UPDATE ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA
by Phillip Smith, July 11, 2012, 04:53pm, (Issue #742)
Last week’s middle of the week holiday made things fairly quiet on the medical marijuana front–at least until Wednesday–but it looks like Massachusetts voters will have a chance to join the ranks of the medical marijuana states in November, and other efforts are underway in some surprising places. Let’s get to it:
On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested possible post-election action on medical marijuana.”I’ve been very clear on the subject of medical marijuana over time, in committee and on the floor as leader,” Pelosi said to a roundtable of bloggers, Raw Story reported. “I think that it would be really important to do that,” she said. “It would be hard for anyone to agree with the fact that someone who has HIV/AIDS or has cancer and they find relief from pain in medicinal marijuana that should be something that should be a priority to raid on the part of the Justice Department. Going along with that, we need to address some of the penalties for any non-violent crimes that are out there.” Pelosi has previously attacked the Obama administration for the Justice Department’s campaign of raids and threats against California medical marijuana providers, but this is her strongest statement yet on the topic.
Last Thursday, petitioners handed in signatures for a medical marijuana initiative. The group Arkansans for Compassionate Care needs 62,507 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. They handed in 67,885 last Thursday. State election officials will do a “rough count” of the signatures to ensure that proponents have handed in at least the minimum number necessary to qualify for the ballot. While officials validate the signatures, proponents can continue to collect new signatures up to a 30 day deadline. They say they hope to gather another 40,000 or so just to be on the safe side.
Last Monday, petitioners for a Solana Beach dispensary initiative handed in signatures. The group Citizens for Patients’ Rights handed in 1,600 signatures, almost ensuring the measure will qualify for the ballot. They only need 807 valid signatures. Once the measure is qualified, the city council will vote on whether to enact it directly or put it to a vote of the people. The council must act by August 10 for the measure to make the November ballot. Proponents have formally requested a special election if that deadline is not met. The proposal would allow nonprofit dispensaries in the municipality of Solana Beach, providing they are in full compliance with the zoning, licensing and operating standards included in the initiative.
Last Thursday, an effort to recall Redding City Council members failed. Medical marijuana advocate Rob McDonald undertook the effort in response to the city’s ban on dispensaries, but came up far short of the 9,000 signatures needed to force a recall. Still, he said he was sending a message to politicians that their actions can have repercussions.
Last Saturday, Kern County’s Measure G restricting dispensaries went into effect. The voter-approved measure will regulate how and when dispensaries can operate. It will even limit what a pot shop can sell. Dispensaries in unincorporated parts of the county will have to be located in a heavy or light industrial area and can’t be within a mile of another dispensary, a church, school, or park. They can only be open from 10:00am to 8:00pm, and they can’t sell edibles, pipes, or other marijuana-related products. The measure will affect 26 dispensaries, but it’s not clear yet just how.
On Monday, Harborside Health Center announced it had been targeted for closure by federal prosecutors. Harborside is probably the largest dispensary on the planet and is well-respected locally, but had already been the target of the feds via an Internal Revenue Service investigation. This time, US Attorney Melinda Haag has threatened to seize the Harborside home base in Oakland as well as its sister store in San Jose. Employees found complaints taped to the front doors of the two locations Monday.
Also on Monday, Lake County supervisors adopted a compromise medical marijuana ordinance after a contentious day-long hearing before a crowd of hundreds. The ordinance is an interim measure while the county hammers out long-term rules. Growers responded in force to an earlier proposal for restrictive pot limits, developed in response to a spike in marijuana cultivation and complaints from non-growing residents about the stench from the plants, scary guard dogs and armed growers. The board compromised and loosened the restrictions. As adopted, the temporary ordinance allows up to six mature plants on parcels smaller than a half acre. The amount increases with the acreage and is capped at 48 plants for cooperatives with access to more than 40 acres.
On Tuesday, Yuba County supervisors suspended an ad hoc committee formed to discuss issues with medical marijuana growers. The move came after growers last week filed a lawsuit challenging the ordinance approved by supervisors earlier this year. Plaintiffs filed a civil complaint asking the ordinance to be thrown out, claiming, among other things, a lack of clarity on collective and cooperative grows could deny some users their prescriptions. The plaintiffs have also said they plan to file for a temporary injunction today in Yuba County Superior Court to prevent the ordinance from being enforced. Supervisors announced they had voted 5-0 during their closed session to refer the suit to outside counsel. Under the ordinance, medical marijuana cardholders are limited in how many plants they can grow by the size of the parcel on which they live, with additional requirements to shield the plants from public view.
Also on Tuesday, Americans for Safe Access filed a friend of the court brief in the Charlie Lynch case. Lynch ran the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers dispensary in Morro Bay that had support from local officials, but was raided by the DEA in 2007. He was convicted in federal court of marijuana trafficking and sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison in 2009. His appeal should get a hearing later this year.
Last week, two Colorado Springs dispensary operators filed a lawsuit against the state charging that the Department of Revenue has failed to clarify a key rule about when dispensaries can begin growing for patients. In the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Michael Kopta and Alvida Hillery, the plaintiffs ask that the department be ordered to clarify when in a patient’s state approval process designated caregivers can begin growing for them. Kopta and Hillery were arrested on marijuana cultivation charges earlier this year, but said they thought they were acting in accordance with the law.
Last Thursday, the Department of Health and Social Services began accepting applications for medical marijuana ID cards. The move came after the department finally finalized regulations for the program. While the regulations do not contain specific rules for dispensaries, there is space for them to be drafted in the future. Gov. Jack Markell (D) suspended implementation of the dispensary program after getting a threat letter from the US Attorney for Delaware, Charles Oberly III.
Last Thursday, a state senator said he would reintroduce a medical marijuana bill and name it in honor of longtime Kentucky hemp and marijuana activist Gatewood Galbraith, who died in January. Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) had introduced a similar bill last year. It went nowhere then, and Clark said he doesn’t expect much different next year.
Last Tuesday, a spokesman for the secretary of state said a medical marijuana initiative had qualified for the ballot. Advocates had earlier gathered 80,000 signatures, putting the issue before the legislature. When the legislature failed to act, advocates needed to gather an additional 11,000 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot. Sponsored by the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, the initiative allows patients with specified medical conditions “and other conditions” to possess up to a 60-day supply of marijuana. Patients or their caregivers would have to obtain their medicine from one of up to 35 non-profit dispensaries or “medical marijuana treatment centers” and would not be able to grow their own unless they qualified under a hardship provision. Patients, caregivers, and dispensaries would be registered with the state.
As of the end of June, medical marijuana patient numbers were stabilizing. The number of cardholders was at 8,681, down only slightly from 8,734 at the end of May. The numbers had been in a free-fall after peaking at 30,036 in June 2011. That month, the legislature essentially gutted the medical marijuana program, making it much more difficult to buy and sell it. Federal raids also played a role. The number of caregivers also declined slightly from 400 in May to 390 in June. That’s less than 10% of the number of caregivers in March 2011, when the figure stood at 4,848.
As of the end of June, the number of medical marijuana patients was increasing dramatically. The state Health Division reported that 3,430 held medical marijuana cards, up by nearly a third over last year. That number could go even higher if the legislature next year passes a bill to allow dispensaries to operate in the state.