Sharp Limits on L.A. MMJ Businesses Approved

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A ballot measure to sharply limit the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the Los Angeles was approved by voters Tuesday night. The measure won with 62% of the vote, according to the latest results.

Proposition D would reduce the number of pot shops in the city from about 700 now to about 130 by allowing only those that opened before the adoption of a failed 2007 city moratorium on new dispensaries to remain open. A rival initiative, Measure F, which would have allowed an unlimited number of dispensaries to operate, failed. Both measures would raise taxes on medical marijuana sales 20%.

Yami Bolanos, a Proposition D supporter who opened PureLife Alternative Wellness Center in 2006, cried with happiness as the first election results came in, saying she felt as though years of uncertainty about the future of medical marijuana in the city were coming to an end. “Voters had the heart to stand up for the patients like the city council never did,” Bolanos said.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, a cancer patient and medical marijuana user who backed Proposition D, said the measure “takes us out of chaos.” He said the dispensaries that have been in the city since 2007 have showed that they are good actors. “They have lived with us,” he said.

Backers of Measure F, which called for additional regulations on dispensaries such as city audits and tests of cannabis for toxins, said they weren’t ready to give up.

David Welch, an attorney who supported that measure, said he was prepared to sue if Proposition D was declared the winner. He said the proposition was unconstitutional because it favored dispensaries based on an arbitrary date. He also predicted that Proposition D would be difficult to enforce, saying that many shops that opened after 2007 probably would continue to operate until the city identifies them and orders them closed. “The city has no idea who qualifies and who doesn’t,” Welch said.

The contentious campaign over how to regulate medical marijuana shops divided the city’s dispensaries, employees and customers, as well as the city council.

Measure F supporters warned that Proposition D would create a monopoly for older shops and allow the rise of “pot superstores.” Backers of Proposition D, including a coalition of older shops and a labor union that has organized workers at many of them, cautioned that Measure F could lead to thousands of new dispensaries.

A third measure, Initiative Ordinance E, would have permitted only the older shops to remain open but without raising taxes. It was put on the ballot by a coalition of older shops and the dispensary employees union, but that coalition shifted its support to Proposition D after the city council voted to put that measure on the ballot.

The stakes were raised this month when the California Supreme Court upheld the right of cities to ban dispensaries.

Supporters of both initiatives warned that if voters failed to pass one of the ballot measures, the city would be left with no law regulating medical marijuana and might be tempted to enact a total ban.

The city council attempted such a ban last year, voting 14 to 0 to outlaw over-the-counter sales of marijuana while allowing small groups of patients to grow the drug for their own use. It reversed the action after the coalition of older dispensaries and union workers qualified a measure for the ballot that would have repealed the ban.

At least one city council member, Jose Huizar, has spoken of revisiting the ban now that cities have been given the authority to outlaw dispensaries.

L.A. has struggled for years to regulate dispensaries, in large part because of contradictory court rulings. The city is battling more than 60 lawsuits over its earlier attempts at regulation.

Los Angeles voters have generally supported the availability of medical marijuana.

In 1996, California became the first state to legalize the medicinal use of pot, although subsequent state laws failed to make explicit how the drug should be distributed. In 2011, L.A. voters approved a ballot measure to tax sales.

Still, a USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll conducted this month found strong support for more regulation of pot shops, with 61% of respondents saying they felt the city should regulate dispensaries more than it currently does. In contrast, 13% said the city should regulate less, and 19% said regulation should not change.

The poll also found that 54% of voters supported a 20% tax increase on medical marijuana sales and 33% opposed it.

Many voters confessed to confusion over the differences among the ballot measures. “The pot stuff was hard,” said Sue Maberry, 64, of Silver Lake. She voted yes on Measure F because she believed Proposition D would create a monopoly.

Early returns also suggested voters favored a measure aimed at overturning Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruling that corporations and unions have a 1st Amendment right to spend their money to influence voters.

The measure would “instruct” members of Congress from the Los Angeles area to support a constitutional amendment to change the law, although the lawmakers would not be bound by it.

Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Author: Kate Linthicum
Published: May 22, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Los Angeles Times
Contact: [email protected]

The Marijuana Measures

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The regulation of medical marijuana in Los Angeles is a mess and has been ever since Proposition 215 was approved by California voters in November 1996.

Repeated state and city efforts to bring the chaotic situation under control have had little effect. A move by the City Council in 2007 to register medical marijuana dispensaries, for instance, led instead to an unexpected proliferation. An attempt to limit them in 2010 drew 66 lawsuits and a court-ordered injunction. An ordinance to ban them outright in 2012 was quickly repealed after marijuana businesses gathered enough signatures for a referendum to overturn the measure. Court decisions designed to clarify the murky laws have instead contradicted one another.

Today, there are an estimated 850 dispensaries — or maybe it’s 1,000 or 1,600 (no one seems sure) — operating in Los Angeles despite the city’s position that they’re illegal. Everyone knows that medical marijuana can be easily obtained by recreational users who aren’t truly sick. The “medicine” is not monitored by the government for potential health or safety problems; the dispensaries, by many accounts, are not nonprofit “collectives,” as state law requires (although it’s not really clear what a nonprofit collective is or isn’t). Residents in some neighborhoods complain that they are being overrun by dispensaries, and that many pot shops serve as hubs for crime.

A mess, like we said. And on May 21, Angelenos will have the opportunity to muck it up even further, if they’re not careful. On the ballot will be not one or two but three competing marijuana initiatives: Measures D, E and F.

It would be easy enough to urge a no vote on all three, and to call on the city to impose a full-scale ban instead. After all, The Times opposed Proposition 215 from the outset, partly because it was sloppily written and partly because it set up an inevitable conflict with the federal government, which continues to classify marijuana as illegal and dangerous.

But voting no solves nothing. The people of Los Angeles, like the people of California, overwhelmingly support making medical marijuana available to cancer patients, glaucoma sufferers and others. A ban would be unlikely to pass, and besides, denying marijuana to truly sick patients who can benefit from it would be a step backward. Given that, and given that the status quo is entirely unacceptable, the city’s best hope is to try to carry out the will of the voters with minimal confusion and maximum control to ensure that medical marijuana remains accessible to those who need it.

Measure D will come the closest to accomplishing that goal, or at least will put us on the right road.

Most important, it would impose limits on the number of marijuana businesses in the city, allowing about 135 dispensaries to remain open — those that were operating and registered under city laws in 2007 and that sought to re-register in 2011. Limits are essential. Even people who support easy access to medical cannabis can see that there need to be rules and oversight, as with bars and liquor stores. But resources are limited, and the city can’t police an infinite number of establishments.

Measure D is backed by both mayoral candidates and the current city attorney and his challenger. It applies to any organization of four or more people who cultivate, process, distribute or give away medical marijuana. It hikes the gross receipts tax on their operations — to $60 per $1,000 of gross receipts — and establishes the distances they must keep from schools, parks, one another and residential neighborhoods. It sets hours — they must be closed between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. — prohibits the consumption of marijuana on the premises and requires background checks on managers, among other provisions.

It is far from perfect. For one thing, it is somewhat arbitrary. Why should a handful of dispensaries that got in under the wire in 2007 be the ones that now get to stay open? There’s no reason to think those particular establishments are more responsible than any other. For another, if it is passed, the city will be required to close hundreds of existing dispensaries, which could prove difficult, legally and practically. Here’s another thing: Measure D doesn’t create a process for a new dispensary to open when one of the 135 closes; that seems like an unfortunate oversight. And it would be far better if the measure could be amended or repealed by the City Council without requiring an additional vote of the people. But it cannot.

Still, Measure D is the best of the bunch.

Measure F, by contrast, sets no limits. It includes some strong rules and protections — in some cases stronger than those in D. But the city simply can’t sustain an unlimited number of dispensaries. Supporters of F say there would be de facto limits as a result of the requirements about how close dispensaries could be to schools, parks and one another, and that the final number would be in the hundreds. But what guarantee is there? Certainly nothing in the law.

As for Measure E — ignore it. That measure became moot after its supporters agreed to throw their support to Measure D.

No matter what you think of medical marijuana, it’s hard to deny that implementation of Proposition 215 has been unsuccessful. The Legislature and the state attorney general’s office were late to offer much-needed guidance. The federal government sent mixed messages about what it would or would not tolerate. The city of Los Angeles has flailed around, trying and failing to devise a workable set of rules.

Even if Measure D passes, there will still be no way to ensure that medical marijuana goes only to the sick people who are entitled to it, or that the product being sold is safe and untainted. Moreover, there will still be no resolution to the ongoing conflict between state and federal law. Perhaps one day the U.S. government will decide that marijuana should no longer be a Schedule I controlled substance, which means it has no medical use and is as dangerous as heroin. If that happens, perhaps the Food and Drug Administration will regulate it, doctors across the country will be able to prescribe it for patients they believe need it, and pharmacies will be able to provide it, just as they do with other medicines.

Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Published: May 10, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Los Angeles Times
Contact: [email protected]

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bans Upheld By High Court

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California Supreme Court Rules Cities and Counties Can Use Zoning to Ban Pot Shops

The state Supreme Court decisively ruled Monday that cities and counties have the right to ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within their territory, but leading activists say their fight for easy access is not over.

“This is pretty much the end of the road, unless the state Legislature changes how much it allows the city to regulate,” said J.  David Nick, who argued the dispensaries’ position in front of the high court and represents a few dispensaries in the Coachella Valley.  He does not anticipate any sort of appeal.  “You’re going to see some very specific legislation to address the decision of the court.”

The Supreme Court ruled 7-0 in favor of Riverside, which took the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center to court after it opened in defiance of that city’s ordinance banning dispensaries in 2009.

Since first filing a complaint the following year, Riverside has prevailed at the trial and appellate levels, but judges across the state have been handing down contradictory opinions on whether local governments could outlaw storefront dispensaries under California’s 1996 voter-approved medical marijuana act, the nation’s first.

The decision written by Justice Marvin.  R.  Baxter says nothing in the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 or the Medical Marijuana Program adopted by the state in 2004 overrode cities’ and counties’ zoning power, up to and including prohibition of storefront pot shops.

“Of course, nothing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach,” the 38-page opinion concluded.  “In the meantime, however, we must conclude that Riverside’s ordinances are not preempted by state law.” A concurring opinion was submitted by Justice Goodwin Liu.

Lanny Swerdlow of Whitewater has been a longtime medical marijuana activist in the Coachella Valley, and is the founder and a board member of the Inland Empire dispensary at the heart of the Supreme Court case.  He agreed the fight now must return to the public arena, particularly the Legislature.

“We’re going to have to get better organized and work with our legislators to get new bills passed, because the courts have told us that the collective idea the Legislature came up with isn’t going to work,” he said.

That process has already started, he said, with one bill putting medical marijuana regulation under the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Attorney Joseph Rhea, who represents open and closed dispensaries in Palm Springs, plus the shuttered Rancho Mirage Safe Access Wellness Center, said the open shops he represents will now close.

“I think the lawyers have done what they can here,” Rhea said.

Rancho Mirage City Attorney Steve Quintanilla said the ruling appears to reach beyond the issue of dispensaries by indicating there’s nothing in state law to stop cities from barring medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives, even if they distribute the drug to members without a storefront, as well as any kind of cultivation.

“I read the the part about collectives and thought, wow, they’re going farther than I thought,” he said.  “Then I saw the section about cultivation and said, ‘Oh my God, they’re going even farther.’ ” He would not advise any of his cities to go that far, he said.

Rancho Mirage was the Coachella Valley city most affected by the crossfire of conflicting opinion on the issue, with its dispensary ban ruled invalid by a Riverside County Superior Court judge in 2011.  The city appealed the ruling, which had been on hold since the Supreme Court first agreed to hear the Riverside case in January 2012.

Quintanilla, also the city attorney for Desert Hot Springs and deputy city attorney for Cathedral City, said the decision settles seven lawsuits pitting his cities against dispensaries trying to set up shop.

Palm Springs is the only city in Riverside County that allows limited dispensary operations.  It holds the cap for such businesses to three, with plans to offer a fourth permit on hold.

The Supreme Court decision validates its efforts to close down more than a dozen illegal shops over the past several months, said City Attorney Doug Holland.

Since December, the city has been trying to close those collectives operating without a license by issuing them notices and fines for thousands of dollars.

So far, 12 dispensaries have closed.  The city, though, is still battling with five operators – four of which have either preliminary or permanent injunction orders to close.  The city has a court hearing soon on the fifth dispensary.

“We feel very confident that, based on the Supreme Court decision, there’s no room for these dispensaries …  to argue that they have any right,” Holland said.

The argument used by illegal dispensaries is that state law – which allows the use of marijuana to people with a doctor’s prescription – pre-empts local law and gives them the ability to operate.

“The Supreme Court clearly said, ‘No, that’s not the case,’ ” Holland said.

The city will continue trying to close the remaining five, he said, which could eventually come to criminal charges if civil methods don’t work.

“Now we will also be looking at pushing our criminal remedies, which could be, in addition to fines, it could be jail time,” said Holland.

“These are guys that somehow seem to think they are above the law.  The Supreme Court says, ‘No, they are not,’ ” he said.

According to the website that shows dispensary locations across the valley, there are fewer dispensaries listed than a few months ago, but more delivery services.

The city is currently addressing only “bricks and mortar” operations, Holland said.

But he added that the district attorney and local law enforcement agencies could eventually decide to look at whether the delivery operations are being consistent with the Compassionate Use Act.

Julie Smith is a volunteer at C.C.O.C, one of the illegal dispensaries still open in Palm Springs.  She said she didn’t have a problem with the court’s ruling because the decision should be made by individual cities, maybe through a vote of the people.

But there’s already a shortage of legal dispensaries between local bans and federal crackdowns, she said, which has helped C.C.O.C.’s membership grow to about 3,000.

“We’ve got people coming in from Riverside, Blythe, Arizona, San Diego, because all the ones in San Diego are being shut down,” she said.

C.C.O.C., 650 S.  Oleander Road, is fighting Palm Springs’ efforts to close them down because “the city isn’t being responsible with how they’ve decided which stores do get the permit and those that don’t,” she said.

The city is choosing dispensaries in a way that lowers competition and increases prices, she said.

There is nothing in the court’s ruling stopping cities from allowing dispensaries to come in, and while the legal pressure has been on Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage recently, new slates of city council members have come in to cities farther east.

Indio Mayor Elaine Holmes said she’s never dealt with the issue in her 21/2 years on the council, though she remembers the issue being discussed in City Hall before she was elected.

Before taking a stand for or against allowing dispensaries in the city, “I’d have to see it on a case-by-case basis,” she said.  “I’d need to know about the location, and a lot of other things.  But I try to keep an open mind.”

Palm Desert Mayor Jan Harnik was elected to that city’s council at about the same time, after the city dealt with a dispensary on El Paseo.

“If anyone can show me how medical marijuana helps people who are really in pain, then I’m all for it,” she said.  “But in that case, it should be through a pharmacy.”

Marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, along with heroin and cocaine, makes that impossible.

Rick Pantele is a representative of C.A.P.S., one of the three legally permitted dispensaries in Palm Springs.  With the recent voter-approved legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, he foresees the drug being legal nationwide in the next five to 10 years.

The momentum is headed that way, he said, even in California, “but this doesn’t help that at all,” he said.

Desert Sun reporter Xochitl Pena contributed.

Source: Desert Dispatch, The (Victorville, CA)
Copyright: 2013 Freedom Communications, Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
Author: Blake Herzog

In California, It’s U.S. vs. State Over Marijuana

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Matthew R. Davies graduated from college with a master’s degree in business and a taste for enterprise, working in real estate, restaurants and mobile home parks before seizing on what he saw as uncharted territory with a vast potential for profits — medical marijuana.

He brought graduate-level business skills to a world decidedly operating in the shadows. He hired accountants, compliance lawyers, managers, a staff of 75 and a payroll firm. He paid California sales tax and filed for state and local business permits.

But in a case that highlights the growing clash between the federal government and those states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, the United States Justice Department indicted Mr. Davies six months ago on charges of cultivating marijuana, after raiding two dispensaries and a warehouse filled with nearly 2,000 marijuana plants.

The United States attorney for the Eastern District of California, Benjamin B. Wagner, a 2009 Obama appointee, wants Mr. Davies to agree to a plea that includes a mandatory minimum of five years in prison, calling the case a straightforward prosecution of “one of the most significant commercial marijuana traffickers to be prosecuted in this district.”

At the center of this federal-state collision is a round-faced 34-year-old father of two young girls. Displaying a sheaf of legal documents, Mr. Davies, who has no criminal record, insisted in an interview that he had meticulously followed California law in setting up a business in 2009 that generated $8 million in annual revenues. By all appearances, Mr. Davies’ dispensaries operated as openly as the local Krispy Kreme, albeit on decidedly more tremulous legal ground.

“To be looking at 15 years of our life, you couldn’t pay me enough to give that up,” Mr. Davies said at the dining room table in his two-story home along the San Joaquin River Delta, referring to the amount of time he could potentially serve in prison. “If I had believed for a minute this would happen, I would never have gotten into this.

“We thought, this is an industry in its infancy, it’s a heavy cash business, it’s basically being used by people who use it to cloak illegal activity. Nobody was doing it the right way. We thought we could make a model of how this should be done.”

His lawyers appealed this month to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to halt what they suggested was a prosecution at odds with Justice Department policies to avoid prosecutions of medical marijuana users and with President Obama’s statement that the government has “bigger fish to fry” than recreational marijuana users.

“Does this mean that the federal government will be prosecuting individuals throughout California, Washington, Colorado and elsewhere who comply with state law permitting marijuana use, or is the Davies case merely a rogue prosecutor out of step with administration and department policy?” asked Elliot R. Peters, one of his lawyers.

“This is not a case of an illicit drug ring under the guise of medical marijuana,” Mr. Peters wrote. “Here, marijuana was provided to qualified adult patients with a medical recommendation from a licensed physician. Records were kept, proceeds were tracked, payroll and sales taxes were duly paid.”

Mr. Holder’s aides declined to comment, referring a reporter to a letter from Mr. Wagner to Mr. Davies’s lawyers in which he disputed the depiction of the defendant as anything other than a major-league drug trafficker.

“Mr. Davies was not a seriously ill user of marijuana nor was he a medical caregiver — he was the major player in a very significant commercial operation that sought to make large profits from the cultivation and sale of marijuana,” the letter said. Mr. Wagner said that prosecuting such people “remains a core priority of the department.”

The case illustrates the struggle states and the federal government are now facing as they seek to deal with the changing contours of marijuana laws and public attitudes toward the drug. Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use last year, and are among the 18 states, and the District of Columbia, that currently allow its medical use.

Two of Mr. Davies’s co-defendants are pleading guilty, agreeing to five-year minimum terms, to avoid stiffer sentences. Mr. Davies, while saying he did not “want to be a martyr,” decided to challenge the indictment with a combination of legal and public-relations measures, setting up a Web site devoted to his case and hiring Chris Lehane, a hard-hitting political consultant and former senior aide in Bill Clinton’s White House.

Among Mr. Davies’s advocates here in California are Paul I. Bonell, who was the president of the Premier Credit Union for 21 years before Mr. Davies hired him in early 2011 to oversee his businesses’ fiscal controls. After the businesses were raided in October that year, Mr. Bonell took a position as the head of the Lodi Boys and Girls Club.

“I had some reservations going in,” he said of Mr. Davies’s enterprise. “But the industry was exploding. Matt wanted to have internal controls in place. And we thought: This was a legitimate business. If the State of California deems it legitimate, we want to be the best at it.”

Mr. Davies’s accountant, David M. Silva, said he set up spreadsheets to keep track of inventories, revenues and expenses. “I’ve been a C.P.A. for 30 years,” Mr. Silva said. “What I saw was a guy who was trying to run an operation in an up-and-up way.”

The federal authorities said they stumbled across the operation after two men were spotted apparently breaking into Mr. Davies’s 30,000-square-foot Stockton warehouse. The police said they smelled marijuana plants. Federal agents conducted a raid and confiscated 1,962 plants and 200 pounds of marijuana.

Mr. Davies, who is free on $100,000 bail, greeted visitors to his gated home by asking them to speak softly while walking through the entryway so as not to awaken his sleeping infant. He called out to his wife when asked when he was indicted: “Hey, Molly — we were indicted on your birthday, right? July 18.”

Mr. Davies referred to marijuana as “medicine,” and himself as a turnaround expert.

“We were basically pharmacists for medical marijuana — everything was in full compliance with state law,” he said. “We paid our employees. We paid overtime. We had people going for unemployment if we fired them.”

“Why are they coming after me?” he asked. “If they have such a problem with California, why can’t they sue California?”

Stephanie Horton, 25, who went to work for Mr. Davies after going to one of his dispensaries to obtain medical marijuana to help her deal with ovarian and cervical cancer, said she was devastated by the arrest of employers she described as among the best she had ever had — not to mention the loss of her job.

“I’d go back and work there in a heartbeat,” Ms. Horton said. “I totally trusted them. We’re not criminals. I’ve never been arrested my whole life. I need that medication, and so do a whole lot of people.”

But federal prosecutors offered a much less sympathetic view of Mr. Davies. The authorities shut down the warehouse and two dispensaries but said that Mr. Davies had ties to a total of seven dispensaries in the region, which they said yielded $500,000 in annual profits. Mr. Davies’s lawyers disputed those assertions.

“Mr. Davies is being prosecuted for serious felony offenses,” Mr. Wagner wrote to Mr. Davies’s lawyers. “I understand he is facing unpleasant alternatives. Neither a meeting with me nor seeking a review in Washington will change that reality.”

This is as much a legal clash as a cultural clash. Recreational marijuana use is common across this state, and without the legal stigma attached to it in much of the country. The federal government is viewed as a distant force.

“It’s mind-boggling that there were hundreds of attorneys advising their clients that it was O.K. to do this, only to be bushwhacked by a federal system that most people in California are not even paying attention to,” said William J. Portanova, a former federal drug prosecutor and a lawyer for one of Mr. Davies’s co-defendants. “It’s tragic.”

A version of this article appeared in print on January 14, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: In California, It’s U.S. vs. State Over Marijuana.

Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: Adam Nagourney
Published: January 14, 2013
Copyright: 2013 The New York Times Company
Contact: [email protected]

L.A. To Repeal Ban on Medical Marijuana Shops

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The Los Angeles City Council voted to rescind a newly enacted ban on storefront medical marijuana shops on Tuesday, allowing the city to avoid a referendum next year that some officials said would likely succeed in reversing the prohibition.

The council, in a blow to an industry that operates in violation of federal law, voted in July to ban pot dispensaries and replace them with a system that would allow up to three patients to collectively grow marijuana.

But medical marijuana advocates collected in August the necessary 27,425 valid signatures to put the decision to a March 2013 referendum. Under city rules, that number of signatures – 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the city’s last mayoral election – put the ban on hold until the vote.

The backtracking comes a week after federal authorities moved to close about 70 such dispensaries in the city in a renewed effort to crack down on the operations through the use of asset-forfeiture lawsuits and warning letters.

“Legally it appears that almost nothing we do is a surefire approach,” City Councilman Paul Koretz said during the meeting on Tuesday.

“But I think the surefire least positive approach is to have a ban, but have it on hold … have it fail in March and basically be back where we started,” said Koretz, who voted in favor of repeal.

Pot remains illegal under federal law, but 17 states and the District of Columbia allow it as medicine. Los Angeles has between about 500 and 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries, more than any other city in the nation.

Medical marijuana in California, which in 1996 became the first state to allow it, is used to treat everything from cancer to anxiety, and many police officials complain recreational users are taking advantage of the system.

The Los Angeles City Council’s decision to repeal the dispensary ban must return for a second vote next week because the 11-2 vote was not a unanimous one.

Separately, the council approved a resolution asking the state Legislature to give municipalities clear guidelines on how to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana.

Councilman Mitchell Englander complained that many badly run dispensaries in the city have “ruined it” for a minority of storefronts that are truly helping patients.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has cancer and diabetes and has taken medical marijuana, made an impassioned plea during the meeting for allowing a limited number of dispensaries.

“Where does anybody go, even a councilman go, to get his medical marijuana?,” Rosendahl said in a hoarse voice, moments after revealing that doctors told him he might not have “much time to live.”

Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Todd Eastham and Cynthia Johnston

Source: Reuters (Wire)
Author: Alex Dobuzinskis, Reuters
Published: October 2, 2012
Copyright: 2012 Thomson Reuters

Will Obama, Romney Clarify Their Positions on Medical Marijuana in Colorado Election Debate?

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Tags: marijuana legalization, obama on medical marijuana, presidential debates, romney on medical marijuana

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney will face off on live television in the first of several debates that could shape the upcoming election.

Medical marijuana professionals should tune in: The candidates will most certainly field questions about MMJ and cannabis legalization in general, given that the debate will be held in Denver.

Colorado has one of the largest medical marijuana industry’s in the country, home to more than 1,000 dispensaries, grow sites and infused-product manufacturers.  It also has a measure on the ballot this November asking voters to legalize the general use of marijuana.

Additionally, the debate is focused on domestic policy and will be held at a university, so you can bet that medical cannabis will be a particularly big topic.

The biggest question going into the debates, however, is will either candidate actually shed any new light on their vague positions regarding medical marijuana and cannabis legalization?

It’s possible but doubtful. Both Obama and Romney have been asked countless times about MMJ, and in most cases they sidestep the question or offer vague answers. In an interview Monday with the Denver Post, Romney said he opposes “marijuana being used for recreational purposes and I believe the federal law should prohibit the recreational use of marijuana.” But he didn’t directly address medical marijuana, though a campaign spokesman told the Washington Post today that Romney is against MMJ legalization.

Obama has been similarly vague about medical marijuana in recent interviews, and the current MMJ crackdown under his administration is uneven and unpredictable.

Both presidents, however, seem to be against the idea of general marijuana legalization. Romney has made it crystal clear that he would not allow that to happen under his watch. Obama, while less assertive on the issue, has indicated he doesn’t think it’s the proper path for the country to take. It unclear how the presidents would respond if an individual states such as Colorado legalizes cannabis use.

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Veteran Pot Growers See Their Way of Life Ending

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In the mountains of Mendocino County, a middle-aged couple stroll into the cool morning air to plant the year’s crop. Andrew grabs a shovel and begins to dig up rich black garden beds while Anna waters the seedlings, beginning a hallowed annual ritual here in marijuana’s Emerald Triangle.

In the past, planting day was a time of great expectations, maybe for a vacation in Hawaii or Mexico during the rainy months or a new motor home to make deliveries around the country.

But this year, Andrew and Anna are hoping only that their 50 or so marijuana plants will cover the bills. Since the mid-1990s, the price of outdoor-grown marijuana has plummeted from more than $5,000 a pound to less than $2,000, and even as low as $800.

Battered by competition from indoor cultivators around the state and industrial-size operations that have invaded the North Coast counties, many of the small-time pot farmers who created the Emerald Triangle fear that their way of life of the last 40 years is coming to an end.

Their once-quiet communities, with their back-to-nature ethos, are being overrun by outsiders carving massive farms out of the forest. Robberies are commonplace now, and the mountains reverberate with the sounds of chain saws and heavy equipment.

“Every night we hear helicopters now,” Anna said. “It’s people moving big greenhouses and generators into the mountains.”

Andrew, 56, and Anna, 52, who agreed to be interviewed only if they would be identified by their middle names, live in a rambling house down a trail through tanoaks and Douglas firs. Their electricity comes from a windmill and solar panels, their water from a spring. They cook on a wood stove and use an outhouse with a composting toilet to conserve water for their crop.

Though they are not complete back-to-the-landers — they have a nice car, satellite TV and Internet access — they keep their gardens relatively small, tucked in the trees throughout their property.

Among their plants, they post their own medical marijuana cards so that if they’re raided, it looks as though they’re growing under the aegis of state law. But because dispensaries generally prefer the more potent weed grown indoors, they still sell mostly to the black market, where mom-and-pop growers now struggle to compete.

“These big commercial growers have really ruined our business,” Anna said.

Until recently, life in the hills of Mendocino and Humboldt counties had changed little in the decades since hippies from the Bay Area began homesteading here. The pioneers initially grew marijuana for themselves and to make a little money.

Then in the 1980s, cultivation of high-grade seedless marijuana opened the possibility for big money as it brought a higher premium. Many of the farmers cashed in. But many remained small and discreet to avoid attracting the attention of state and federal agents.

They raised their families where they cultivated. They drove beat-up Subarus and small Toyota pickups, pumped their water from wells and chopped their own firewood.

The mountain hamlets operated like breakaway states. Marijuana farmers paid for community centers, fire departments, road maintenance and elementary schools.

Even today, small cannabis-funded volunteer fire stations and primary schools are scattered throughout the ranges. And the local radio station, KMUD, announces the sheriff’s deputies’ movements as part of its public service mandate.

But the liberalization of marijuana laws in the last decade upended the status quo.

From Oakland to the Inland Empire, people began cultivating indoors on an unprecedented scale at the same time that growers from around the world flooded the North Coast because of its remoteness and deep-rooted counterculture.

Now, with the market glutted, people are simply planting ever-larger crops to make up for the drop in price.

Longtime residents complain that the newcomers cut down trees, grade hillsides, divert creeks to irrigate multi-thousand-plant crops, use heavy pesticides and rat poisons, and run giant, smog-belching diesel generators to illuminate indoor grows. They blaze around in Dodge monster trucks and Cadillac Escalades and don’t contribute to upkeep of the roads or schools.

“They just don’t care,” said Kym Kemp, a teacher and blogger in the mountains of Sohum, as locals call southern Humboldt County. “They’re not thinking, ‘I want my kids to grow up here.’

“Now there are greenhouses the size of a football field that weren’t even there last year,” she added.

Kemp said she feels her region is being colonized and worries about the colorful, off-the-grid people that small cannabis patches long supported.

“So many people who live here are just different,” she said. “They don’t fit in regular society. They couldn’t work 9-to-5 jobs. But they’ve gotten used to raising their kids on middle-class incomes. What are they going to do?”

Tom Evans, 61, a small-time grower in northern Mendocino, said the sense of peace and self-reliance he moved here for 30 years ago is disappearing so fast that he may leave for Mexico.

“It used to be a contest to see who could drive the oldest pickup truck,” said Evans, a former Army helicopter mechanic who sports a woolly gray beard and tie-dyed shirt. “There’s just been this huge influx of folks who have money on their mind, instead of love of the land. A lot more gun-toters. A lot more attack dogs.”

Evans lives in a small rented home that generously could be called a fixer-upper. He said he doesn’t have a bank account or credit card, and his Honda Passport has more than 300,000 miles. “It’s ‘make a living, not a killing,’” he said.

His friend, a bear of man who goes by the name Mr. Fuzzy, noted that it’s not only outsiders causing problems.

“You know the weird part, these are our kids too,” he said.

It’s a recurring lament among longtime growers. Some of their own children are going for the large-scale grows, big money and fancy cars.

The larger irony is that the marijuana pioneers are being pushed to the margins by the legalization they long espoused.

“Ultimately we worry about Winston or Marlboro getting some land and doing their thing,” said Lawrence Ringo, a 55-year-old grower and seed breeder deep in the wilds of Sohum. “We see it time after time in America — big corporations come in and take over.”

Ringo saw the 2010 marijuana initiative, Proposition 19, as a ploy by Bay Area activists to dominate the market with giant warehouse grows in Oakland.

He suspects plenty of people will still want high-quality, organically grown cannabis but fears the big business interests will dictate how marijuana gets regulated. Ringo points out that Colorado, the one state that fully regulates marijuana, helped push most growing indoors and place cultivation under the control of large dispensaries.

“We’re afraid of losing what we’ve been doing for 40 years,” he said.

As competition drives prices down, even chamber of commerce types acknowledge that the North Coast economy is at risk. Pot kept things afloat as the logging and fishing industries declined. Restaurants, car dealerships, banks, hotels and dental clinics all depend on marijuana money.

“There’s probably not one business that doesn’t benefit,” said Julie Fulkerson, who founded a home furnishings store and comes from a prominent third-generation Humboldt family.

Walk into the upscale Cecil’s New Orleans Bistro in small-town Garberville and you’ll find growers in dirty T-shirts unpeeling rolls of $20 bills to pay for martinis and $38 steaks. More soil supply and hydroponics shops line stretches of Highway 101 than gas stations, and trucks laden with bags of soil and fertilizer kick up dust as they make deliveries on the most isolated roads.

During harvest, hardware stores put out huge bins of Fiskars pruning scissors, the preferred tool for marijuana trimmers. Safeway stocks so many turkey bags that an outsider might wonder how such small locales could consume so many birds. The sealable, smell-proof bags are used for storing and transporting weed.

“I wouldn’t survive … if it wasn’t for growing,” said Tom Ochner, 54, who runs a country store and rental cabins outside of Covelo — a business called the Black Butte River Ranch. “Owners realize this is what makes their business go.”

Concerned about the economics of legalization, Humboldt banker Jennifer Budwig studied the amount of pot money entering the local economy.

Using an extremely high estimate that law enforcement seized 25% of the total amount of pot grown in Humboldt, she found that the crop generated at least $1 billion a year — of which $415 million was spent in the county. She said the actual figure could be several times higher.

Legalization “has the potential to be devastating,” she said.

Some small growers, like Anna and Andrew, still hold out hope that they can beat back the deluge of industrial marijuana.

There’s a market, they say, for sun-grown weed among discerning users who appreciate the nuances of regional variety.

A grower just down the road said he hoped to start promoting “Mendocino terroir.”

“How can sun-grown not be better medicine?” Anna asked. “If you’re sick, you want something that has chemicals in it? You can’t grow indoor organically. Not to mention the fossil fuels it burns up.”

But even if boutique weed has some potential, the couple still sense that their life in the mountains is changing for good. The next-door neighbor recently had a home-invasion robbery, and a young man down the road was shot in the face during a deal.

Andrew goes back to planting the new crop. He used to have the radio on all day — something to engage his mind during the tedious work.

He doesn’t anymore.

He keeps it quiet, listening for intruders.

Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Author: Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times
Published: September 30, 2012
Copyright: 2012 Los Angeles Times
Contact: [email protected]

Congresswoman Barbara Lee Sponsors Legislation

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California Rep. Barbara Lee won’t be spooked by the Justice Department’s aggressive curtailing of medical marijuana dispensaries in her own backyard.

Lee, a top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, introduced the States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act in Congress this week, which she says would curb the Obama Administration’s efforts to intimidate state medical marijuana dispensaries from setting up shop.

“The people of California have made it legal for patients to have safe access to medicinal marijuana and as a result thousands of small business owners have invested millions of dollars in building their companies, creating jobs, and paying their taxes,” Lee says. “We should be protecting and implementing the will of voters, not undermining our democracy by prosecuting small business owners who pay taxes and comply with the laws of their states in providing medicine to patients in need.”

The bill will make it illegal for the federal government to seize the assets of medical marijuana business owners, a tactic DOJ has begun using to crack down on pot shops. While DOJ rarely takes legal action against businesses that comply with their local and state laws, Americans for Safe Access, a group that is committed to legalizing medical marijuana says the threat alone has been enough to scare roughly 400 medical marijuana dispensaries in the state of California to close their doors.

The Justice Department has sent roughly 300 letters to landlords in California and Colorado threatening to file lawsuits if they don’t stop operating dispensaries.

“For the price of postage, the Justice Department gets to threaten an entire population of property owners and it is a very effective tactic,” says Kris Hermes, a spokesman with Americans for Safe Access.

Lee announced her legislation just weeks after U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed a lawsuit against Oakland and San Jose, Calif.-based medical marijuana dispensary Harborside Health Clinic. Haag argues the clinics, which serve about 100,000 medical marijuana users, could be violating local laws because of the number of patients they provide pot to.

“The larger the operation, the greater likelihood that there will be abuse of the state’s medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need,” Haag said in a statement.

The asset forfeiture lawsuit caused an uproar in the community, with thousands of signatures gathered for an anti-lawsuit petition drive, protests, and political rallies.

“They won’t stop until they have closed every single regulated law-abiding dispensary in California unless people rise up and say enough is enough,” says Steve DeAngelo, the executive director at Harborside Health Clinic. But DeAngelo says it wasn’t always this way.

The federal government’s dogged pursuit of medical marijuana dispensaries has escalated since 2009. On the campaign trail and at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s time in office, medical marijuana seemed low on the administration’s priority list.

“I think the basic concept of using medical marijuana for the same purposes and with the same controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors, I think that’s entirely appropriate,” Obama said in the Spring of 2008 during an interview with Oregon Newspaper, the Mail Tribune. “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.”

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws and Americans for Safe Access estimates the Justice Department has carried out roughly 200 raids on dispensaries or growing facilities in nine states.

Hermes fears if the lawsuits persist, patients who need medical cannabis could be forced into the unregulated drug market. “[Rep. Lee’s] law would take the wind out of the sails of the Justice Department to intimidate dispensaries who are serving patients in need,” Hermes says.

Source: U.S. News & World Report (US)
Author: Lauren Fox
Published: August 3, 2012
Copyright: 2012 U.S. News & World Report

L.A.’s Medical Marijuana Mess

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The Los Angeles City Council is plainly out of its depth when it comes to regulating medical marijuana. This was already clear after years of fumbling and court-delayed attempts to limit the number or locations of cannabis dispensaries, but it became painfully obvious Tuesday when the council approved a ban on all dispensaries — along with a separate motion to draft an ordinance that would allow well-established pot shops to stay open, partially defeating the council’s own purpose.

Not that we can really blame the council for being confused. We’re confused about how to legally restrict a quasi-legal business too. For that matter, so is the entire state of California. And that’s causing even bigger problems than usual as the federal government, which considers marijuana an illegal drug, has begun a series of raids on California pot outlets.

Is L.A.’s new ban even legal? There’s no clear answer to that question, but a recent court ruling suggests that it isn’t. After Los Angeles County imposed a blanket ban on pot distribution in unincorporated areas in December 2010, it was challenged by a Covina collective, which won a key victory this month in the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal. Writing for the three-justice panel, Justice Robert Mallano said the county’s ban was preempted by state law and contradicted the intent of the Legislature.

Of course, it isn’t that simple. The Los Angeles County ban would have closed all distribution outlets, whereas the city of L.A.’s ban would allow small collectives with three or fewer members to stay open. The city’s lawyers say that key difference should persuade the courts to approve L.A.’s “gentle ban,” and as ammunition they point to a separate ruling by a different 2nd District Court justice that suggested the city’s approach would neither constitute a true ban nor violate state law.

If thinking about all that isn’t enough to give you a migraine — which, on the plus side, is enough justification to get a medical recommendation for a dose of cannabis in California — there is the added complication that could arise if the City Council goes ahead with the separate ordinance to allow certain dispensaries to stay open. Specifically, Councilman Paul Koretz called Tuesday for staff to draw up a draft that would grant immunity from the ban to those facilities that were in place before a 2007 city moratorium on new dispensaries was approved. This brings up unhappy memories of L.A.’s years-long attempts to regulate billboards, when strict regulatory ordinances were undermined by council members carving out exemptions for certain signs in their districts. Courts tend to take a dim view of that kind of favoritism.

So let’s review: L.A. has banned all but the tiniest marijuana collectives. When it attempts to enforce this ban, it will be sued. Action will be delayed for months, or quite possibly until the state Supreme Court weighs in on a series of marijuana cases next year. Mission accomplished?

Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Published: July 26, 2012
Copyright: 2012 Los Angeles Times
Contact: [email protected]

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