Economy


December 03, 2009 – The latest reports out of Trenton are that by the time the current governor leaves office, New Jersey is likely to have a law authorizing medical marijuana. So on a recent trip to California I decided to check out a marijuana clinic to see what the future will be like.

I was amazed at what I witnessed when I first walked in the door of the clinic on a downtown street in Oakland. The proponents of medical marijuana argue that those who need it are often suffering from dreadful, debilitating diseases. So I felt great sympathy for the patients as I watched them walk into the back room of the clinic to get their prescriptions filled. I could only imagine the agony these poor, unfortunate souls must have been experiencing.

Amazingly, though, every single one of them exited with a spring in his step. One young patient had apparently experienced such a miraculous cure that he picked up a skateboard and went swooping away on the sidewalk after he picked up his pot. Imagine that. The guy was probably confined to a wheelchair just the other day. Now he was doing ollies and fakies halfway to Berkeley.

I was impressed. I was equally impressed by the coffee and the chocolate cake. Did I mention that the clinic is also a coffee shop? It’s called the Blue Sky, and it’s modeled after the marijuana dispensaries in Amsterdam. In fact, the locals call this part of Oakland “Oaksterdam” to highlight the resemblance.

The difference is that in Amsterdam the pot is sold to everyone. In California, you have to have a photo ID that identifies you as a patient. I got talking to some of the staff and the patients. It turns out there are a surprisingly large number of illnesses that will qualify you for that ID card. If you’re having a hard time sleeping, for example, the doctor might prescribe some “Blue Dream.” Other maladies will respond to a dose of “Green Cush” or perhaps a few hits of “Querkle.”

Another good thing about this clinic was that it didn’t have the antiseptic air of a typical health clinic. On a sunny Sunday afternoon there was a jazz band playing on the sidewalk outside. Apparently jazz musicians long ago discovered the healing properties of marijuana, and they are eager to share their knowledge with the general public.

Down the block is an educational institution called Oaksterdam University. There, students take 13-week courses in the growing of this miracle medicine. They can even buy seedlings if they care to grow some of their own at home, a practice also permitted under California law.

Somewhere in there, I began to suspect that these patients weren’t as sick as advertised. Perhaps they were just sick of not being high.

Sure enough, it turns out the ultimate goal of California’s pot proponents is to make this miracle drug available to all adults without a prescription. On the café’s counter next to the cake was a petition calling for a referendum that would make marijuana legal for all Californians over the age of 21. It would be highly taxed and both the state and the municipality would get a share.

The owners of the Blue Sky and other clinics around California already make a point of collecting tax on every transaction and handing that revenue over to the government. The idea is that the pols in cash-strapped California will become as dependent on that revenue stream as the patients are on their prescriptions.

I’ve listened to a lot of the debate over medicinal marijuana in New Jersey, and our pols insist that our medical-marijuana law would be different than California’s, with tighter controls. I doubt it. The same dynamic at work in the Golden State is at work in the Garden State. When it comes to legalization, medicinal marijuana is just the camel’s nose under the tent.

The funny thing is, there’s another Camel headed the other way. The cigarette manufacturers are finding their product becoming more tightly regulated just as the pot growers are watching their regulations loosened. Many municipalities are banning the smoking of cigarettes on streets, in parks and just about anywhere in public. Meanwhile, the pot smokers in California are already agreeing to similar restrictions as part of that referendum.

So we may wind up with a situation in which pot smokers and cigarette smokers are treated equally under the law. They’ll be able to smoke, but just in private. Only their taxes will be public.

That’s fine with me. I don’t smoke either pot or cigarettes. But if the potheads want to join the nicotine fiends in lowering my tax burden, that may be the best prescription of all. By Paul Mulshine Source.
New Jersey considers a medical marijuana law – Video:

December 3, 2009 – Marijuana is California’s largest agricultural commodity with $14 billion in sales yearly, distancing itself from the state’s second largest—milk and cream—which bring in $7.3 billion a year. But California’s coffers only receive a fraction of the marijuana sales, $200 million coming from the sale of medical marijuana. That could all change with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act (AB 390).

Since February, when the bill was introduced, it has made little headway in the Legislature. But in October, a hearing on the bill was held by the Public Safety Committee; marking the first time a legislative committee held a hearing on marijuana legalization.

AB 390 would create a system that would regulate marijuana much like alcohol is regulated. Those over the age of 21 could purchase pot from vendors with licenses to do so. The state’s Legislative Analyst and the Board of Equalization have estimated that pot sales could bring up to $1.3 billion in revenue yearly. That number is based off a proposed $50-per-oz. levy placed on marijuana purchases and sales tax.

With a projected deficit of $20 billion facing the state next fiscal year, sources of guaranteed revenue are needed. But there are those that believe that the social issues legalizing pot could have far outweigh any economic benefits.

“Why add another addictive element to our society? I don’t think we should criminalize marijuana, but I don’t think having marijuana where you can buy it like cigarettes or alcohol is something we ought to be doing as a society. I believe we are moving in the wrong direction on that,” said Steve Francis, a former San Diego mayoral candidate and founder of the site KeepComingBack.com—a site that focuses on news and research of alcohol and drug addiction.

Francis says that legalizing marijuana would ultimately cost the state money. He cited a report issued by the Marin Institute that found the economic cost of alcohol use is $38 billion annually, with the state covering $8.3 billion for health-care treatment of alcohol-caused illnesses, plus crime costs, traffic incidents and reduced worker productivity. The taxes and fees collected from alcohol sales only cover 22 percent of total government costs. He says there is every reason to believe the same would happen with marijuana.

“Whatever taxes the author of the legislation thinks we are going to collect on the taxation of marijuana will be very little compared to the social costs on California,” he said.

But the economic impact legalizing marijuana could have goes beyond taxation. Nearly a fifth of California’s 170,000 inmates are locked up because of drug-related crimes. Although most are convicted on crimes more severe than possession, legalizing marijuana would save the state $1 billion in law enforcement and corrections costs.

Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray says the best solution is to repeal the prohibition of marijuana, allowing the substance to become regulated and less available to children.

“We couldn’t make this drug any more available if we tried,” he said in TIME. “Unfortunately, every society in the history of mankind has had some form of mind-altering, sometimes addictive substance to use, misuse, abuse or get addicted to. Get used to it. They’re here to stay. So let’s try to reduce those harms, and right now we couldn’t do worse if we tried.”

Even if California were to legalize marijuana, there are those that believe that the gray area between federal and state law would only widen. Since California’s Compassionate Use Act was passed in 1996, medicinal marijuana has become more accessible to those need it. But it has opened the gates of confusion, as federal laws still consider marijuana illegal. In fact, cannabis is described as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has no medical use and cannot be prescribed by a physician. Many California municipalities have been reluctant to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, even though they were legalized 13 years ago.

There has been some indication that the federal government is starting to ease its control of marijuana. A few days after Ammiano introduced AB 390, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that states should be allowed to determine their own rules for medical marijuana and that federal raids on dispensaries would stop in California. President Obama’s nomination of Gil Kerlikowske to be the so-called drug czar and head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy indicated that a softer federal stance on marijuana is being taken. Kerlikowske is the former police chief in Seattle, where he made it clear that going after marijuana possession was not a priority for his department.

A vote by the Public Safety Committee on AB 390 is expected in January. Ammiano said the bill could take between a year and two years before it is heard or voted on in the Legislature. Until then, the debate over decriminalizing marijuana will continue amidst one of California’s worst economic times. BY Landon Bright Source.

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — At most colleges, marijuana is very much an extracurricular matter. But at Med Grow Cannabis College, marijuana is the curriculum: the history, the horticulture and the legal how-to’s of Michigan’s new medical marijuana program.

“This state needs jobs, and we think medical marijuana can stimulate the state economy with hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars,” said Nick Tennant, the 24-year-old founder of the college, which is actually a burgeoning business (no baccalaureates here) operating from a few bare-bones rooms in a Detroit suburb.

The six-week, $485 primer on medical marijuana is a cross between an agricultural extension class covering the growing cycle, nutrients and light requirements (“It’s harvest time when half the trichomes have turned amber and half are white”) and a gathering of serious potheads, sharing stories of their best highs (“Smoke that and you are … medicated!”).

The only required reading: “Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower’s Bible” by Jorge Cervantes.

Even though the business of growing medical marijuana is legal under Michigan’s new law, there is enough nervousness about the enterprise that most students at a recent class did not want their names or photographs used. An instructor also asked not to be identified.

“My wife works for the government,” one student said, “and I told my mother-in-law I was going to a small-business class.”

While California’s medical marijuana program, the country’s oldest, is now big business, with hundreds of dispensaries in Los Angeles alone, the Michigan program, which started in April, is more representative of what is happening in other states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Under the Michigan law, patients whose doctors certify their medical need for marijuana can grow up to 12 cannabis plants themselves or name a “caregiver” who will grow the plants and sell the product. Anyone over 21 with no felony drug convictions can be a caregiver for up to five patients. So far, the Department of Community Health has registered about 5,800 patients and 2,400 caregivers.

For Mr. Tennant, who is certified as both a caregiver and a patient — he said he has stomach problems and anxiety — Med Grow replaces the auto detailing business he started straight out of high school, only to see it founder when the economy contracted. Med Grow began offering its course in September, with new classes starting every month.

On a recent Tuesday, two teachers led a four-hour class, starting with Todd Alton, a botanist who provided no tasting samples as he talked the students through a list of cannabis recipes, including crockpot cannabutter, chocolate canna-ganache and greenies (the cannabis alternative to brownies).

The second instructor, who would not give his name, took the class through the growing cycle, the harvest and the curing techniques to increase marijuana’s potency.

Mr. Tennant said he saw the school as the hub of a larger business that will sell supplies to its graduate medical marijuana growers, offer workshops and provide a network for both patient and caregiver referrals. Already, Med Grow is a gathering place for those interested in medical marijuana. The whiteboard in the reception room lists names and numbers of several patients looking for caregivers, and a caregiver looking for patients.

The students are a diverse group: white and black, some in their 20s, some much older, some employed, some not. Some keep their class attendance, and their growing plans, close to the chest.

“I’ve just told a couple of people I can trust,” said Jeffery Butler, 27. “It’s a business opportunity, but some people are still going to look at you funny. But I’m going to do it anyway.”

Scott Austin, an unemployed 41-year-old student, said he and two partners were planning to go into medical marijuana together.

“I never smoked marijuana in my life,” he said. “I heard about this at a business expo a couple of months ago.”

Because the Michigan program is so new, gray areas in the law have not been tested, creating real concern for some students. For example, it is not legal to start growing marijuana before being officially named a caregiver to a certified patient, but patients who are sick, certified and ready to buy marijuana generally do not want to wait through the months of the growing cycle until a crop is ready. So for the time being, coordinating entry into the business feels to some like a kind of Catch-22.

Students say they are getting all kinds of extra help and ideas from going to class.

“I want to learn all the little tricks, everything I can,” said Sue Maxwell, a student who drives each week from her home four hours north of Detroit. “It’s a big investment, and I want to do it right.”

Ms. Maxwell, who works at a bakery, is already a caregiver — in the old, nondrug sense of the word — to a few older people for whom she thinks medical marijuana might be a real boon.

“I fix their meals, and I help with housekeeping,” Ms. Maxwell said. “I have an 85-year-old lady who has no appetite. I don’t know if she’d have any interest in medical marijuana, but I bet it would help her.”

Ms. Maxwell said her plan to grow marijuana was slow in hatching.

“We were talking at the bakery all summer,” she said. “Just joking around, I said: ‘I’m going to grow medical marijuana. I’m a gardener, I’ve always dreamed of having a greenhouse, I think it would be great.’ And then I suddenly thought, hey, I really am going to grow medical marijuana.” Source.

Richard Lee, President of Oaksterdam University helped convince Oakland voters to tax medical marijuana dispensaries and make them more legit. Now he’s taking the idea state-wide through the TaxCannabis.org initiative.

November 4, 2009 – With the national debate over how–or even whether–to legalize marijuana now hitting a fevered pitch, many eyes are focused squarely on Colorado, where lawmakers aremarijuana-medical now considering proposals to increase regulation of the state’s vibrant medical marijuana industry.

Unfortunately, emotion is trumping fact in too much of this public debate. In a guest column carried in today’s Denver Post (authored by Robert and titled “Stop the Medical Marijuana Madness”), as well as through previous commentary we’ve authored, we lament how a handful of powerful politicians, including some of our fellow Republicans, are using antecdotes, half-truths, and unfounded theories, to make their case for cumbersome regulation, including moratoriums that could prevent new dispensaries from opening at all.

In doing so, these officials are ignoring other critical public policy needs and basic facts proving that the hysteria around the tremendous growth in public demand for medical marijuana is not based in fact. While some regulation of any industry may be appropriate at times, medical marijuana is being unfairly villianized by those who disagree with the state’s voters, who have consistently and overwhelmingly maintained a commitment to patient access to such treatment.

From today’s Denver Post:

Most elected leaders have a good sense of proportion regarding this issue. A minority of politicians, however, avoid reasonable proposals to tax and regulate marijuana, and instead irresponsibly fear-monger in the worst tradition of Prohibition-era ‘Reefer Madness’ propaganda. We hear racially charged tales of ‘Mexican cartels’ supposedly running the medical marijuana business, when the truth is Colorado homegrown marijuana puts foreign cartels out of business, and it is law enforcement that enriches cartels through hostility to medical marijuana.

Even putting aside the state’s serious economic woes, any focus on medical marijuana should be far down the list when it comes to the serious health care concerns we face. Today, Colorado is one of more than a dozen states where fatal prescription drug overdoses now outnumber deaths from car accidents.

Doctors across the state mourn the epidemic of “doctor shopping,” powerless against preventing patients who have become addicted to prescription narcotics from seeking out multiple prescriptions from different doctors to feed their addictions. The game can become fatal very quickly. And despite this shocking trend, which has resulted in a three-fold increase in prescription drug deaths over just the last decade, anti-marijuana activists publicly express little, if any, concern.

Instead, they continue to blast medical marijuana dispensaries, ignoring their many benefits, including the revitalization of struggling communities, the addition of much needed jobs, as well as the significant tax revenue they provide for municipal coffers. More importantly, they ignore the value of businesses providing alternative medical treatment for our sick and dying, many of whom seek such treatment only after years of living in the haze of pharmaceutical narcotic addiction. While the vast majority of medical marijuana patients abide by the system to the letter of law, activists exploit the stories of a few battle apples as a way to enhance their pro-prohibition polemic.

For legislators eager to villanize medical marijuana providers and their patients, we’d suggest they proceed with caution. Most dispensary owners are astute business entrepreneurs; they welcome commonsense standards as a way to best serve their own economic interests, as well as the interests of the patients they serve. Attacking them without getting the facts will only stunt a productive dialogue on regulation.

In addition, legislators should expect resistance from voters in this era where public support for both medical marijuana and outright legalization has grown substantially over the last decade, and today is greater than ever before.

In 2000, a strong majority of voters first amended our state Constitution to allow for legal access to medical marijuana. In 2006, more than 40 percent supported a statewide initiative seeking outright legalization of adult marijuana use. While Republicans voters in Colorado still outnumber Democrats by a slim margin, the 2006 legalization effort received more voter support than that year’s Republican candidate for governor.

Nationally, polls show that a growing number of voters of all ideological persuasions in other states are interested in following Colorado’s lead. A national media survey conducted earlier this year shows that nearly half of Americans support legalization. If legalization advocates can convince just one more voter in every ten, marijuana prohibition could quickly become a thing of a past in many states, including Colorado.

As proud Republicans and even prouder parents of two young children, we’re seen as unconventional legalization supporters by many. If we can open minds, we relish the role. But as the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker recently noted, we’re actually far from alone in our views among free thinkers within our party.

Republicans committed to our party’s founding ideals of individual rights and responsibility should join us. During a FOX News interview yesterday profiling our efforts, we reiterated this commitment. We will not stand by complacently as our federal government wastes our tax dollars to continue a prohibition that costs billions each year and results in 850,000 Americans each year being forced into to our criminal justice system for marijuana-related offenses. In these tough economic times, we owe our children better than to accept the status quo.

Colorado stands at center stage in the national debate over marijuana. In the face of such controversy, we ask those on all sides of the debate to commit to just one thing: let’s stick to the facts. With emotions running high and our federal debt running even higher, now is the time to leave no stone unturned in the effort to restore our nation to a place of solid fiscal and philosophical foundations. Our children’s future depends on it. By Jessica Peck Corry and Robert J. Corry, Jr. Source.

October 26, 2009 – Real estate brokers say that Colorado’s medical-marijuana law has sparked a land rush, as entrepreneurs lured by a growing number of licensed users search for properties for growing or selling pot.denver

In a down real estate market, landlords who might otherwise wait for more conventional tenants are snapping at the opportunity presented by medical-marijuana dispensaries, said Darrin Revious, a broker with Shames Makovsky Realty.

“I am working a couple of these deals right now,” he said. “It is absolutely crazy how many of these deals are in the market. I can’t believe it.”

Since voters approved Amendment 20 in 2000 allowing the use of medical marijuana to treat eight specific conditions, the number of people legally allowed to buy the herb has steadily climbed. In 2007, 1,955 people held medical marijuana cards; the following year, there were 4,720 people on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Medical Marijuana Registry. The number has grown to about 13,000, health department spokesman Mark Salley said.

On an average day, the department receives 400 requests for medical-marijuana cards, and some days applications are as high as 600, Salley said.

Revious said he receives at least one request per day from brokers representing people seeking property suitable for grow operations or dispensaries, where medical pot is sold to card-carrying patients. Over the past three or four months, he said, demand for the properties has soared.

“I need (5,000 square feet in) LoDo, or there about . . . retail,” says one e-mail he received from a broker. “Wellness center — yes, medical marijuana. A group expanding out of California — a real one.”

Warren Edson, an attorney who handles medical-marijuana cases and advises people trying to set up cannabis collectives and cooperatives, said he believes the rise in demand is related to the increasing number of patients approved to buy the drug.

“My share of stoners”

Many people became more aware that pot was legal for those with medical conditions this summer, when the state Board of Health rejected a move to cap at five the number of people a medical-marijuana caregiver can supply, he added.

“It was publicity,” Edson said. “It meant the average Joe was seeing it discussed on the news, and saying maybe I should go to my doctor about this; it isn’t just for crazy people.”

Six months ago, Edson said, many of those seeking the cards were terribly sick, or were “hippies” looking to get high. “Now we are seeing a greater cross section of individuals.”

Laurel Alterman opened AlterMeds at the Colony Square Shopping Center in Louisville earlier this month, just before the City Council approved a moratorium on new dispensaries.

Alterman abandoned her real estate business, which has done poorly recently, to open the dispensary. “When the Board of Health expanded the roll of caregivers this summer, the opportunity to open became very attractive, and my son was working in a dispensary in Denver and knew the business,” she said. “I just jumped off a building without a parachute.”

Paul Tamburello, a broker’s associate with Distinctive Properties, said he gets three calls a week from business people who want to lease a building he owns at West 32nd Avenue and Zuni Street to use as a dispensary.

“Some are really legitimate businesspeople, but I certainly run into my share of stoners,” he said.

There are four dispensaries within a mile of the building, he said. “There certainly seems to be a plethora of dispensaries trying to open. I call it the new gold rush. A lot of these guys are seeing dollar signs. I don’t know how lucrative it will be if the velocity of growth continues on the path it is on.”

Alterman said she expects to earn twice as much as she made annually in real estate by selling medical marijuana.

One businessman said he has been approached a number of times by people who wanted to rent space for a dispensary in his Colfax Avenue business. He refused. “We don’t rent space,” said the man, who asked that his name and business not be published because marijuana has negative connotations for many.

Some Californians who wanted to open a dispensary in the area asked him what he thought his building is worth. When he said it was appraised at $850,000 they offered $750,000 in cash at closing.

Tighter regulations loom

Concern over the mushrooming number of dispensaries is growing, and some cities and towns are studying regulations to limit them, while others have passed outright bans.

State Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, plans to introduce a bill next year that would clarify regulations involving pot-using patients.

Alterman said she wouldn’t object to some regulation in the industry that could make the shops operate more like licensed pharmacies. And she sees a need for properly zoning the establishments.

Tight security measures are necessary to operate the shops and grow operations, which are natural targets for thieves, she said. “Zoning laws are important,” she said. “This is a business that is inappropriate for a residential area because, yes, it is dangerous.” Source.

LOS ANGELES — There are more marijuana stores here than public schools. Signs emblazoned with cannabis plants or green crosses sit next to dry cleaners, gas stations and Picture 25restaurants.

The dispensaries range from Hollywood-day-spa fabulous to shoddy-looking storefronts with hand-painted billboards. Absolute Herbal Pain Solutions, Grateful Meds, Farmacopeia Organica.

Cannabis advocates claim that more than 800 dispensaries have sprouted here since 2002; some law enforcement officials say it is closer to 1,000. Whatever the real number, everyone agrees it is too high.

And so this, too, is taken for granted: Crackdowns on cannabis clubs will soon come in this city, which has more dispensaries than any other.

For the first time, law enforcement officials in Los Angeles have vowed to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries that turn a profit, with police officials saying they expect to conduct raids. Their efforts are widely seen as a campaign to sway the City Council into adopting strict regulations after two years of debate.

It appears to be working. Carmen A. Trutanich, the newly elected city attorney, recently persuaded the Council to put aside a proposed ordinance negotiated with medical marijuana supporters for one drafted by his office. The new proposal calls for dispensaries to have renewable permits, submit to criminal record checks, register the names of members with the police and operate on a nonprofit basis. If enacted, it is likely to result in the closing of hundreds of marijuana dispensaries.

Mr. Trutanich argued that state law permits the exchange of marijuana between growers and patients on a nonprofit and noncash basis only. Marijuana advocates say that interpretation would regulate dispensaries out of existence and thwart the will of voters who approved medical cannabis in 1996.

Whatever happens here will be closely watched by law enforcement officials and marijuana advocates across the country who are threading their way through federal laws that still treat marijuana as an illegal drug and state laws that are increasingly allowing medicinal use. Thirteen states have laws supporting medical marijuana, and others are considering new legislation.

No state has gone further than California, often described by drug enforcement agents as a “source nation” because of the vast quantities of marijuana grown here. And no city in the state has gone further than Los Angeles. This has alarmed local officials, who say that dispensary owners here took unfair advantage of vague state laws intended to create exceptions to marijuana prohibitions for a limited number of ill people.

“About 100 percent of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city are operating illegally,” said Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles County district attorney, who is up for re-election next year. “The time is right to deal with this problem.”

Mr. Cooley, speaking last week at a training luncheon for regional narcotics officers titled “The Eradication of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County,” said that state law did not allow dispensaries to be for-profit enterprises.

Mr. Trutanich, the city attorney, went further, saying dispensaries were prohibited from accepting cash even to reimburse growers for labor and supplies. He said that a recent California Supreme Court decision, People v. Mentch, banned all over-the-counter sales of marijuana; other officials and marijuana advocates disagree.

So far, prosecutions of marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles have been limited to about a dozen in the last year, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cooley. But Police Department officials said they were expecting to be called on soon to raid collectives.

“I don’t think this is a law that we’ll have to enforce 800 times,” said one police official, who declined to speak on the record before the marijuana ordinance was completed. “This is just like anything else. You don’t have to arrest everyone who is speeding to make people slow down.”

Don Duncan, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a leader in the medical marijuana movement, said that over-the-counter cash purchases should be permitted but that dispensaries should be nonprofit organizations. He also said marijuana collectives needed more regulation and a “thinning of the herd.”
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Monica Almeida/The New York Times

“I am under no illusions that everyone out there is following the rules,” said Mr. Duncan, who runs his own dispensary in West Hollywood. “But just because you accept money to reimburse collectives does not mean you’re making profits.”

For marijuana advocates, Los Angeles represents a critical juncture — a symbol of the movement’s greatest success, but also its vulnerability.

More than 300,000 doctors’ referrals for medical cannabis are on file, the bulk of them from Los Angeles, according to Americans for Safe Access. The movement has had a string of successes in the Legislature and at the ballot box. In the city of Garden Grove, marijuana advocates forced the Highway Patrol to return six grams of marijuana it had confiscated from an eligible user. About 40 cities and counties have medical marijuana ordinances.

But there have also been setbacks. In June, a federal judge sentenced Charles C. Lynch, a dispensary owner north of Santa Barbara, to one year in prison for selling marijuana to a 17-year-old boy whose father had testified that they sought out medical marijuana for his son’s chronic pain. The mayor and the chief of police testified on behalf of Mr. Lynch, who was released on bail pending appeal.

And last month, San Diego police officers and sheriff’s deputies, along with agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, raided 14 marijuana dispensaries and arrested 31 people. In an interview, Bonnie Dumanis, the district attorney for San Diego County, said that state laws governing medical marijuana were unclear and that the city had not yet instituted new regulations.

Ms. Dumanis said that she approved of medical marijuana clubs where patients grow and use their own marijuana, but that none of the 60 or so dispensaries in the county operated that way.

“These guys are drug dealers,” she said of the 14 that were raided. “I said publicly, if anyone thinks we’re casting too big a net and we get a legitimate patient or a lawful collective, then show us your taxes, your business license, your incorporation papers, your filings with the Department of Corporations.”

“If they had these things, we wouldn’t prosecute,” she said.

Marijuana supporters worry that San Diego may provide a glimpse of the near future for Los Angeles if raids here become a reality. But many look to Harborside Health Center in Oakland as a model for how dispensaries could work.

“Our No. 1 task is to show that we are worthy of the public’s trust in asking to distribute medical cannabis in a safe and secure manner,” said Steve DeAngelo, the pig-tailed proprietor of Harborside, which has been in business for three years.

Harborside is one of four licensed dispensaries in Oakland run as nonprofit organizations. It is the largest, with 74 employees and revenues of about $20 million. Last summer, the Oakland City Council passed an ordinance to collect taxes from the sale of marijuana, a measure that Mr. DeAngelo supported.

Mr. DeAngelo designed Harborside to exude legitimacy, security and comfort. Visitors to the low-slung building are greeted by security guards who check the required physicians’ recommendations. Inside, the dispensary looks like a bank, except that the floor is covered with hemp carpeting and the eight tellers stand behind identical displays of marijuana and hashish.

There is a laboratory where technicians determine the potency of the marijuana and label it accordingly. (Harborside says it rejects 80 percent of the marijuana that arrives at its door for insufficient quality.) There is even a bank vault where the day’s cash is stored along with reserves of premium cannabis. An armored truck picks up deposits every evening.

City officials routinely audit the dispensary’s books. Surplus cash is rolled back into the center to pay for free counseling sessions and yoga for patients. “Oakland issued licenses and regulations, and Los Angeles did nothing and they are still unregulated,” Mr. DeAngelo said. “Cannabis is being distributed by inappropriate people.”

But even Oakland’s regulations fall short of Mr. Trutanich’s proposal that Los Angeles ban all cash sales.

“I don’t know of any collective that operates in the way that is envisioned by this ordinance,” said Mr. Duncan, of Americans for Safe Access.

Christine Gasparac, a spokeswoman for State Attorney General Jerry Brown, said that after Mr. Trutanich’s comments in Los Angeles, law enforcement officials and advocates from around the state had called seeking clarity on medical marijuana laws.

Mr. Brown has issued legal guidelines that allow for nonprofit sales of medical marijuana, she said. But, she added, with laws being interpreted differently, “the final answer will eventually come from the courts.” By Jim Wilson. Source.

October 11, 2009 – Campaigners in California say the state should ease its crippling financial crisis – by legalizing marijuana and collecting tax on its sale.Picture 4

Campaigners say business in California will prosper if cannabis is made legal.

California was the first state to allow people to smoke marijuana for medical purposes but under US federal law the drug remains illegal.

It means campaigners pushing to have a state-wide vote on legalization next year are on a collision course with the US government.

The city of Oakland, near San Francisco, this year became the first to collect tax on the sale of so-called ‘medical marijuana’.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was forced to put drastic cuts in place to deal with a multi-billion dollar budget deficit in a state which has a bigger economy than almost every nation on earth.

Richard Lee, who runs a “cannabis college” in the Oakland district which has become known as Oaksterdam, says the industry is worth an estimated $15bn in California so sales tax alone would bring in $1.5bn.

He told Sky News: “Just like alcohol makes a lot of money we learned with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s that when you make it illegal it doesn’t stop people doing it, it just means more crime and violence and a loss of respect for the law and law enforcement.”

Everyone says the big tobacco companies are hovering over and they are ready to pounce the second marijuana is legalized.

Eric Sligh, Grow magazine

Medical users in Oakland have to carry a card issued by their doctor which entitles them to buy marijuana at one of the city’s four licensed ‘coffee shop’ dispensaries. But police dispute the medical benefits of marijuana and insist the drug remains a ‘gateway’ to harder substances.

Special Agent Bob Cooke, the man in charge of California’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, told Sky News any amount of tax collected would not pay for the damage caused.

He said: “We’re not making enough money now to care for all the people in hospital with illnesses caused by smoking cigarettes for 30 years and quitting 20 years ago, so who is going to pay for all of this.”

Pro-legalisation campaigners believe the move is inevitable in California and that big business cannot wait.

Eric Sligh, who runs Grow magazine, said: “Everyone says the big tobacco companies are hovering over and they are ready to pounce the second marijuana is legalized.

“They think it is going to happen, they have binoculars and are just sitting and waiting for legalization and they’re going to cash in.” Source.

This article reprinted in full with permission from the 3 Monkeys Guide to Health. The original article can be found here:

September 15, 2009 – The politics and policies of drug prohibition are a failure primarily because they are not effective in actually prohibiting people from obtaining and using drugs, and also because the evidence NORML_Remember_Prohibition_supporting those policies are weak.

Here are a few rebuttals to the main arguments used in favor of prohibition.

Argument 1: The fact that drugs are illegal keeps many people from trying them, and out of harm’s way. Legalization now would contribute to many more people using drugs.

In the UK, as in many countries, the real clampdown on drugs started in the late 1960s, yet government statistics show that the number of heroin or cocaine addicts seen by the health service has grown ever since – from around 1000 people per year then, to 100,000 today. It is a pattern that has been repeated the world over.

Argument 2: If current policies are not successful at prohibition, stricter policies should be enacted.

A second approach to the question is to look at whether fewer people use drugs in countries with stricter drug laws. In 2008, the World Health Organization looked at 17 countries and found no such correlation. The US, despite its punitive drug policies, has one of the highest levels of drug use in the world (PLoS Medicine, vol 5, p e141).

Argument 3: A halfway approach, which would decriminalize possession of drugs, is doomed to fail since the lack of effective punishment will encourage more people to try drugs.

While dealing remains illegal in Portugal, personal use of all drugs has been decriminalised. The result? Drug use has stayed roughly constant, but ill health and deaths from drug taking have fallen. “Judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalisation framework has been a resounding success,” states a recent report by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington DC.

The Law Of Unintended Consequences comes into play as a result of prohibitionist policies. Black market items are generally very profitable, and young people may get sucked in with dreams of fast cash. Ironically, prohibition is often sold as being “for the children”.

Most drug trafficking happens through large criminal enterprises, which are also involved in murder, corruption, and kidnapping. Nearly 4,000 people have been killed this year (so far) in Mexico’s drug wars.

So what’s the alternative? There are several models for the legal provision of recreational drugs. They include prescription by doctors, consumption at licensed premises or even sale on a similar basis to alcohol and tobacco, with health warnings and age limits. If this prospect appals you, consider the fact that in the US today, many teenagers say they find it easier to buy cannabis than beer.

Accusations of evidence suppression happen everywhere, from Big Tobacco to Big Pharma, and it is rightly shocking when lives are at stake. Why are citizens willing to elect and re-elect politicians who enact policies running contrary to evidence sometimes composed by Big Government itself? Aren’t lives at stake here too?

In 1944, Mayor LaGuardia commissioned a report which was titled “The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York”. The report was written up by the New York Academy of Medicine.

This study is viewed by many experts as the best study of any drug viewed in its social, medical, and legal context. The committee covered thousands of years of the history of marijuana and also made a detailed examination of conditions In New York City. Among its conclusions: “The practice of smoking marihuana does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word.” And: “The use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction, and no effort is made to create a market for those narcotics by stimulating the practice of marihuana smoking.” Finally: “The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City is unfounded.”

A primer on the issues at play here and a must read is The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs, by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine.

The recommendations in this report included:
# Stop emphasizing measures designed to keep drugs away from people.
# Stop increasing the damage done by drugs.
# Stop misclassifying drugs.
# Stop viewing the drug problem as primarily a national problem, to be solved on a national scale.
# Stop pursuing the goal of stamping out illicit drug use.
# Consumers Union recommends the immediate repeal of all federal laws governing the growing, processing, transportation, sale, possession, and use of marijuana.
# Consumers Union recommends that each of the fifty states similarly repeal its existing marijuana laws and pass new laws legalizing the cultivation, processing, and orderly marketing of marijuana-subject to appropriate regulations.
# Consumers Union recommends that state and federal taxes on marijuana be kept moderate, and that tax proceeds be devoted primarily to drug research, drug education, and other measures specifically designed to minimize the damage done by alcohol, nicotine, marijuana. heroin, and other drugs.
# Consumers Union recommends an immediate end to imprisonment as a punishment for marijuana possession and for furnishing marijuana to friends.*
# Consumers Union recommends, pending legalization of marijuana, that marijuana possession and sharing be immediately made civil violations rather than criminal acts.
# Consumers Union recommends that those now serving prison terms for possession of or sharing marijuana be set free, and that such marijuana offenses be expunged from all legal records.

There are many more major studies of drugs and drug policy like the above two available for free from the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy.

Unfortunately, the idea that banning drugs is the best way to protect vulnerable people – especially children – has acquired a strong emotional grip, one that politicians are happy to exploit. For many decades, laws and public policy have flown in the face of the evidence. Far from protecting us, this approach has made the world a much more dangerous place than it need be. Source.

September 14, 2009 – All drug users and dealers in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and other neighboring countries know that marijuana grows mjborat in the Chuy River Valley (in the northwest partof Kazakhstan). There is no way this narcotic herb can be dug it out of the land just to see more of it growing there in the next year. A decision was made in Kazakhstan to build a hemp processing plant to manufacture medicine and fiber. However these intentions counter bureaucratic hindrances and lack of understanding on the side of drug fighters.

This place is ill famed not only in Kazakhstan, but far beyond it as well. It has been known for ages that Chuy (Shu) valley is a paradise for drug users and drug dealers. Much has been done to do away with the evil called marijuana. Unfortunately the humanity could not outwit the nature: the hemp neither burns nor drowns.

Turn poison into a medicine and a rope

There are some people who decided to use the hemp for constructive purposes. They plan to build a plant in Jambul region to process wild hemp growing in Chuy valley. Currently a company from Almaty Special Partnership “XELORIA” is developing 15 hectares of land in the almaty-report-1953-6southern industrial zone of Shu town in Shu district for building the enterprise. The cost of the industrial component of the project is about 54 million USD, and that of the pharmaceutical component totals to 20 million USD. Founders of “XELORIA” along with international and Kazakh financial institutions will generate funding for the project implementation.

First the plant plans to launch pharmaceutical production of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the active element of cannabis.

In the second and later stages they plan to develop industrial (textile) line. Such industrial and commodity goods as fiber, rope and cord products, hemp oil, clothes, shoes, and etc.

The first stage is expected to be set in operation in the beginning of the next year.

However, there are certain objective circumstances that impede the project implementation. Some of them are related to acquiring clearances, development and straightening out the technological production regulations.

General director of “XELORIA” Special Partnership Marat Kulmanov says that they have license for storage of the marijuana herb, processing and selling it. However, they lack the key document – license for collecting marijuana. Last August the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan appealed to the UNO International Committee to allocate a certain quota, but has not got an answer yet. When and if the quota will be given, the Kazakh government will issue an ordinance on approval of the quota for collection of marijuana over the calendar year and based on it a license for hemp collection can be issued.

The technology to be used for pharmaceutical production also matters. There are several pharmaceutical companies in the world, including those in Germany and England that do scientific research on and produce medicine made of marijuana. Their experience and technologies of raw material processing can be borrowed but there are some restrictions to do with technology patents. Moreover, cannabis that grows in Shuy valley differs from the hemp processed by foreign producers as it is the hybrid of the local wild growing hemp and the Indian hemp. This means that pharmaceutical production technologies should be selected taking into account the contents of the plant. Once the quota and license are received, the company plans to make tests and analysis to define the standard sample and prepare corresponding pharmacopoeia article. (State standard of the medicine quality, which includes the list of obligatory indicators and quality control methods).

The area allocated for construction of the plant is currently enclosed. Design investigation works are underway. Facilities are being prepared to ensure access to electricity supply, sewerage and heating. As the general director of Special Partnership “XELORIA” informs the construction and mounting will be done by local contractors.

The Entrepreneurship and Industry Management Unit of Jambul Region informs that construction and operation of the plant would create up to 150 jobs for the locals. The management of the company “XELORIA” anticipates occasional seasonal rise of employment as the hemp will be picked by hand and people will be needed to collect it.

Cultivation of what others fight against

Not everyone is happy with the idea of building a new plant in the region. For example, employees of the Unit for Fighting Against Drug Business of the Internal Affaires Department of Jambul Region do not find the idea brilliant at all.

Jenis Begmatov, acting deputy head of this unit informs that policemen at the borders work very hard to close channels of drug smuggling, and to detect and prevent drug distribution. He fears that the plant for marijuana processing can become asylum for hemp lovers. He further continues his line of thought saying that opponents of the idea do not object to the idea of using the cannabis for other useful purposes. However, industrial production demands significant volume of raw materials supply. The hemp growing wild around would not be sufficient. Coupled with the uncertain nature of marijuana, there can be no guarantees that the producers will be able to collect the required volume of the raw material. To stock raw materials for production they may have to cultivate anew several hectares of hemp plantations. They would have to cultivate marijuana that we are fighting against! Besides this, hemp pickers can any time be tempted to earn money illegally.

J. Begmatov also mentioned that stricter criminal liability measures adopted in 2008 impacted the level of drug related crimes in the region. This year there is less smuggling, and twenty channels of contraband from neighboring countries were eliminated. Regardless of doubled imprisonment terms twice the volume of drugs was confiscated this year compared to the last year- about seven tons versus four and a half.

Policemen of the special department “Delta Dolina” say that the marijuana harvest is low this year due to rainy and cloudy spring. However, the number of marijuana pickers who come to the valley for harvest is the same as ever. The visitors from the adjacent countries come here most often. For example, an Uzbek man came allegedly to visit his relatives in Taraz, while his true purpose was to stock marijuana for the winter, as the commodity is unaffordable by the market prices. A ton of marijuana at the black market costs more then three thousand dollars, making the “pleasure” beyond his buying capacity, he complained.

Residents of the Chuy valley do not see any benefit in construction of the new plant. “Marijuana has been a problem. It will remain a problem. I doubt that the cause of sufferings of many can be used for the common good. Maybe only businessmen will benefit.”- wonders Kairat, resident of Shu town.

The immortal herb

The head of the US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) Eric Hamrin, the head of the Department of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement of the US State Department Antony Beever and a Programs Manager of the same department Raushan Kasymbekova recently visited Taraz, the administrative center of Jambul Region. Head of Internal Affairs Department of Jambul Region, police general Meyirhan Jamanbaev and deputy chairman of the Committee on fighting with drug business in Kazakhstan, colonel Nigmedzhan Saparov welcomed the guests.

The chief policeman of Jambul Region M. Jamanbaev informed the Americans of the situation in the Chuy valley.

“Wild cannabis grows only in Jambul Region area in six districts. The marijuana has been here fore ages. Ancient Kazakhs used it in every day life- twisted ropes, wove carpets, and did not even know that hemp contained narcotic substances. Our forefathers used cannabis as a useful materials as ropes and carpets made of it were very durable”- was the introduction M. Jamanbaev started with.

“Today people use it for absolutely other purposes. Therefore we do everything we can to get rid of marijuana and prevent its export out of the region. It is a rough task as it is unevenly scattered around, making it almost impossible to eradicate it. In 1990 a group of scientists from 60 countries, including scientists from a US drugs research lab came to study the wild hemp. They went to the Chuy valley to study the area and its conditions. Different ways were tried to kill the herb, but the science was helpless. If you dig over the place where cannabis grows, it multiplies the next year. You cannot burn the marijuana fields as pastures and private crop fields neighbor it. Scientists warn against pulling out the cannabis as its roots stretch seven meters deep and it grows on sandy soil. If you eradicate the herb pulling its roots out, the sand threatens to bury railroads and settlements.

They try to smuggle marijuana to Russia or Kyrgyzstan. We exchange information with Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia on regular basis. We are concerned that Kazakhstan is a transit area for heroin supply. Heroin is supplied to Russia and other countries through Kazakhstan. Illegal traffic of heroin – is a big problem for Jambul Region. Just a couple of days ago seven kilos of this drug was confiscated”-said the police general.

During the conversation the head of Internal Affaires Department said that a special unit “Delta Dolina” responsible for supervision over the fertile valley works under tough conditions. The cannabis grows in sandy places that have no water and are difficult to access. The summer temperature runs as high as 50 degrees above zero. The unit lacks basic work conditions.

The Americans replied with narration about a program of the Anti–Drug Department of the US Embassy. The major goal of the program is to facilitate cooperation between parties involved in fighting against drugs, international cooperation, study of subject legislation and provision of funding. Having listened to the head of IAD Eric Hamrin promised that he will tell his American colleagues about the situation with drugs in Kazakhstan to solicit material support for Kazakh counterparts. By Guzal Mirzarahimova.

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