Ballot Measures (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.]
The Colorado legislature Wednesday approved a pair of bills that will establish a regulated marijuana market for adults. The legislature was charged with doing so when voters approved the marijuana legalization Amendment 64 last November.
[image:1 align:right]On the down side, the legislature earlier approved another bill, House Bill 1325, which would set a level of THC in the blood above which drivers would be presumed to be impaired. Drivers with 5 milligrams or more of THC per milliliter of blood would be considered to be impaired, but could challenge that presumption in court.
The marijuana regulation bills are House Bill 1317 and House Bill 1318. The former creates the framework for regulations governing marijuana retail sales, cultivation, and product manufacturing, while the latter enacts a 10% special sales tax (above and beyond standard sales taxes) and a 15% excise tax on wholesale sales.
Under Colorado law, the tax bill will have to be approved by voters in November. But three-quarters of Colorado voters support such pot taxation, according a Public Policy Polling survey.
"The adoption of these bills is a truly historic milestone and brings Colorado one step closer to establishing the world's first legal, regulated, and taxed marijuana market for adults," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, who served as an official proponent and campaign co-director for the ballot measure approved by Colorado voters in November. "Facilitating the shift from the failed policy of prohibition to a more sensible system of regulation has been a huge undertaking, and we applaud the many task force members, legislators, and others who have helped effect this change," Tvert said. "We are confident that this legislation will allow state and local officials to implement a comprehensive, robust, and sufficiently funded regulatory system that will effectively control marijuana in Colorado."
Look for an in-depth analysis of the new regulations coming soon.
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.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Yesterday's historic "420" rally in Denver, the first since Co
[image:1 align:left]An Oregon bill that would legalize marijuana was approved by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday on a 6-3 vote after hearing testimony that same day. That marks the first time any Oregon marijuana legalization measure has won a committee vote. The bill now heads to the House Revenue Committee.
The bill, House Bill 3371, would legalize marijuana possession for adults 21 and over, provide for the cultivation of a small number of plants without regulation, and set up a system of taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce. It was sponsored by the Revenue Committee.
"Marijuana legalization is coming to Oregon sooner rather than later," said Anthony Johnson of New Approach Oregon, a group supporting legalization. "It makes sense to regulate marijuana like alcohol and for the legislature to take the lead on the issue and make sure sensible regulations are in place."
The only opposition to the bill at the Wednesday hearing came from the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association, which said it was concerned about drugged driving, underage use, and drug dependency.
"This act will not make the problems of marijuana abuse go away," said Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett, speaking on behalf of the association.
Oregon became the first state in the nation to decriminalize marijuana in 1973. Last, the Measure 80 marijuana legalization initiative, poorly funded and hobbled by the mixed reputation of its proponent, Paul Stanford, managed to pull in nearly 47% of the popular vote. Activists have been discussing whether to go forward with another initiative in 2014, but if HB 3371 keeps moving, they may not have to wait that long.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]The International Drug Policy Reform Conference is a biennial event that brings together people from around the world who believe that the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. It brings together over 1,000 attendees representing 30 different countries.
StoptheDrugWar.org is a partner in this year's conference, which will take place October 23-26 in Denver, Colorado, as officials craft the state's implementation plan for legal marijuana under Amendment 64. Attendees will have the opportunity to spend three days interacting with people committed to finding alternatives to the war on drugs -- marijuana legalization and many other issues in drug policy -- while participating in sessions given by leading experts from around the world.
Here are what some attendees had to say about the 2011 conference:
- "The International Drug Reform Conference was, by far, one of the most eye opening experiences of my life... It felt as if I were at the epicenter of the most conscious people on the planet."
- "Every workshop that I attended had excellent presenters and panelists. I was extremely pleased to once again attend the 2011 Reform Conference. It was more diverse than ever and very inclusive of issues that I support. See you in Denver!"
- "The Drug Policy Alliance conference is an educational opportunity that every responsible individual should experience -- regardless of your position on the issues."
- "Every two years I look forward to the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, where I know I'll get a chance to hear from, and speak with some of the brightest minds in the drug policy reform movement."
- "If you think the drug war has failed our country and harmed countries like Mexico and you want to do something about it, this is the conference to be at."
Visit http://www.reformconference.org for further information.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
When Colorado voters last November gave the thumbs up to marijuana legalization, the celebrations came quickly, with overjoyed pot smokers triumphantly lighting up, even though the pot laws had yet to officially change. Indeed, in following the will of the voters, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) within weeks announced that marijuana was no longer illegal in Colorado.
But that was only the beginning. Amendment 64, the marijuana legalization initiative approved by the voters, didn't just legalize marijuana -- it also called on the state to come up with a regulatory regime for legal marijuana commerce. That process is now well underway, with the state legislature currently considering implementation legislation.
The legislature is working on a framework crafted by a Hickenlooper-appointed Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, which in mid-March released its Final Report with 58 discrete recommendations for the legislature to consider. The highlights included:
- The adult-use marijuana industry should be required to have common ownership from seed to sale. This vertical integration regulatory model means that cultivation, processing and manufacturing, and retail sales must be under common ownership.
- During the first year of licensing, only entities with valid medical marijuana licenses should be able to obtain licenses to grow, process and sell adult-use cannabis.
- A new Marijuana Enforcement Division in the Department of Revenue would be funded by General Fund revenue for the next five years and would provide the necessary regulatory oversight of all marijuana industries in Colorado.
- Refer a ballot initiative to voters this November for a 15% excise tax, with the first $40 million of excise tax proceeds going to the state’s school construction fund as outlined in Amendment 64, and a "marijuana sales tax" to create funding sources to cover the costs of regulating the industry, implementing consumer safeguards and establishing youth prevention and treatment programs.
- Only Colorado residents should be allowed to hold licenses to grow, process and sell adult-use cannabis. But sales to both residents and visitors to the state should be permitted, with stricter quantity limits for visitors.
- All types of marijuana sold from adult use cannabis retail facilities should be in child-proof packaging and have warning labels that detail tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency and list all pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and solvents used in cultivation or processing.
Other recommendations included not allowing pot smoking in bars or other facilities impacted by the state's anti-smoking laws, barring "open containers" of marijuana in vehicles, and requiring people with children at home to keep their marijuana gardens secure.
"This is a very comprehensive report, developed in a rapid timeframe, that lays the groundwork for the establishment of a robust regulatory framework, with adequate funding for marijuana industry oversight and enforcement, consumer protection and prevention and treatment programs for young people," said Task Force co-chair and governor's legal counsel Jack Finlaw. "The Task Force recommendations will now need to be perfected through the legislative process and rulemakings by various state agencies."
While there is some quibbling over the various recommendations and some concerns about what the legislature might do, Amendment 64 proponent (and now Marijuana Policy Project communications director) Mason Tvert said things were going pretty much as expected.
"The goal is to establish regulated retail stores that provide marijuana to adults, and we are steadily moving toward that," he said. "There are obviously lots of details to be worked out, and lots of different opinions on those details, but overall, we're moving in the direction of accomplishing our goal. There is debate over vertical integration, whether sales should be restricted to non-residents, the levels of sales tax -- these are all important issues, but overall things are going well, and we're well on our way to having a system of regulated marijuana cultivation and sales in Colorado."
Now, the Task Force recommendations are before a joint legislative committee charged with turning them into regulatory legislation. The committee had hoped to be done by the end of March, but progress has been slow, and the new deadline date is next week. If the committee meets that deadline, that will give the legislature as a whole exactly one month to craft and pass enabling legislation before the session ends.
The politicians are doing what they are supposed to do, said Tvert. There have been no real attempts to sabotage the will of the voters, and legislators are trying with good faith to implement Amendment 64.
"Generally, elected officials have been responsive," he said. "There have been some proposals for restrictions, but overall, they are moving forward to pass this. There is really nothing else they can do. For most Coloradans, this is going exactly as planned. For people in the industry, for advocates, for elected officials, there are lots of details being debated and it can feel like there's a lot of drama, but overall, everything's happening as it's supposed to."
The clock is ticking in Colorado. The voters have already voted to legalize marijuana. Either the legislature passes regulations to implement it -- and quite possibly puts anticipated taxes on the ballot, as required by state law for any new taxes -- and Colorado has legal, taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, or it simply has legal marijuana possession with no taxes and no regulations. The threat of the latter should be enough to ensure the success of the former.