Aug. 2, 2012 03:07

News Nuggets


Patients, activists thwart a Santa Monica smoking ban

A proposed city ordinance that would have banned smoking in new apartments and condominiums in Santa Monica was voted down by the City Council after medical cannabis activists warned it would negatively affect their right to privacy.

The proposed law would have required smokers in existing apartments and condos to register their dwellings as “designated smoking units” with their landlords. Failure to do so would have resulted in the occupants losing their right to smoke in their homes. The provision incurred the wrath not only of civil libertarians, but of medical cannabis advocates concerned it would effectively identify the occupants and medical cannabis patients.

After getting an earful from concerned citizens at a July meeting, the Santa Monica council voted 4-2 against the ordinance in its final reading.


LA City Council bans dispensaries

Reversing its previous attempts at regulating medical cannabis sales and ignoring last year’s vote by residents to tax them, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to ban all marijuana dispensaries within city limits.

The July 24 vote gives every dispensary in the city—including the 762 that registered under 2010’s Measure M business tax—until September to shut down. In response, medical marijuana activists vowed to sue the city, citing recent appellate court declaring similar bans unconstitutional. The Los Angeles Times also noted a recent ruling by the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturning LA County’s dispensary ban in a July 26 editorial calling the legality of the council’s actions into question.

In a separate vote, the council directed city staff to “look into” the possibility of allowing 182 dispensaries that registered with the city in 2007 to remain open. Not mollified, Americans for Safe Access Director Don Duncan told reporters his organization would draft a ballot measure that would, if passed, reverse the council’s prohibition.


High Desert Herbal sues Victorville

High Desert Herbal Therapy, a medical cannabis dispensary opened a year ago in Victorville, has filed a lawsuit challenging that city’s ban on compassionate-use outlets.

The dispensary filed the lawsuit in Victorville Superior Court after the city denied it a business permit. Victorville officials fined High Desert Herbal Therapy $400 in May, claiming it operated in violation of city code, according to news reports.



Medical cannabis community blood drive held

Colorado’s cannabis medical cannabis community gave from the heart —literally—in July by participating in the state’s first blood drive exclusively targeting marijuana patients, caregivers and dispensary owners.

Organized by Jessica LeRoux, owner of the edibles company Twirling Hippy Confections, the Medical Cannabis Community Blood Drive was operated by healthcare staff with the Denver-headquartered Bonfils Blood Center. For two weeks beginning July 17, donors could give blood at any of the seven Bonfils centers in the state.

LeRoux told reporters the drive was necessary because summer typically brings increased numbers of traffic accidents and a greater need for donated blood.


Lawsuit claims Colorado’s MMJ law too vague

Two Colorado Springs medical cannabis dispensary operators have sued the state’s Department of Revenue, claiming ambiguity in Colorado’s compassionate-use law resulted in criminal charges filed against them for growing marijuana.

The lawsuit by Michael Kopta and Alvida Hillery alleges the state’s medical cannabis law is vague on when prospective operators can start growing the plant on behalf of their clients—patients who filed registration applications as MMJ patients. Kopta and Hillery were charged in an El Paso County court earlier this year with unlawful marijuana cultivation.

At the heart of the lawsuit, says their attorney, Sean McAllister, is whether dispensaries can grow cannabis for patients when they file their registrations, after they’re approved or at some other date.


Moratorium on new med-pot centers lifted

State officials are again accepting applications for medical cannabis dispensaries, following a nearly two-year-long moratorium on new dispensaries.

The moratorium was originally expected to last only a year, but was extended in February to the end of June. Lawmakers putting the brakes on the proliferation of dispensaries said it was necessary to give them time to develop regulations for the burgeoning industry.

Some 113 medical cannabis centers have state operating licenses as of May 31, according to The Denver Post. About 235 other applications are still working their way through the administrative process, while 229 did not receive approval from local authorities, the paper reported.



Study: Alcohol is the “gateway” drug

High school students who use alcohol are 13 times more likely to abuse “hard” drugs later in life than those who do not, say University of Michigan researchers in a new study.

Not only does the finding splash cold water on long-held government claims of pot being the so-called “gateway” drug, but—says the study’s co-author—law-enforcement officials would be wise to shift their focus away from marijuana to booze. That’s because the study, published in the Journal of School Health, also found that teen alcohol users were 16 times more likely to use cannabis.

The researchers reported they were able to accurately predict a subject’s later substance abuse 92 percent of the time based on their past use of alcohol.


State legalization initiative drive fails

Recreational cannabis possession and use will remain criminal acts in Michigan for the foreseeable future, following the failure of a grassroots movement to gather enough signatures to put a legalization measure on the state’s November ballot.

The Detroit-based Committee for a Safer Michigan announced in July it was ending efforts this year to qualify an initiative that would lift sanctions on the possession and use of small quantities of marijuana in the state. The group managed to collect only 50,000 signatures in support of the measure—well short of the 322,609 needed.

Organizers with the group told reporters they’ll try again in 2014, and will use the time between now and then to raise funds and beef up their signature-gathering forces.


Flint legalization measure to appear on ballot

Flint residents may soon have something else in common with denizens of Detroit besides the economic doldrums: a chance to vote in November on whether to legalize small quantities of cannabis.

Under a ballot initiative under review by the Flint City Clerk’s office, voters would decide whether residents 19 and older should be allowed to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. Volunteers with the Coalition for a Safer Flint in July turned in some 1,300 voter signatures in favor of the ballot—far more than needed to qualify the measure.

Should the city clerk confirm at least 784 of the signatures to be valid, the measure will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. A similar measure will also appear before Detroit voters, following a recent appellate court ruling ordering the Detroit Election Commission to allow that initiative to go forward.



Oakland to feds: Hands off Harborside!

Oakland officials held a news conference at beleaguered Harborside Health Center to call on federal prosecutors to stop shutting down cannabis dispensaries and depriving residents of their “vital” medicine.”

The conference was in response to the federal government’s civil forfeiture lawsuit filed in July against Harborside, believed to be the nation’s largest medical cannabis dispensary. Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Bay Area region, called the bid to seize Harborside “a measured effort to address the proliferation of marijuana businesses.” Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker, speaking at the July news conference, called it a move that would “force patients into the underground market of street corners and back alleys, undermining public safety and endangering their health and lives.”

State Board of Equalization member Betty Yee accused Haag and other federal officials of “harassing legitimate dispensaries such as Haborside,” noting the cannabis outlet—featured on the Discovery Channel show Weed Wars—contributes about $1 million in annual taxes to Oakland.

Harborside’s owners have vowed to fight the forfeiture lawsuit.


Appellate court overturns dispensary bans

In a decision that could overturn cannabis dispensary bans in Northern California, a state Court of Appeal has ruled cities and counties have no right to prohibit medical marijuana outlets from operating within their borders.

The July decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal struck down a Los Angeles County law banning dispensaries as a public nuisance. The court ruled that California medical marijuana statutes’ repeatedly use the term “dispensary” and citation of “storefront or mobile retail outlets” make it “abundantly clear that the medical marijuana collectives . . . are permitted by state law to perform a dispensary function.”

L.A. County officials say they are considering appealing the ruling to the California Supreme court, while Americans for Safe Access Chief Counsel Joe Elford hailed it as a landmark decision.

Several Northern California municipalities have dispensary bans in place, including the Bay Area cities of Daly City, Danville and San Leandro.


Legendary cannabis activist bankrupt

Lynnette Shaw, the celebrated Bay Area cannabis activist who played a key role in the passage of California’s Proposition 215 and who founded the nation’s first licensed medical marijuana dispensary, has filed for personal bankruptcy and is on the hook with the IRS for $1.27 million, according to press reports.

Shaw’s financial troubles are apparently the result of the IRS’s enforcement of an obscure tax rule, commonly known as 280E, disallowing business deductions for dispensary owners, according to a July 13 article in Forbes. That blow, coupled with the federal government’s forced closure of Shaw’s dispensary, Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax, resulted in her filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in June. She listed $641,275 in assets and $991,000 in debts, according to Forbes.

Shaw, who ran as the Libertarian Party nominee for California lieutenant governor in 2006 and who was once asked by the late John Belushi to play in his Blues Brothers band, opened the Marin Alliance dispensary in 1997.



I-502 benefiting from large donations

Major contributions keep rolling in for New Approach Washington, the citizen coalition driving a ballot measure that would legalize marijuana for adults in the state.

The group reported receiving $1.25 million in donations on its latest campaign filing report. Peter Lewis, founder of Progressive Insurance, and the Drug Policy Alliance each contributed $450,000. Television travel host Rick Steves and the ACLU tossed in $100,000 apiece.

The seven-figure tally is on top of the $1.7 million in donations New Approach Washington received earlier, giving the fight to pass I-502 the kind of serious campaign war chest that failed to materialize for California’s doomed Proposition 19 legalization measure of 2010.

A poll conducted in July by SurveyUSA showed Washington registered voters favoring I-502 55-percent to 32 percent.


Port Orchard ties cannabis permits to fed law

In a move aimed squarely at the medical cannabis industry, the Port Orchard City Council has adopted a policy denying business permits to any operation considered illegal under local, state or federal law.

The change was couched in a measure purporting to recognize as businesses medical marijuana dispensaries, collective grow operations and edibles companies—the very outlets the measure effectively prohibits from receiving business licenses. Prior to the council vote, several residents and compassionate-use advocates pleaded with the panel to reject the changes.

Medical marijuana attorney Douglas Hiatt, who at the meeting had urged the council to allow its existing moratorium on dispensaries to expire, now vows to sue Port Orchard over the license measure, according to a news report.


Tacoma passes on MMJ ordinance

Tacoma city officials have pulled the plug on a proposal to regulate medical cannabis dispensaries and collective gardens, and instead now appear inclined to crack down on the local compassionate-use industry.

City Council members cited legal concerns in rejecting a planning commission recommendation to set up a framework of land-use and zoning regulations to allow and control medical marijuana operations in its borders. In its place, council members plan to introduce an enforcement strategy for dealing with the city’s collective growing operations, according to a story in the News Tribune.

It is not yet known whether the strategy would call for lighter or tougher enforcement on the operations. Tacoma residents passed Proposition 1 last year, calling on local police to make enforcing cannabis laws its lowest priority.



Chicago decriminalizes small amounts of cannabis

People caught by Windy City police with small amounts of cannabis will be issued a ticket rather than face arrest for a misdemeanor, following a vote by the Chicago City Council to decriminalize marijuana possession.

Under the new policy, passed at the urging of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s superintendent of police, adults found in possession of up to 15 grams of pot will be slapped with a ticket ranging from $250 to $500. The measure is expected raise as much as $9 million in new revenue and save an estimated 20,000 hours of police time in Chicago, where more than 18,000 marijuana people were arrested on simple possession charges last year.

Minors caught with marijuana will still be subject to arrest, and ticketed users could also see their cars impounded and be required to perform community service or attend drug-awareness classes.


Massachusetts voters to decide on MMJ

Voters in Massachusetts will be asked in November whether qualified patients should be allowed to obtain marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries.

Organizers with the Committee for Compassionate Use, a grassroots pro-medical cannabis group, submitted more than 11,000 voter signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The language of the initiative is still being worked out by the Secretary of State.

Under the proposal, state sanctions on marijuana would be lifted for patients with certain serious illnesses, and the medicine would be produced and distributed at between one and five state-regulated venues in each county. Patients could possess up to a “60-day supply” of cannabis, though what that amount would be is still being worked out.



Uruguay considering state marijuana monopoly

In a radical departure from modern South American drug policy, the president of Uruguay has called for legislation allowing the government to take over the South American nation’s marijuana trade.

Under President Jose Mujica’s proposal, the state would assume all production of cannabis in the state. Marijuana would then be dispensed at state centers, at prices low enough to force black-market operators out of business. Proceeds from the sales would be used to combat drug abuse through education and rehabilitation centers.

It is not clear whether Mujica’s proposal would survive the country’s legislative and judicial scrutiny, but what has become known as “The Uruguay Plan” is being hailed by many in the international drug-policy community as a “bold and innovative approach” to dealing with hard drug abuse and violence.

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