From the US Supreme Court to the local city council chambers, medical marijuana continues to be a contentious issue. Here's the latest.
On Monday, the US Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by medical marijuana patients. The four California plaintiffs had argued that local bans on dispensaries denied their right to equal treatment under the Americans With Disabilities Act. But the high court refused to hear their appeal.
Last Wednesday, Garden Grove officials reported that 62 dispensaries had closed by the city's midnight deadline. The previous week, Garden Grove police sent out letters ordering them to close. The previous night, the city council got an earful from aggrieved medical marijuana patients, more than a hundred of whom packed the council chambers and adjoining rooms. At the end of the meeting, Mayor Bruce Broadwater essentially told them to get lost. "If you want to smoke marijuana, do it in another city," he said. "Don't do it in Garden Grove."
Last Thursday, medical marijuana backers sued the city of Long Beach over its decision that a petition to overturn the city's ban on dispensaries was insufficient. According to the city clerk, petitioners came up short, but petitioners dispute that finding and are seeking to have signatures removed as invalid added back to the petitions. Alternately, they are asking for the city to hold a special election on whether to ban or regulate dispensaries.
Also last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters rallied in San Bernardino. About three dozen people gathered at city hall to demand that the city stop shutting down medical marijuana dispensaries. The city has moved aggressively against dispensaries since the state Supreme Court ruled May 6 that local bans are allowed.
Last Friday, the city of Anaheim ordered dispensaries in the city to close. Citing the Supreme Court decision, tt issued a notice to cease operations to all 11 dispensaries known to operate there. They must close by this Friday or face possible fines and criminal charges. The city had banned dispensaries via an ordinance in 2007 and followed that up with 2011 moratorium aimed at up to 143 dispensaries that had opened anyway. The city had managed to close all but 11, seven of which had opened prior to the moratorium.
Also last Friday, a Marin County grand jury slammed the county for failing to provide access to medical marijuana for patients. In a new report, titled "Medical Marijuana: Up in Smoke," the grand jury lamented the closure of medical marijuana facilities in the county and criticized both county and local officials for failing to support the Compassionate Use Act. The grand jury recommended that the Board of Supervisors "respect the will of the voters and the intention of the Compassionate Use Act by using its authority to uphold access to medical marijuana within the county" and develop a set of ordinances to regulate dispensaries.
Also last Friday, Palm Springs shuttered two dispensaries operating in the city. They had been ordered to close last Wednesday, and police went out to ensure they had. There are still three dispensaries left in the city, but officials are going after those, too.
On Monday, the California Senate passed a bill aimed at allowing dispensaries to operate. The bill, Senate Bill 439, says that collectives, cooperatives and other business entities can receive reasonable compensation for the services they provide, and will not be prosecuted as long as they comply with security and reporting guidelines drafted by the state Attorney General. The bill now moves to the Assembly.
Also on Monday, San Diego Mayor Filner called for jury nullification in a local dispensary case. Filner was addressing the prosecution of Ronnie Chang, a dispensary operator arrested during a 2009 crackdown. "This is way overdoing it when local laws, state laws allow compassionate use of medical marijuana," Filner told reporters at the downtown US District Court complex. "Someone should not be going through this stage of prosecution for trying to help people to have access to medical marijuana."
On Tuesday, Los Angeles voters approved a measure to regulate and cap the number of dispensaries. Proposition D would tax and regulate dispensaries and cap their number at about 135 -- the number of dispensaries operating when the city council enacted a moratorium in 2007. A measure that would have allowed an unlimited number of taxed and regulated dispensaries failed. The council had previously voted unanimously to ban dispensaries entirely, allowing on patient growing coops, but reversed itself after Prop D was filed.
Also on Tuesday, the San Jose city council voted to raise the tax on dispensaries to 10%.San Jose voters in 2010 approved a tax on medical marijuana providers of up to 10% of gross receipts. The council later that year set the rate at 7%, with collection beginning in March 2011. The current 7% tax rate generates $3.9 million annually for the cash-strapped city, and hiking the tax should raise another $1.5 million, city officials said.
On Monday, the Michigan Supreme Court held that medical marijuana patients are not covered by the state's zero-tolerance drugged driving law when the charge is based merely on the presence of THC in the bloodstream. The ruling will protect thousands of state medical marijuana patients. The ruling came in the case of Rodney Koon, a patient who was charged with DUI because of the presence of THC despite not having used it within the last six hours.
On Monday, a new poll showed that 82% of New Yorkers support medical marijuana. The poll comes as there are bills pending in both the Assembly (A06357) and Senate (S04406) to adopt medical marijuana.
Last Friday, the Ohio attorney general certified a medical marijuana initiative. The Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment was certified for signature-gathering after supporters turned in 1,000 initial signatures. It would protect Ohioans rights to "medical, therapeutic, and industrial cannabis." To qualify for the ballot, supporters must now gather more than 300,000 additional signatures.
Last Friday, a bill to add PTSD to the list of ailments that can be treated by marijuana passed the House Health Committee and is headed for the House floor. Senate Bill 281 would expand the state's medical marijuana program to allow prescriptions to alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder. Another bill, House Bill 3460, which would allow dispensaries, is also moving in the House.
Last Friday, a Spokane medical marijuana farmers market said it would not open after the operators received a cease and desist letter from US Attorney Michael Ormbsy. The market would have brought growers and patients together just like they were selling fresh vegetables except it would have been marijuana to card holding patients. The owners of the market say they don't have any plans of re-opening until their attorney formulates a plan of action.
[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has introduced an amendment to the pending federal immigration bill that would create harsher penalties for anyone growing marijuana on public federal lands.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]The amendment has already won the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hatch announced in Tuesday statement. The committee is expected to vote on the overall bill later this week.
Under Hatch's amendment, people caught growing marijuana on federal lands would face aggravated penalties. They would also have to serve their sentences consecutive to, not concurrent with, any other sentences.
"In my home state of Utah, the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement have seized more than 110,000 marijuana plants this past year," Hatch said. "These sites are typically far from the eyes of law enforcement, where growers can take the time needed to grow potent marijuana."
The amendment is only one of several Hatch has introduced to the immigration bill. He and fellow Republican colleagues have introduced numerous amendments aimed at bolstering border security and making it a higher priority than liberalization of immigration policy.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) Monday introduced an amendment to the omnibus farm bill to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp, the Huffington Post reported. The move picked up momentum the next day, when Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) said he would support, the Huffington Post reported separately.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Vote Hemp, a hemp industry group, has been urging supporters to lobby senators to add and support the amendment. There is an opening on the farm bill this year because it failed to pass last year.
"For me, what's important is that people see, particularly in our state, there's someone buying it at Costco in Oregon," Wyden told the Post. "I adopted what I think is a modest position, which is if you can buy it at a store in Oregon, our farmers ought to be able to make some money growing it."
Wyden wasn't alone. The bipartisan amendment is cosponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY).
On Tuesday, Sen. Leahy told members of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont he would support the amendment, and a Leahy aide confirmed his support to the Post.
"We are optimistic that the hemp amendment to the farm bill will pass and be attached," Tom Murphy, the national outreach coordinator for Vote Hemp, told the Post. "We just received word from Rural Vermont that Sen. Patrick Leahy will support the amendment."
This week's moves come after McConnell tried and failed last week to get the amendment added to the farm bill. Now, momentum appears to be mounting.
Voters in Los Angeles Tuesday approved one of two active initiatives aimed at ensuring that medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed in California's largest city. The winning measure, Proposition D, would limit the number of dispensaries to about 135 and impose other restrictions on them. A competing measure, Ordinance F, would have imposed no restrictions on the number of dispensaries in the city.
[image:1 align:right]With 38% of the votes counted, early Wednesday morning, Prop D was passing handily with 63% of the vote, while Ordinance F was losing with only 43%. If both measures had polled over 50%, the one with the most votes would have been enacted. A third measure, Ordinance E, would also have regulated dispensaries, but its backers switched their support to Prop D. Ordinance E was losing with 37%.
The vote comes just days after the California Supreme Court clarified that local governments can indeed totally ban -- not just regulate -- dispensaries, a move that the city council embraced last year. It was the council's move to ban dispensaries that led to three separate initiatives to allow and regulate them.
The city council and parts of the city's medical marijuana community had backed Prop D, while dispensary operators who would be locked out by the dispensary cap had backed the more expansive Ordinance F. Ordinance F would have allowed a virtually unlimited number of dispensaries to operate.
The city council has been grappling for years to get a handle on the dispensary issue. The current number is estimated at somewhere between 500 and 1,000.
[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]
With a final vote by the state Senate Friday, the Illinois legislature has finally approved a medical marijuana bill. It only took ten years.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]If Gov. Patrick Quinn (D) signs it into law, Illinois will become either the 19th or the 20th medical marijuana state, depending on whether similar legislation in New Hampshire gets approved first. Quinn has signaled that he approves of medical marijuana, but has made no definitive statement about whether he would sign or veto the bill, so Illinois activists and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) are calling on supporters to keep up the pressure. On Sunday, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said she supported the bill.
If the bill is signed into law by the governor, Illinois will become the first state in the Midwest to approve medical marijuana through the legislative process. Michigan approved it in 2008, but that was via a voter initiative.
The bill, House Bill 1, would allow patients with qualifying medical conditions and a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana and purchase it through a network of up to 60 state-regulated dispensaries. The state will also allow up to 22 growers to supply the dispensaries. There are no provisions for patient or caregiver home cultivation.
"We applaud the Illinois legislature for taking action and adopting this widely supported and much-needed legislation," said Dan Riffle, MPP deputy director of government relations. "The final product is a comprehensive and tightly controlled system that will allow individuals with serious illnesses to safely and legally access medical marijuana with their doctors' supervision."
The bill was sponsored in the House by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and in the Senate by former state’s attorney Sen. William Haine (D-Alton). It designates the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Department of Financial & Professional Regulation to regulate the cultivation, acquisition, and distribution of marijuana.
"We are hopeful that Gov. Quinn will join legislators and the vast majority of Illinois voters in supporting this proposal," Riffle said. "Marijuana has proven medical benefits, regulating it works, and there is broad public and legislative support for doing it. This is a no-brainer."
Faced with the prospect of having District of Columbia marijuana policy determined directly by voters through the initiative process, at least two members of the DC Council are considering introducing legislation that would decriminalize possession in the nation's capital. The Washington Post reported that Council members Marion Berry (D-Ward 8) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) are formulating a decriminalization bill.
[image:1 align:left]"Absolutely, it's time we look at decriminalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia," said Wells, who is chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and who is running for mayor next year. "It's time we enter the 21st century and stop criminalizing people... for what is not really a major crime."
Wells and Barry aren't the only council members who are thinking decrim. Anita Bonds (D-At Large) said she is also considering drafting a decriminalization bill.
And Council Member David Grosso (I-At Large) said he could get behind decriminalization, but that he wanted to broaden the discussion to include legalization.
"The people on the streets dealing are the nonviolent drug offenders who are going to jail for dealing drugs," said Grosso, who got busted for marijuana possession as a young man in Florida two decades ago. "I think that's a serious problem.”
But council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) may prove an obstacle.
"I don't think it's the right time," said Mendelson, citing congressional opposition that blocked the city from implementing a voter-approved medical marijuana program for more than a decade. "I don't think decriminalization of marijuana will go over easily with Congress."
If the council doesn't act, District marijuana reform activists are ready to step up to the plate. They have already been engaged in discussions about a possible November 2014 initiative and whether it should be a decriminalization measure or go for the fence with a legalization measure.
If activists try to take the issue to the voters, they appear to be well-positioned. A Public Policy Polling survey last month showed three-quarters of DC residents supported decriminalization and nearly two-thirds (63%) supported legalization.