MJ News for 07/16/2014


Jul 25, 2008
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Decriminalization arrives, and D.C. police prepare for sea change in marijuana laws

On Wednesday, a D.C. cop who catches someone carrying a small amount of marijuana is required to launch his suspect on an onerous journey through the criminal justice system — one likely to involve handcuffs, fingerprinting and forensic analysis.

On Thursday, that same cop will face the simpler task of pulling out a ticket book and checking a box: Littering, or possession of marijuana?

A lengthy civic debate over how best to handle the most minor of drug offenses culminates at midnight Wednesday when a marijuana decriminalization law passed by the D.C. Council this spring completes a 60-day congressional review period and takes effect.

The advent of the new law, spurred by reports of stark racial disparities in marijuana arrest statistics, means a sea change in how police handle one of the most common violations they encounter. Under new orders set to take effect Thursday, police can no longer take action upon simply smelling the odor of marijuana. Nor can they demand that a person found in possession of up to one ounce produce identification.

Those found with larger amounts or caught using marijuana in public places can still be arrested and charged with a crime, but otherwise officers who catch someone carrying weed will be required to simply confiscate any visible contraband and write a ticket carrying a $25 fine.

Street cops are likely to be uneasy with the changes, said Delroy Burton, chairman of the D.C. police union, even though the department has circulated a lengthy special order and created a video guide on how to make arrests.

Burton criticized the new law as too vague and confusing to officers on the street, and he said those tasked with enforcing it had little input into its formation.

“This is not a simple issue,” he said. “It’s about enforcement and decriminalization and where you draw the line of what officers can do and cannot do. Our officers are going to have to go out there and enforce a convoluted mess.”

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has said in the past that she does not believe the new law will impact officers clearing street corners or confronting suspicious people.

In a statement, police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump sought to combat a misconception among District residents that possession and use of marijuana has been legalized. “This is absolutely not true,” the statement said.

The department has prepared wallet-size cards laying out key facts about the new law, and information will also be posted starting Thursday at www.mpdc.dc.gov/marijuana.

Among the vagaries of decriminalization is that federal law enforcement agencies such as the U.S. Park Police, Secret Service and Capitol Police may still arrest anyone carrying any amount of marijuana under federal drug statutes. Those offenses would be presented to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District for prosecution.

D.C. police, who have historically made the vast majority of marijuana arrests, will abide by the new local law. Civil violations will be adjudicated by the city’s Office of Administrative Hearings, while misdemeanor crimes such as smoking marijuana in public will be prosecuted by the D.C. attorney general. More serious felony drug crimes will remain in the hands of federal prosecutors.

Burton said the most confusing part of the new rules concerns when an officer can search or arrest someone on a marijuana charge.

The new order says that the odor of marijuana does not constitute a “reasonable articulable suspicion” that the law has been violated. An officer must have evidence that a person has more than one ounce of the drug. And an officer cannot assume a person has a larger amount just because he or she is holding “multiple containers” of the drug.

But the order states that none of those restrictions apply to car stops when police are “investigating whether a person is operating or in physical control of a vehicle” while intoxicated or impaired by drugs.

Burton said these rules create an almost impossible burden on how an officer approaches and investigates a suspected drug violation. He said it seemingly would mean an officer cannot investigate an odor of marijuana during a car stop for speeding or running a red light. To be safe, he said, officers “are probably going to ignore” possible drug infractions.

D.C. police said the department has shared its officer-training materials with prosecutors and the D.C. Housing Authority. That training, the department said, is required for any officer making a marijuana arrest starting Thursday.

Civil violation notices that police already hand out for littering have been amended to include possession of marijuana and note the $25 fine. Possession of one ounce of the drug will cost a miscreant less than the fine for throwing a butt on the ground — $75 for littering.

Under the new order, an officer is allowed to issue only a warning if he or she “feels it to be in best interest of justice.”

While the decriminalization law is certain to take effect Thursday, the long-term prospects for the city’s marijuana laws remain unsettled. Congressional Republicans have sought to intervene, adding language meant to overturn the new law to a spending bill that is expected to pass the House on Wednesday. But Democrats are unlikely to go along in budget negotiations, which in any case could be months down the road.

Meanwhile, advocates for the outright legalization of marijuana are seeking to have D.C. residents vote on the question in November — and, according to recent polling, their initiative is likely to be successful should it qualify for the ballot.


Jul 25, 2008
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Even Republicans Support Colorado's Marijuana Legalization Law

Americans across party lines say they support Colorado's marijuana legalization law, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds. And the poll results show the majority of Americans think efforts to enforce current marijuana laws are not worth the cost.

In the poll, 61 percent of Americans said they support the Colorado law, which, as the poll described it, "makes recreational marijuana use legal but applies a heavy tax on marijuana sales, limits the sale of marijuana only to people 21 years old or older, and makes it illegal to take marijuana out of state." Twenty-seven percent oppose it.

Sixty-eight percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans said they support that law.

Support for the Colorado law crosses party lines despite the fact that a political divide appeared in response to a more general legalization question: "Do you think the use of marijuana should be legalized?" In response to that question, 51 percent of Americans said they think marijuana should be legal, while 37 percent said it should not be legalized. Sixty-two percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents, but only 36 percent of Republicans, said marijuana should be legalized.

But the poll found other signs that even Republicans aren't entirely on board with efforts to keep marijuana illegal. Sixty percent of Americans, including 60 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans, agreed with the statement that "government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth." Only 18 percent overall disagreed.

And by a 54 percent to 29 percent margin, a majority of respondents said they don't think the federal government should continue to enforce its own marijuana laws in states that have made the drug legal. Fifty-five percent of Democrats, 56 percent of independents and a 49 percent plurality of Republicans agreed.

Americans aren't that concerned about some of the major reasons cited in the past for keeping marijuana illegal, the poll shows. Only 32 percent of respondents said they think marijuana use leads to the use of harder drugs, while 50 percent said it does not. And 54 percent of respondents disagreed with the idea that legalizing marijuana will increase other types of crime.

On the other hand, Americans are divided over whether marijuana legalization might decrease road safety, with 38 percent agreeing and 39 percent disagreeing with that statement. And 53 percent of Americans think marijuana legalization would increase or encourage marijuana use among young people.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted July 11-14 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here.


Jul 25, 2008
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L.A. marijuana farmers market ordered to temporarily shut down

armers market for medical marijuana users has been temporarily shut down after an L.A. County Superior Court judge agreed to halt operation of the Boyle Heights cannabis marketplace.

The judge’s ruling Tuesday grants a temporary restraining order filed by Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer, who sought to stop the California Heritage Market operations because he said it didn’t comply with the city's law for marijuana dispensaries.

Voters passed Proposition D last year, which established legal parameters where marijuana dispensaries could do business.

The ruling, Feuer said, supports the “spirit and the letter of Proposition D.”

“The bottom line is that we argued successfully that this so-called farmers market was an attempt to make an end-run around the will of the people when they voted to put Proposition D in place,” Feuer said. “The court saw through this subterfuge.”

The order would restrict the market’s operators from setting up booths and advertising it, according to the city’s injunction. Police and fire must also be granted access to the site.

“The court was very clear: There could be no multiple vendors selling at this site, only bona fide employees,” Feuer said.

The market, which opened over Fourth of July weekend, was held in a warehouse directly behind the West Coast Collective dispensary in an industrial zone in Boyle Heights.

The following weekend, the market reopened again.

Proposition D, Feuer said, does not allow multiple, independent vendors to sell on one site.

“That’s essentially what this business model was,” Feuer said.

But attorney David Welch, who represents the Progressive Horizon collective, said Feuer’s argument doesn’t make sense.

He said a farmers market is no different from a dispensary in that they both sell goods from a variety of vendors.

“Their arguments are basically a misunderstanding on how this business operates,” he said.

The city’s actions, Welch said, were essentially proving that “you can’t actually open a marijuana dispensary” in Los Angeles.

A hearing is scheduled Aug. 6 to determine whether the market will be permanently closed.


Jul 25, 2008
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Illinois patients could start buying medical pot by spring

State lawmakers have set final rules to allow medical marijuana in Illinois, opening the door for patients to apply for ID cards this fall and to start purchasing legal cannabis by next spring.

Those hoping to get in on the new industry, though, cautioned that several significant hurdles remain before marijuana is available to patients: State regulators must choose which businesses will get licenses to grow and sell pot, and must set up a laboratory and procedures to test the drug for safety. And then there’s the matter of figuring out how to start growing a crop that has been illegal for decades.

Bryan Willmer, an owner of Grand Prairie Farms in Frankfort who hopes to open a dispensary and cultivation centers in Will, Kankakee and Champaign counties, said entrepreneurs are hoping state officials will specify how to get seeds.

Washington marijuana shops now open: 'It's like a candy store'

“I guess they should fall from the sky,” he joked.

State officials said Tuesday they will try to clarify that issue. In addition, the Illinois Department of Agriculture is converting one of its labs into a testing center, where pot can be checked for potency, mold and pesticides so consumers know what they are getting, said Bob Morgan, coordinator of the state program.

But first — hopefully within 30 days, he said — regulators will draw up criteria that will be used to score business applications to decide who will be awarded licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana. The state intends to approve up to 21 cultivation centers and 60 retail stores spread around Illinois, based on issues like security, patient education and expertise in growing crops, Morgan said.

Officials said Illinois has the strictest rules among the 23 states that have approved medical marijuana in recent years, including, just this month, New York. Rather than allowing pot to be used to treat broad conditions such as pain, as done in other states, Illinois will require that patients get their doctor to certify that they one of three dozen specific debilitating conditions, such as cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis.

Patient advocates said Illinois is the only state to require fingerprints for criminal background checks not only for industry owners and workers but for patients. But proponents welcomed Tuesday’s approval of regulations by the Illinois Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules as a key step in the process governing how pot will be grown, sold and used.

Entrepreneurs should be able to apply by September for licenses to grow and sell pot. Patients with last names beginning with the letters A through L may apply for ID cards to buy pot in September and October, officials said, while the remainder may apply in November and December.

Since it generally takes at least four months to grow a crop of marijuana, and time to develop a site, officials said they expect it will be spring before the drug is available.

Despite the wait, state Rep. Lou Lang, the leading public proponent of the measure, said medical marijuana will “improve the lives of many people in the state of Illinois — people who are using this product now illegally …and people who have not been using the product.”

While limited research has supported some patients’ claims that marijuana relieves pain, tremors and nausea, with fewer serious side effects than many prescription drugs, other research has shown that smoking it is harmful to the lungs and can cause brain damage. The American Medical Association opposes legalization of marijuana but calls for further study of its effects.

Federal law still classifies pot with the most dangerous and addictive illegal drugs with no accepted medical use, like heroin and LSD, while addictive narcotics like morphine are legal by prescription. The Illinois law doesn’t override federal law, but federal prosecutors have indicated they will not focus on individuals who are following state laws.

While marijuana advocates applauded Illinois’ progress on the issue, some have also criticized the required business fees as too high and worry they will be passed on to customers and cause businesses to fail.

Cultivation centers will have to pay $200,000 for an initial license and have $500,000 in liquid assets, while dispensaries must pay $30,000 for a license and have $400,000 in liquid assets. The initial fee for patients is $100. Sales taxes will tack on 8 percent to the price, which will be dictated by the market, not regulated by the state.

State officials have said high entry fees are needed to ensure that business operators have enough capital to start and maintain a complex business.

While the Illinois law only provides for a four-year pilot program, one year of which is being spent just to get prepared, Lang said he hoped lawmakers would eventually make the program permanent.
Members of the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbies to end marijuana prohibition, estimated Illinois will have about 10,000 qualified patients, based on the experience in other states


Jul 25, 2008
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(Tasmania/Australia) Tas Health Minister Michael Ferguson challenged to debate on medicinal cannabis

The president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation (ADLRF) has challenged Health Minister Michael Ferguson to a debate about medicinal cannabis on "radio or television".

The State Government recently rejected a proposal to trial medicinal cannabis for the treatment of nausea and lack of appetite in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

The trial was proposed by Tasman Health Cannabinoids in conjunction with the University of Tasmania.

As the Government was in the process of rejecting the trial, Mr Ferguson said the necessary cannabinoid products were already available.

"In Tasmania and around Australia a number of cannabinoids that are derived from cannabis are in fact available through perfectly legal and authorised prescriptions for certain medical illnesses, and I think that's the way it should be," he said.

The ADLRF's Dr Alex Wodak said technically that was true, but in practice it was not.

I am very happy to meet the Minister privately to discuss this or to debate this issue with him on radio or television. How about it Mr Ferguson?
Dr Alex Wodak, president of Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation
"Nabiximols (also known as Sativex) is only approved [for use for a short period] for stiffness due to multiple sclerosis," he said.

"It is available in theory but not in practice. If available and approved for other indications, the likely cost ($800 per month) will prevent all but the wealthiest using the drug," he said.

It's time to take the politics out of this issue, says Dr Wodak

In a recent op-ed for a Tasmanian newspaper Mr Ferguson said there were a range of reasons for his decision to reject the trial.

"The business representatives did not adequately address concerns surrounding the security, safety and the potential for social harm of the trial, and as such I rejected their push for medicinal cannabis trials in Tasmania," he said.

Dr Wodak said the Health Minister's comments were proof that "experts should regulate medicines... not politicians".

"The problem with medicinal cannabis is that this is a medical issue being decided by politicians. It's time to take the politics out of the issue," he said.

Mr Ferguson pointed out that Tasmania was not alone in its anti-cannabinoids stance.

No state in Australia currently allows the production of medicinal cannabis.

"Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in Tasmania, and consideration of any use of this substance must be balanced with the continuing misuse of the plant and the requirement to police the black market," Mr Ferguson in the op-ed.

Dr Wodak said current policy in all states was completely out of line with how they viewed other illicit drugs that also have a medicinal function.

"Australia uses morphine, cocaine, amphetamine and ketamine medically. But the recreational use of these drugs is banned," he said.

"Australia could allow the medicinal use of cannabis but continue to prohibit its recreational use."

The physician went on to issue a challenge to Mr Ferguson.

"Let's have a real debate about medicinal cannabis. I am very happy to meet the Minister privately to discuss this or to debate this issue with him on radio or television. How about it Mr Ferguson?"

A spokesman for the Health Minister responded to say Mr Ferguson would not be taking up the offer of a public debate.

He said Mr Ferguson would be happy to meet with Dr Wodak privately.

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