November 8, 2009 – Marijuana arrests in California are increasing faster than the nationwide rate, and African Americans are being booked for pot-related crimes much more often than whites, a ba-CORRECTION_Su_0500753667new report says.

But despite the rise in arrests and in the seizure of marijuana plants, use of pot in California has increased slightly, said the report, part of a nationwide study released Thursday by a Virginia researcher.

In both California and the United States as a whole, “we keep arresting more and more people, but it’s not having a deterrent effect,” said Jon Gettman, an adjunct assistant professor of criminal justice at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va.

Nationally, Gettman said, marijuana arrests have doubled since 1991,but marijuana use is unchanged.

Gettman is a former director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He said he favors the legalization of marijuana.

Gettman’s report came a day after state officials announced that the state-federal Campaign Against Marijuana Planting had seized a record 4.4 million pot plants in California this year, up from 2.9 million in 2008.

Gettman’s study is based on state and FBI arrest records and other government data from 2003 through 2007. It said California officers arrested 61,375 people on marijuana charges in 2003 and 74,024 in 2007, an average increase of more than 5 percent per year. Eighty percent of the arrests in 2007 were for marijuana possession, the report said.

Nationwide, the annual increase during the same period was just under 4 percent, the report said, although California’s marijuana arrest rate, compared to its population, remained among the nation’s lowest.

The report also found a large racial discrepancy in arrests.

African Americans were about 20 percent more likely than whites to use marijuana in 2007, but the arrest rate for blacks on marijuana charges was nearly 270 percent of whites’ arrest rate, the report said.

Gettman said he found similar disparities nationwide and in most major cities, including San Francisco.

“I don’t believe it’s racially motivated,” he said. Among the possible contributing factors, he said, are “more intensive patrolling” by police in minority neighborhoods, and the presence of marijuana when people are arrested for other crimes.

Overall, the report said, marijuana use increased in California by 0.73 percent a year in the four-year period, while nationwide use declined by 0.21 percent a year.

By geographic zone, the state’s northernmost counties, which include the prime marijuana-growing areas of Humboldt and Mendocino counties, ranked 12th out of 350 regions in the nation in pot use by their residents. A region consisting of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties ranked 15th. Source.

Read the report

October 29, 2009 – SACRAMENTO — Marijuana legalization advocates and law enforcement officials duked it out in a three-hour legislative hearing Wednesday on whether making the drug legal under state law would be good public policy.schwarzenegger_marijuana_debate

Advocates said legalization and regulation could bring as much as $1.4 billion in state and local excise and sales tax revenue per year; control the drug’s potency; do more to keep it out of children’s hands; and end a century long double standard in which alcohol and tobacco — which they say are more harmful — are legal while marijuana isn’t, leading to a war on drugs particularly destructive to people of color.

Law enforcement officials testified the harms caused by marijuana legalization would far outweigh whatever tax revenue it might bring — more, not less, use by children; more people driving under the influence, causing more injuries and deaths; decreased worker productivity that could hurt the economy; and a still-thriving black market.

The hearing was convened by Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who earlier this year introduced a bill to legalize and tax marijuana under a system not unlike that used for alcohol. Even as several proposed ballot measures for legalization seek to qualify for next year’s ballot, Ammiano is rewriting his bill to bring it forward again in January, and Wednesday’s hearing was supposed to help him gather input for that revamp.

First up Wednesday were the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which said state and local law enforcement could save “several tens of millions of dollars each year” by no longer pursuing marijuana cases, and the Board of Equalization, which has estimated $1.4 billion in annual revenue from taxes on legalized marijuana.

Then came the lawyers. Drug Policy Alliance staff attorney Tamar Todd and American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Allen Hopper testified California is free to criminalize or not criminalize whatever it wants, and can and should chart its own course as a laboratory for new social and economic policy.

But Martin Mayer, general counsel to the California Peace Officers’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association, underscored there would be no protection from federal law enforcement agencies arresting, charging and prosecuting Californians for violating the federal marijuana ban.

California Peace Officers’ Association President John Standish said there’s “no way marijuana legalization could protect or promote society — in fact, it radically diminishes it” by impairing educational ability, worker productivity, traffic safety and drug-related crime rates.

Ammiano asked whether police resources now used to fight marijuana would be better spent fighting harder, more harmful drugs such as methamphetamine.

“That’s like, ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ Standish replied, calling marijuana and methamphetamine “both equally critical problems our society needs to address.”

Sara Simpson, acting assistant chief of the state Justice Department’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, said much of California’s major marijuana cultivation is run by Mexican drug cartels on remote public lands, and she recited a litany of violent and deadly clashes with armed guards at such sites. Such growing operations also are environmentally devastating, she said, and produce marijuana far more potent than that used just years ago. There’s no reason to believe the cartels would adhere to state laws on cultivation, potency and taxation any more than they adhere to prohibition now, she said.

Rosalie Pacula, co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at renowned think-tank RAND Corp., said prohibition has kept marijuana prices high, and legalization with heavy taxation that elevates marijuana’s price far above the cost of its production will lead to a thriving black market.

But Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice Executive Director Dan Macallair said arrest statistics from the past 20 years show California law enforcement is far more focused on prosecuting simple possession and use than cultivation and sales. Various counties are more or less tolerant of marijuana use, he said, a lack of consistency and continuity that could be solved by regulation.

And retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray said the state can allow and regulate marijuana without condoning its use just like alcohol and tobacco, but any legalization legislation must ban advertising lest marijuana use become glamorized. By Josh Richman. Source.

GREELEY, Colo. — Health and law enforcement officials around the nation are scrambling to figure out how to articleLargeregulate medical marijuana now that the federal government has decided it will no longer prosecute legal users or providers.

For years, since the first medical marijuana laws were passed in the mid-1990s, many local and state governments could be confident, if not complacent, knowing that marijuana would be kept in check because it remained illegal under federal law, and that hard-nosed federal prosecutors were not about to forget it.

But with the Justice Department’s announcement last week that it would not prosecute people who use marijuana for medical purposes in states where it is legal, local and state officials say they will now have to take on the job themselves.

In New Hampshire, for instance, where some state legislators are considering a medical marijuana law, there is concern that the state health department — already battered by budget cuts — could be hard-pressed to administer the system. In California, where there has been an explosion of medical marijuana suppliers, the authorities in Los Angeles and other jurisdictions are considering a requirement that all medical dispensaries operate as nonprofit organizations.

“The federal government says they’re not going to control it, so the only other option we have is to control it ourselves,” said Carrol Martin, a City Council member in this community north of Denver, where a ban on marijuana dispensaries was on the agenda at a Council meeting the day after the federal announcement.

At least five states, including New York and New Jersey, are considering laws to allow medical marijuana through legislation or voter referendums, in addition to the 13 states where such laws already exist. Even while that is happening, scores of local governments in California, Colorado and other states have gone the other way and imposed bans or moratoriums on distribution even though state law allows it.

Some health and legal experts say the Justice Department’s decision will promote the spread of marijuana for medical uses because local and state officials often take leadership cues from federal policy. That, the experts said, could lead to more liberal rules in states that already have medical marijuana and to more voters and legislators in other states becoming comfortable with the idea of allowing it. For elected officials who have feared looking soft on crime by backing any sort of legalized marijuana use, the new policy might provide support to reframe the issue.

“The fact that the feds are backing off is going to allow changes that are going to make it more accessible,” said Bill Morrisette, a state senator in Oregon and chairman of a committee that oversees the state’s medical marijuana law. Mr. Morrisette said he expected a flurry of proposals in the Legislature, including a plan already floated to have the state grow the marijuana crop itself, perhaps on the grounds of the State Penitentiary in Salem.

“It would be very secure,” he said.

Here in Greeley, anxiety and enthusiasm were on display as the City Council considered a ban on dispensaries.

Most of those who testified at the hearing, including several dispensary operators, opposed the ban and spoke of marijuana’s therapeutic benefits and the taxes that dispensary owners were willing to pour into Greeley’s budget, which has been battered by the recession.

But on the seven-member Council, the question was control. Mr. Martin, for example, said that he hated to see the spread of marijuana, but that the barricades had fallen. Still, he said he opposed a local ban on dispensaries.

“If we have no regulations at all, then we can’t control it, and our police officers have their hands tied,” Mr. Martin said.

Mayor Ed Clark, a former police officer, took the opposite tack in supporting the ban, which passed on a 6-to-1 vote.

“I think we do regulate them, by not allowing dispensaries,” Mr. Clark said.

The backdrop to the debate here in Colorado is a sharp expansion in marijuana dispensaries and patients, fueled in part by the State Board of Health decision in July not to impose limits on the number of patients handled by each marijuana provider.

The state attorney general, John W. Suthers, said the federal government’s retreat, combined with the growth in demand, had created a legal vacuum.

“The federal Department of Justice is saying it will only go after you if you’re in violation of state law,” Mr. Suthers said. “But in Colorado it’s not clear what state law is.”

In New Hampshire, by contrast, where the state legislature is scheduled to meet this week to consider overriding the governor’s veto and passing a medical marijuana law, government downsizing has colored the debate.

The state agency that would be responsible for licensing marijuana dispensaries has been battered by budget cuts, said Senator Sylvia B. Larsen, the president of the New Hampshire Senate and a Democrat. Concerns about the department, Ms. Larsen said, have made it harder to find two more votes in the Senate to reach a two-thirds majority that is needed to override a veto by Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.

An even odder situation is unfolding in Maine, which already allows medical marijuana and where residents will vote next month on a measure that would create a new system of distribution and licensing.

The marijuana proposal, several political experts said, has been overshadowed by another fight on the ballot that would overturn a state law and ban same-sex marriage.

The added wrinkle is that opponents of same-sex marriage, said Christian Potholm, a professor of government at Bowdoin College, have heavily recruited young, socially conservative voters, who by and large tend to not be concerned about medical marijuana expansion.

“The 18- to 25-year-old vote is going to be overrepresented because of the gay marriage situation, so overrepresented in favor of medical marijuana,” Professor Potholm said.

Some legal scholars said the federal government, by deciding not to enforce its own laws (possession and the sale of marijuana remain federal crimes), has introduced an unpredictable variable into the drug regulation system.

“The next step would be a particular state deciding to legalize marijuana entirely,” said Peter J. Cohen, a doctor and a lawyer who teaches public health law at Georgetown University. If federal prosecutors kept their distance even then, Dr. Cohen said, legalized marijuana would become a de facto reality.

Senator Morrisette in Oregon said he thought that exact situation — a state moving toward legalization, perhaps California — could play out much sooner now than might have been imagined even a few weeks ago. And the continuing recession would only help, he said, with advocates for legalization able to promise relief to an overburdened prison system and injection of tax revenues to the state budget. Source.

October 21, 2009 – Since Monday when the Department of Justice announced its new ‘hands-off’ policy on Picture 52persecuting Medical Marijuana dispensaries operating in compliance with state laws, there has been an avalanche of media coverage – over 2000 major media articles. Here is a sampling of the range and scope of coverage and opinions:

Medical Marijuana: ‘Be Careful,’ Ex-White House Drug Spokesman Bob Weiner Tells DOJ About ‘New Lax Enforcement’ Policy; ‘Use May Explode for Healthy People’
Source: PRnewswire
Excerpt: “You may get way more than you bargained for”, Weiner cautions of the new policy barring states attorneys from busting and prosecuting users and caregivers of so-called “medical” marijuana who act “in accordance with state law.” “Prescription marijuana use may explode for healthy people.” Unfortunately, as many as 90% of purchases at clinical distribution centers are “false defenses”, some law enforcement agents report – “which means individuals are not really sick but simply want the pot,” Weiner asserts.

U.S medicinal smokers exhale sigh of relief
Source: Now Toronto
Excerpt: Obama administration finally makes good on promises to call of the dogs on medicinal pot shops

Medical marijuana: An excuse to get high
Source: Baltimore Sun
Excerpt: The medical marijuana issue has little to do with helping people and more to do with making the drug legal for all those who want to get high and not get into trouble. If we are truly concerned about using marijuana for medicinal purposes, we would send it to the Food & Drug Administration to be tested and if approved they would decide on the best way to make the drug available.

Medical marijuana policy move sparks cautious optimism
Source: CNN.com
Excerpt: Patients in the 13 states where medical marijuana is legal can now light up without fear of federal reprisal, but they may still have to answer to local authorities. The federal move could encourage other states to make their own laws allowing medical marijuana use. The Justice Department this week announced that it will no longer seek to prosecute people using, prescribing, or distributing pot for medical purposes, as long as they’re in compliance with local law. However, regulations in some medical marijuana states remain murky.

The National Review: A Case Of Token Federalism
Source: NPR
Excerpt: The Obama administration has discovered federalism, at least a version of it, and it has therefore foresworn prosecuting medical-marijuana users and distributors who are acting in accord with state laws. This is good news for medical-marijuana users in the 14 states that allow cannabis to be prescribed for such purposes as mitigating the side effects of chemotherapy.

Good Sense on Medical Marijuana
Source: New York Times
Excerpt: The federal government should not be harassing sick people and their caregivers. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has made the right decision, calling off prosecutions of patients who use marijuana for medical purposes or those who distribute it to them — provided they comply with state laws. It is a welcome reversal of the Bush administration’s ideologically driven campaign to prosecute dispensaries, even in states that had made medical uses legal and often with overwhelming popular support.

Will Health Coverage Pay for Medical Marijuana?
Source: CBS News
Excerpt: “The main issue here is the question of FDA approval that all drugs need to go through,” said Pisano. Lack of FDA approval means no coverage either by private insurers or through any public plan to be drafted in Congress.
So what, then, are the prospects that medical marijuana will get FDA approval? In the short term, at least, they’re pretty slim. The fact that marijuana remains a controlled substance presents one hurdle to approval; another, perhaps more significant one is that it isn’t a synthesized drug – that is, its component parts are not crafted by drug companies.

Medical marijuana is an insult to our intelligence
Source: Washington Post
The Justice Department says it’s backing off the prosecution of people who smoke pot or sell it in compliance with state laws that permit “medical marijuana.” Attorney General Eric Holder says “it will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers.” Party hardy! I mean — let the healing begin!

A federal misstep with medical marijuana?
Source: Christian Science Monitor
Excerpt: The problem with the Obama administration’s new directive limiting federal prosecution of medical marijuana is that it encourages those who would legalize the drug. The federal government has limited resources to fight drugs, and funds should not be wasted on prosecuting users and providers of medical marijuana who comply with state laws, the Obama administration said this week. While this argument may indeed seem a sensible prioritizing of federal effort and dollars, the White House and the public should realize it comes with a cost.
That cost is Washington’s tacit approval of state-sanctioned medical marijuana, which the drug’s proponents will take as a green light to push even harder for their ultimate goal: full legalization of marijuana use and distribution.

SAN FRANCISCO — Medical marijuana advocates in California said the Obama administration’s announcement of new guidelines for pot prosecutions Monday contained Picture 43some hopeful signs, but lacked the specifics needed to keep patients and their suppliers out of court.

“It’s an extremely welcome rhetorical de-escalation of the federal government’s long-standing war on medical marijuana patients,” said Stephen Gutwillig, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Dale Gieringer, California coordinator of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the administration’s advice to U.S. attorneys that they respect state law – such as California’s Proposition 215, the 1996 measure legalizing medicinal use of the drug – was encouraging.

However, he added, “the policy has major loopholes that give prosecutors broad discretion to determine what they think is legal.”

A Justice Department memo, sent Monday to federal prosecutors in California and 13 other states whose laws allow medical use of marijuana, provides guidelines to implement the policy Attorney General Eric Holder announced in March: that federal authorities should refrain from arresting or prosecuting people who are complying with their state’s laws.

Federal prosecutors should focus on major drug traffickers and networks, rather than on those who “are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws” on medical marijuana, said Deputy Attorney General David Ogden.

But he added some qualifications: Prosecutors can go after those who sell marijuana for profit, a category that federal authorities have commonly invoked in charging growers and sellers of medicinal pot.

San Francisco’s U.S. attorney, Joseph Russoniello, asserted in August that most of California’s 300 marijuana dispensaries make profits, in violation of state guidelines, and are therefore open to federal prosecution.

Ogden also said the Justice Department would fight any effort by people now charged with marijuana-related crimes in federal court to claim that they were simply following state law. And even those who are clearly complying with a state’s law can be investigated and prosecuted, he said, in the pursuit of “important federal interests.”
‘Lot of discretion’

“It leaves a lot of discretion up to the U.S. attorneys,” said Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group for patients who use marijuana. “We hope that these guidelines rein in rogue prosecutors like Russoniello. There’s no guarantee that’s going to happen.”

Russoniello’s office is prosecuting owners of two Hayward-area medical marijuana dispensaries that were licensed by local governments. In March, after Holder’s announcement, federal agents raided Emmalyn’s California Cannabis Clinic in San Francisco, which had a city permit. No charges were filed.

Russoniello’s office referred inquiries Monday to the Justice Department, where spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said Ogden’s memo was intended to provide “guidance and clarification” to prosecutors and does not change administration policy.

Judges go easy
Since Holder’s announcement, prosecutors have told several federal judges in California that the new policy did not justify leniency for marijuana defendants whose cases originated during President George W. Bush’s administration.

Judges have nonetheless imposed lighter sentences than the Justice Department wanted, notably a one-year term for a Central Coast pot club operator for whom prosecutors sought five years.

Although Monday’s guidelines, like Holder’s earlier statement, do not expressly apply to pending cases, defense lawyers will argue to judges that the Obama administration’s memo justifies a break in sentencing, said Joe Elford, lawyer for Americans for Safe Access.

He also predicted that some prisoners would cite the memo in asking President Obama for clemency.

The guidelines don’t say how federal authorities would respond if California legalized marijuana for personal use, as proposed in an Assembly bill and several pending initiatives. But Gutwillig, whose organization advocates legalization, said he saw a glimmer of hope.

“The Obama administration has taken a further step today to follow the lead of the states on marijuana policy,” he said.

Source.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 – Attorney General Eric Holder today announced formal guidelines for federal prosecutors in states that have enacted laws Obamaauthorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The guidelines make clear that the focus of federal resources should not be on individuals whose actions are in compliance with existing state laws, while underscoring that the Department will continue to prosecute people whose claims of compliance with state and local law conceal operations inconsistent
with the terms, conditions, or purposes of those laws.

“It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal,” Holder said. “This balanced policy formalizes a sensible approach that the Department has been following since January: effectively focus our
resources on serious drug traffickers while taking into account state and local laws.”

The guidelines set forth examples of conduct that would show when individuals are not in clear and unambiguous compliance with applicable state law and may indicate illegal drug trafficking activity of potential federal interest, including unlawful use of firearms, violence, sales to minors, money laundering, amounts of marijuana inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law, marketing or excessive financial gains similarly inconsistent with state or local law, illegal possession or sale of other controlled substances, and ties to criminal enterprises.

Fourteen states have enacted laws in some form addressing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. A copy of the guidelines, in a memo from Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden to United States Attorneys, can be found here:

SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice

WASHINGTON – Federal drug agents won’t pursue pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers in states that allow medical marijuana, under new legal guidelines to be issued US-department-of-justice-buildingMonday by the Obama administration.

Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.

The guidelines to be issued by the department do, however, make it clear that agents will go after people whose marijuana distribution goes beyond what is permitted under state law or use medical marijuana as a cover for other crimes, the officials said.

The new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

Fourteen states allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

California is unique among those for the widespread presence of dispensaries — businesses that sell marijuana and even advertise their services. Colorado also has several dispensaries, and Rhode Island and New Mexico are in the process of licensing providers, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that promotes the decriminalization of marijuana use.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in March that he wanted federal law enforcement officials to pursue those who violate both federal and state law, but it has not been clear how that goal would be put into practice.

A three-page memo spelling out the policy is expected to be sent Monday to federal prosecutors in the 14 states, and also to top officials at the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration.

The memo, the officials said, emphasizes that prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and says it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the legal guidance before it is issued.

“This is a major step forward,” said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This change in policy moves the federal government dramatically toward respecting scientific and practical reality.”

At the same time, the officials said, the government will still prosecute those who use medical marijuana as a cover for other illegal activity. The memo particularly warns that some suspects may hide old-fashioned drug dealing or other crimes behind a medical marijuana business.

In particular, the memo urges prosecutors to pursue marijuana cases which involve violence, the illegal use of firearms, selling pot to minors, money laundering or involvement in other crimes.

And while the policy memo describes a change in priorities away from prosecuting medical marijuana cases, it does not rule out the possibility that the federal government could still prosecute someone whose activities are allowed under state law.

The memo, officials said, is designed to give a sense of prosecutorial priorities to U.S. attorneys in the states that allow medical marijuana. It notes that pot sales in the United States are the largest source of money for violent Mexican drug cartels, but adds that federal law enforcement agencies have limited resources.

Medical marijuana advocates have been anxious to see exactly how the administration would implement candidate Barack Obama’s repeated promises to change the policy in situations in which state laws allow the use of medical marijuana.

Soon after Obama took office, DEA agents raided four dispensaries in Los Angeles, prompting confusion about the government’s plans. Source.

October 18th, 2009 – Oakland International Airport may be the nation’s only airport with a specific policy letting users of medical marijuana travel with the drug.oakland-airport-shuttle-pickup

The policy is spelled out in a three-page document quietly enacted last year by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. It states that if deputies determine someone is a qualified patient or primary caregiver as defined by California law and has eight ounces or less of the drug, he or she can keep it and board the plane.

Deputies warn the pot-carrying passengers that they may be committing a felony upon arrival when they set foot in a jurisdiction where medical marijuana is not recognized. But they say they don’t call ahead to alert authorities on the other end.

“We never have. We’re certainly within our right to, but we never have,” said Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “Our notification of the passengers is for their own safety and well-being.”

California voters approved medical marijuana use in 1996, while federal law still bans all possession and use.

But Oakland attorney Robert Raich notes the Code of Federal Regulations says a prohibition on operating a civil aircraft with knowledge that there is marijuana aboard doesn’t apply to carrying marijuana that’s “authorized by or under any Federal or State statute.”

The federal Transportation Security Administration does the screening and when marijuana — or any suspected contraband — is found, the sheriff’s deputies are summoned.

Low profile
Oakland’s airport policy was enacted in February 2008, but Raich said he didn’t want to publicize it until recently lest the Bush administration change federal regulations, or lest it become an issue in Obama administration drug officials’ confirmation hearings.

“All other airports in medical cannabis states should have similar policies but they don’t,” he said, adding that he hears San Francisco International and Los Angeles International airports are relatively kind to medical marijuana users while airports in Burbank, Ontario and San Diego are not.

Raich, who has seen two of his medical marijuana cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and has taught Oakland Police cadets about medical marijuana issues, said medical marijuana users generally didn’t have much trouble when Oakland Police used to patrol inside the airport terminals. But that changed when the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office took over in mid-2007. That summer TSA screeners referred to deputies a traveling medical-marijuana user from Washington state.

“The sheriff’s deputies so harassed this person, it was heart-wrenching,” Raich said. “They took his medicine, they broke his bong, they took his edibles. They were threatening him.”

‘Pinball machine’

Raich said he found that the sheriff’s office was unwilling to change its policy. So he consulted various officials including those at the Port of Oakland, which owns and operates the airport.

“I felt like a ball in a pinball machine,” he said. “I felt like I’d talked to every single employee at the port and they all seemed sympathetic but they all told me the same thing: ‘That’s not our policy “… that’s the sheriff doing that on his own.’ “

Raich eventually went to the Alameda County counsel’s office.

That office “finally told (Sheriff Greg Ahern) he had to comply with California law whether he liked it or not, and only then did he adopt a policy,” Raich said.

“Greg Ahern is out of touch with the people of California who voted for Prop. 215 and medical cannabis in 1996 and have continued to support it by wide margins ever since,” Raich said. Sheriff’s spokesman Nelson said the sheriff “neither supports nor opposes the medical marijuana law.

“He’s had no position on that,” Nelson said. “He’s just trying to do the best he can when a state law conflicts with a federal law.” 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.”
Skip to next paragraph
Enlarge This Image
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 16, 2009 – The Wild West of Weed – The only job 31-year-old Jason Beck has ever had is selling weed. He started as a teenager from a trailer park in Pittsburg, Calif., outside Oakland, running what heJason-Beck-Medical-marijuana-wide-horizontal calls a shop in a box. A shoebox full of marijuana, a list of loyal customers, and a beeper were all he needed 15 years ago. Beck still sells pot, but now from a storefront on sunny Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. His Alternative Herbal Health Services was one of the first medical cannabis caregiver dispensaries to open up in the Los Angeles area in 2005. At the time, there were fewer than 20 of these legal pot shops in all of Southern California.

Today, L.A. is overrun with close to 1,000 of them. Ever since U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called off federal raids on dispensaries in February, the number of these businesses in L.A. has exploded in what’s being deemed “The Green Rush.” But California law prohibits medical-marijuana dispensaries from making profits; they must be run as nonprofit collectives that grow their own merchandise that they sell only to patients with state-issued medical-cannabis cards (available with a doctor’s recommendation). Many of the recent newcomers, however, are buying marijuana instead of growing their own, and marking it up for a profit. Unlike Oakland or San Francisco, or even nearby West Hollywood, L.A. has no local ordinance regulating dispensaries. After struggling for two years to draft some form of guidelines, the L.A. city council still has nothing on the books. In the interim, the city has become a cannabis free-for-all.

L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley, the same guy who ordered the arrest of Roman Polanski earlier this month in Switzerland, has grown weary of the party. “The vast, vast, vast majority, about 100 percent, of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city are operating illegally,” he told reporters on Oct. 8. “The time is right to deal with this problem.”

Anticipation of the coming crackdown angers Beck, who says a bunch of amateurs looking for a quick buck are ruining what he’s worked hard to establish as a legitimate, legal business in compliance with the state’s medical-marijuana laws. “Those of us who’ve been in this for a while, who’ve established ourselves, we’re pissed off because they’re riding on the coattails of the work we’ve put in,” he says. “They don’t know what it’s like to be raided. So, yeah, I’m all for them getting closed. Let them see how it feels.”

Beck’s shop was one of 11 Los Angeles-area dispensaries raided by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration on Jan. 17, 2007. As he recalls, DEA agents in black SWAT-team gear came smashing through his glass front door around 1 p.m. By then, Beck’s shop had been broken into twice already, so he had spent close to $90,000 upgrading security, reinforcing walls, adding bulletproof glass, and installing an electronic-buzzer system that locks the several doors patients must pass through to gain entry to his shop, and ultimately the back room where he keeps his cash and marijuana. When the federal agents came storming in, they found themselves immediately stuck in the small man trap that Beck installed as his first line of defense. It’s essentially a steel cage you walk into upon getting buzzed in at the front door. Once inside, patients show their medical-cannabis ID cards to the receptionist, who then buzzes them into the main area. The man trap is big enough for only about four people, so seven or eight DEA agents found themselves smushed on top of each other, faces pressed against the bars, guns drawn. Beck and his receptionist just sat there looking at them. “If we were real gangsta drug dealers, we could have sniped them all out,” he jokes.

Once they extricated themselves from Beck’s man trap, the agents stayed for four hours and detained everyone who was inside, handcuffing and questioning them all separately. They seized every ounce of marijuana, Beck says, about $500,000 worth, and all his cash too, about $25,000, though he later got an invoice from the DEA claiming they’d seized only $12,500. “Someone pocketed 12 grand,” he says. “How corrupt is that?” A DEA spokesperson wouldn’t address individual allegations, and would say only that all cash seized during raids is put into evidence bags and taken to a bank where it’s counted by bank officials and witnessed by DEA agents. Beck says they also cut all his security-camera wires and finished smashing the glass out of his front door before leaving, resulting in $20,000 in property damage.

Even though California legalized medical cannabis in 1996, and West Hollywood had adopted its own ordinance in 2006 regulating the operation of dispensaries, marijuana is still illegal as far as the federal government is concerned. And it remains the DEA’s job to enforce federal drug laws, which trump local and state laws. Still, some local officials were angry about the raids. “Anger is an understatement; we were outraged,” says John Duran, a West Hollywood city-council member who was mayor in 2007. “They gave us no heads-up, they came in at the last minute. It was ridiculous.”

Beck and other dispensary owners who were raided were never charged with a crime. The DEA says that charges have been filed against three individuals from the 2007 raids. “They just wanted to send a message and try to scare people,” says Don Duncan, whose L.A. dispensary was raided on July 25, 2007. He too was never charged.

Beck was back in business a week after the raid, as was JoAnna LaForce, whose dispensary, the Farmacy, located just down Santa Monica Boulevard, was raided that same day. She says the raid cost her $25,000 in property damage. “They threw everything everywhere and made an absolute mess of the place,” says LaForce, also not charged with a crime. “But we weathered the storm.” Over the past two years, Beck and LaForce say things have been pretty quiet. They maintained their nonprofit collective business model, saying they grow their own pot and sell it only to patients who registered with them and have medical-use cards issued by the state. On the advice of his lawyer, Beck deals only in cash. Since marijuana is illegal under federal law, and credit cards are usually issued by federally regulated banks, using them could potentially trigger a federal money-laundering case. So every month Beck takes a big trash bag of cash to his lawyer’s office, who then deposits the money in a trust and pays state sales tax from that.

After the raids, LaForce and Beck continued their efforts to become upstanding members of the business community. They joined the chamber of commerce, and now feel as entrenched as the Whole Foods down the block. The four medical-marijuana dispensaries on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood generate an estimated $4 million of local sales-tax revenue every year for the city, according to the proprietors. . “We’ve worked very hard here to establish protocols and standards of operation,” says LaForce. “And we’ve been very active in trying to establish a sensible ordinance for all of Los Angeles. But it just hasn’t happened, and now it’s like were back to Reefer Madness,” she says, referring to the church-sponsored anti-marijuana film made in 1936 that’s become a cult classic.

LaForce shares Beck’s animosity for the profiteers she says are taking advantage of the lack of a city ordinance to make a quick buck. She feels confident that when the raids do start up again, nonprofit collectives like hers and Beck’s will be spared. But that depends on whether law enforcement will differentiate between those that are operating illegally and those that have been in compliance with the local law. “We’re all a little more nervous these days,” she says. Duran says that West Hollywood city-council members have explicitly reminded their sheriff that marijuana is not a priority, and not to cooperate with the L.A.P.D. in any attempts to raid or shut down dispensaries. “But,” Duran adds, “Steve Cooley is our D.A. here in West Hollywood.” The D.A.’s office tells NEWSWEEK that Cooley believes dispensaries operating properly under the law should be safe. He just doesn’t know of any collectives that are currently operating as such.

As for Beck, he recently downloaded a Cannabis Club app for his iPhone that pinpoints the location of all the dispensaries around L.A. When he types in a ZIP code, Beck marvels at the hundreds of pushpins that go flying into almost every strip mall and shopping center and even residential neighborhoods. “We’re totally oversaturated,” he says. Just a few weeks ago, a shop opened up only a couple of blocks from Beck’s dispensary. He’s driven by a few times, and gone to its Web site. The place looks nice: flat-screen TVs, sofas and glass tables and plush carpets. It looks like an upscale hair salon. “They clearly put a lot of money into it,” Beck says. “We’ll see how long they last.” Source.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.