Medical Marijuana (STDW)
From the US Supreme Court to the local city council chambers, medical marijuana continues to be a contentious issue. Here's the latest.
On Monday, the US Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by medical marijuana patients. The four California plaintiffs had argued that local bans on dispensaries denied their right to equal treatment under the Americans With Disabilities Act. But the high court refused to hear their appeal.
Last Wednesday, Garden Grove officials reported that 62 dispensaries had closed by the city's midnight deadline. The previous week, Garden Grove police sent out letters ordering them to close. The previous night, the city council got an earful from aggrieved medical marijuana patients, more than a hundred of whom packed the council chambers and adjoining rooms. At the end of the meeting, Mayor Bruce Broadwater essentially told them to get lost. "If you want to smoke marijuana, do it in another city," he said. "Don't do it in Garden Grove."
Last Thursday, medical marijuana backers sued the city of Long Beach over its decision that a petition to overturn the city's ban on dispensaries was insufficient. According to the city clerk, petitioners came up short, but petitioners dispute that finding and are seeking to have signatures removed as invalid added back to the petitions. Alternately, they are asking for the city to hold a special election on whether to ban or regulate dispensaries.
Also last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters rallied in San Bernardino. About three dozen people gathered at city hall to demand that the city stop shutting down medical marijuana dispensaries. The city has moved aggressively against dispensaries since the state Supreme Court ruled May 6 that local bans are allowed.
Last Friday, the city of Anaheim ordered dispensaries in the city to close. Citing the Supreme Court decision, tt issued a notice to cease operations to all 11 dispensaries known to operate there. They must close by this Friday or face possible fines and criminal charges. The city had banned dispensaries via an ordinance in 2007 and followed that up with 2011 moratorium aimed at up to 143 dispensaries that had opened anyway. The city had managed to close all but 11, seven of which had opened prior to the moratorium.
Also last Friday, a Marin County grand jury slammed the county for failing to provide access to medical marijuana for patients. In a new report, titled "Medical Marijuana: Up in Smoke," the grand jury lamented the closure of medical marijuana facilities in the county and criticized both county and local officials for failing to support the Compassionate Use Act. The grand jury recommended that the Board of Supervisors "respect the will of the voters and the intention of the Compassionate Use Act by using its authority to uphold access to medical marijuana within the county" and develop a set of ordinances to regulate dispensaries.
Also last Friday, Palm Springs shuttered two dispensaries operating in the city. They had been ordered to close last Wednesday, and police went out to ensure they had. There are still three dispensaries left in the city, but officials are going after those, too.
On Monday, the California Senate passed a bill aimed at allowing dispensaries to operate. The bill, Senate Bill 439, says that collectives, cooperatives and other business entities can receive reasonable compensation for the services they provide, and will not be prosecuted as long as they comply with security and reporting guidelines drafted by the state Attorney General. The bill now moves to the Assembly.
Also on Monday, San Diego Mayor Filner called for jury nullification in a local dispensary case. Filner was addressing the prosecution of Ronnie Chang, a dispensary operator arrested during a 2009 crackdown. "This is way overdoing it when local laws, state laws allow compassionate use of medical marijuana," Filner told reporters at the downtown US District Court complex. "Someone should not be going through this stage of prosecution for trying to help people to have access to medical marijuana."
On Tuesday, Los Angeles voters approved a measure to regulate and cap the number of dispensaries. Proposition D would tax and regulate dispensaries and cap their number at about 135 -- the number of dispensaries operating when the city council enacted a moratorium in 2007. A measure that would have allowed an unlimited number of taxed and regulated dispensaries failed. The council had previously voted unanimously to ban dispensaries entirely, allowing on patient growing coops, but reversed itself after Prop D was filed.
Also on Tuesday, the San Jose city council voted to raise the tax on dispensaries to 10%.San Jose voters in 2010 approved a tax on medical marijuana providers of up to 10% of gross receipts. The council later that year set the rate at 7%, with collection beginning in March 2011. The current 7% tax rate generates $3.9 million annually for the cash-strapped city, and hiking the tax should raise another $1.5 million, city officials said.
On Monday, the Michigan Supreme Court held that medical marijuana patients are not covered by the state's zero-tolerance drugged driving law when the charge is based merely on the presence of THC in the bloodstream. The ruling will protect thousands of state medical marijuana patients. The ruling came in the case of Rodney Koon, a patient who was charged with DUI because of the presence of THC despite not having used it within the last six hours.
On Monday, a new poll showed that 82% of New Yorkers support medical marijuana. The poll comes as there are bills pending in both the Assembly (A06357) and Senate (S04406) to adopt medical marijuana.
Last Friday, the Ohio attorney general certified a medical marijuana initiative. The Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment was certified for signature-gathering after supporters turned in 1,000 initial signatures. It would protect Ohioans rights to "medical, therapeutic, and industrial cannabis." To qualify for the ballot, supporters must now gather more than 300,000 additional signatures.
Last Friday, a bill to add PTSD to the list of ailments that can be treated by marijuana passed the House Health Committee and is headed for the House floor. Senate Bill 281 would expand the state's medical marijuana program to allow prescriptions to alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder. Another bill, House Bill 3460, which would allow dispensaries, is also moving in the House.
Last Friday, a Spokane medical marijuana farmers market said it would not open after the operators received a cease and desist letter from US Attorney Michael Ormbsy. The market would have brought growers and patients together just like they were selling fresh vegetables except it would have been marijuana to card holding patients. The owners of the market say they don't have any plans of re-opening until their attorney formulates a plan of action.
[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]
Voters in Los Angeles Tuesday approved one of two active initiatives aimed at ensuring that medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed in California's largest city. The winning measure, Proposition D, would limit the number of dispensaries to about 135 and impose other restrictions on them. A competing measure, Ordinance F, would have imposed no restrictions on the number of dispensaries in the city.
[image:1 align:right]With 38% of the votes counted, early Wednesday morning, Prop D was passing handily with 63% of the vote, while Ordinance F was losing with only 43%. If both measures had polled over 50%, the one with the most votes would have been enacted. A third measure, Ordinance E, would also have regulated dispensaries, but its backers switched their support to Prop D. Ordinance E was losing with 37%.
The vote comes just days after the California Supreme Court clarified that local governments can indeed totally ban -- not just regulate -- dispensaries, a move that the city council embraced last year. It was the council's move to ban dispensaries that led to three separate initiatives to allow and regulate them.
The city council and parts of the city's medical marijuana community had backed Prop D, while dispensary operators who would be locked out by the dispensary cap had backed the more expansive Ordinance F. Ordinance F would have allowed a virtually unlimited number of dispensaries to operate.
The city council has been grappling for years to get a handle on the dispensary issue. The current number is estimated at somewhere between 500 and 1,000.
[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]
With a final vote by the state Senate Friday, the Illinois legislature has finally approved a medical marijuana bill. It only took ten years.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]If Gov. Patrick Quinn (D) signs it into law, Illinois will become either the 19th or the 20th medical marijuana state, depending on whether similar legislation in New Hampshire gets approved first. Quinn has signaled that he approves of medical marijuana, but has made no definitive statement about whether he would sign or veto the bill, so Illinois activists and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) are calling on supporters to keep up the pressure. On Sunday, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said she supported the bill.
If the bill is signed into law by the governor, Illinois will become the first state in the Midwest to approve medical marijuana through the legislative process. Michigan approved it in 2008, but that was via a voter initiative.
The bill, House Bill 1, would allow patients with qualifying medical conditions and a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana and purchase it through a network of up to 60 state-regulated dispensaries. The state will also allow up to 22 growers to supply the dispensaries. There are no provisions for patient or caregiver home cultivation.
"We applaud the Illinois legislature for taking action and adopting this widely supported and much-needed legislation," said Dan Riffle, MPP deputy director of government relations. "The final product is a comprehensive and tightly controlled system that will allow individuals with serious illnesses to safely and legally access medical marijuana with their doctors' supervision."
The bill was sponsored in the House by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and in the Senate by former state’s attorney Sen. William Haine (D-Alton). It designates the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Department of Financial & Professional Regulation to regulate the cultivation, acquisition, and distribution of marijuana.
"We are hopeful that Gov. Quinn will join legislators and the vast majority of Illinois voters in supporting this proposal," Riffle said. "Marijuana has proven medical benefits, regulating it works, and there is broad public and legislative support for doing it. This is a no-brainer."
special to Drug War Chronicle by investigative reporter Clarence Walker, email@example.com
Dispensaries providing marijuana to doctor-approved patients operate in a number of states, but they are under assault by the federal government. SWAT-style raids by the DEA and finger-wagging press conferences by grim-faced federal prosecutors may garner greater attention, but the assault on medical marijuana providers extends to other branches of the government as well, and moves by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to eliminate dispensaries' ability to take standard business deduction are another very painful arrow in the federal quiver.
[image:1 align:left]The IRS employs Section 280E, a 1982 addition to the tax code that was a response to a drug dealer's successful effort to claim his yacht, weapons purchases, and even illicit bribes as business expenses. Under 280E, individuals involved in the illicit sale of controlled substances -- including marijuana, even medical marijuana in states where it is legal -- cannot claim standard business expenses on their federal taxes.
"The 280E provision which requires certain businesses to pay taxes on their gross income, as opposed to their net income, is aimed at shutting down illicit drug operations, not state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access." Nonetheless, the Obama Administration is using Section 280E to push these local and state licensed facilities out of business."
The provision can be used to great effect. Oakland's Harborside Health Center was hit with a $2 million IRS assessment in 2011 after the tax agency employed Section 280E against. Harborside is fighting that assessment, even as it continues to try to fend off federal prosecutors' attempts to shut it down by seizing the properties it leases. Similarly, when the feds raided Richard Lee's Oaksterdam University that same year, it wasn't just DEA, but also IRS agents who stormed the premises. Lee said it was because of a 280E-related audit.
The attacks on Harborside and Oaksterdam were part of an IRS campaign of aggressive audits using 280E to deny legitimate business expenses, such as rent, payroll, and all other necessary business expenses. These denials result in astronomical back tax bills for the affected dispensaries, threatening their viability -- and patients' access to their medicine.
"Should the IRS campaign be successful; it will throw millions of patients back in to the hands of street dealers; eliminate tens of thousands of well paying jobs, destroy hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue; enrich the criminal underground; and endanger the safety of communities in the 17 medical cannabis states," said Harborside's Steve DeAngelo as he announced the 280E Reform Project to begin to fight back.
It's going to be an uphill battle. In the last Congress, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) introduced House Bill 1985, the Small Business Tax Equity Act, designed to end the 280E problem for medical marijuana businesses, but it went to the Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee, where it was never heard from again.
Still, something needs to happen, said Betty Aldworth, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, which this year is working with members of Congress to try to find a fix for the 280E problem.
"When Section 280E was created in the 1980s, no one imagined state-legal marijuana providers," Aldworth told the Chronicle. "Whether or not it is part of a larger effort to curtail the development of regulated models for providing marijuana, which is a model that is clearly preferable to leaving this popular and relatively safe medicine (or adult product) in the underground market, these onerous tax rates have severely hampered the development of the regulated market."
It's a brake on the overall economy, Aldworth said.
"Not only has it resulted in stymieing job development, but it also curtails other economic activity such as reinvestment in business and the rippling positive effects of that spending," she argued. "And in many cases, it has created a tax burden that is simply unbearable: many providers have had to close their doors and lay off their staffs because the tax burden was simply too great."
Because of this unintended application of 280E, medical marijuana providers are paying overall taxes at a rate two to three times those of other small businesses, Aldworth said.
"It's important to note that just as they want to apply for licenses, follow regulations, and otherwise participate in the legal business community, state-legal marijuana providers also want to pay their fair share of taxes," she pointed out. "Most small businesses pay an effective tax rate of between 13% and 27% on net income, according to the Small Business Administration. State-legal marijuana providers pay an average effective tax rate of 65-80%. An industry that can provide thousands of jobs is being held back by these crazy tax rates."
While the lobbyists look to Congress for a fix, one academic tax law expert thinks he has hit upon a novel solution, but not everyone agrees.
Benjamin Leff, a professor at American University's Washington College of Law, raised eyebrows at a Harvard University seminar this spring when he presented his report,Tax Planning For Marijuana Dealers, where he suggested that dispensaries get around 280E by registering with the IRS as tax-exempt social welfare organizations, known as 501(c)(3)s or 501(c)(4)s.
The IRS has already ruled that medical marijuana providers can be exempt under 501(c)(3) because its "public policy doctrine" does not allow charitable organizations to have purposes contrary to law, but in the paper, Leff argued that "a state-sanctioned marijuana seller could qualify as tax-exempt under 501(c)(4), since the public policy doctrine only applies to charities, and 501(c)(4) organizations are not charities."
The organization would have to be operated to improve the social and economic conditions of a neighborhood blighted by crime or poverty, by providing job training, employment opportunities, and improved business conditions for commercial development in the neighborhood, just like many existing community economic development corporations that run businesses.
"When taxes get too high, you can drive compliant dispensaries out of business," Leff told the Chronicle.
Americans for Safe Access' Hermes would agree with that, but he's not so sure about Leff's idea.
"The concept of medical marijuana dispensaries registering with the federal government as a 501(c)(4) in order to sidestep section 280E is novel and may be hypothetically valid," he said. "However, the IRS will refuse to grant tax-exempt status to a business that the agency believes is violating federal law. Perhaps, it would be possible for a dispensary to obtain 501(c)(4) status under false pretenses, but such status would not very likely withstand an IRS audit."
There are better ways, he said.
"A much more realistic and sensible approach -- pending a change to the federal classification of marijuana for medical use -- is to amend the tax code to exclude state-lawful medical marijuana businesses from Section 280E," Hermes recommended. "This is the kind of legislation that Congress should pass in order to allow states to implement their own medical marijuana laws, without undue interference by the federal government."
"I agree with everything he said," Leff replied. "But it's not just the Obama administration that is using 280E this way. The Supreme Court has held that there is no exception to the Controlled Substances Act for state-level legal marijuana sales, and since 280E makes references to Schedule I controlled substances, it applies to legal marijuana unless Congress changes the law. I totally agree that Congress should amend 280E to exempt marijuana selling that is legal under state law. Congress could also amend the Controlled Substances Act to remove marijuana from it, which would probably also make sense," he added.
Whether it is by act of Congress, internal policy shifts, or creative thinking by law school professors, some way has to be found to exempt state-permitted medical marijuana providers from the clutches of 280E and its punitive tax burden aimed at dope dealers, or there may not be any medical marijuana providers.
The feds stay on the attack in California, and fallout mounts from last week's state Supreme Court decision allowing local dispensary bans. There's news from other states as well. Let's get to it:
Last Monday, US Attorney Melinda Haag moved to seize a building housing a San Francisco dispensary. Targeted is the Shambala Healing Center, a city-approved dispensary. Under federal pressure, Shambala's landlords earlier sought to evict it, but failed because it complies with state laws. While Haag has moved to seize buildings in Oakland, Berkeley and Marin County because they housed cannabis dispensaries, this is the Justice Department's first forfeiture action against a San Francisco landlord. Shambala was one of eight San Francisco dispensaries whose landlords received asset forfeiture threat letters starting in the fall of 2011.
Last Tuesday, the city of Garden Grove told dispensaries in the city they must shut down. The city sent out a cease-and-desist notice to dispensary operators, warning they must close this week or face $1,000 a day fines. The city had banned dispensaries in 2008, but turned to a registration process in 2011, then stopping registering dispensaries last year as it awaited the state Supreme Court's ruling on whether locales can ban them. After the high court upheld local bans, Police Chief Kevin Raney sent out a letter calling on all of the more than 60 dispensaries within Garden Grove to close no later than Tuesday. Dispensary owners who do not comply could face criminal charges, the letter said, as well as fines or civil lawsuits.
Last Wednesday, US Attorney Melinda Haag defended her use of lawsuits against dispensaries. Lawsuits against landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries and letters threatening the landlords have been reasonable and are supported by educators, addiction specialists, police officers, clergy, parents and others who are "negatively affected by marijuana," Haag said in a statement. "The marijuana industry has caused significant public health and safety problems in rural communities, urban centers and schools in the Northern District of California. Because some believe marijuana has medicinal value, however, we continue to take a measured approach and have only pursued asset forfeiture actions with respect to marijuana retail sales operations very near schools, parks or playgrounds, at the request of local law enforcement, or in one case, because of the sheer size of its distribution operations."
Also last Wednesday, the Berkeley Patients Group vowed to fight Haag's efforts to shut it down. "We intend to vigorously defend the rights of our patients and the citizens of Berkeley to be able to obtain medical cannabis from a responsible, licensed dispensary," said Sean Luse, the chief operating officer of the Berkeley Patients Group. The previous week, Haag filed suit against the dispensary's landlord seeking to seize the San Pablo Avenue retail space. Haag had previously forced the Berkeley Patients Group to move by threatening to seize its old locale because it was too close to a school. The Berkeley Patients Group, founded in 1999, is the oldest continuously operating medical marijuana dispensary in the Bay Area and serves more than 10,000 patients.
Also last Wednesday, a Thousand Palms dispensary shut down after last Monday's state Supreme Court ruling. The ruling upheld the right of localities to ban dispensaries, and the owner of the Hazy Colitas dispensary said he was closing his doors on his attorney's advice -- before Riverside County sheriff’s deputies did it for him. In nearby Palm Springs, the owner of the CCOC dispensary said he feared he would have to close his doors as well. Palm Springs is the only city in Riverside County that allows dispensaries, but it limits the number of city-approved permits to three. Plans to allow a fourth are on hold. The city has already shut down 12 non-permitted operations and will continue to work on closing five dispensaries still operating without proper permits, said Palm Springs City Attorney Doug Holland. CCOC doesn't have a permit.
Last Thursday, San Bernardino police raided and closed one dispensary and raided a second only to find it had already shut down. City officials reported that 18 of the 33 dispensaries in the city had already shut down in the wake of last week's California Supreme Court ruling. The city had ordered them to close last Tuesday. City officials vow to shut down the rest, too.
Also last Thursday, the Stockton city council took its first step toward banning dispensaries just three years after it moved to allow them. The council moved after city staff warned that by allowing dispensaries the city could leave itself open to federal enforcement measures. At the Thursday meeting, the Planning Commission voted 5-2 in favor of the ban. One already permitted dispensary may be allowed to stay open.
Last Friday, San Bernardino police raided a dispensary that had previously been ordered to close but had quietly reopened, staying closed during the day, but doing business in the evening. City officials said they weren't interested in making arrests, but in closing down dispensaries.
On Monday, the Riverside County Democratic Central Committee passed a resolution calling on state legislators to "enact statewide regulations and licensing requirements that will provide for the safety and concerns of local communities as well as fulfill the mandate of Proposition 215... 'for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.'" The committee said strong community support is needed to boost statewide regulation efforts at the capitol in Sacramento.
Also on Monday, San Diego's draft law on dispensaries was given to the mayor and city council. The proposal builds on an ordinance passed two years ago. Medical marijuana advocates considered the zoning law component too restrictive, however, and collected enough petition signatures to get it rescinded, but ended up with dispensaries being made illegal in the city. Mayor Bob Filner has made getting regulated dispensaries back in the city a priority. The newly drafted ordinance would allow dispensaries to operate legally for five years under a conditional use permit. A 100-foot buffer would be required between dispensaries and residential zones. It also forbid dispensaries within 1,000 of public parks, playgrounds, child care centers, schools, churches, municipal libraries, residential care facilities and other pot shops.
On Sunday, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon came out in favor of a pending medical marijuana bill, saying that testimony from seriously ill veterans and other patients helped change her mind. The bill has passed the Illinois House and awaits a Senate vote. The bill would allow patients with more than 30 medical conditions to seek recommendations for medical marijuana, but also requires background checks of both caregivers and patients, limits patients to purchasing 2.5 ounces at a time, and bars them from growing their own. They would have to go to state-regulated dispensaries.
On Monday, a dispensary workers union filed a complaint against Wellness Connection of Maine, the state's largest dispensary operator. The complaint filed by the United Food and Commercial Workers with the National Labor Relations Board accuses the company of subjecting employees to unfair labor practices, including retaliation for participating in union activity. The NLRB’s regional director in Boston will investigate the claims and determine whether they should lead to formal action.
Last Wednesday, the Public Health Council finalized medical marijuana regulations. They are set to go into effect May 24. The regulations leave the determination of appropriate medical marijuana use to doctors and patients, rather than restricting it based on an arbitrary list of conditions, restricts patients to 10 ounces every two months (but allows doctors to recommend more), allow patients to visit doctors other than their primary care physician for recommendations, allow patients to use multiple dispensaries, and sets a financial hardship threshold at 300% of the federal poverty line. Dispensaries are set to open next year.
Last Friday, Attorney General Bill Schuette ruled that parents who use medical marijuana aren't disqualified from child custody or visitation. That immunity isn't absolute, however, Schuette clarified. Judges can determine if use presents unreasonable dangers to children, but they can't independently decide if a parent is qualified to use medical marijuana. Schuette's opinion came in response to a question from a state legislator.
On Monday, it was revealed that the state Medical Marijuana Review Panel was dissolved after the state admitted it erred in setting it up. "After a careful review of the Medical Marihuana Act… the make-up of the current Medical Marihuana Review Panel does not meet the administrative rule requirements… As a result, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs will be appointing a new panel that complies with the law. No further meeting of the review panel will be held until the new panel is appointed," the state said.
Marijuana rescheduling is headed for the US Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court upheld local dispensary bans, the feds strike again in Berkeley and Washington state, and there is action in state legislatures, too. Let's get to it:
Last week, Americans for Safe Access announced it was appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the DC Court of Appeals' ruling upholding the DEA's refusal to reclassify marijuana out of Schedule I. ASA's appeal to the Supreme Court asks that the DEA be required to apply the same standard to evaluating cannabis that it uses for other substances. The DEA claims there are no "adequate and well-controlled studies" that show cannabis has medical use, despite the many clinical trials and peer-reviewed scientific studies that show cannabis to be a safe and effective medicine for treating a wide variety of conditions.
Last Wednesday, a Fox News poll had support for medical marijuana at 85% nationwide. The figure included 80% of Republicans and is the highest level of support for medical marijuana ever in the Fox News poll.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill that will allow medical marijuana research on university campuses. Brewer had last year supported successful legislation that banned even medical marijuana on state college and university campuses, but the ban aimed primarily at students had the unintended consequence of blocking serious academic research being undertaken on medical marijuana and PTSD by University of Arizona psychiatrist Sue Sisley. The new law allows medical marijuana on campus for carefully controlled and approved studies.
Last Wednesday, prosecutors in Tuolumne County dropped marijuana trafficking charges against the owners of a local medical marijuana collective. Charges were dropped in the case of the Today's Health Collective, which had been raided in May 2011. Prosecutors complained that "inconsistencies in opinions from different courts have required a shift in the focus of law enforcement and jury instruction" and "the cumulative effect of evidence collected in 2011 has been weakened by this development."
On Monday, the state Supreme Court upheld the right of localities to ban dispensaries. Some 200 California towns and counties have already done so, but others had held off because of uncertainty over the legality of bans. The ruling means that patients' access to medical marijuana will depend in part on where in the state they live.
On Tuesday, the dispensary operator in the Monday Supreme Court case said he had closed his shop. Operator and medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow said he would comply with the high court ruling and shut down Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center.
Also on Tuesday, federal prosecutors filed an asset forfeiture lawsuit against the landlord for the Berkeley Patients Group, one of the most well-respected dispensaries in the state. The feds already forced BPG to move last year, saying it was too close to a school. The dispensary relocated to a site even further from schools, but US Attorney Melinda Haag filed the forfeiture suit without warning anyway.
Also on Tuesday, the Yuba City city council adopted a marijuana cultivation ordinance requiring people growing medical marijuana at home to register with the city and trim their plants out of public view. They also have to install security fences and carbon filtration systems to reduce odor. The ordinance had been in place on a temporary basis since March 2012, but became permanent with Tuesday's 3-2 vote.
On Wednesday, a hearing on a medical marijuana bill was underway in the Senate Executive Committee. The bill would allow residents with serious illnesses, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, to access and use medical marijuana if their physicians recommend it. If approved, the measure will be considered by the full Senate. It received approval from the full House of Representatives on April 17.
Last Thursday, Gov. O'Malley signed a medical marijuana bill into law. The measure, House Bill 1101, will allow patients to qualify for protections from arrest and prosecution if they are enrolled in a program administered by one of Maryland’s teaching hospitals. The law takes effect October 1. But it's not clear how many of the state's teaching hospitals will participate.
On Wednesday, the Public Health Council approved medical marijuana regulations. The regulations include requiring doctors to complete a full clinical checkup before issuing a recommendations, recommendations will expire after one year, and patients will not be allowed to use medical marijuana at dispensaries. The regulations approved today will go into effect on May 25. They allow the department to establish a competitive application process for non-profits seeking certifications that will permit them to operate. DPH is required to certify at least 14, but no more than 35, medical marijuana treatment centers to open by January, 2014.
Last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters outlined their bill, but conceded that no action on it is likely until next year. The measure dictates the amount of marijuana someone can possess, the types of health conditions that would permit use and the rules medical professionals must follow when issuing prescriptions. It would continue to bar smoking of marijuana on school buses and school grounds, on public transportation, in the presence of a child and while operating vehicles, boats or other transportation equipment.
On Monday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Human Services approved a medical marijuana bill, but not before removing PTSD as a qualifying condition and removing a home cultivation provision at the insistence of Gov. Maggie Hassan. Other changes to the bill reduced the number of authorized dispensaries allowed statewide from five to four, added a requirement that patients get written permission from a property owner before using medical marijuana on privately owned land, and eliminated protections for out of state medical marijuana patients traveling with marijuana in New Hampshire. The measure had already overwhelmingly passed the House. Medical marijuana advocates are continuing to fight for a better version of the bill.
Last Thursday, Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd said two more dispensaries will likely open soon. Years after medical marijuana was legalized in the state, only one dispensary is open. The first dispensary opened in Montclair, Essex County, in December, but is limiting its clientele to North Jersey residents. A second dispensary operator is renovating a former warehouse in Egg Harbor, Atlantic County, and plans an opening in September. A third dispensary operator is renovating its location in Woodbridge, O'Dowd said.
Last Wednesday, news broke that the DEA had sent cease-and-desist letters to 11 dispensaries. The agency complained in the April 29 letters they were within 1,000 feet of schools. The DEA told recipients of the letters to stop distributing marijuana within 30 days or face property seizure and forfeiture.
In a ruling that will leave California's patchwork approach to medical marijuana dispensary regulation in place, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that local governments can ban dispensaries from operating within their jurisdictions. For patients, that means access to medical marijuana at dispensaries will depend on the political currents in their city or county.
[image:1 align:left]The decision likely means that cities and counties that had been holding off on banning dispensaries will now take steps to do so. It will also increase pressure on the state legislature to come up with a means of statewide medical marijuana regulation, something it is working on right now.
The case was City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Inc., in which Inland Empire sued the city after Riverside using its zoning power to declare that dispensaries were nuisances and ordered them shut down. Inland Empire went to court to block the city from forcing it to close.
The decision was eagerly -- and anxiously -- awaited by all sides. Cases on local bans had been percolating through the state court system for several years, with state appeals courts splitting on the issue. An appeals court had earlier sided with the city of Riverside, but a trial court last summer held that Riverside County could not ban dispensaries, and an appeals court in Southern California had struck down Los Angeles County's ban on dispensaries.
The move by the city of Riverside was part of a broader counter-offensive against the proliferation of dispensaries after the Obama administration signaled in 2009 that it would take a largely hands-off approach. According to the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access, more than 200 cities or counties in the state have since moved to ban dispensaries. That move toward local bans has since slowed, in part because of uncertainty over their legality and in part because the federal offensive since the Obama administration shifted gears in the fall of 2011 has driven hundreds of dispensaries out of business.
Patient and industry advocates had argued that allowing localities to ban dispensaries ran counter to the intent of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. The law called for making medical marijuana accessible to people with doctors' recommendations for its use. But the state's high court sided with the localities.
"The issue in this case is whether California's medical marijuana statutes preempt a local ban on facilities that distribute medical marijuana. We conclude they do not," wrote Justice Marvin Baxter for a unanimous court. "The CUA and the MMP [state medical marijuana laws] do not expressly or impliedly preempt Riverside's zoning provisions declaring a medical marijuana dispensary, as therein defined, to be a prohibited use, and a public nuisance, anywhere within the city limits."
"While the California Supreme Court ruling ignores the needs of thousands of patients across the state, it simply maintains the status quo," said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access, which filed an amicus 'friend of the court' brief in the case. "Notably, the high court deferred to the state legislature to establish a clearer regulatory system for the distribution of medical marijuana, which advocates and state officials are currently working on."
"There is nothing surprising about this; it affirms the status quo," said Dale Gieringer, longtime head of California NORML. "I've been following the court cases and reading the state constitution, and it seems pretty clear that local governments have broad authority under California law."
"Today's decision allowing localities to ban will likely lead to reduced patient access in California unless the state finally steps up to provide regulatory oversight and guidance," said Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The good news though is that this problem is fixable. It is time for the state legislature to enact state-wide medical marijuana oversight and regulation that both protects patient access and eases the burden on localities to deal with this issue on their own. Localities will stop enacting bans once the state has stepped up and assumed its responsibility to regulate."
"We're hoping that we can fix this by having some sort of state regulation system where people have access wherever they live in the state, if not by local dispensaries, then at least by some sort of delivery service," Gieringer said. "I think they're trying very hard to do something this year. Remember, last year, the Assembly passed a regulation bill and the Senate came very close, and now we have the leader of the state Senate supporting the same concept, so I think the prospects are pretty good for action."
The statewide medical marijuana regulation bills this year are Assembly Bill 473, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), and Senate Bill 439, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). Both bills have passed their first committee votes and are supported by a broad coalition of patients, dispensaries, and law enforcement groups.
But until and unless statewide regulation is passed in Sacramento, the battle over patient access to dispensaries is now going to be fought in city council chambers and county supervisor meeting rooms in cities and counties across the state. That is going to mean differential access to medical marijuana depending on the political complexion of the localities where patients reside.
Idaho is officially not a marijuana-friendly state. Although it is bordered on most sides by medical marijuana states (Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Montana), it so far refuses to accept the medicinal use of the herb. And even though one of those states (Washington) has legalized marijuana and two others (Nevada and Oregon) have decriminalized it, Idaho remains firmly grounded in 20th Century attitudes toward the plant. The state legislature this year took the time to approve a non-binding resolution noting its opposition to marijuana legalization.
[image:1 align:right]But that doesn't mean there aren't reformers in the Gem State. There have been sporadic local marijuana legalization efforts in past years, and this year, medical marijuana supporters are in the midst of signature-gathering campaign to put an initiative on the ballot.
That campaign is led by Compassionate Idaho, some of whose most stalwart and publicly visible members are Lindsey and Josh Rinehart and Sarah Caldwell. But with an incident that began while Caldwell and the Rineharts were away on a retreat, the trio are learning a harsh lesson in hardball pot politics. When they got back home, their kids were gone, and the police and child social services had them.
According to Boise Police, who released a statement on the matter as controversy grew, on April 23, they were contacted by a local school official about a child who had apparently eaten marijuana and fallen ill. Police "learned from witnesses" that the supposed marijuana supposedly came from the Rinehart residence, and, "concerned for the safety of children at the residence," they went there and found a baby sitter caring for the Rinehart and Caldwell children.
Police persuaded the baby sitter to let them search the residence and "found drug paraphernalia, items commonly used to smoke marijuana, and a quantity of a substance that appeared to be marijuana in locations inside the house accessible to the children." Police at the scene then contacted both narcotics investigators and the department's Special Victims Unit.
(Rinehart, a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer, said she indeed had medical marijuana at home, but that she had a small amount and a pipe on a dresser in her bedroom, a larger amount of trim locked away in a freezer, and some marijuana tincture in a bottle in a kitchen cabinet atop her refrigerator.)
"Based on the fact that illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia were located in an area that appeared to be commonly used by the children in the residence and the fact that one child had already become ill from ingesting what he assumed was marijuana, and the inability to contact the children's parents, detectives made the decision to contact Idaho Health and Welfare officials and place the children in imminent danger, meaning they were placed in the protective custody of the state until it can be determined they are in a safe environment," the statement said.
At this point, it is unclear whether whatever made the school child sick was marijuana. It is equally unclear that any marijuana came from the Rinehart residence. What is clear is that both the Rineharts and Sarah Campbell are up-front, in-your-face medical marijuana patients and activists, and that their children were being subjected to the tender mercies of the state.
Sarah Caldwell has had her kids returned to her -- it was not her child who is suspected of providing the suspected marijuana -- but the Rineharts are still fighting to get their kids returned.
"My sons were not involved," Caldwell said. "They were at the house the police searched, the police decided my kids were in 'imminent danger,' and it took three days to get them back."
While the two boys and the Rinehart kids were held at the same foster home, providing them with the small comfort of being with friends, Caldwell said her younger son was traumatized.
"My six-year-old is autistic," she explained. "I noticed when he came home, he started packing his favorite toys. I asked him why and he said, 'In case the police make me go away again.' He doesn't understand why," Caldwell said, her voice breaking.
While Caldwell has her children at home again, both she and the Rineharts are going to have to comply with the requirements of the child welfare system to ensure that their children can return to their old lives. But, Lindsey Rinehart said, Child Protective Services is moving more quickly than usual in her case.
[image:2 align:left caption:true]Normally, Child Protective Services requires parents to meet with them at the department three times, then allows them to have three visits with their children in the community, then inspects the home to ensure a safe environment is being provided, and only then considers returning the kids, most likely with the added provision that the parents must undergo parenting and drug education classes. But when the Chronicle last spoke to Rinehart Saturday, she was in the middle of a home visit with her kids -- one that ends Sunday morning.
"They seem to be expediting the process because they realize they messed up," she said. The state taking her kids wasn't doing them any favors, she added.
"My oldest son now will only talk if you ask him really specific questions, and my younger one is acting out," she said. "He is upset and argumentative; he has a hard time vocalizing things," she said of her six-year-old. "I told him I had to go to the store, and he freaked out; he didn't want me to leave him. He's reacting like I've never seen before. He was a happy kid; now he's mad and confused. He doesn't understand what's going on."
The older Rinehart son is having issues, too, she said.
"He's mad. Both of the kids have been educated about my medicine, so they know this is wrong," the multiple sclerosis sufferer explained. "They're mad that they were taken away because mommy had her medicine. I'm trying to comfort them as best as I can. They just know that somebody took them away, and now I have to explain that they have to go back to foster care tomorrow," Rinehart said, her voice trembling.
Both the Rineharts and Sarah Caldwell suspect they were set up.
"I'm the director of Compassionate Idaho. Everybody knows who I am. I'm on the news at least once a month," said Rinehart. "We had just done the Hemp Fest in Moscow and signature-gathering in five towns. The police knew what they were looking for, and they knew where to look without anyone telling them. Those kids on the playground didn't know where to look. There were kids from several other families involved in that playground incident, but we think the police got who they wanted."
"I do think they were targeting us," Caldwell agreed. "That incident at the school was just an excuse for them to try to get us."
"This has got me fired up," Caldwell said. "They took my children to try to keep me focused on getting my kids back so I wouldn't do my activism, but I'm not going to stop."
The use of children as pawns in the marijuana culture wars is shocking and distressing, but nothing new, said Keith Stroup, founder and currently counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
"We get calls three or four times a week from people who have lost custody of their children because they tested positive at birth or in a situation where parents are feuding over custody," Stroup said. "One will say 'My spouse smokes marijuana and is thus not a fit parent,' and once that child welfare issue is raised, it's a totally separate matter from the criminal justice system. Even if no one is proposing to arrest the parent, this is far more damaging and destructive to the family."
That's at least in part because once child welfare has its clutches on you, it doesn't want to let go, and it typically has an attitude toward marijuana use that is reminiscent of Reefer Madness, Stroup said.
"They can require that you take parenting and drug education courses right out of the 1950s," he said. "It's a worthless routine, but you have to do it, you have to pay hundreds of dollars to do it, and you can't get your kids back until you do it. It doesn't matter how nice or good a parent you are or how well-intentioned you are, once you get caught up in this, you are in for a bad time."
NORML is doing what it can to assist the Idaho activists, Stroup said, adding some words of advice for other marijuana-using parents, especially (but not only) in places where attitudes toward the herb are hide-bound and hardened.
"If you're in a place like Idaho and you're a young parent, never smoke in front of your kids, so if that issue ever arises, you can make sure nobody can say you were smoking marijuana and kids were playing in the same room," he counseled. "You have to be able to demonstrate convincingly that you are providing a safe and secure place for your kids. In places like Idaho, you could lose custody over your kids for something many of us in many parts of the country take for granted."
Getting the kids back is only part of the problem for the Rineharts. Idaho treats even small-time pot possession seriously -- it's one of those place where people still actually do get jail time for it -- and the couple is facing possible felony charges for possessing more than an ounce of trim.
[image:3 align:right caption:true]"I'm living in an ongoing panic attack," said Lindsey Rinehart. "They update their warrants every five hours, so I check in frequently, and first thing in the morning. Because of my illness, I can't handle physical pressure very well, and I'm afraid they could hurt me when arresting me, so my lawyer has asked that if they do charge me, they just cite me."
All the stress isn't helping, and now, Rinehart can't have her medicine, either.
"I have prescribed meds to suppress my immune system, but those make me really sick. With cannabis, I only had to take it every other day," she explained. "Now, I have to take it every day, and it's so dangerous we have to regularly check my heart, liver, kidney, and eye function. And if I have pain, I'll have to go back to hydrocodone. I'll be going back on those meds I had been able to taper down from with cannabis."
But despite the trials and tribulations, neither the Rineharts nor Sarah Caldwell have been cowed, and their travails have energized supporters as well.
"People are really mad about this and are getting involved," said Rinehart. "We even have people reaching out to help fund Compassionate Idaho.
"People are coming out of the woodwork after hearing our kids got taken because of our activism," said Caldwell. "People are saying they want to help. Education is key here -- a lot of people here believe the Reefer Madness, but this is a non-toxic plant; it can't hurt you."
"The bigger picture is that we don't want this to happen to more families," said Rinehart.
"We're getting more calls than we ever did about child custody," Stroup reiterated. "There are still people being seriously damaged from what's left of marijuana prohibition. Few go to jail for marijuana anymore, but many lose custody of their kids. These repercussions may be more subtle, but they are not insignificant."
The Rineharts and Sarah Caldwell still have to deal with Child Protective Services, and the Rineharts are still waiting to see if they will face criminal marijuana and child endangerment charges. But in the meantime, there are 55,000 signatures to be gathered to get medical marijuana on the ballot and start changing Idaho's reactionary response to marijuana.
Lots of action in California this past week, including more raids and more threat letters, plus action in various state legislatures and elsewhere. Let's get to it:
Last Wednesday, local law enforcement raided three San Bernardino dispensaries. City Attorney's office officials, and police, fire, and code enforcement officers served search warrants and issued demands that they cease and desist from allegedly unlawful activities. The dispensaries hit were Trio Holistic Center, Berdo Medical Center, and THC First Time Patients. San Bernardino authorities banned dispensaries last year. In February, they raided three other dispensaries.
Last Tuesday, the Vallejo city council approved a 45-day moratorium on new dispensary applications. A number of dispensaries already operate in Vallejo without the city's permission, although voters last year approved a 10% tax on their sales. The city quit accepting business license tax applications for dispensaries in January. City officials said they need time to sort out the confusion. Now, the city must move forward to either regulate or ban dispensaries, although the moratorium could be extended another two years.
On Wednesday, Vallejo police returned marijuana to two dispensaries raided last year. Nearly 60 pounds of medical marijuana and hundreds of dead plants were returned to Better Health Group and the LES collective. Police gave the property back after a judge dismissed the criminal cases against the two dispensaries. Police last year raided numerous Vallejo dispensaries, but have lost every criminal case they have brought, and prosecutors have dropped the charges in others.
On Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee. Senate Bill 439 is described by its sponsor, Sen. Steinberg, as a placeholder, "a vehicle to engage stakeholders" in the process of legislating statewide regulations. Steinberg said he is in close contact with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who has introduced companion legislation, Assembly Bill 473, and that it could take one to two years to complete the process.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee refused to pass a drugged driving bill that could impact medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 289, would create a zero-tolerance drugged driving offense, but the committee was skeptical. It did, however, leave the door open for the bill to be amended.
Also on Tuesday, word emerged that federal prosecutors have sent out more dispensary threat letters. They were issued by the office of US Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag and target the landlords of dispensaries in San Jose, San Francisco, and Ukiah. The letters warn landlords that the facilities are operating too close to a school or park. In addition, the letters warn landlords that they are liable for forfeiture under USC Title 21, Section 881(a) 7. Unlike some previous letters, they do not threaten immediate prosecution or set a deadline for compliance.
Last Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that employers can fire medical marijuana users who fail a drug test. The ruling came in the case of a quadriplegic telephone operator for the Dish Network, who was fired after failing a drug test. He argued that he shouldn't have been fired because his actions were legal under state law, but the court held that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the state law he cited did not apply.
On Wednesday, two medical marijuana bills were approved by the state legislature. House Bill 668 transfers control of the medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Public Health, while Senate Bill 642 increases the amount of medicine a patient can possess from three to four ounces and allows patients to have up to seven plants, but also amends the law so that only a patient's primary care physician can recommend marijuana.
On Monday, Idaho medical marijuana activists fought back after authorities seized their children. The children were taken from a Boise couple and a Boise single mom who are leading Idaho activists after a child at the school their children attended fell ill and marijuana was blamed. Police and child protective services workers went to the home while the parents were on a retreat and took the kids, as well as some marijuana and paraphernalia. One set of kids has been returned, the other two remain in foster care.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley confirmed he will sign a medical marijuana bill. The formal signing is set for Thursday. The bill allows academic medical research centers to establish programs to dispense marijuana to sick patients.
On Tuesday, Gov. Maggie Hassan said she wants home cultivation stricken from a pending medical marijuana bill. Bill supporters said they were disappointed and that patients with terminal conditions couldn't wait the 18 months to two years it could take for dispensaries to get up and running. The governor "shares the concerns of law enforcement about the state's ability to effectively regulate a home-grow option," spokesman Marc Goldberg said in a statement. Hassan voted for a medical marijuana bill in 2009 that included a home-grow option. The proposal is now being rewritten in a Senate committee.
On Tuesday, the state Department of Health agreed that PTSD should remain a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The move upheld a recommendation by the Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board, which had faced an effort to withdraw PTSD as a qualifying condition.
Colorado employers can legally fire marijuana users from their jobs, the state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in a 2-1 decision. Although the case was brought by a medical marijuana user, the ruling will have any even broader impact given that the state has now legalized marijuana for all adults.
[image:1 align:right]The case was Coats v. Dish Network LLC, in which Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic telephone operator for Dish Network and registered medical marijuana patient, was fired by Dish Network after testing positive for marijuana during a drug test. Paralyzed by a car crash as a teen, Coats had been a registered patient since 2009. Dish Network cited no other reason for firing Coats other than his positive drug test result.
Coats challenged his firing, citing Colorado's Lawful Activities statute, which prohibits employers from firing workers for "engaging in any legal activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours." But both the trial court and now the appeals court rejected his challenge, holding that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Lawful Activities statute does not apply.
"For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law," the appeals court said.
Judge John Webb dissented, saying he could not find a case addressing whether Colorado judges must consider federal law in determining the meaning of the Colorado statute.
Coats' attorney, Michael Evans, said in a statement that the ruling will have a broad impact in the state.
"This case not only impacts Mr. Coats, but also some 127,816 medical marijuana patient-employees in Colorado who could be summarily terminated even if they are in legal compliance with Colorado state law," Evans said.
And with adult marijuana legalization now in place in the state, it is not just medical marijuana users who stand to be affected.
The ruling is expected to be appealed.
Similar rulings allowing employers to fire medical marijuana users have been upheld by courts in other states, including California, Michigan, and Montana.
The first dispensary in Phoenix has opened, dispensaries in Washington, DC, are ready to go, and there has been more federal enforcement activity in California. Let's get to it:
On Saturday, the first licensed dispensary in Phoenix opened its doors, but it couldn't serve any customers because an Arizona Department of Health Services computer server was shut down, affecting all the state's dispensaries. The Bloom Sky Train dispensary rescheduled its official grand opening to Wednesday. It will serve some of the state's 35,000 medical marijuana card holders.
Last Thursday, federal prosecutors moved against 63 dispensaries in Santa Ana. Prosecutors filed three asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties where seven dispensaries are operating and raided two of the stores involved. Also, prosecutors send threat letters to people associated with 56 other dispensaries. That is every known dispensary in the city. The Santa Ana Police and Santa Ana City Attorney's Office cooperated with the feds.
Also last Thursday, San Diego Mayor Filner published his proposed dispensary ordinance.The proposal is based on the recommendations of the medical marijuana taskforce, organized by City Council President Todd Gloria in 2010. It allows medical cannabis dispensaries to exist in designated commercial and industrial areas of the city with large buffers from sensitive areas, including a 600 foot buffer from schools and parks and a 1,000 foot buffer between dispensaries. The proposal also contains additional strict operating requirements including security systems, restriction on hours of operations and signage.
On Monday, the San Diego city council rejected Mayor Filner's proposed ordinance. Instead, the council voted to reintroduce a more restrictive zoning proposal overturned by a voter signature drive in 2011. The decision came after the council heard hours of testimony, with most speakers favoring the mayor's proposal. But Councilmember Marti Emeral put forth a motion to disregard the mayor’s proposal without any discussion of its provisions and to instead resurrect the proposal put forth by the council, and repealed through voter referendum, in 2011. That measure passed the council.
On Tuesday, the DEA and a local drug task force raided the last dispensary in San Diego and nine associated grow sites. Raided was the One on One Patients Association, whose director, Ken Cole, had testified the previous night at the city council's hearing on the mayor's proposed dispensary ordinance. No arrests were made, but marijuana and other items were seized. Cole is also the director of the area dispensary industry group, the United Patients Alliance.
Also on Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill was approved by a legislative committee. Sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Assembly Bill 473 would create a medical marijuana regulation division in the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to "regulate the cultivation, manufacture, testing, transportation, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana" on a statewide basis. The measure passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee, which is chaired by Ammiano.
Also on Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors extended their ban on new dispensaries or the expansion of existing for another two years. An existing ban was set to expire next week, and officials said the ban was needed because of constantly changing laws, regulations, court rulings and lawsuits. The county said the changing legal landscape for medical marijuana makes it difficult to license new facilities. The ordinance only bans new facilities or the expansion of those already in existence. Those currently operating will not be forced to close.
On Wednesday, the DEA raided two San Diego area hydroponics stores. Local activists reported that the targets were Miramar Hydroponics in San Diego and Santee Hydroponics in Santee. No word yet of what was seized or whether anyone was arrested.
On Monday, a hearing on proposed medical marijuana regulations drew a standing room only crowd at the Department of Consumer Protection. Crowd members voiced concerns about the regulations' potential effect on lawful marijuana producers and distributors. The two most frequent concerns among the business community came in response to proposed requirements for escrow accounts and brand naming. The regulations stipulate that marijuana producers establish a $2 million escrow account or line of credit which the state could seize if the producer failed to maintain a timely and successful operation. Drug abuse activists on hand at the public hearing expressed their own concerns about the regulation, mostly related to the possible diversion of medical marijuana for recreational use and advertisements targeting youth. The Department of Consumer Protection is expected to submit the final regulations to the General Assembly by July.
District of Columbia
On Tuesday, the Capital City Care dispensary announced it had received its business license. Dispensary operators said they would begin serving patients "as soon as possible," but they have to wait for the DC Department of Health to begin its patient registration process. Two other DC dispensaries, Takoma Wellness Center and the Metropolitan Wellness Center, are also waiting to accept patients. It's only been 15 years since DC voters approved medical marijuana in a 1998 initiative.
Last Friday, the state's first dispensary opened. The Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center opened in Providence. At least two more are slated to open in coming months.
Access to medical marijuana continues to expand as more and more states embrace the healing power of the herb. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of veterans of America's decade of wars are returning home burdened with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition as old as war itself, but that in years past went either unrecognized or was seen as a soldier's personal failure, his "shell shock" or "battle fatigue." Could medical marijuana help?
Scott Murphy Iraq deployment photo Scott Murphy of Newton, Massachusetts, is an Iraq combat veteran who uses medical marijuana for chronic pain. "I use medical cannabis for chronic pain from a motorcycle accident that was aggravated by my military service," Murphy said. "I had a severe accident when I was 18, I have a rod in my femur and four plates in my hip. The pain is to the point where it is affecting my walk."
But Murphy also wants to ensure that his state's new medical marijuana law provides for access to the plant for PTSD. A man Murphy described as his "best friend," a fellow veteran, committed suicide at age 22 after being kicked out of the Army for misconduct related to his mental issues rather than being given a medical discharge as promised.
"He had been showing signs of PTSD," Murphy recalled. "He was a good soldier, but when he got back from his second deployment he was having problems. When they kicked him out of the Army, he went home and killed himself."
Amid increasing evidence that medical marijuana can have a beneficial impact in helping people cope with PTSD, the push is on to expand access to the healing herb. Murphy spent Monday morning testifying at a public hearing on draft regulations for the Massachusetts medical marijuana program. Although voters voted for the initiative that listed specific qualifying conditions -- not including PTSD -- as well as "and other" conditions, state regulators are considering changing that to "and other debilitating" conditions, a change that Murphy and others fear could limit access to medical marijuana for PTSD patients.
In some medical marijuana states, adding PTSD requires going through a medical marijuana regulatory commission; in others, it is being pushed through the legislature. In Oregon, for example, Senate Bill 281, which would add PTSD to the list of treatable conditions, was approved by the state Senate last Thursday, and now moves to the House. In Michigan, by contrast, hearings on PTSD and medical marijuana were held recently by Michigan's Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana (ACMM).
State legislatures are proving to be an easier path than unelected medical marijuana overseers, said activists. "There have been a number of states that have tried to petition to get it added to the list that have so far failed," said Kris Hermes, media liaison for Americans for Safe Access.
Air Force veteran Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access (VCMA) and a plaintiff in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Agency, a case which seeks to see marijuana moved out of the Controlled Substance Act's Schedule I, agreed. "That Oregon effort is moving in the legislature because the state oversight panel was so intractable," said Krawitz, who was deeply involved in the effort there. "Any time we've had to go through the process provided by the state to address expanding access to medical marijuana, we've had trouble. Michigan is another example. There, there was a petition to add PTSD, but there was no actual process to do so. They were essentially keeping the process from moving forward until [vaunted Michigan marijuana attorney] Matt Abel sued them. Now, we have hearings before the advisory committee."
The need to do something for veterans is a major impetus behind the push, but PTSD effects lots of people who aren't veterans as well. "It isn't just veterans who suffer from PTSD," Krawitz said. "At that hearing, there were many veterans, but also other people who had suffered trauma -- child abuse survivors, rape survivors, emergency response workers."
[image:2 align:right caption:true]Still, veterans mustering out after more than a decade of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home with PTSD in record numbers. A 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 18% of returning Iraq combat veterans had PTSD. And a 2008 RAND Corporation report estimated that up to 225,000 veterans will return from the wars with PTSD.
The trauma of war is reflected not only in the number of vets suffering from PTSD, but even more ominously, in sky-high suicide rates. US military veterans are committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day, up 20% from just five years ago. And according to a Veterans Administration study released in February, that number almost certainly undercounts the number of veteran suicides because of data limitations.
The military and public health workers are keenly aware of the problem, and are attempting to address it through means both conventional and unconventional. The military and the Veterans Administration have been open to therapeutic interventions including yoga, meditation, and the use of companion dogs; they have also armed themselves with the arsenal of psychotherapeutic drugs -- anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, tranquilizers -- available in the standard pharmacopeia. But those drugs can have some nasty side effects, and their utility in treating PTSD is questionable; noting reports of negative consequences, the Army has warned against over reliance on them.
In the search for succor, more and more vets and other victims of PTSD are turning to medical marijuana. But there is a problem. Not only do a majority of states not recognize medical marijuana, even in those states that do, many of them do not allow its use for PTSD. Despite mounting evidence that medical marijuana can help with PTSD, only a handful of medical marijuana states have approved its used. According to Americans for Safe Access, only California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Mexico and Massachusetts would allow for its use for PTSD, and as we have seen above, it's still up in the air in the Bay State.
"As we find more and more people, especially veterans, benefiting from its use, we see the unfortunate absence of availability for patients across the country," said ASA's Hermes, "It's only approved in five states; that means well below half the medical marijuana states recognize the need for patients to use it for PTSD."
Americans for Safe Access supports expanded access to medical marijuana for PTSD, according to Hermes. "We wholeheartedly support the efforts to petition where patients can do so to get PTSD added to the list of conditions, and we're also pushing for recognition inside the Veterans Administration, but that's an uphill slog," he said.
And it isn't only PTSD treatment that's at stake for veterans. "I'm not only pushing for chronic pain and PTSD, but other stress-related combat issues, and that language is one of the things I asked [the Massachusetts Department of Public Health] to clarify today," Murphy said in an interview following the hearing. "Does their definition of 'debilitating' include PTSD? If they're going to use a broad definition of 'debilitating' so that it covers the full spectrum of vets' injuries, that would be one thing. But it's unclear if PTSD or other mental conditions will be covered. I think we should leave the wording with "and other" -- that's what the voters voted on. I don't think we should have to wait until someone's PTSD is so bad it's life-limiting to be able to get access."
Massachusetts regulators were supposed to have their draft regulations ready by May 5, but in the wake of the Boston bombings, that is now up in the air.
Part of the problem with winning acceptance of using medical marijuana for treatment of PTSD is the relative paucity of clinical studies on its safety and efficacy. When the state of Arizona considered adding PTSD to its list of qualifying conditions, researchers hired by the Department of Human Services found very little of use in their review of the literature.
But studies do exist. Krawitz and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access compiled an impressive set of studies suggesting marijuana is safe and effective in treating PTSD and anxiety for Michigan regulators. (They are downloadable as submitted at the following links: Packet 1, part 1 of 3, Packet 1, part 2 of 3, Packet 1, part 3 of 3, Packet 2, Packet 3). That same packet also went out to New Mexico, where an effort to remove PTSD from the list of treatable ailments was foiled, and to Oregon, where the PTSD bill moved forward this week.
"While we don't have a lot of studies titled 'PTSD Response to Cannabis Therapy,' we do have a preponderance of evidence that shows cannabis works in various ways, including for symptoms of PTSD," said Krawitz.
[image:3 align:left caption:true]One important reason the hard science officials would like to see on the efficacy and safety of marijuana for PTSD is federal government obstructionism. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), for instance, has been attempting for years to win approval for its study of PTSD and medical marijuana. But it's still waiting and still patiently trying to satisfy the endless niggling of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Department of Health and Human Services. The DEA and the courts haven't helped either -- the agency in 2011 denied a request by UMass scientist Dr. Lyle Craker to grow marijuana for research purposes, disregarding its own administrative law judge's recommendation to approve it, and a court last week sided with DEA.
Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence on marijuana treatment for PTSD is helping to move the issue forward. The site ProCon.org, which features a major section devoted to medical marijuana, has posted several readers' comments on the subject:"I had severe reservations about 'smoking pot.' It is illegal and I am a health care professional," one anonymous commenter wrote. "Still, I wanted to feel better, to be myself again, and to be the person I was before the PTSD. I smoked the pot. Immediately I felt relaxed and calm. I smiled and laughed. I finally felt at peace for the first time in two years. I slept my first night in three years without the sleep medication. The next day I felt refreshed and renewed. I had hope again. My son told me that he was so happy to see the old me again."
"I was shot thru the right sub and supra orbital sections of the right side of my head exiting over my right ear. They rebuilt 1/4 of my skull," wrote another commenter. "Epilepsy, PTSD, and other issues such as severe anxiety, constant pain and depression... I am still alive because I smoke [marijuana] every day. Empirical evidence has proven to me that failure to utilize generally causes a seizure and at minimum I get really aggressive... I will not live on narcotics. Ibuprofen or aspirin all have side effects worse than any temporary pain. Replacement liver from the damage of man-made drugs? No thanks."
In the meanwhile, veterans and others continue to suffer from PTSD and continue to use marijuana for relief. In states that do not have medical marijuana laws, that makes them criminals. In states that do have medical marijuana laws, but don't allow it to be used for PTSD, they are criminals, too -- unless they hide what they're actually using it for.
"These state medical marijuana control boards are willing to allow vets to have it for pain, but not PTSD, so in states like Arizona, vets suffering from PTSD are using a pain diagnosis to be legal under state law, and that's problematic. We're trying to get people suffering from PTSD to actually come in and get help, and it's difficult because there's a lot of stigma around it. What are we telling our soldiers when we tell them 'tell the doc you have pain, don't say you have PTSD'"? Krawitz asked. "What are we saying about the validity of their condition?"
That leads to other problems, too Krawitz said.
"When we can't recommend medical marijuana for PTSD, we're pushing people to use chronic pain as a qualifying condition, and that leads to police and prosecutors seeing all those pain recommendations and saying there must be fraud in the system," he said. "There are a lot of patients who would otherwise have had recommendations for PTSD."
PTSD sufferers are not waiting for peer-reviewed, clinically-controlled studies to tell them what works. PTSD is a real and growing problem, and medical marijuana appears to do some good. The scientific studies that would satisfy legislators and state review boards need to be done, and that is happening, albeit too slowly, but in the meanwhile, people are suffering because the government they served at risk to life and limb is now obstructing the research that would legitimize their treatment.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Word just came out that the Illinois House has passed medical marijuana legislation, after several tries. Now it has to go to the Senate.
More DEA raids in Los Angeles, federal prison bureaucrats ignore a Michigan medical marijuana prisoner's medical needs, federal drug bureaucrats prevail in a medical marijuana research case, and there is lots of action in state legislatures, including a Wednesday afternoon victory in the Illinois House. Let's get to it:
On Monday, a federal appeals court rejected Prof. Lyle Craker's appeal to overturn a DEA decision to not allow him to grow medical marijuana for research purposes.The appeals court sided with the DEA, finding its decision to maintain the federal marijuana cultivation monopoly was reasonable and in line with the Controlled Substances Act. Craker first sought approval in 2001.
On Monday, a hearing on a Lake County lawsuit challenging the county's cultivation ordinance was postponed when the judge hearing the case recused himself. Judge Richard Martin recused himself because his son is running for sheriff against Sheriff Frank Rivero, who is a defendant in the case. As a result, the lawsuit against the county and its sheriff will be sent to Lake County Superior Court Presiding Judge Stephen Hedstrom for reassignment. Lake County resident Donald Merill is suing over the Board of Supervisors' decision last summer to approve an ordinance limiting the number of pot plants allowed in outdoor cultivation, banning commercial cultivation of medical marijuana and prohibiting growing on vacant lands in the unincorporated areas of the county. Now, a case management conference set for next week has been pushed back until late August, too late for this year's outdoor growing season.
On Tuesday, supporters of a Los Angeles dispensary initiative kicked off their campaign with a city hall press conference. Proposition D is one of three dispensary initiatives going before city voters on May 21. The measure would cap the number of dispensaries at 135, as would Proposition E, whose backers have switched to supporting Prop D. A third initiative, Proposition F, has no caps on dispensaries, but imposes other restrictions. Both Props D and F would impose a gross tax receipts of 2% on medical marijuana dispensary revenues.
Also on Tuesday, DEA and local law enforcement raided four Los Angeles area dispensaries. Hit were the Zen and Alternative Herbal Health Services dispensaries on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, La Brea Compassionate Caregivers in Los Angeles, and Marina Caregivers in Marina del Rey. Law enforcement also executed search warrants at seven other locations and arrested three people. Those arrested are accused of selling marijuana outside of California and various other offenses.
On Tuesday, nearly 250 doctors signed on to support medical marijuana legislation pending at the state house. Several of them, along with patients, spoke at a Chicago press conference one day before a vote on House Bill 1 was expected in the House. The bill would create a pilot medical marijuana program, including a dispensary system.
On Wednesday, the bill passed the House on a 61-57 vote. It now goes to the Senate.
Late last week, the federal Bureau of Prisons refused to house an ailing medical marijuana patient at one of its medical facilities even though he is a kidney-pancreas transplant candidate, suffers coronary artery disease, and requires a strict medication regime. Jerry Duval, 53, must report to federal prison on June 11 and must serve his sentences at a federal correctional facility in Ohio. His sentencing judge had recommended that he be "placed in a Federal Medical Center or other facility deemed to be appropriate in consideration of the Defendant's medical needs." Last August, Montana medical marijuana prisoner Richard Flor, 68, died in federal prison after his medical conditions were given short shrift.
Last Thursday, a medical marijuana dispensary bill won a Senate committee vote. Senate Bill 374 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote. The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee. Because the bill includes fees, it must win two-thirds approval to pass the Senate.
On Saturday, the state's first medical marijuana school opened. The Cannabis Career Institute launched its Budtender School with a workshop for about 40 students on Saturday in Henderson. The school will teach all aspects of the medical marijuana business, including how to grow marijuana legally and bake it into brownies, cookies and cakes. The institute has held similar workshops in other cities across the US, and more than 1,500 people hold certificates from it.
Last Thursday, medical marijuana legislation got a hearing in a key Senate committee. The bill, House Bill 573, was heard in the Senate Health, Education, and Human Services Committee. Opponents suggested that a clinical study be done, but supporters retorted that such suggestions were merely a way to delay the bill. A similar measure has already passed the House. While Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) has said she would support a tightly regulated program, she has expressed concern about a home-grow option.
On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill passed the Assembly Health Committee on a 21-4 vote. The bill, Assembly Bill 6357, would allow patients suffering from severe debilitating or life-threatening conditions to use medical marijuana. A practitioner who is licensed to prescribe controlled substances would certify that a patient has a severe debilitating or life-threatening condition that should be treated with the medical use of marijuana. Certifying and dispensing medical marijuana would be included in the I-STOP prescription monitoring system for controlled substances enacted in 2012.
Also on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he still opposes medical marijuana. "I do not support medical marijuana. I understand the pros and cons. I understand the argument," Cuomo said. "We are looking at it, but at this point, I don't support medical marijuana. I understand the benefits, the risks. How do you construct a system that really is that tightly controlled that you don’t have dissemination beyond the directed population?"
Last Friday, Rep. Kelly Alexander introduced a medical marijuana study bill. The bill, House Bill 941, would require a legislative research commission to study medical marijuana-related issues. Earlier this session, Alexander had introduced a medical marijuana bill, but that was killed by legislators who complained they were getting too much feedback from constituents.
Last Friday, it was learned that the federal government had forced the state to release medical marijuana patient records. The Oregon Public Health Division, which keeps tabs on medical marijuana card holders, has handed over an undisclosed number of patient records as the result of a federal search warrant. The DEA executed the warrant and seized Oregon Medical Marijuana Program records in an investigation into illegal drug activity. The name and number of patients information pulled is still unknown because the investigation is ongoing and more records could be subpoenaed. Patients and activists are not pleased.
Last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters protested proposed restrictions on caregivers at a rally at the state house. More than two dozen people showed up to oppose amendments to the state's law that would reduce the number of plants that a caregiver could grow from 24 to 12 and allow a patient to grow a maximum of 6 plants. Patients can currently grow twice that number. The caregivers and patients also criticized amendments that would require the growers to notify city or town zoning officials about their plans to grow marijuana.
The US First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston Monday sided with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in rejecting University of Massachusetts-Amherst scientist Dr. Lyle Craker's appeal of the agency's decision to deny him a license to grow medical marijuana for research purposes.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Craker sought to break the federal government's monopoly on the production of marijuana for research purposes. Because of hostility to research on the possible benefits of marijuana in the federal drug control and research bureaucracies, the federal monopoly on marijuana for research purposes created a bottleneck, blocking potential valuable research efforts.
The decision in Craker v. DEA caps a 12-year odyssey through federal regulatory purgatory for Craker and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which had backed the UMass-Amherst scientist's bid to develop a source of marijuana independent of that produced under the auspices of NIDA.
"After such a long struggle, I'm disappointed that the Court failed to recognize the need for an independent source of plant material for use in research on the medical uses of marijuana," said Prof. Craker. "In doing so, they have failed the American people, especially those for whom marijuana as a medicine could help."
Craker first applied for a license from the DEA in 2001; it took the agency three years to initially deny his request. In 2007, the DEA's own administrative law judge recommended that the agency grant his application, but two years later, then DEA Deputy Administrator (and current Adminstrator) Michele Leonhart rejected that recommendation. Craker sought a formal reconsideration, which Leonhart denied in 2011.
Craker then appealed to the First Circuit, with oral arguments taking place in May 2012. In its decision Monday, the First Circuit upheld Leonhart's denial. In so doing, it dismissed Craker's claims that the DEA had changed the rules in the middle of the game and that the supply of marijuana from the NIDA facility was inadequate and uncompetitive. Leonhart's interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act was permissible and her findings were "reasonable and supported by the evidence," the court held.
"This ruling will result in sick people continuing to be denied the medicine they desperately need, and which 18 states and the District of Columbia recognize as legitimate," said Allen Hopper, criminal justice and drug policy director for the ACLU of California and one of the lawyers representing Prof. Craker. "The Obama administration must stop blocking the research necessary to take marijuana through the FDA approval process."
A bi-partisan group of US representatives led by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) Friday introduced legislation that would end the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have either legalized it or adopted medical marijuana laws. That would bring 18 medical marijuana states and two legalization states -- Colorado and Washington -- out from under the shadow of the Controlled Substances Act when it comes to marijuana law reform.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]The bill is House Bill 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act. It was not yet available online as of press time.
"This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states' marijuana laws," said Rohrabacher. "It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don't want it to be criminal."
Joining Rohrabacher as cosponsors of the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK).
That brings to at least five the number of marijuana reform bills introduced in the 113th Congress, six if you count an industrial hemp bill. Three of those bills deal with medical marijuana, one with the ability of states to tax marijuana commerce, and one would end federal marijuana prohibition.
Reps. Polis, Blumenauer, Rohrabacher, and others also introduced that latter bill, House Bill 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, H.R. 499, which would set up a federal regulatory process -- similar to the one for alcohol -- for states that decide to legalize. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has said he will hold hearings to examine Colorado and Washington’s new marijuana laws and explore potential federal reforms.
Marijuana law reform efforts in the Congress are being propelled not only by the continuing spread of medical marijuana laws and the impressive victories in Colorado and Washington -- each state saw 55% of voters approve legalization -- but also by ever-mounting evidence that public opinion nationwide is swinging in favor of legalization, and against federal interference in states undertaking marijuana law reforms.
A Pew poll released earlier this month had support for marijuana legalization at 52%, the highest ever for a Pew poll and the first time a Pew poll showed majority support for legalization. Five other recent opinion polls have shown support for legalization hovering at the tipping point, with two of them just under 50%, one at 50%, one at 54%, and one at 57%.
That same Pew poll also found considerable skepticism about enforcing the marijuana laws, with 72% agreeing that "government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth" and 60% saying that the federal government should not try to enforce marijuana laws in states where it is legal.
"The people have spoken and members of Congress are taking action," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This bill takes conservative principles and applies them to marijuana policy; in terms of the national debate it’s potentially a game-changer."
"This bill is a win for federalism and a win for public safety," said Neill Franklin, a former Maryland narcotics detective and now executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "In a time of bitter partisanship, it is quite telling that both Republicans and Democrats are calling for respect for the reform of marijuana laws. Polls show this is a winning issue for politicians, and change is inevitable. We applaud those legislators who, rather than trying to impede this progress, stand with the vast majority of Americans who believe these laws should be respected."
"Marijuana prohibition is on its last legs because most Americans no longer support it," said Steve Fox, national political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This legislation presents a perfect opportunity for members to embrace the notion that states should be able to devise systems for regulating marijuana without their citizens having to worry about breaking federal law. If a state chooses to take marijuana sales away from cartels and the criminal market and put them in the hands of legitimate, tax-paying businesses, it should be able to do so without federal interference."
"We've reached a tipping point," said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, "and it is time Congress acknowledge what voters, law enforcement, and state officials have been telling us for years: the feds should stop wasting money interfering when the states are more than capable of regulating marijuana effectively."
Even though this and the other federal marijuana reform bills have been introduced with bipartisan support, their future in the Republican-dominated House this session is murky at best. Some key committee chairs, such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), head of the House Judiciary Committee, are very hostile to any reform efforts. But the pressure is mounting.
Rhode Island is set to see its first dispensary open next, Mendocino County faces down the feds, and more news from around the country. Let's get to it:
On Tuesday, the city of Concord banned outdoor grows. The "outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana" is banned by ordinance in order to properly "maintain and protect the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Concord." The ban came despite appeals from a number of residents to delay or defeat the ordinance. The vote was unanimous.
Also on Tuesday, Mendocino County officials announced they had reached agreement with federal prosecutors on limiting the feds' fishing expedition into the county's legal medical marijuana growers' program. No personal identifying information from the county's program will be released to US Attorney Melinda Haag. In October, Haag had demanded just about anything to do with the program -- names and locations of pot gardeners, county bank records, "any and all" legal correspondence, etc. The county fought back, hiring a San Francisco attorney to fight the federal subpoena. Now, the feds have backed down.
Also on Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors okayed a Myrtletown dispensary. The Humboldt Collective had operated there, but had its permit revoked after a former director was arrested last year in Pennsylvania on marijuana trafficking charges. The new directors have made minor changes sought by the county, and now they have received permission to remain in business.
On Wednesday, activists were meeting with a key state senator in a bid to keep a medical marijuana bill alive. Senator Aaron Bean, chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee, has the bill, Senate Bill 1250, locked up in committee. No word yet on whether he has been moved to allow the bill to progress. The bill is also known as the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, after a medical marijuana patient who was arrested along with her husband for growing her medicine. Charges against the couple were dropped last week.
On Friday and Saturday, dispensary workers rallied to protest working conditions. The workers' target was Wellness Connection of Maine, which operates four dispensaries in the state. Workers said it was ignoring their concerns about working conditions and refusing to recognize their union. Demonstrations took place in Hallowell Friday and Portland Saturday. Wellness Connection said it was committed to caring for its workers and doesn't object if they want to join a union.
On Wednesday, state regulators were debating proposed state medical marijuana rules. One proposed rule would require dispensaries to test their products for contaminants. Americans for Safe Access is calling for state-licensed, independent labs that would not be at risk of federal sanctions because they would not test narcotics and other federally regulated drugs. The proposed rules also include state inspections of dispensaries "at any time without prior notice."
Last Wednesday, the state Supreme Court said it would review the legality of a city ban on medical marijuana-related activities. The city of Wyoming had passed a zoning ordinance barring the use, manufacture, or cultivation of medical marijuana, and the court said it wants to review whether the ordinance is superseded by the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Significantly, the court also plans to consider if the state law is preempted by a federal law that makes marijuana use illegal.
Last Friday, a drugged driving bill that could affect patients was signed into law. The bill creates a 5 nanogram per milliliter per se drugged driving level for THC. In addition to the penalties for drugged driving, if convicted under the law, patients would face revocation of their state registry identification card.
On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie proposed $1.6 million for the state's medical marijuana program in his state budget. That's more than twice the current spending level. The budget assumes that more dispensaries will open next year. So far, only one out of the six authorized by the state is actually in operation. But patient advocates said a greater budget wouldn't help patients until onerous regulations imposed by the Christie administration are revised.
On Tuesday, a bill allowing medical marijuana for PTSD passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 281 now moves to the Senate floor. Currently, medical marijuana is currently allowed for patients with certain debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer's disease, HIV and AIDS. The bill would add PTSD to the list.
Last Thursday, what will be the state's first dispensary got its license. The Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center is now set to open April 19.
The Maryland Senate Monday passed a bill that would allow seriously ill residents to obtain medical marijuana through state-regulated research programs run by academic medical centers. The House of Delegates approved the bill last month; Gov. Patrick O'Malley is expected to sign it shortly.
[image:1 align:right]The bill, House Bill 1101, creates a commission that would allow academic medical research centers to apply to operate programs under state regulation that would provide marijuana grown by the federal government or by state-licensed growers. The bill doesn't allow patients to grow their own medicine.
Drug reform advocates had mixed views on what passage of the legislation accomplishes.
"This marks a major step forward for Maryland medical marijuana patients and their families," said Dan Riffle, deputy director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, which helped shepherd the bill through the legislature. "The Assembly's overwhelming support for this important legislation reflects that of the people of Maryland and the nation as a whole. The time has come to allow seriously ill people to obtain and use medical marijuana if their doctors believe it will help them."
But some expressed skepticism about whether the bill will actually result in patients getting access to medical marijuana. The federal government has long refused to provide marijuana, even for Food and Drug Administration-approved studies, and it is unclear just when and where state-licensed growers might appear.
"Maryland has taken a small step in the right direction, but more steps are necessary for patients to actually obtain the medicine they need to alleviate their suffering," said Amanda Reiman of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Maryland has many workable and successful models to draw from: Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have successfully legalized marijuana for medical purposes despite the ongoing federal ban. Medical marijuana is used in those jurisdictions by hundreds of thousands of patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and other serious and debilitating illnesses."
Still, it is time for academic medical research centers to step up, said Riffle.
"We hope the state's academic medical centers will take action and apply for the program so they can begin meeting the needs of Maryland residents suffering from debilitating medical conditions," he said. "Individuals suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other serious illnesses should not be forced to obtain their medicine in the underground market."
Medical marijuana became legal Monday in the Czech Republic and is now available for sale in pharmacies. Monday was part of the Easter holiday there, so it didn't actually go on sale until Tuesday.
[image:1 align:left]Medical marijuana is available by prescription only and has been okayed for people suffering from cancer, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis.
Medical marijuana is being imported -- either from Israel or the Netherlands -- for the first year, while the State Institute for Drug Control prepares regulations for national production. It must determine how much marijuana will need to be cultivated and organize tenders for marijuana purchases from Czech farmers. The regulatory body intends to issue licenses to local growers for a maximum of five years each.
Allowing the sale of medical marijuana is in line with the Czech Republic's overall soft stance toward soft drugs. Non-medical pot smokers can possess up to a half-ounce and grow five plants without facing criminal sanctions.
Other European countries that allow for medical marijuana use include Austria, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. It is also legal in 18 US states and the District of Columbia.
Medical marijuana bills were laid to rest in two states this week, changes in the medical marijuana law went into effect in another, and Massachusetts now appears set to open dispensaries by year's end. There's more news, too. Let's get to it:
Last Friday, a retired San Diego couple were bound over for trial on marijuana charges even though the presiding judge said he believed they were not selling the medical marijuana they grew. Deborah and Dennis Little were raided by DEA agents after a San Diego Sheriff's Department helicopter spotted their garden. Although the Littles are qualified patients, medical marijuana foe San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis filed criminal charges against them anyway. In binding the Littles over for trial, the judge noted that their medical marijuana recommendations were one month out of date.
On Monday, supporters conceded that medical marijuana legislation was dead for this year. The legislation has been bottled up by hostile or indifferent legislative leaders. "Shame on us as a legislature for not taking the opportunity to hear this bill this year," House bill sponsor Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Plantation) said at a press conference on Monday.
On Monday, the House of Delegates approved a bill extending protections to caretakers. The measure had already passed the state Senate, so it now goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who has not said whether he will sign it. Under a 2011 law, patients are allowed to use medical necessity as an affirmative defense if caught with marijuana. This bill would expand that same protection to their caregivers.
Last Friday, the Department of Public Health filed draft regulations for medical marijuana. Under the proposed rules, dispensaries (or "Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers") could open in the Bay State by the end of this year. Dispensaries would have to grow their own product and would not be able to sell wholesale to other dispensaries. The regulations aim to minimize home grows by various means, including discounted prices for low-income patients, allowing secure home delivery, and encouraging caregivers to pick up product instead of grow it. The regs would also define a 60-day supply of medical marijuana as 10 ounces.
On Monday, changes to the medical marijuana laws passed last year went into effect. The law now defines and requires a "bona fide physician-patient relationship" -- which includes an in-person evaluation -- between a patient and recommending physician. Also, newly issued registry ID cards will be valid for two years instead of only one. A requirement that patients transporting marijuana by vehicle keep it in a case in the trunk took effect in January.
On Monday, a medical marijuana bill died after it failed to get a vote in the House. This marks the third consecutive year that bills filed by Del. Mike Manypenny (D) have been snuffed out in the House. At least this year, Manypenny managed to find some cosponsors, including Republicans. Maybe next year.