Bills are being considered in some states, busts are going on in others, and local governments grapple with medical marijuana from Washington state to New Jersey. Let's get to it:
Last Tuesday, the Union City city council extended a moratorium on dispensaries for 10 months and 15 days, pending a separate state Supreme Court review of four cases on the issue. The council issued the initial 45-day moratorium in January, after city officials learned that a dispensary had opened on Niles Road. The city is now acting to force the dispensary to close.
Last Wednesday, a state appeals court overturned an injunction shutting down a collective in Lake Forest. The court held that city officials cannot use their nuisance abatement ordinance as a wholesale ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives. The justices struck down a preliminary injunction from Orange County Superior Court Judge David Chaffee in May 2010 that would have shut down the Evergreen Holistic Collective. A stay on the injunction had been granted while the appellate court reviewed Chaffee's ruling and Evergreen Holistic Collective has been open for business since suing in October 2009.
Also last Wednesday, Vallejo police arrested the operator of the Better Health Group in an ongoing crackdown on dispensaries. Jorge Luis Espinoza, 24, of San Rafael, was arrested for possession for sales of marijuana, sales of marijuana and opening or maintaining an unlawful place. Vallejo police say there are 20 or more marijuana storefronts operating unlawfully in Vallejo. Late last month, Vallejo police and DEA served three search warrants on marijuana dispensaries in Vallejo and Benicia. Espinosa and another jailed dispensary operator, Matthew Shotwell, were released on bail two days later.
Last Thursday, the Mendocino County prosecutor said medical pot growers should tag their plants with sheriff-issued zip ties to lessen their chances of prosecution. Although the county abandoned its path-breaking tagged plant program under federal pressure earlier this year, District Attorney David Eyster said participation in the tagging program would continue to be a factor he considered if confronted with allegations of wrongdoing.
Also last Thursday, California NORML reported that US attorneys have sent landlord letters to over 50 more dispensaries in the Inland Empire area, where local officials have been pressing to close them. In addition, Cal NORML reported new landlord letters in Mendocino, apparently targeted at facilities within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds. The letters give the dispensaries 14 days to stop distributing marijuana.
Also on Thursday, hundreds of people demonstrated outside Los Angeles City Hall against the city's ongoing efforts to ban or limit dispensaries. The crowd was treated to performances or speeches by Cypress Hill's B-Real, the Kottonmouth Kings, Tommy Chong, and Americans for Safe Access state leader Don Duncan. The crowd then marched to the federal building for an hour-long protest there.
Last Friday, Orange County deputies raided a Lake Forest dispensary just after an appeals court ruled the city cannot label dispensaries a nuisance simply for being a dispensary. Two people were arrested as deputies served search warrants at Charles Café, as well as searching two homes. The search warrants were the latest in a years-long battle that authorities and city officials in Lake Forest have had with dispensaries. The raid came the day after a panel from the Fourth Appellate Court found that cities cannot declare dispensaries a nuisance simply for being collectives and overturned a previous injunction against Evergreen Holistics, one of dozens of dispensaries that once operated in Lake Forest.
Also last Friday, two more San Francisco dispensaries reported receiving threat letters from Northern California US Attorney Melina Haag. Shambala Healing Center on Mission Street and the 208 Valencia Caregivers must shut down or their landlords risk property seizure, the letters said. The letter to the Shambala's landlord said the dispensary is operating in violation of a federal law and could be subject to enhanced penalties because it is operating within 1,000 feet of a playground. But the city had permitted the dispensary last year.
Also last Friday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied an injunction to block Long Beach's ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. Under Long Beach's ban, three or fewer people can still form a collective, and 18 dispensaries that secured a license under the city's 2010 permitting process were granted a six-month exemption.
On Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors voted to sue three dispensaries if they don't shut down voluntarily. Two said they would close, but a third could not be reached for comment. The county passed a prohibition on storefront marijuana sales in September -- a response to complaints about traffic and petty crime associated with the trade -- but existing shops were given six months to wind down. All but three or four of some 15 dispensaries that were in business last year have closed, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Also on Tuesday, San Luis Obispo County supervisors voted to deny a permit to a dispensary after a resident appealed the board's decision last fall to give it the okay. The board found that the Compassionate Cannabis Information Center in Oceano was within 1,000-foot minimum distance from a park and the dispensary would be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the residential neighborhood.
Also on Tuesday, the El Centro City Council approved an indefinite moratorium on accepting applications for dispensaries. The moratorium extends to 120 days after the California Supreme Court decides whether cities have a right to ban marijuana dispensaries and regulate them through a permitting process.
Last week, Denver medical marijuana attorney Rob Corry suggested after an exchange of correspondence with US Attorney John Walsh that Walsh had suggested a "safe harbor" for dispensaries outside of 1,000 feet from schools. Last Friday, Walsh and his spokesman made clear Corry was mistaken. "That is absolutely, unequivocally false," spokesman Jeff Dorschner said. "There is no safe harbor."
Last week, US Rep. Jared Polis (D) ripped into the new local DEA chief over her tough anti-marijuana stance. On Wednesday, responding to new DEA chief Barbra Roach's assertion that medical marijuana threatens residents because of possible "mold and water damage" to homes, Polis tweeted: "Drug Enforcement Agency's new motto: Protecting America from mold & water damage. Running out of excuses vs. marijuana." The next day, he elaborated on his Facebook page, charging her with insulting his hometown of Boulder, the state's capital, Denver, and other Colorado communities for saying she wanted to live in a community without dispensaries.
On Wednesday, the General Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill that would legalize the use of medical marijuana. A person could qualify to use marijuana for medical purposes if they've been diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition. Qualified users and their primary caregiver would then have to register with the state Department of Consumer Protection. The bill requires the consumer protection commissioner to determine the number of dispensaries needed in Connecticut and to adopt regulations. A similar bill failed last year.
Last Wednesday, a Chesterfield Township dispensary agreed to close and move to another Macomb County town after its operator agreed it was in violation of township zoning ordinances. Big Daddy's Hydroponics and Compassion Center agreed to close by Saturday after realizing it would lose its civil trial this week with the township in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens. The trial was in its second day when Big Daddy's settled.
Last Friday, the Michigan marijuana program announced it was buying a new printer for medical marijuana cards. The new printer will crank out 4,000 cards a day, allowing the state to chip away at a backlog of 40,000 patient cards. Currently, those people are making do with a tamper-proof letter from the program. The new printer should be ready by mid-month.
Also last Friday, the Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team raided two dispensaries and is seeking charges against their operators. Caregivers at both locations were selling to people who had medical marijuana cards, but for whom they were not designated caregivers, which is arguably illegal under Michigan law.
This week, the state legislature is considering a number of medical marijuana bills. They are currently being reviewed in the House Judiciary Committee, under the authority of Chairman John Walsh (R-Livonia). Chairman Walsh has determined that the package will be considered in a series of hearings, which include testimony from selected groups and organizations, to be followed by statements from the public. These four bills are being considered simultaneously, as a package, and collectively contain nine different proposed changes to Michigan law.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) rundown on the bills is below:
HB 4834 -- Would make registry ID cards good for two years (they currently expire after one) and require cards to include a photograph of the cardholder. MPP supports the later expiration date and does not oppose requiring a photo, provided it does not add to the lengthy delays patients face getting ID cards. The bill would also allow law enforcement officers to have access to registry information if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that a cardholder has violated the act. MPP sees the value in allowing a police officer with a search warrant to check to see if the target is a cardholder and the raid is unnecessary, but believes the current language is too broad.
HB 4853 -- Would create a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison, for selling marijuana in violation of registry ID card restrictions. MPP believes that selling marijuana outside of registry ID card restrictions is already a crime, and the only additional punishment needed for a violation is revocation of the ID card.
HB 4851 -- Would add to the definition of a "bona-fide physician-patient relationship." MPP agrees with the Michigan Board of Medicine that the same standards required for prescribing any other drug should apply, and no special standard, higher or lower, is called for in recommending marijuana. The bill would also clarify that patients may offer evidence of their medical use as a defense to criminal charges. MPP supports this change.
HB 4856 -- Would require medical marijuana transported by car to be in the trunk, in a case, or otherwise inaccessible from the passenger compartment. MPP does not support or oppose this provision.
On Thursday, a new medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 409, will get a public hearing. Unlike last year's bill, SB 409 does not allow for state-licensed dispensaries. Instead, it would allow qualifying patients or their designated caregivers to cultivate a limited amount of marijuana for medical use. The change was made after the US Attorney for New Hampshire said that his office will not prosecute patients but could potentially prosecute dispensaries.
Activists keep up the pressure on Gov. Chris Christie (R) to pardon or commute the sentence of medical marijuana grower John Wilson, who is serving five years for growing his medicine.
On Tuesday, the Camden zoning board denied a request to allow a dispensary in the crime-blighted city. Cooper University Hospital and Campbell Soup Company objected to plans to allow the conversion of two vacant buildings into a medical-marijuana operation.
On Monday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed Senate Bill 240, which creates a medical marijuana fund to cover the costs of the state's program. Martinez has been a foe of medical marijuana, but she is also a fiscal conservative.
On Monday, US Attorney Peter Neronha said he had not approved a state plan to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to open, and that the federal government's policy on dispensaries hasn't changed. Neronha's comments came after state lawmakers last week proposed new limits on dispensary size in a bid to avoid the threat of prosecution.
Last Tuesday, the Bonney Lake city council voted unanimously to extend a moratorium on collective gardens. It is the council's latest move in prolonging a wait-and-see strategy adopted in the absence of state leadership on holes in cannabis policy, or federal approval.