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Medical Marijuana Update

Arizona marks a medical marijuana first, there's an ominous move by the feds in Northern California, Illinois is considering a medical marijuana bill, and that's not the half of it. Here we go:

Arizona

On November 15, Arizona Organix became the state's first licensed dispensary. It's not open for business yet, but it has been licensed. A sign on the door says, "We hope to be operating within a few weeks" and encourages potential customers to sign up on an email list. One problem for the new dispensary is finding a place to grow its product. The city of Glendale doesn't allow dispensaries to grow on site, and Arizona Organix is finding that many potential landlords for its grow are wary of possible federal enforcement actions.

Last Wednesday, the state Department of Health reported that there were nearly 34,000 patients with active medical marijuana cards in the state as of November 7.That's an average of 307 potential patients for each of the 97 dispensary applicant finalists selected by the state.

California

Last Tuesday, Mendocino County officials confirmed that the feds have subpoenaed medical marijuana financial records the county keeps. A federal grand jury subpoenaed the records in late October. The county had a program under which the sheriff's office issued permits for collectives wanting to grow up to 99 plants and sold zip ties for $25 that could be affixed to plants to show they were grown in compliance with state law. Now, compliant growers fear their attempts to be scrupulously legal at the state level could come back to haunt them at the federal level.

Also last Tuesday, the Sacramento city council adopted an ordinance barring outdoor grows in residential areas. The 6-2 vote came after council members complained of plant odor, robberies, and occasional violence associated with outdoor grows.

Last Friday, local media said San Francisco's Shambala Healing Center had reopened. The Mission District dispensary had been forced to close its doors after the Justice Department threatened its landlord with property forfeiture, but has quietly reopened as the heat seems to have decreased in the Bay Area.

As of this week, Kern County dispensaries operating near schools and churches can stay open. That's because a judge late last week issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of Measure G, which restricted dispensary locations and was passed by voters in June. Dispensary operators have complained that the measure essentially blocks them from operating because "there are virtually no legal places to set up shop," but county officials said they would appeal.

Illinois

On Tuesday, the Illinois House debated a medical marijuana bill, with a vote expected any day now. The bill, House Bill 30, would be the strictest such law in the nation, forbidding patients from growing their own and requiring that they qualify under a tight list of medical conditions. While legislators debated, patients and supporters rallied.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Peabody city council voted to ban dispensaries. The vote came just three weeks after Massachusetts voters approved a medical marijuana initiative. Rather than deal with regulating dispensaries, it was simpler to ban them, the council decided. Voters in Peabody approved the medical marijuana initiative by more than 3,000 votes. Two other towns, Reading and Wakefield, have already passed municipal bylaws barring dispensaries.

Michigan

Last Friday, the Holly village council voted to deny a business license to a dispensary. The council split 3-3, meaning the motion to grant a license to Well Greens failed. Well Greens is already operating, and the failure to grant a license won't close it, council members said. The license was not designed to grant permission to operate, but rather a registration, acknowledging that the business was up to code. The council may reconsider its vote on December 4.

New Jersey

On Wednesday, New Jersey officials said they would tax medical marijuana. "The State Division of Taxation determined medical marijuana is subject to the sales tax," state Treasury Department spokesman Andy Pratt said. The state sales tax is 7%.

Now, if only someone can manage to get a dispensary actually up and running in the Garden State. That would help Susan Sterner, among others. She faces major eye surgery to reduce dangerously high interocular pressure that threatens her with the possibility of blindness. Sterner has filled out her forms and paid her fees to the state, according to the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, but there are still no operating dispensaries in New Jersey, three years after former governor John Corzine signed the state's medical marijuana bill into law. The only dispensary operator to have received a final permit from the state so far, Greenleaf Alternative Treatment Center in Montclair, has yet to open.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been fairly quiet on the dispensary front, but action is beginning to heat up at state houses in preparation for the 2013 legislative season. Let's get to it:

Alabama

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill got a hearing in the House Health Committee. Again sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), the bill would allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. But after 90 minutes of testimony, the committee chairman and a top legislative leader said it would be a long time before the measure even got a vote. Previous bills have never made it out of the committee, but Todd will keep trying. "This is the beginning of the conversation," she said.

California

Last Tuesday, the Berkeley city council agreed that a local dispensary was operating illegally and should be shut down. The Perfect Plant Patients Group (3PG) is in violation of numerous zoning and permitting regulations, the council found. While the council voted unanimously to shut down 3PG, at least one member, Councilman Kriss Worthington, challenged the city's law limiting the number of dispensaries to four. "We have to expand the number of dispensaries that are legal beyond four," he said, arguing there are hundreds of places in Berkeley where people can get medical cannabis. "We're closing our eyes, pretending it doesn't exist."

Colorado

Last Thursday, the state Court of Appeals ordered Colorado Springs police to return 60 pounds of medical marijuana they seized from a cancer patient who was later acquitted of drug charges. Police had seized the marijuana in May 2011, and a district court judge earlier this month ordered that it must be returned after Bob Crouse, 64, was acquitted. El Paso County prosecutors had won a stay after arguing that police could be at risk of violating federal law if they returned the marijuana, and the appeals court agreed to hear that appeal, but ordered that the marijuana must be returned to Crouse. The returned marijuana is most likely now unusable.

Connecticut

On Tuesday, medical marijuana advocates met in Hartford to discuss creating a business alliance for entrepreneurs and others interested in the subject. The proposed Connecticut Medical Cannabis Business Alliance would be modeled on similar groups in Colorado. The state's medical marijuana program is expected to be up and running by late next year, with the Department of Consumer Protection having until July 1 to submit proposed regulations to the General Assembly.

Iowa

On Monday, state Rep. Bruce Hunter said he would reintroduce a medical marijuana bill. The Des Moines Democrat said he will also introduce a decriminalization bill. State Sen. Joe Bolckom (D-Iowa City) said that he, too, was reintroducing a medical marijuana bill and looking for cosponsors. But it's an uphill road: Gov. Terry Branstad (R) has said he will veto any such bill, and a spokesman for House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said that "as with past efforts to legalize marijuana, House Republicans are unlikely to support the measure and do not believe it is a priority."

Medical Marijuana Update

There was medical marijuana-related election news -- see our Chronicle coverage this week -- but the ongoing battles over medical marijuana also continued. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, the DEA raided two San Bernardino dispensaries, seizing dozens of pounds of marijuana and edibles, but making no arrests except for one man arrested on an outstanding warrant. The two businesses, Alternative Solutions Patient Care and Advanced Healing Qualified Patients Association, had previously been warned by the DEA to shut down for violating federal law.

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana grower sued Shasta County over a raid in which deputies destroyed more than 200 marijuana plants she said were being grown legally for herself and several other patients. Esmeralda Sanchez Garcia alleges her civil rights were violated between August and October 2011 when deputies with the Shasta County Sheriff's Office and other county employees searched her property without warrants and then destroyed 203 plants, as well as unprocessed and processed marijuana, that she said were for medical use for her and several other patients. But her lawsuit will have to wait until criminal charges against her are resolved. She faces three felony counts of marijuana cultivation.

Also last Wednesday, a hearing in the Harborside Health eviction case was postponed. A federal judge pushed the hearing back to Thursday, but that date is likely to change since Harborside head Steve DeAngelo is in Denver to address the National Cannabis Industry Association conference. The feds have threatened Harborside's landlords with civil forfeiture if they continue to let the dispensary operate on their properties in San Jose and Oakland. The San Jose landlord is now trying to evict Harborside to comply with the government's demand. If the judge overseeing the case allows the landlord to do that, it could give the government additional legal ammo for expanding its crackdown on dispensaries.

Also last Wednesday, a Los Angeles dispensary sued the Justice Department and the DEA, claiming the federal agencies are blocking thousands of patients from a means of gaining access to their medicine. The No Grey Sky dispensary is seeking a temporary injunction against DOJ, DEA, and Attorney General Eric Holder, and argues that Holder is acting "in excess of the government's authority granted by the Controlled Substances Act" by threatening to shut it down. Federal agents raided No Grey Sky earlier this year.

Last Thursday, a ban on outdoor cultivation went into effect in Roseville. In June, the city approved an ordinance that said medical marijuana patients must grow their pot indoors. A grace period until November 1 was established to give growers time to harvest any outdoor crop. The ordinance was enacted to allow residents to enjoy their property "without being subjected to odors and safety concerns associated with outdoor medical marijuana cultivation," according to the city.

Also last Thursday, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition to re-hear arguments that medical marijuana is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. A three-judge panel had shot down the notion in May, and following that loss, the patients and their lawyers requested a re-hearing. Now, they've had it.

On Monday, the Corte Madera city council voted to ban new dispensaries. The move came on a 4-1 vote and came as an existing moratorium on dispensaries was set to expire this week. Council members agreed that they would review their decision in June 2013; but the council rejected a recommendation from the town's Planning Commission to have the ban automatically sunset on Feb. 1, 2014.

Colorado

As of the end of October, there were 266 licensed dispensaries in the state, according to the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. More than 200 more potential dispensaries are awaiting licensing by the division.

Last Thursday, the state Court of Appeals rejected a dispensary's claim it should be allowed to stay open despite limits imposed by Jefferson County. Footprints Health and Wellness had opened a dispensary in the county in 2009 and was served with a zoning violation notice shortly thereafter. The court held that the Colorado law allowed local communities to set their own standards.

Medical Marijuana Update

A California appeals court has made a landmark ruling, the DEA keeps on raiding, and a Montana medical marijuana provider refuses a post-conviction plea bargain, and those are just the top stories. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Monday, it was revealed that a Mesa dispensary had been raided on October 5. Gilbert Police raided Arizona Natural Solutions, serving a search warrant and seizing "suspected marijuana, candy, cookies, powder, suspected ecstasy, and US currency." No information was offered about the reason for the raid. Three owner/employees are accusing of selling marijuana and "narcotics" (because Arizona state law defines marijuana products like hash as "narcotics").

California

Last Wednesday, a state appeals court threw out the conviction of a San Diego dispensary operator. In what Americans for Safe Access called a "landmark" decision, the 4th District Court of Appeal reversed the conviction of Jovan Jackson, convicted in September 2010 after being denied a defense in state court. The ruling also reversed the lower court's finding that Jackson was not entitled to a defense, providing the elements for such a defense in future jury trials. The ruling also recognized that collective members do not need to be actively involved in marijuana cultivation to access the marijuana they purchase.

Last Thursday, DEA agents arrested 12 people involved with Southern California dispensaries. Most of the dispensaries had been raided and closed in 2010 and 2011, but at least one was still operating. Charges against those arrested include failure to report taxable income, conspiracy to distribute marijuana and maintaining a drug location near schools.

Also last Thursday, the Santa Monica city council extended a 45-day moratorium on dispensaries. On a unanimous vote, the council voted to extend the moratorium for another 10 months. "This is about waiting for the Supreme Court to settle some law. At least I can hope, that with a little bit of time that the law will become clearer and every city's rights are better understood," said Mayor Richard Bloom.

Also last Thursday, the Napa city council told staff to prepare an ordinance banning outdoor grows. The move came after Police Chief Jackie Rubin told the council police had raided a property where 15-foot-tall marijuana plants were visible from a neighbor's yard.

Over the weekend, the California Medical Association addressed four marijuana resolutions. It rejected one (from a doctor who owns a winery!) to rescind the CMA policy in support of marijuana legalization, it passed one referring that policy to the American Medical Association, it passed another asking the governor to petition the DEA to reschedule marijuana, and it referred for further study one examining medical marijuana use in hospitals.

On Monday, the Los Angeles city clerk approved a petition to regulate dispensaries. Petitioners want to get on the May ballot; to do so, they must gather 41,138 valid signatures by December 7. The proposed initiative would bar new medical marijuana dispensaries, but allow those collectives that registered with the city as of Sept. 14, 2007 and meet other criteria, to continue operating. The ordinance would also establish operating standards, including mandatory annual police background checks and distances from schools, parks and other designated places.

Also on Monday, a state appeals court held that trial judges can ban the use of medical marijuana for some probationers. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal unanimously upheld a sentence in which Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Leslie Landau last year prohibited Daniel Leal, 28, of Antioch, from using medical marijuana during his three years of probation. Leal was on probation for possessing marijuana for sale, and he argued the ban violated his right to use the substance under the state's Compassionate Use Act, which allows patients with a doctor's approval to use marijuana for medical purposes. But the ban on use of the substance was justified by "abundant evidence of need to rehabilitate Leal and protect the public," wrote Judge Andrew Kline. "Leal used Compassionate Use Act authorization as a front for illegal sales of marijuana, sales partly carried out with a loaded semiautomatic handgun in a public park occupied by mothers and their young children."

On Tuesday, DEA agents raided the ASPC dispensary in San Bernadino. The agents "descended in force," making arrests and confiscating evidence from the store.

Montana

Last Thursday, Chris Williams rejected a post-conviction plea offer from federal prosecutors that would have cut his prison sentence from as much as 85 years to as little as 10 years. Williams was part of Montana Cannabis, whose other partners have all either been convicted or pleaded guilty to federal drug charges. He faced the decades-long sentence because four or his charges involved having a gun during the commission of a drug crime. Prosecutors offered to drop some charges if Williams dropped his appeals, but he refused. "I have decided to fight the federal government, because for me not defending the things that I know are right is dishonorable," Williams wrote. "Every citizen has a responsibility to fight for what is right, even if it seems like the struggle will be lost. It is the power of the people to control this government that is supposed to protect us. If we shun this struggle, this government will control us instead of protecting us."

On Monday, a state district court judge blocked the state from enforcing some provisions of its new medical marijuana law. District Judge Jim Reynolds said he will suspend enforcement of the law while evaluating its constitutionality. The suspended parts include the ban on medical marijuana providers receiving money for their product, and other provisions that advocates argue essentially shut the industry down. Voters in Montana will vote on throwing out the new, restrictive law next week.

When Losing Means Winning: The Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative [FEATURE]

Last year wasn't a good year for medical marijuana in Montana. Between the federal raids in the spring of 2011 and the Republican-dominated legislature's efforts first to repeal the voter-approved 2004 medical marijuana law, which was vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), and then to gut it with Senate Bill 423, which Schweitzer reluctantly allowed to become law, the state's medical marijuana industry has been practically decimated.

But although 2012 is nearly over, Big Sky County medical marijuana supporters are hoping this year will end up differently. That's because they have an initiated referendum on the ballot, IR-124, that would undo the legislature's passage of Senate Bill 423 and restore the status quo ante.

From an initiative organizer's standpoint, IR-124 has some interesting attributes. First, the medical marijuana people behind IR-124 want it to be defeated. A "no" vote on the initiative is a vote against Senate Bill 423, and the conventional wisdom on initiatives is that voters who are uncertain on an issue vote "no." Second, Montanans who oppose the free-wheeling medical marijuana system that was in place prior to Senate Bill 423 may well be confused by the fact that IR-124 is being run by medical marijuana supporters and vote "no" mistakenly thinking they are voting against medical marijuana.

"Our opponents have accused us of muddying the water, but it wasn't a strategic ploy; it's just a thumbs up or thumbs down on the current law," said Chris Lindsay of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which is fighting SB 423 in the courts as well as supporting IR-124.

There hasn't been a lot of polling on IR-124, but what there is suggests repeal of SB 423 could well be within reach. There has been no scientific polling this month, but two September polls, one from Mason-Dixon and one from Public Policy Polling, had IR-124 losing with 44% and 46% of the vote, respectively. And that's just what Patients for Reform -- Not Repeal, the primary group behind the campaign, wants.

"We're urging voters to vote 'no' on IR-124, because it is a slap in the face to voters as well as cruel and harmful to the seriously sick patients Montanans sought to help," said Bob Brigham, campaign manager for the group. "The legislature should have fixed the medical marijuana program, not broken it completely with a 'repeal and destroy' law," he explained. "With the federal government also punishing patients and providers and even threatening their gun rights, it is vitally important that Montana voters stand solidly for their own rights."

But while the polls had IR-124 losing, campaign proponents aren't feeling comfortable. Those same polls showed only around 30% of voters committed to voting "no," with about 25% of voters undecided. While undecided voters typically break towards a "no" vote on initiatives, Patients for Reform -- Not Repeal is going to have to win about four out of five of those undecided voters to undo SB 423.

The campaign is counting on Montana voters to reject the legislature's interference with the voter-approved 2004 initiative that established the state's medical marijuana program, Brigham said.

"We're calling attention to the fact that this is an issue that revolves around voter rights and the will of the people," he said. "Rather than work on consensus proposals for strict regulation, all the legislature wanted to do was repeal the law voters had adopted -- and they did it twice. Senate Bill 423 was written deliberately to accomplish complete repeal. The tragedy is that the very patients Montanans care about, the sickest among us, are now suffering unnecessarily and unfairly as a result," Brigham concluded.

Under the 2004 law, and especially after the Obama administration took office and signaled it would not target medical marijuana patients and providers, the Montana medical marijuana scene took off, with dispensaries and multi-patient grow operations sprouting up and some entrepreneurs pushing the limits of public acceptance by pulling stunts like taking recommendation-writing caravans across the state and publicly smoking marijuana.

The legislature's attempted outright repeal, followed by SB 423, was in part in a response to the perceived excesses of the program. But SB 423 pretty much wiped out everything except patients growing their own. It limited growers to three patients each, prohibited providers from being compensated, gave local governments the ability to ban dispensaries, tightened standards for demonstrating chronic pain, and required doctors who recommended marijuana for more than 25 patients in a year to undergo reviews at their own expense.

The Montana Cannabis Industry Association has been fighting SB 423 in the state courts, but in August, the state Supreme Court overturned a lower court injunction blocking most of its provisions from taking effect. Now the high court is set to rule on a final appeal from the group any time now. Lindsay said Tuesday morning he hoped the election would come before the court rules.

"The moment the Supreme Court is done, we expect that 5,500 Montana patients will be told they no longer have a provider and they will have to find a new one, which is unlikely, or grow their own," he said. "We're hoping we get to the election first, because a victory there would render moot what the Supreme Court is considering."

That didn't happen. Tuesday afternoon, the state Supreme Court ruled against the Montana Cannabis Industries Association.

"We expect the Department of Health and Human Services to start sending letters out to 5,500 patients saying they no longer have a provider," Lindsay said in a late afternoon call to the Chronicle breaking the news.

While the late ruling hurts patients, it may prove a boon to the "no" campaign. Now, patients and providers who may have thought that life under SB 423 would not be so bad are being confronted with the reality of its actual implementation.

It will probably also make life tougher for supporters of SB 423. Although there isn't a lot of organized support for the law, it does have cheerleaders among the Republican legislators who passed it and among social conservative groups like the Billings-based Safe Communities, Safe Kids.

But Safe Communities, Safe Kids doesn't have money for much of an advertising campaign and is relying on local radio and TV talk show appearances to get its message out. It also tried holding a press conference last week to attack state Attorney General Steve Bullock over the ballot language, but that didn't work out too well for the church ladies.

"You're trying to pull a political stunt using a mechanism that is not set up for this purpose," said Jim Molloy, an assistant attorney general to Bullock, who crashed the press conference and noted that the ballot language had been vetted and settled on two months ago. The threat to file a late complaint was "nothing more than political theater," he said.

"We didn't realize it was going to be such a big problem until the ballots came out," the group's Cherie Brady tried to explain. She said after absentee ballots came out on October 9, her group began getting calls from voters unsure of how to fill out their ballots.

While foes of medical marijuana are reduced to morning talk shows and exploding press conferences, Patients for Reform -- Not Repeal is running limited radio and TV ads urging a "no" vote. It is also preparing a final push to get voters to the polls on election day.

"It's an exciting campaign," said Lindsay. "We've got a lot of momentum behind trying to repeal the law. We're hoping for the best."



MT
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The big news this week is that Oakland is suing the feds over their efforts to shut down Harborside. Meanwhile, the battles continue at the state and local level in California and beyond.

California

Last Monday, Citizens for Patient Rights handed in signatures in La Mesa for an initiative to allow and regulate dispensaries. They handed in more than 6,500 signatures; the San Diego County Registrar of Voters has 30 days to verify the successful submission of the 3,034 valid signatures needed in order to qualify.

Also on Monday, medical marijuana proponents rallied at an Obama campaign stop in San Francisco. Upset with the administration's campaign of repression aimed at dispensaries, they demanded that the administration freeze all actions being taken against medical cannabis providers and review their records of state and local compliance.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles city council took its final vote to repeal the "gentle ban" on dispensaries. The council was forced to vote because medical marijuana advocates had gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on a city ballot asking voters to overturn the soft ban. The city council had to either repeal the ban on its own, or allow the question to go to the voters. Placing the question on the ballot for the upcoming election would have cost taxpayers up to $3 million at a time when the budget shortfall has forced reductions in core city services.

Also on Tuesday, the founder of G3 Holistic chain of three dispensaries went on trial in federal court for violating federal drug laws. Aaron Sandusky faces six felony counts. The feds accuse him of operating a for-profit business under cover of Proposition 215, but his attorney said he was running a perfectly legal business under state law and his cause is being championed by Americans for Safe Access. His trial is expected to last through the week.

Also on Tuesday, the Santa Monica city council approved a 45-day moratorium on new dispensary permits. City staffers called dispensaries a "risk to the public peace, health and safety" and will use the moratorium to come up with options for dealing with them. It could be extended for up to 22 months. Some city council members accused staff of Reefer Madness-style fear-mongering.

Also on Tuesday, the Clovis city council rejected a ban on medical marijuana grows. The city bans dispensaries but allows patients to grow their own indoors. The updated ordinance limits the size of gardens and requires them to be out of public view. The council rejected an outright ban after City Attorney David Wolfe said it would be costly to defend in court and hamper police efforts to control cultivation.

Also on Tuesday, an appeals court upheld Temecula's ban on dispensaries.  The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday on the ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within the city. The panel ruled, 2-1, that the city may use its zoning powers to absolutely ban the dispensing of the drug, and that such regulation is not preempted by Proposition 215, the statewide initiative permitting the use of marijuana upon a doctor’s recommendation, or the Medical Marijuana Program Act that regulates the distribution of the drug for medical purposes. The case was City of Temecula v. Cooperative Patients Services, Inc.

Also on Tuesday, the Arroyo Grande city council voted to ban medical marijuana delivery services. It was the second vote by the council in as many weeks to do so, but some residents are vowing a fight-back.

On Wednesday, the city of Oakland filed a lawsuit to block the feds from closing the Harborside dispensary. Oakland took in $1 million in tax revenues from Harborside last year, but the city said it wasn't about the money, but about federal interference in the city-permitted business. "The federal government has acted beyond its authority by initiating the forfeiture action outside of the statute of limitations," said Cedric Chao, the attorney representing Oakland. "Moreover, the government has indicated for many years by its words and actions that so long as dispensaries and medical patients acted consistently with state law, the dispensaries would be allowed to operate. Oakland has reasonably relied on these assurances, and the government should be prohibited from disrupting Oakland's medical cannabis program."

New Jersey

Last Thursday, a state court panel upheld Health Department rules limiting the number of medical marijuana dispensaries and requirements that they all be run by nonprofits. Natural Medical, Inc., a for-profit company formed to open a dispensary had sued, arguing that the department had unlawfully limited the number of dispensaries to six. Nearly three years after former Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed the state's medical marijuana law, no dispensaries are yet up and running. "Appellants simply have not shown that the Department acted unreasonably in limiting the initial issuance of ATC [dispensary] permits to the statutory minimum," the unsigned unanimous opinion said. "Beyond the mandated minimum, the Department has discretion to determine how many ATCs are needed to meet the demand for medical marijuana."

New Mexico

Last Friday, it was reported that half of the people using medical marijuana in the state are suffering from PTSD. The report comes as the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board reviews a petition from a psychiatrist to remove PTSD from the list of disorders that can be treated with marijuana. The board will conduct its review November 7, with the decision ultimately in the hands of the interim health secretary.

Rhode Island

On Monday, the ACLU said it will sue over a revision of the state's medical marijuana program that it says makes it more difficult for patients to obtain their medicine. While the ACLU was mum on the particulars, it appears it will challenge a decision this summer by the Department of Health to only accept patient applications signed by physicians. It had previously accepted applications signed by physician's assistants or nurse practitioners, as well.

Vermont

Last Thursday, the Rutland city council voted to ban dispensaries. The state has approved four medical marijuana dispensaries around Vermont, but also allows towns to opt out. The move came after Police Chief James Baker told aldermen last week that dispensaries had become crime magnets in other states. The measure passed without any debate.

Massachusetts Drug Lab Review Getting Special Court Sessions

Court administrators in Massachusetts are scrambling to set up special court sessions to address the cases of more than a thousand people imprisoned after being convicted of drug crimes based on lab evidence submitted by Annie Dookhan, the now disgraced former state crime lab analyst. Dookhan herself was arrested last Friday for her fraudulent work at the lab, as the scandal continues to reverberate across the state's criminal justice system.

According to State Police reports obtained by the Boston Globe, Dookhan has admitted not performing proper lab tests on drug samples for "two or three years," forging colleagues' signatures, and improperly removing evidence from storage. Citing the same reports, the Boston Herald reported that Dookhan had admitted to "intentionally turning a negative sample into a positive a few times" and to "dry-labbing" samples, where she classified samples as drugs without actually testing them.

"I messed up bad, it's my fault," Dookhan told police, explaining that "she did what she did in order to get more work done."

Dookhan's misconduct, which first came to light in June 2011, has already shaken the Dept. of Public Health, whose commissioner, John Auerbach, has resigned, as have two other managers at the Hinton Laboratories facility in Jamaica Plain where the lab was located. The crime lab was consolidated earlier this year into the Dept. of Public Safety as part of a budgetary move.

The incident has also raised the question of systemic issues affecting the crime lab. In internal emails leaked to the Globe, laboratory staff went on record as far back as 2008 describing "the situation in the evidence office [as] past the breaking point." That was before some of the now former management at Hinton took those positions, though not before Dookhan. The Globe article describes "a staff drowning in work, instances of misplaced evidence in crime cases, and mounting frustrations over the Patrick administration’s seeming indifference."

Attorney General Martha Coakley and the State Police charge that Dookhan's mishandling of drug evidence is a crime under the state's broadly written witness intimidation law. She is also charged with falsifying academic credentials for claiming a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, a degree which the school said it never issued.

Dookhan tested some 60,000 drug samples in 34,000 criminal cases during her nine years at the now shuttered lab. Some 1,141 people are currently serving drug sentences in state prisons or county jails in cases where she had a hand in testing the drug evidence. It is not known how many of those cases have been tainted by Dookhan's actions.

Now, the state court system is beginning to deal with the fallout. Twenty defendants jailed pending trial have already been released, and hearings will begin in mid-October to hear motions to put the sentences of already-convicted inmates on hold and to request bail.

One defense attorney, Bernard Grossberg, who has already seen one client's sentence put on hold because Dookhan was involved in his case, told the Associated Press that judges hearing the cases in the special sessions would need to hear little more than that Dookhan was involved in the testing.

"My feeling is as soon as they call the case, if Dookhan's name is on the drug certificate, nothing further needs to be asked and the sentence should be put on hold immediately," Grossberg said. "Later on, you can figure out motions to withdraw guilty pleas or upset convictions."

The cases of the people currently serving time after conviction where Dookhan was involved are only the beginning. Gov. Patrick Deval (D) has said he wants to deal with them first, then the cases of people who have already done their time and those currently awaiting trial.

Boston, MA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Los Angeles dispensaries got a reprieve last week -- or did they? The busts there continue, despite the ban on the ban. And there's more news from around the state and the country as well. Let's get to it:

National

Americans for Safe Access is calling for demonstrations in support of medical marijuana access
in front of local Obama campaign headquarters across the country on September 20. The move comes in the face of federal crackdowns and seeks to remind President Obama of the campaign promises he made to the community in 2008.

Arkansas

Last Friday, opponents of the medical marijuana initiative filed suit to block it. The conservative Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values filed the lawsuit in the state Supreme Court. The suit argues that the measure's ballot title, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, is misleading and that the act itself is hard to understand. Arkansas initiative experts said the lawsuit didn't have much chance of succeeding.

California

Last Wednesday, Harborside's San Jose landlord sought a court order to shut it down. Concourse Business Center asked a district court to order the state's largest dispensary to quit growing, possessing, and selling marijuana on its property. The move comes after federal prosecutors sent a threat letter to Concourse, as well as to Harborside and its other landlords. Concourse said it had given Harborside 30 days notice to vacate, that negotiations had taken place to no avail, and that Harborside continued to conduct business there.

Also last Wednesday, the GDP Collective in Richmond announced it had reopened. The dispensary was shut down by the city of Richmond when it purged all dispensaries in 2010. But the city council has since changed its mind and decided earlier this year to permit and tax up to six dispensaries. Another one, Green Remedy, has already opened.

Last Thursday, the ban on LA dispensaries was halted before it went into effect. The ban was blocked after advocates of repeal handed in enough signatures to put the issue to the voters. The ban on the ban will remain in effect until the voters decide. Or the city council could decide within 30 days to repeal the ban. 

Also last Thursday, LAPD announced it had raided The Loft Co-op in Woodland Hills. They seized $1,000 in cash and 10 pounds of marijuana and arrested two employees for possession for sales of marijuana. Police said that despite its name, it was acting as an illegal dispensary, not a co-op.

On Monday, San Diego's only licensed dispensary announced it was closing. The Mother Earth Alternative Healing Co-operative is closing after receiving a threat letter from US Attorney Laura Duffy. The closure of Mother Earth means there are no licensed medical marijuana facilities in the county. That leaves an estimated 70,000 patients without a regulated supplier.

On Tuesday, LA city councilman Jose Huizar said the city would continue to bust dispensaries even though the council's ban set to go into effect Friday is now on hold. He said any sales are illegal under state law, and the city would enforce that law.

Oregon

Last Thursday, Lane County police raided the Kannabosm dispensary in Eugene and several related properties. The owner, Curtis Dean Shimmin, faces felony charges around illegal marijuana sales and money laundering, police said. Police seized 105 plants and pounds of marijuana in what Shimmin said was "a clearly illegal" raid.

Medical Marijuana Update

The battle of Los Angeles continues, Arizona prosecutors don't like their medical marijuana law, and a bill is pre-filed in Kentucky. There's also lots more going on. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, state and county prosecutors challenged the medical marijuana program in court. Attorney General Tom Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery asked a court hearing a dispensary application case to rule that the voter-approved law is illegal because it conflicts with federal drug laws. The Republican prosecutors are specifically targeting the dispensary provisions of the law, but argued in court that all aspects of the state law violate federal drug laws. In the case at hand, a would-be Maricopa County dispensary is suing the county because officials wouldn't provide zoning clearances required under the law. The officials had been advised by Montgomery that county employees could face prosecution for aiding and abetting drug crimes.

Arkansas

As predicted last week, Arkansas state officials announced that a medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the ballot. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act would allow patients suffering from specified diseases or medical conditions to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. It envisions a system of state-licensed nonprofit dispensaries, and would allow patients or their caregivers to grow their own only if they are not within five miles of a dispensary. In that case, patients could grow up to six flowering plants. Patients could possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana.

California

Last Wednesday, Los Angeles asked the DEA to help it shut down dispensaries. The request came from Councilman Bernard Parks, who filed a successful motion with the council. Parks is a former LA police chief. The council recently voted to close down all dispensaries in the city, although that is likely not the end of the affair (see below).

Also last Wednesday, a judge in Riverside ruled that the city can't ban a dispensary. Riverside County Superior Court Judge John Vineyard dissolved an injunction to shut down a dispensary in the city, agreeing that current law makes local government closures of the clinics unconstitutional. The decision affects The Closet Patient Care dispensary on Elizabeth Street in Riverside, but could be a precedent for other cases in the city. The city immediately said it would appeal the ruling.

Also last Wednesday, a Costa Mesa collective filed suit against the city over its ban on dispensaries. The Green Health Association argues that the city cannot legally ban nonprofit collectives and says it is operating with the state attorney general's guidelines. 

Also last Wednesday, the city of Chowchilla banned public medical marijuana use. It passed an ordinance limiting smoking or any other type of medical marijuana consumption to inside a private residence and requiring all cultivation to take place in an enclosed, locked area.

Also last Wednesday, the California Supreme Court dismissed Pack vs. Long Beach, a case that could have decided whether cities can lawfully regulate medical marijuana. The court held the case was moot after the attorney for the petitioners abandoned his original argument that Long Beach's short-lived rules to allow and regulate medical marijuana violated federal law. The state Supreme Court is still considering several other cases that will determine the power of cities to ban collectives or dispensaries.

On Tuesday, word spread that the Berkeley Patients Group would reopen in a new location. The iconic dispensary had been forced to close in May after federal prosecutors threatened its landlord with seizure of his property. The new location is just four blocks from its original location on San Pablo Avenue. No opening date has been set at the new site and officials from Berkeley Patients Group refused to go on record about their plans.

Also on Tuesday, Butte County's effort to ban outdoor grows hit a bump in the road. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey surprised supervisors by announcing the ordinance was unconstitutional as written. The ordinance envisioned charging violators with a misdemeanor, but the prosecutor said that was the domain of state law, not county ordinances. Now, it's back to the drawing board for the supervisors.

Also on Tuesday, the Wheatland city council banned dispensaries within the city limits. It passed two ordinances, one banning dispensaries and the other barring outdoor grows within the city limits and setting conditions on indoor ones.

On Wednesday, activists in Los Angeles turned in more than 50,000 signatures on petitions seeking a referendum to overturn the city council's recently-passed ban on dispensaries. The city now has 30 days to either rescind the ban or to call a special election to let the voters decide. That could come in March or May.

Kentucky


On Monday, state Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) pre-filed a medical marijuana bill for the 2013 session. He said he wanted to get a head start on building support in the legislature.

Montana

On Tuesday, the co-founder of Montana Cannabis agreed to plead guilty to a federal drug charge related to 2011 raids on dispensaries across the state. Chris Lindsay faces up to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to operate a drug-involved premises. Lindsay said he copped to the plea agreement to avoid other pending charges and because earlier court rulings made it clear he would not be able to testify about his belief that Montana Cannabis was in compliance with the state’s law. Lindsay is also the public face of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which has filed a lawsuit to block portions of the law rewritten by the Republican legislature and which is backing a referendum asking voters to repeal the law. That referendum will be on the November ballot.

Oregon

On Sunday, activists said they would try to get PTSD added to the medical marijuana list of qualifying conditions. Two previous efforts have failed. This time, the push is being led by veteran's groups. Oregon is home to some 300,000 veterans.

Washington

Last Thursday, the DEA sent threat letters to 23 dispensaries operating near schools. In the letters to the dispensaries, DEA Special Agent-In-Charge Matthew Barnes contended the dispensaries could face the seizure and forfeiture of assets, as well as criminal prosecution. The letter informs dispensary operators and property owners to cease the sale and distribution of marijuana within 30 days.

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds strike again in California, this time in Orange County, and meanwhile, the battle over the LA dispensary ban heats up. There's plenty more news, too. Let's get to it:

California

Since mid-August, signature gatherers have been hitting the streets in Los Angeles in an effort to collect 27,400 voter signatures to put on the ballot a referendum to repeal the recent ban on dispensaries. They have about 10 more days to go, and if they succeed, the referendum would go before voters in March. The more immediate effect would be a temporary suspension of the ordinance. Dispensaries in the city have until September 6 until they are supposed to shut down.

Last Wednesday, San Francisco Mission District property owners asked the feds to shut down a dispensary that hasn't even opened yet. Those owners of "white linen" restaurants and family-oriented businesses have asked the Justice Department to close down the Morado Collective, even though the Planning Commission approved the dispensary's permit at a hearing the same day. The Mission Miracle Mile Business Improvement District had its president, local realtor James Nunemacher, write a letter to US Attorney Melinda Haag urging her to shut it down because it "is incompatible with the family shopping that predominates the immediate area in the daytime and the dining/entertainment venues that are active in the evening." The gentrifiers have spoken.

Last Thursday, patients and supporters filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the LA ban. The Patient Care Association and 11 individual patients are seeking an injunction to block the city from implementing the ban. They argue that California law preempts the city's ban, that it violates dispensary owners' rights to due process, and that it violates their right to freely assemble and associate to cultivate medical marijuana.

Also last Thursday, Butte County staff released a draft of the proposed new medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. It would ban outdoor cultivation and set limits on the amounts that could be grown indoors based on the size of the parcel. On lots of an acre or less, the grow area could not exceed 50 square-feet. On lots one to five acres, the allowable grow area is 150 square-feet. There is no size limit on lots five acres or larger, but a maximum of 99 plants could be grown. The ordinance includes limits on how powerful indoor grow lights can be and requires a ventilation and filtering system that doesn't allow the smell of the pot outside the building. It also bans growing within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, child care centers, and other youth-oriented facilities.

Last Friday, a Lake County judge granted a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the county's recently adopted interim cultivation ordinance. The injunction is good until January 1. It allows all qualified people and collectives growing marijuana in conformity with state law at the time the county adopted its interim medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. Four people sued the county after the Board of Supervisors adopted the ordinance on July 9. It limited the number of marijuana plants allowed for outdoor cultivation and banned commercial growing as well as growing on vacant lands. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to extend the interim ordinance for another 45 days anyway.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors targeted more than 60 dispensaries in Orange County for closure by filing three asset forfeiture lawsuits and sending threat letters to the dispensaries. That brings the number of dispensaries targeted for closure in the Central District of California to more than 300. In all, 66 warning letters were sent to marijuana dispensaries in Anaheim and La Habra. Some have closed recently, but federal authorities said 38 remain open. As part of the offensive, DEA agents raided two Anaheim dispensaries.

Colorado

Last Friday, a state court held that federal law trumps the state's medical marijuana law. The ruling came in a case pitting a grower against a dispensary. The grower sought payment for marijuana that had already been delivered, but Arapahoe County District Judge Charles Pratt ruled for the dispensary. In his opinion, he held that since all marijuana sales are illegal under federal law, the contract between the grower and the dispensary was null and void. Later in the same ruling, Pratt wrote that "any state authorization to engage in the manufacture, distribution or possession of marijuana creates an obstacle to full execution of federal law. Therefore, Colorado's marijuana laws are preempted by federal marijuana law." Because the ruling is by a district court judge, it is not binding, but it has the medical marijuana community concerned.

On Monday, the Denver City Council approved a ban on all outdoor advertising for dispensaries. The vote came after a public hearing last week where medical marijuana advocates were split over the issue and council members voiced strong support for it. The council killed an alternate, more limited plan that would have blocked outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of schools, day care facilities, and parks. Dispensaries can still advertise on their buildings and can still place ads in newspapers, magazines, or online, and they can display their logos at charity events they sponsor. The city had been inundated with dispensary flyers and young men twirling large cardboard arrows advertising "Eighths for $25" and the like.

Maine

Last Monday, state officials held a public hearing on proposed new cultivation rules. The rules will impose restrictions on where and under what conditions patients or caregivers can grow their own medicine. Patients, dispensary operators, growers, and advocates objected to various portions of the proposed rules. The last day for public comment was Wednesday.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the agency overseeing the state's medical marijuana program said it could be up and running by this fall. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said its review panel for adding new qualifying medical conditions is just about set, but patient advocates are skeptical, saying the agency is at least two years behind on making recommendations on requests to add new conditions.

Washington

Last Friday, the state Department of Revenue began doing audits of dispensaries, escalating a battle over whether they should be collecting tax revenues for the state. The department has told dispensaries since 2010 that they must remit sale taxes on their transactions, and 50 dispensaries have registered with the department to do so. But the department believes there are other dispensaries out there that haven't registered, and now it's going after them. Some dispensary operators and defense attorneys argue that by paying state taxes, dispensaries are incriminating themselves in the federal crime of marijuana sales.

Over the weekend, medical marijuana advocates may have skirted state election laws at Hempfest by handing out fliers against the I-502 legalization initiative. Dozens of medical marijuana businesses used Hempfest to lobby against I-502, but one of them may have violated election laws by handing out anti-I-502 posters that failed to say who had paid for them.

On Tuesday, the owners of two dispensaries pleaded guilty to federal marijuana trafficking charges. Brionne Keith Corbray, owner and operator of three GAME Collectives in White Center, Northeast Seattle, and West Seattle, copped to conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Craig Dieffenbach and Jing Jing Mu, owners of the Seattle Cannabis Cooperative, copped to conspiracy to distribute and money-laundering charges. All admitted in their plea agreements to selling marijuana to people who were not patients. Conspiracy to distribute marijuana is punishable by up to 40 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Conspiracy to launder money is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

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