override in June of 2005, but the House did not act until January.

The Higher Education Act (HEA) drug provision is partially rolled back. In the face of rising opposition to the provision, which bars students with drug convictions -- no matter how trivial -- from receiving federal financial assistance for specified periods, its author, leading congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder, staged a tactical retreat. To blunt the movement for full repeal, led by the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, Souder amended his own provision so that it now applies only to students who are enrolled and receiving federal financial aid at the time they commit their offenses. Passage of the amended drug provision in February marks one of the only major rollbacks of drug war legislation in years.

New Jersey passes a needle exchange bill. After a 13-year struggle and a rising toll from injection-related HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C infections, the New Jersey legislature last week passed legislation that would establish pilot needle exchange programs in up to six municipalities. Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed it into law this week. With Delaware and Massachusetts also passing needle access bills this year, every state in the union now either has at least some needle exchange programs operating or allows injection drug users to obtain clean needles without a prescription.

The US Supreme Court upholds the right of American adherents of the Brazil-based church the Union of the Vegetable (UDV) to use a psychedelic tea (ayahuasca) containing a controlled substance in religious ceremonies. Using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a unanimous court held that the government must show a "compelling government interest" in restricting religious freedom and use "the least restrictive means" of furthering that interest. The February ruling may pave the way for marijuana spiritualists to seek similar redress.

The Vancouver safe injection site, Insite wins a new, if limited, lease on life. The pilot project site, the only one of its kind in North America, was up for renewal after its initial three-year run, and the Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper was ideologically opposed to continuing it, but thanks to a well-orchestrated campaign to show community and global support, the Harper government granted a one-year extension of the program. Some observers have suggested the limited extension should make the "worst of" list instead of the "best of," but keeping the site long enough to survive the demise of the Conservative government (probably this year) has to rank as a victory. So does the publication of research results demonstrating that the site saves lives, reduces overdoses and illness, and gets people into treatment without leading to increased crime or drug use.

The election of Evo Morales brings coca peace to Bolivia. When coca-growers union leader Morales was elected president in the fall of 2004, the country's coca farmers finally had a friend in high office. While previous years had seen tension and violence between cocaleros and the government's repressive apparatus, Morales has worked with the growers to seek voluntary limits on production and, with financial assistance from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, begun a program of research on the uses of coca and the construction of factories to turn it into tea or flour. All is not quiet -- there have been deadly clashes with growers in Las Yungas in recent months -- but the situation is greatly improved from previous years.

Brazil stops imprisoning drug users. Under a new drug law signed by President Luis Inacio "Lula" Da Silva in August, drug users and possessors will not be arrested and jailed, but cited and offered rehabilitation and community service. While the new "treatment not jail" law keeps drug users under the therapeutic thumb of the state, it also keeps them out of prison.

Italy reverses tough marijuana laws. Before its defeat this spring, the government of then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi toughened up Italy's previously relatively sensible drug laws, making people possessing more than five grams of marijuana subject to punishment as drug dealers. The new, left-leaning government of Premier Romano Prodi took and last month raised the limit for marijuana possession without penalty from five grams to an ounce. The Prodi government has also approved the use of marijuana derivatives for pain relief.

Read Between the Lines: Why DEA Only Raids Some Dispensaries

Here's the Drug Czar's blog gloating over the DEA's raid of the Local Patient's Cooperative in Hayward, CA:

The DEA took down another illegal marijuana dispensary in California. The owners were selling pot for profit under the guise of "medicinal use." Police seized pot cookies and expensive cars. More here (with video).

Notice the careful language used here. We're told that this was an "illegal marijuana dispensary" that used medical use as a "guise" to make money. As dispensary raids have increased in recent months, DEA has claimed each time that they're targeting clubs that engage in recreational sales. Similarly, ONDCP's blog post clearly implies that LPC was uniquely criminal in its conduct.

In other words, DEA and now ONDCP are tacitly condoning dispensaries that only sell to patients!

In both word and deed they are suggesting that dispensaries which follow California State law will generally not be targeted, despite the fact that federal law draws no such distinction. Obviously, this informal policy is driven not by compassion for the sick, but rather an acceptance of the political reality that the public won't tolerate continued assaults on patient access itself.

Unfortunately, DEA's willful ignorance of the nuances of legitimate medical marijuana use continues to undermine the value of this apparent compromise. Here's a quote from the SFGate.com article linked by ONDCP, which ironically undermines their whole point:

In the Hayward case, an FBI agent said in a sworn affidavit that officers staked out the Foothill Boulevard location five times in October and November and saw healthy-looking men entering and leaving the building each time, carrying bags the officers believed contained marijuana.
The only other evidence the agent cited to show that the dispensary was selling drugs to non-medical patients was a newspaper article saying police had found 10 times as much marijuana on the premises as the city's rules allowed.

That LPC's customers appeared "healthy looking" is a red herring. Most of the people in any medical setting appear healthy and California allows caretakers to obtain medicine on behalf of sick relatives. Furthermore, the apparent "health" of certain patients could as easily be attributed to their access to effective medicine. Hayward area patients with limited mobility might not be looking so good today.

LPC's excessive supply appears to be the only legitimate issue here and even that falls far short of justifying the conclusion that extra-medical sales were being conducted. Friends at Americans for Safe Access have explained to me that recent DEA activity has resulted more from poorly drafted or non-existent local regulations than from gratuitous improprieties on the part of dispensary owners.

With that in mind, consider what patient and activist Angel Raich had to say in an email:

"I can tell you that Local Patients Group was a really good co-op,
they served a high number of patients, they gave back to the patient
community, and the City of Hayward. This was the first medical cannabis co-op as you come into the SF Bay Area and many patients from the Central Valley and surrounding areas would travel for hours to get their medicine there and this raid has created a hardship for hundreds of patients. They will be missed."

Thank you Angel. If LPC's substantial supply reflects the needs of patients in the region, rather than profiteering by the club's operators, then the effect of the raid is to dramatically undermine legitimate patient access. Morally, there's a big difference between exceeding supply limits for the purpose of supplying patients, as opposed to engaging in recreational sales surreptitiously. Yet LPC's conduct was presumed to indicate the later and not the former.

In sum, federal authorities are admitting a distinction between medical and recreational sales, which shows that their position has been weakened. But they're failing to draw this distinction accurately and their newfound enthusiasm for busting "illegal" dispensaries has led to a recent increase in raids.

Federal charges mean that dispensary operators will have no opportunity to defend their adherence to state and local laws anyway, so the DEA's public justification for the raid becomes irrelevant after the fact. Meanwhile, reduced patient access shifts the burden to the remaining dispensaries, increasing their chances of running afoul of local ordinances and becoming the next target.

Ironically, Congressional debate over the Hinchey Amendment, which would solve this problem entirely, still focuses on whether marijuana is medicine; a fact that the DEA has already tacitly admitted.

Location: 
United States

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