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Medical Marijuana Update

Massachusetts and Illinois prepare for medical marijuana dispensaries, action is picking up in state legislatures, and Americans for Safe Access issues a report on state compliance with federal enforcement priorities. And more. Let's get to it:

National

On Monday, Americans for Safe Access released a report finding that medical marijuana states have enacted regulations that address federal enforcement concerns and calling on legislators and state rule-makers to keep the August 2013 Justice Department memo on enforcement guidelines in mind as they craft new laws and regulations. But DOJ memos aren't a solution, just a stopgap until appropriate federal legislation is passed, the report said.

Alabama

On Monday, State Rep. Patricia Todd said she will reintroduce medical marijuana legislation. She is talking up a bill that would allow for the use of CBD. Todd's previous medical marijuana bills have gotten nowhere in Montgomery.

California

Last Thursday, four California US representatives called for an end to the harassment of dispensaries.Reps. Barbara Lee (D), George Miller (D), Sam Farr (D), and Eric Swalwell (D) Thursday released excerpts of a letter they sent to US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag challenging her "hostility toward dispensaries." They criticized Haag's approach as "counterproductive and economically prohibitive," as well as being out of step with Obama administration policies as set down in August's Justice Department memo. "It is far past time for commonsense and economic sense to prevail in policies and actions related to medical cannabis dispensaries that serve the patients in our communities," said Rep. Lee. "This harassment and constant threat of prosecution should end."

Also last Thursday, the Santa Cruz planning commission approved plans for a new dispensary to open where one closed last year. The panel unanimously approved a special use permit for CannaCruz Collective. The city only allows for two dispensaries, and one other one is already open nearby.

Illinois

Last Tuesday, the Niles city board approved regulations limiting where medical marijuana facilities can locate. Such businesses will be limited to manufacturing districts with a special use permit. Medical marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on January 1.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, the state Department of Health released the names of finalists for medical marijuana sales licenses. There are one hundred of them, but some may face difficulties finding locations, in part because at least 130 cities and towns have adopted temporary moratoria on them. Applicants each paid a $30,000 application fee to enter the final round.

Michigan

On Monday, a key legislative leader said medical marijuana is a top priority next month. House Judiciary Committee Chair Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) said his top priority next month is to take up three medical marijuana-related bills. The first, House Bill 4271, would revive medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan after recent court rulings effectively stopped the facilities from operating in the state. Cotter also plans to take up two other medical marijuana-related bills. House Bill 5104 would allow patients to use edible forms of marijuana. And Senate Bill 660 would clear the way for pharmacies to sell medical marijuana in Michigan, but only if the federal government decides to regulate cannabis as a prescription drug.

New Jersey

On Monday, a lawmaker filed a bill allowing patients to get their medicine out of state. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union) introduced a bill that would allow Garden State medical marijuana patients to buy their medicine in other states where it is legal and consume it in New Jersey. The bill attempts to address restrictions in the state's medical marijuana law that prevent easy access to some medical marijuana formulations, especially strains with high levels of CBD.

New York

On Saturday, Democratic lawmakers announced public hearings next month to try to push a medical marijuana bill through the legislature. They plan to hold public hearings next month in Buffalo and Mineola. For the past several years, bills have passed the Assembly, only to die in the more conservative Senate. Another bill is moving this year. Click on the link for hearing details.

On Monday, a New York City council committee approved a resolution urging the federal government to approve the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, which would take medical marijuana off the federal list of controlled substances and enable certified medical providers and researchers to prescribe or access the drug without the threat of prosecution. The vote was unanimous.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

DEA Raiding Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Denver! [FEATURE]

DEA and IRS agents backed up by Denver and other state and local law enforcement raided a number of Denver area medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations Thursday. The US Attorney for Colorado's office confirmed the raids were taking place.

a Denver medical marijuana dispensary (not one of those raided Thursday) (wikipedia.org)
"The Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, the Denver Police Department and state and local law enforcement are today executing lawfully obtained search warrants and seizure warrants," said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the US Attorney for Colorado's office in a Thursday statement

"Although we cannot at this time discuss the substance of this pending investigation, the operation under way today comports with the Department's recent guidance regarding marijuana enforcement matters," Dorschner added. "As this is an on-going investigation, no additional information will be made available," he said.

Dorschner was referring to an August 29 Justice Department memorandum to federal prosecutors that said the Obama administration would not interfere with marijuana legalization provided certain boundaries were not crossed. US Attorney for Colorado John Walsh laid them out in his own statement that same day.

"Of particular concern to the US Attorney's Office are cases involving marijuana trafficking directly or indirectly to children and young people; trafficking that involves violence or other federal criminal activity; trafficking conducted or financed by street gangs and drug cartels; cultivation of marijuana on Colorado's extensive state and federal public lands; and trafficking across state and international lines," Walsh explained.

The Thursday raids come less than two months before state-legal marijuana retail stores open for business on January 1.

The Denver Post reported that the number of sites hit was "about a dozen," while the alternative weekly Westword put the number at fewer than 20, although that number is tentative. Among businesses mentioned by "reliable sources within the scene" to Westword are VIP Wellness, Cherry Top Farms, marQaha, and Swiss Medical in Boulder. Westword printed a photo of police cars in the parking lot of marQaha, while the Post printed a photo of piles of uprooted marijuana plants lying in the snow outside Swiss Medical.

Westword also reported that the owner of Swiss Medical told it that the raid there was prompted by one person among multiple tenants using its space, but that the raiders seized all the plants belonging to anyone who had a grow there. That's similar to what happened at Cherry Top Farms in 2011, when federal raiders targeting one grower seized all the plants on the scene.

"We do not yet know the details of these latest federal actions, so it is too soon to say what inspired them," said Denver-based Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert. "The Justice Department said it would respect states' rights to regulate marijuana, and that it would not go after businesses as long as they are complying with state laws. We hope they are sticking to their word and not interfering with any state-regulated, law-abiding businesses."

Tvert emphasized that at this point he does not know whether any of the businesses struck are accused of violating state laws.

"Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana works," Tvert said. "Those businesses that are in clear compliance with state laws are meeting the needs of the community and not causing problems. As a result, they have not faced much in the way of federal interference. If a business is suspected of violating state laws, they will likely face increased scrutiny, and if they are found to be in violation, they will likely face consequences. That is how our society treats alcohol, and that is how we expect to see marijuana treated."

Denver-based attorney and marijuana activist Rob Corry was less diplomatic. He told the Post the Justice Department was acting like a bully and targeting "mostly mom-and-pop businesses."

"That is true to form, the DOJ, behaving like the classic schoolyard bully picking on the little guy," he said. "The DOJ needs to explain in a logical fashion why they are picking and choosing, going after only some of these entities when every one of them selling marijuana is running afoul of the federal law."

Denver, CO
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Federal agencies are beginning to work on the banking problem for medical marijuana businesses, the District of Columbia is looking at why its program is so tiny, and New Mexico can't keep up with medical marijuana demand. And there's much more, too. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, a US Treasury official said the department is discussing banking for medical marijuana businesses with the Justice Department. Access to banking services has been a major roadblock for marijuana businesses, but the Obama administration has signaled it is willing to try to reach a workable solution to the problem.

Arizona

Last Friday, a judge ruled that the state's medical marijuana law did not limit the health care rights by preventing those living less than 25 miles away from a dispensary from growing their own medicine. Judge Katherine Cooper throw out the challenge from two men, but she said they may be able to try again by arguing that the 25-mile rule amounts to a violation of their rights under constitutional provisions guaranteeing everyone equal protection of the law. She said, though, they have yet to make a case for that claim.

California

Last Thursday, the city of Los Angeles filed suit to block a Mar Vista dispensary from opening. The suit claims the business would violate voter-approved rules for marijuana dispensaries because its proximity to a residential neighborhood and seeks penalties of up to $2,500 a day for anyone involved in operating a dispensary at that location.

On Monday, the city of Jurapa Valley said it had filed lawsuits against five dispensaries. The suits seek to force the dispensaries to close. The Riverside County community wants to shut down all dispensaries within its jurisdiction. The lawsuits follow sternly-worded letters sent out in September 2011 and again last summer warning dispensary operators of possible actions against them.

On Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors grappled with cultivation rules for medical marijuana grows. The supervisors had already set new rules for dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county and are preparing to vote December 10 on cultivation rules. The proposed rules would limit personal grows to 100 square feet, but allow up to 3,000 square feet in rural areas.

Also on Tuesday, the Richmond city council agreed to allow a dispensary to relocate to East Richmond. The Green Remedy Collective needed to move because its landlord is facing foreclosure, but wanted to move to a location zoned general use, which violates the city's guidelines. The city waived the zoning requirement.

Also on Tuesday, the Whittier city council voted to ban dispensaries. The ban passed 4-1 after several community and religious leaders spoke against allowing the outlets, claiming they have harmful effects on families and adolescents. The action was prompted by the approaching date for the expiration of the city's moratorium on issuing permits for medical marijuana dispensaries. The council imposed a 45-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in January 2012; it has renewed the moratorium twice. The current moratorium is set to expire January 24, 2014, and it cannot be renewed.

Last Friday, the city of Santa Ana sent warning letters to all dispensaries in the city saying they must close by the end of the month or face $1,000 a day fines and misdemeanor criminal charges. The city has a dispensary ban in place, but activists there have managed to place a referendum on the November 2014 ballot that would allow dispensaries to operate.

District of Columbia

On Tuesday, news came that Mayor Gray has convened a Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee to assess current policies. The move comes amidst complaints that strict restrictions on eligibility for the District's medical marijuana program are preventing patients from taking advantage of it. An Intergovernmental Operations Subcommittee will monitor the effectiveness of the current medical marijuana program, and a Scientific Subcommittee will review applicable scientific research. Both subcommittees will review the practices of other states. Only 59 patients are enrolled in the program in the District and only 39 doctors are currently licensed to recommend medical marijuana.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Brookline town meeting cleared the way for a dispensary to open there. The meeting passed three warrant articles designed to set up a licensing framework for medical marijuana businesses. Dispensaries must be at least 500 feet from a school.

Nevada

On Wednesday, the Reno city council approved a moratorium on dispensary business license applications. Las Vegas passed a similar temporary moratorium in September. Reno officials said they were waiting for the state to set final dispensary regulations before the 2013 medical marijuana law goes into effect on April 1.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state's third dispensary began accepting patient registrations. Garden State Dispensary (formerly known as Compassionate Care Center of America) is opening in Woodbridge, although when that will actually happen is not yet certain. Some 1,500 patients and caregivers have registered with the state program, which has gotten off to an excruciatingly slow start.

New Mexico

On Saturday, a survey of medical marijuana producers and patients found that demand is outstripping supply. New Mexico producers have had to turn away thousands of patients in recent months and ration supplies to others, the report found. The number of licensed producers has dropped from a high of 25 to 23, while the number of active patients certified to buy medical cannabis hit 10,289 as of the end of last month, according to state officials, increasing by 1,200 from earlier this year.

Oregon

Last Friday, the Tualatin city council voted to ban dispensaries. The town follows the lead of Medford, but both localities may be in conflict with Oregon's new dispensary law, which leaves regulation up to the state, not localities.

Pennsylvania

On Monday, medical marijuana supporters rallied at the state capitol in support of pending legislation that would allow for the use of medical marijuana by patients, including children. Senate Bill 1182, sponsored by Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R) is the first bipartisan medical marijuana legislation in the state.

West Virginia

On Wednesday, the first details of a new medical marijuana bill emerged. An interim meeting of the Joint Health Committee heard from counsel Charles Roskovensky that the bill he is drafting for them would allow people with certain illnesses like cancer and glaucoma to possess up to six ounces of marijuana. If the bill becomes law, registered patients would be able to purchase medical marijuana at five 'compassion centers' throughout the state that would be chosen through a competitive bid process, he said. Registered patients would also be allowed to have a limited number of 12 marijuana plants. But Roskovensky said the bill wasn't yet in final form, and he solicited suggestions from lawmakers.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM -- November 19, 2013

Hmmm, on the same day the DEA warns that "marijuana availability seems to be on the increase," hundreds of people apply for licenses to sell pot in Washington state. Times are changing, and somebody needs to let the DEA know. And there's more news, too. Let's get to it:

Crackdowns on pain pills are leading the way to comeback for heroin. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Hundreds Apply for Pot Business Licenses in Washington State. Monday was the first day budding ganjapreneurs could apply for licenses to open marijuana cultivation, processing, and retail facilities, and interest was intense. By 2:00pm Monday, 299 applications had been submitted. The state envisions up to 334 marijuana retail shops opening next year; it is unclear how many production and processing facilities will be licensed, although regulators have said they want to limit cultivation to two million square feet statewide. Applications are being accepted through December 17.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Another Marijuana Initiative. The Arkansas attorney general's office Monday rejected the proposed language of an initiative that would repeal the state's marijuana laws. The initiative isn't clear about what it seeks to achieve, the office said. The attorney general's office has been busy with initiatives this year; it has already approved two separate medical marijuana initiatives, and the author of this one can come back with new language if she wishes.

Drug Policy

DEA Releases 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment. The DEA Monday released the annual drug threat assessment, which includes looks at drug use and trafficking trends. The report identifies the illicit use of controlled prescription drugs as "the nation's fastest growing drug problem," warns that heroin use and supply is up, as is methamphetamine, but that cocaine use and supply is down. Also, "marijuana availability seems to be increasing," and synthetic drugs "have emerged as a serious problem in the United States."

New Yorkers to Map Out City Drug Policies on Saturday. New York City residents just elected a self-described progressive -- Bill de Blasio -- as mayor. Now, they will have a chance to let him know what direction they want the city to take on drug policy. As part of Talking Transition, "an open conversation about the future of New York City," hundreds of people are expected to attend a Saturday forum on "Ending the New Jim Crow: Mapping the Future of Drug Policy in New York City," then break into small groups to make recommendations on issues ranging from racially-biased marijuana arrests, lack of effective drug treatment, and overdose prevention strategies. Click on the main link for more details.

Heroin

Ohio Attorney General Declares War on Heroin. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine Monday announced he had created a new heroin unit within his office to fight back against what he called "an epidemic" of heroin use. The move comes as heroin overdose deaths have doubled in recent years, from 292 in 2010 to 606 last year. DeWine said his office will spend an additional $1 million a year on increased assistance to law enforcement, community outreach workers, and lab technicians. The rise in heroin use in Ohio comes after Gov. John Kasich cracked down on pain clinics in 2011, leaving illicit heroin as the last resort for people strung out on opioids.

International

China to Turn "Re-Education" Labor Camps into Drug Treatment Centers. At its recent Third Plenary meeting, the Chinese Communist Party announced it was abolishing its controversial "re-education" labor camps. Now, it turns out that the camps won't be closing, but will instead be converted into drug treatment and rehabilitation centers. "The new rehab centers will provide compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment for addicts, and help them find self-confidence again," one official explained. There are 1.8 million "officially registered" addicts in China, but the number of actual addicts could run as high as 12 million.

Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy Meets in Vancouver This Weekend. Canadian SSDP is holding its annual national conference this weekend in Vancouver. In addition to panels and speeches, there will be tours of Insite, Vancouver's supervised injection facility, a Downtown Eastside Walking Tour, and rides on the Sensible BC bus. For more details, click the link.

Chronicle Daily News--November 1, 2013

The big news today is yesterday's surprising appeals court ruling allowing the NYPD to continue stop-and-frisk searches, but there's more as well on marijuana reform, drug testing, and a conference in New Zealand.

NYPD practices stop-and-frisk techniques (nyc.gov/nypd)
Search and Seizure

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Judge's Ruling on NYPD Stop-and-Frisk. The 2nd US Court of Appeals in New York City blocked an order by District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin requiring changes in the NYPD's much criticized stop-and-frisk program. In an unusual move, the appeals court also removed Judge Scheindlin from the case, saying she had violated the code of conduct for federal judges by giving media interviews and publicly responding to criticism of her court. Scheindlin had found that NYPD violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of people by subjecting them to stop-and-frisk searches based on their race.

Drug Testing

Truckers Object to Federal Bill to Allow Hair Drug Tests. A bill pending in Congress, House Resolution 3403, the "Drug Free Commercial Driver Act of 2013," is drawing opposition from an independent trucker group, the association's organ Landline Magazine reports. The bill would allow trucking companies to use hair testing for pre-employment and random drug tests. Currently, federal regulations mandate urine testing and allow hair testing only in conjunction with urine tests, not as a replacement. Hair-based testing can reveal drug use weeks or months prior to the testing date. The independent truckers accuse bill sponsors of carrying water for larger trucking firms that want to undercut their competition.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado to Vote Tuesday on Marijuana Tax. Colorado voters will decide Tuesday whether to impose a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales to pay for school construction and a 10% sales tax to pay for marijuana regulation. The tax vote wasn't included in Amendment 64 because state law requires any new taxes to be approved by the voters. The measure is expected to pass despite opposition from some marijuana activists.

No Pot in Washington Bars, State Regulators Say. The Washington State Liquor Control Board Wednesday filed a draft rule banning any business with a liquor license from allowing on-site marijuana use. The state's pot law already bars public use, including in bars, clubs, and restaurants, but some businesses have tried to find loopholes allowing customers to use on premise, such as by having "private clubs" within the establishment.

DC Marijuana Reform Moves Could Spur Congress to Ponder Legalization. The DC city council appears set to approve decriminalization, and DC marijuana activists are pondering a 2014 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. That could set the stage for Congress to finally turn its sights on federal marijuana legalization, Bloomberg News suggested in this think piece.

One-Fourth of Americans Would Buy Legal Weed, Poll Finds. At least one out of four Americans (26%) said they would buy marijuana at least on "rare occasions" if it were legal, according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll released Thursday. Only 9% said they buy it on rare occasions now. One out of six (16%) of respondents said they never buy it now, but might if it were legal.

International

New Zealand to Host International Conference on Drug Reform Laws. The country has drawn international attention for its innovative approach to new synthetic drugs—regulating instead of prohibiting them—and will be the site of a March 20, 2014 "Pathway to Reform" conference explaining how the domestic synthetic drug industry began, how the regulatory approach was chosen and how it works. International attendees will include Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann and Amanda Fielding, of Britain's Beckley Foundation.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Michigan couple get their child back, New Jersey gets its second dispensary, and Washington regulators get an earful over moves to do away with patient home grows under I-502 legalization. And much, much more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Tuesday, a judge allowed a medical marijuana patient to continue to use while on probation, even though her plea agreement strictly forbade it. The county attorney in the case had added a blanket condition to plea agreements prohibiting offenders from using marijuana regardless of whether they hold medical marijuana cards, but the woman's attorneys argued that the clause violated state law and that prosecutors could not legally prohibit probationers from using medical marijuana. The judge agreed. The county prosecutor is expected to appeal.

On Tuesday, advocates and doctors urged the state to add PTSD as a condition treatable with medical marijuana. The occasion was a public hearing at the Arizona Department of Health Services. The state currently allows marijuana for eight specified medical conditions. The department will make its decision by January.

Also on Tuesday, the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit requesting that the courts officially rule that extracts are covered under the state's medical marijuana law. The suit was filed in a bid to protect the parents of a 5-year-old boy suffering from epilepsy from criminal prosecution for treating him with marijuana-derived oil. Extracts are currently in a legal gray area in Arizona, where police and some prosecutors say they are illegal and the Department of Health Services is still "developing guidance to clarify these issues," even though that guidance was supposed to be completed this month.

California

On October 16, Mendocino County announced it had released more records to the federal government related to the former marijuana grow permitting program that allowed growers to have up to 99 plants per parcel. The county was responding to a second set of federal subpoenas, this one for a "limited number" of records concerning the program. An earlier subpoena was much broader, but was fought by the county. The county and the feds reached an agreement in April to release some records, but with the names of participants redacted.

Also on October 16, the Selma city council banned dispensaries and imposed tight restrictions on medical marijuana grows. The Fresno County community will require growers to register, get building permits, and stay 1,500 from sensitive uses, and no outdoor grows are allowed. The new ordinance is a slight improvement on a 2010 ordinance that banned all medical marijuana uses in the city.

Also on October 16, word came that the Justice Department has abandoned some asset forfeiture proceedings against medical marijuana landlords. The US Attorney for the Central District of California, Andre Birotte, dropped at least four cases in October. But other US Attorneys in the state continue to pursue asset forfeiture cases, including pending cases against landlords for Harborside Health Center and the Berkeley Patients Groups.

On October 17, medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow prevailed in a civil trial against anti-drug crusader Paul Chabot. Swerdlow had alleged false arrest and malicious prosecution after a 2007 incident at a Rancho Cucamonga meeting. The jury found for the false arrest, but not the malicious prosecution, and awarded Swerdlow $5,000 for past losses. They will meet again to determine punitive damages.

On October 18, the owners of a former Vallejo dispensary filed suit against the city alleging abuse of power, excessive force, and retaliation after it was raided by police last year. Daniel and Rhonda Chadwick, owners of Homegrown Holistic Cooperative, Inc., claim the city retaliated against them after Daniel Chadwick spoke out at a contentious city council meeting after a series of dispensary raids. Police in Vallejo raided at least six dispensaries there in 2012 even though the city had voted the year before to tax dispensaries -- not shut them down. All of those cases fell apart, but the damage had been done.

Connecticut

On October 17, the Westport planning and zoning commission approved a moratorium on dispensaries and producers. The moratorium would last for a year, while the community has a chance to wrap its head around "the newness" of recently issued state regulations.

On Monday, the Farmington planning and zoning commission passed a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities. The commission wants town staff to have adequate time to research the new state regulations.

Delaware

On October 22, the Marijuana Policy Project criticized Gov. Markell's dispensary plan. State law calls for three dispensaries, but Markell had delayed opening any dispensaries for the last two years after receiving a threat letter from federal prosecutors. Markell has now moved forward, but said he will support opening only one dispensary next year.

Florida

Last Thursday, state Attorney General Pam Bondi challenged a proposed ballot initiative for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The attorney general is required by state law to send initiatives to the state Supreme Court for review, but Bondi also attacked the initiative, saying if it passed, "Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations" and warning that it conflicted with federal law. The court will hear arguments on December 5.

Guam

Last Friday, Sen. Tina Muna-Barnes filed a medical marijuana bill. The bill would require that all medical marijuana come from Guam itself. Last month, Muna-Barnes introduced a resolution to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes that won broad support at a public hearing.

On Sunday, the Guam Medical Association complained it hadn't been consulted. The association didn't take a position for or against, but said it thought it should.

Massachusetts

On October 16, a Bolton town meeting decided to approve a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations. The moratorium would prevent such facilities until June 30, 2014.

Last Wednesday, a Saugus town meeting voted to approve a moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will stay in effect until September 30, 2014, or until local zoning bylaws are adopted.

On Monday, Wareham voters approved a zoning law that allows medical marijuana treatment centers. The law replaces a temporary moratorium on such businesses that was voted in at the spring town meeting. The centers will be allowed in an "institutional district."

On Tuesday, Framingham selectmen gave the go-ahead for staff to take dispensary applications.There are at least a dozen proposals pending for dispensaries or grow operations in the city. A Special Town Meeting last week rejected a zoning bylaw and proposed overlay district that would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities. The town is developing a ranking system to rate applicants.

Michigan

Last Friday, an Ingham County judge ordered an infant child returned to her medical marijuana using parents. Steve and Maria Green's daughter Bree had been removed by Child Protective Services last month, but the judge found no evidence of abuse or neglect. The parents agreed not to medicate around their children, but said that's how they've handled things all along.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state's second medical marijuana dispensary opened. The Compassionate Care Foundation opened in Egg Harbor, making it the first in South Jersey. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2010, but the Christie administration has made the roll-out excruciatingly slow. Now, though, things are starting to roll. A third dispensary is slated to open in a couple of weeks in Woodbridge Township, and the state Department of Health is in licensing talks with three other facilities.

North Dakota

Last Tuesday, two Dickinson residents entered conditional guilty pleas to marijuana possession, enabling them to appeal to the state Supreme Court that their out-of-state medical marijuana guards should have allowed them to possess marijuana in North Dakota. Their lawyers will argue that the medical marijuana recommendations should be a valid defense.

Oregon

Last Friday, the panel charged with crafting rules for dispensaries met again. The legislature this year passed a bill to regulate the medical marijuana system statewide, and this was the panel's second meeting. It is expected to finish its work by December 1.

Virginia

Last Tuesday, a poll found support for medical marijuana at 71%. The state has taken no action to approve the medical use of the plant, but perhaps some legislators will take heed.

Washington

On Sunday, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles warned that the battle for homegrown medical marijuana is not over. State agencies charged with implementing marijuana legalization under the I-502 initiative have proposed eliminating patient grows under the state's medical marijuana program, but that effort has ignited a firestorm of criticism from patients. Now, they have at least one prominent supporter in the legislature.

Wisconsin

Last Tuesday, 18 legislators cosponsored a medical marijuana bill. The bill, Senate Bill 363, would allow for dispensaries and home cultivation. Patients or caregivers could grow up to 12 plants and possess up to three ounces at a time. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Leah Vukmir, but has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds back off in some Southern California asset forfeiture cases, an Iowa newspaper tells local authorities to back off from prosecuting a cancer patient, and several states move forward with implementing their medical marijuana laws. And more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, Navajo County sheriff's deputies raided a dispensary in Pinetop. They hit the Beyond Compassion dispensary, owned by Mike Lytle. Lytle also owned the Mountain Meds dispensary in Lakeside that was raided earlier this year. He was charged with five drug-related felonies in that case, which is still pending. He racked up two more felony possession of marijuana for sale charges Thursday.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, the state attorney general approved the wording of a medical marijuana initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved an initiative submitted by Arkansans for Compassionate Care that would allow patients to grow their own or buy it from a dispensary. McDaniel earlier approved another medical marijuana initiative that would not allow patients to grow their own.

California

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors dropped their case against an Anaheim landlord whose property they tried to seize over a $37 medical marijuana sale. Under federal pressure, Tony Jalali had already evicted a dispensary he had rented to when the feds brought their asset forfeiture action. Prosecutors had been seeking to drop the case for months, but had insisted that he agree to surprise inspections and promise never to rent to another dispensary. They didn't get that, but Jalali did agree not to demand that the US government pay his attorney fees. The feds dropped the case with prejudice, meaning they cannot threaten to seize his property again. They also dropped two other asset forfeiture cases, but those agreements have been finalized with the courts.

Last Thursday, a Riverside County dispensary sued the city of Murrieta over its decision to ban dispensaries and medical marijuana delivery services. Compassionate Care Beneficiaries seeks a peremptory writ of mandate to set aside the city's decision. It alleges that Murrieta violated state environmental laws by failing to evaluate the potential air pollution and traffic impacts of barring dispensaries and forcing residents who use marijuana legally for medicinal purposes to drive miles farther to obtain it.

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors moved closer to new medical marijuana regulations. The board is considering rules that would prohibit dispensaries within 600 feet of schools or each other, restricts hours and signage, and could require background checks of dispensary managers or dispensary board members. They would also limit home grows to 100 square feet indoors and 1,000 square feet outdoors. The ordinance will have a final vote on October 22.

Connecticut

Late last month, the state began accepting cultivation and dispensary applications. Patients have been able to sign up for the medical marijuana registry for the past year, but no one has yet been authorized to cultivate marijuana. Now, the state is finally moving forward.

Iowa

On Sunday, the Quad-City Times editorialized against prosecuting a cancer patient for growing medical marijuana. The newspaper accused the Scott County justice system of enforcing "the letter of a law that is doing much more harm than good" in the case of Benton Mackenzie, who was arrested along with his wife, son, and parents for growing marijuana he used to alleviate his cancer treatments. Mackenzie was jailed for two months until authorities realized they might be stuck with his medical bills, and is now free awaiting trial. "Iowa is overdue for marijuana law reform in response to growing clinical evidence of its medicinal value," the paper concluded. "Iowa and Illinois are overdue for decriminalizing a substance readily available despite decades of targeted enforcement." The Quad Cities are a trans-Mississippi River metropolitan area consisting of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois (and East Moline, too).

Kansas

Last Friday, the Kansas Silver-Haired Legislature endorsed medical marijuana. The group focuses on legislation affecting Kansas senior citizens and said in a resolution that medical marijuana brings relief for numerous conditions "often found among senior citizens" as well as slowing the progress of two conditions common to senior citizens -- Alzheimer's Disease and glaucoma. Medical marijuana has gained virtually no traction in the Republican-dominated state legislature.

Michigan

Last Thursday, a Lansing couple whose medical marijuana use resulted in the state seizing their infant daughter saw felony drug charges against them dropped. Steve and Maria Green were arrested on marijuana manufacturing charges in 2011, but the Oakland County prosecutor dropped the charges after it was proven that Steve Green was a patient and his wife a caregiver. But the filing of those charges played a role in the state's decision last month to remove their daughter from their home. It's unclear how the dropping of charges will affect their battle to regain custody of their daughter, who is currently living with Maria Green's mother.

Nevada

On Friday, state officials released their 80-page draft medical marijuana dispensary regulations. The move comes after the legislature this year passed a dispensary bill, which is set to go into effect in April. The state Division of Public and Behavioral Health released the draft, which sets broad guidelines for growers, dispensaries and test labs. The draft has already excited numerous concerns and comments, and is subject to revision.

New Jersey

Last Friday, a second dispensary won approval to start selling marijuana to patients. The Health Department announced that the Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor Township can open for business. It has been growing marijuana since June, but has not announced an exact opening date. The state has authorized six dispensaries, but so far, only one has opened.

Vermont

On Tuesday, the Rockingham Selectboard approved an ordinance banning dispensaries. The vote came after the police chief said he didn't want a dispensary in the city and a village resident said the town already faced drug abuse issues. The ordinance can be overturned by a majority of voters at the next town meeting.

Washington

On Sunday, a medical marijuana farmers' market reopened in Seattle. While providing candies, lotions, and dried buds to patients, the market is also part of an ongoing fight by the state's patients and medical marijuana industry to ensure that their rights are kept in mind as the state moves toward legally regulated marijuana for all adults.

Wisconsin

Last Thursday, two Democratic legislators announced they would file a medical marijuana bill in the state legislature. Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison and Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton held a news conference Thursday to announce a new bill, saying marijuana can provide pain relief other medication doesn't. A similar measure in 2010 got a hearing, but went nowhere after that under Democratic leadership. In 2011, a similar bill got nowhere at all under a Republican-controlled legislature. The Republicans still control both houses.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

US Supreme Court Rejects Marijuana Reclassification Appeal

The US Supreme Court Monday declined to hear an appeal from medical marijuana advocacy groups who had challenged the DEA's decision to maintain marijuana's status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the category reserved for the most dangerous substances.

The court denied in summary order a petition for a writ of certiorari from the groups, led by Americans for Safe Access, which had sought Supreme Court review of a DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the DEA's ruling that a change in marijuana's classification required the Food and Drug Administration's recognition of acceptable medical uses for the drugs.

Advocates of rescheduling marijuana have been trying to do so for more than four decades, but have been thwarted by DEA delays and intransigence. This was the third formal rescheduling effort to be blocked by DEA decision making.

Schedule I drugs are deemed to have no acceptable medical uses and a high potential for abuse. Other Schedule I drugs include LSD, MDMA, and heroin. Despite the fact that there is an ever-increasing mountain of research detailing marijuana medicinal effects and despite the fact that 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, the DEA continues to insist that it cannot be down-scheduled.

Joe Elford, lead attorney on the case for Americans for Safe Access, told Law360 that the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari was in line with its reluctance to overturn lower court and administrative decisions on medical marijuana.

"It's disappointing, but not altogether surprising," he said.

A fourth effort to reclassify marijuana led by the governors of the medical marijuana states of Rhode Island and Washington was filed in 2011 and is still awaiting action.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Washington, DC
United States

Venezuela to Shoot Down Drug Planes

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro warned last week this his government will shoot down planes using Venezuelan air space to smuggle drugs. The National Assembly passed a law allowing for such actions in May, but it did not go into effect until this month.

"Let drug traffickers know that starting today any plane that enters Venezuela (to smuggle drugs) will be forced to land in peace, or else it will by shot down by our Sukhoi, our F-16s and the entire Venezuelan Air Force," Maduro said in a speech last Wednesday. "I will begin applying this law immediately in coordination with our armed forces," he added.

While Venezuela is not a drug-producing country, it has become a key transit route for cocaine produced in neighboring Colombia, only this year displaced by Peru as the world's leading coca and cocaine producer. The US government has placed Venezuela and its South American ally Bolivia on its annual list of countries not complying with US drug war objectives, a charge both countries categorically rejected. (Oddly enough, neither Colombia nor Peru are on that list, nor Mexico, the country from which the most drugs are imported to the US.)

The drug plane shoot-down law, known officially as the Law of Control for the Integral Defense of Airspace, was originally proposed in 2011 by the late President Hugo Chavez. After Chavez's death last December, the law was approved by the National Assembly.

While an apparent violation of international civil aviation law, the shooting down of civilian planes suspected of drug running led to the downing of at least 30 planes by Peruvian authorities in the 1990s. The US suspended its cooperation with Peru in that effort after Peruvian fighter jets working with CIA spotters blasted a plane carrying American missionaries out of the sky in 2001, resulting in the deaths of Veronica Bowers and her infant child. Brazil also has had such a policy in place since 2004.

Caracas
Venezuela

Reps Urge New Direction with Drug Czar Pick

Five Democratic members of Congress are calling on President Obama to use the nomination of a new drug czar as an opportunity to take a big step toward fully embracing a drug policy based on science, reason, and facts. The five representatives made their call in a letter sent to the White House Thursday.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (the drug czar's office) is charged with advising the president on drug control issues, setting federal drug control policy, and producing an annual report on national drug control strategy. Its current head, former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske, is resigning to take on the position of commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

"We commend you and your Administration on the recent steps you have taken to pursue smarter sentencing and policies that respect state laws regarding marijuana," the congressmen wrote. "We urge you to nominate a new director of ONDCP who will develop policies based on science rather than ideology and move away from the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana. The new director should promote fact-based education and use medical science and behavioral research to end the questionable practice of equating marijuana with dangerous drugs like heroin, crack, and methamphetamine."

The signatories are US Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Jared Polis (D-CO).

The congressmen noted that the position of drug czar has historically been filled by individuals with law enforcement backgrounds who have viewed drug policy as a matter of criminal enforcement rather than as a matter of public health -- regardless of the medical science and public research available. That needs to change, they said.

"We ask that you break from this tradition and nominate someone with a background in science," the letter said. "Particularly in light of the rapidly growing public support for marijuana legalization and broader drug policy reform, it would be a mistake for you to appoint someone who merely continues to prosecute the failed war on drugs."

Instead, they wrote, "the new director of ONDCP should promote scientific research into the benefits and risks of marijuana legalization and be guided by the results of those findings. He or she should take note of the growing movement at the state level to make marijuana legal for medical or personal use and help shape national policies based on the lessons learned in those states. At a minimum the new director should urge strict adherence to the recent DOJ guidelines regarding criminal enforcement in those states."

It has been nearly six weeks since Kerlikowske's pending resignation was announced, but there has so far been little hint of who the White House has in mind to replace him. The congressmen are suggesting that it's time to break the mold and head in a new direction.

Washington, DC
United States

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