Regulation


December 8, 2009 – Seeking to bring the city’s medical marijuana dispensary boom under tight control, the Los Angeles City Council decided today to cap the total number at 70, but to allow those that originally registered with the city to remain open.

Under the city’s 2007 moratorium on new dispensaries, 186 registered with the city. Officials believe at least 137 of those remain open in their original locations. Under the motion adopted this afternoon, those dispensaries could stay open but could be required to move to comply with the ordinance’s restrictions on where they may locate.

Councilman Jose Huizar proposed a cap to ensure that dispensaries would not be concentrated in any one neighborhood. Currently, with no ordinance in place to control their location, dispensaries have clustered in some neighborhoods, such as Eagle Rock, Hollywood and Woodland Hills, drawn by empty storefronts or by proximity to night life.

Urging the city to adopt a low number that it could control, Huizar said that “it is always easier to roll up than to ramp down.”

Councilman Dennis Zine argued strongly to give preference to the dispensaries that registered with the city. “I think we should hold true to those that followed the rules,” he said

After adopting the cap, the council turned to other aspects of the proposed ordinance. It remained unclear when the entire package might come to a final vote.

City officials say between 800 and 1,000 dispensaries are operating. Most opened in violation of a moratorium that the city failed to enforce and that a judge has recently decided was invalid because the City Council illegally extended it.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had also urged the council to send him an ordinance that would put a firm limit on the number of dispensaries in Los Angeles.

With no data on the number of medical marijuana patients in Los Angeles, council members took the same approach as other cities that have adopted caps: picking a number that sounded reasonable to them. Council members acknowledged that they may have to revisit the issue.

The only other city among the state’s 10 largest to impose a cap is Oakland, which has less than one-tenth the population of Los Angeles and allows four dispensaries. Those operations have become extremely successful, splitting about $20 million a year in sales. Berkeley, with a population of 107,000, allows three shops; Palm Springs, population 47,600, two; West Hollywood, population 37,000, four; and Sebastopol, population 7,700, two.

Several of these cities, which set their caps arbitrarily, are now considering raising them.

By John Hoeffel. Source.

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December 4, 2009 – A member of a medical marijuana group in Victoria has been arrested for allegedly making cookies, massage oil and other products from marijuana following a raid that could have implications for similar groups.

Thursday’s bust was sparked by a complaint about the smell coming from a makeshift bakery in a one-bedroom apartment in Victoria, according to Ted Smith, head of Victoria’s Cannabis Buyers Club, which rents the apartment.

Victoria police confirmed the raid took place but released no other details.

One man was arrested and Smith said he too expected to be charged.

Smith said his group, which has 3,000 members, has used marijuana to bake cookies and make massage oil and other products in the apartment for the past two years without a problem.

Health Canada allows people suffering from debilitating illnesses to have access to marijuana for medical purposes. They can get the marijuana through Health Canada or they can get permission to grow it themselves.

But Smith said there is a contradiction in the law, which allows the designated users to smoke marijuana but prohibits them from turning it into any other product.

Seeking city’s help
“If you take legally grown cannabis, or Health Canada’s and make it into one of these products, you’ve actually made an illegal extract,” he said.

Smith said he was found not guilty on a similar charge in 2007.

“We were successful in court, beating those charges, so we are going to use this unfortunate opportunity to point out the fatal flaw in Health Canada’s programs.”

The charge makes all medical marijuana groups vulnerable, Smith said.

He said his group would call on the City of Victoria to help legitimize the club by issuing it a permit or making a representation in any court proceedings. Source.

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.

December 2, 2009 – New Jersey is poised to become the next state to allow residents to use marijuana, when recommended by a doctor, for relief from serious diseases and medical conditions.

The state Senate has approved the bill and the state Assembly is expected to follow. The legislation would then head to the governor’s office for his signature.

Gov. Jon Corzine, the Democrat who lost his re-election bid last month, has indicated he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk before he leaves office in January. It would likely be one of Mr. Corzine’s last acts before relinquishing the job to Republican Chris Christie.

Mr. Christie has indicated he would be supportive of such legislation, but had concerns that one draft of a bill he read didn’t have enough restrictions, a spokeswoman said.

The bill has been endorsed by the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians and the New Jersey State Nurses Association.

Some lawmakers oppose the legislation, saying they fear the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries, as in California, where medical marijuana is legal. “It sends a mixed message to our children if you can walk down the street and see pot shops,” said Republican Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini.

Federal law bars the use of marijuana. But legislatures in several states, including California, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont, permit use of the drug for medical purposes. Attorney General Eric Holder said earlier this year that federal prosecutors wouldn’t prosecute people complying with state medical marijuana laws.

The New Jersey bill would allow people with debilitating medical conditions to grow, possess and use marijuana for personal use, provided that a physician allows it after completing a full assessment of the patient’s history and condition. The conditions that are stipulated in the Senate bill include cancer, glaucoma and human immunodeficiency viruses.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat who has led the fight for the medical-marijuana bill, said that was not a final list. He said the Senate bill would have to be reconciled with whatever the Assembly might pass.

Support for the legislation stems partly from sympathy for the plight of John Ray Wilson, a New Jersey resident who suffers from multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Mr. Wilson is scheduled to go on trial in December on felony drug charges, including operating a drug-production facility and manufacturing drugs. State police said they found 17 mature marijuana plants growing alongside his home in 2008. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Superior Court judge who will oversee the case has barred Mr. Wilson from explaining to the jury that he uses marijuana for his multiple sclerosis instead of more conventional medicines, which he said he can’t afford, since he has no medical insurance.

If convicted, Mr. Wilson faces up to 20 years in prison. “It definitely helps for pain,” Mr. Wilson said. “Stress can bring MS on. And I’m definitely under some stress.”

David Wald, a spokesman for the state attorney general, which is arguing the state’s position, said: “We’re prosecuting the law.”

At least two lawmakers, including Mr. Scutari, have asked Mr. Corzine to pardon Mr. Wilson. “I think it’s unfair,” said Mr. Scutari. “To try to incarcerate him for years and years doesn’t serve a good government function.”

The governor’s office said it wouldn’t comment on pardons involving an ongoing case.

Mr. Wilson’s case hasn’t persuaded Ms. Angelini, who voted against it in the health committee. As the executive director of Prevention First, an antidrug and antiviolence nonprofit, she said she was concerned that the bill would open the door for more liberal drug policies.

“If the drug laws are lax,” she said, “that can open it up to eventual drug legalization.”

By SUZANNE SATALINE. Source.

November 27, 2009 – Europe has yet to come up with a unified approach to medical marijuana. The Dutch will tell you it is legal to use the drug to treat certain illnesses; while the Swedish don’t recognize any medical use for cannabis at all.

“European policy is not really changing at all and I don’t think this issue is even on the European agenda. The topic is too controversial and too political,” said Catherine Sandvos, a legal expert for the Hague-based Cannabis Bureau, a Dutch national agency aimed at providing high-quality cannabis for medical purposes.

Ms. Sandvos’s native Netherlands has led Europe when it comes to legalizing medical marijuana, which it treats separately from marijuana legally available at one of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops. The Dutch police stopped enforcing laws against marijuana in 1976 following an overall tolerance policy in the country. “It’s hard when you try to explain to outsiders that it is illegal to grow cannabis in the Netherlands, but that it is tolerated to buy it,” she says.

But those who buy the drug on the streets are not getting the quality severely ill patients would need. The Dutch government set up the Cannabis Bureau — the only institution of its kind in the continent — in September 2003.

“The state realized that so many people wanted to use cannabis, so it said ‘why not give it to them via prescription instead of them accessing the drug illegally,’ ” Ms. Sandvos added.

The Cannabis Bureau ensures that patients who have a prescription from a doctor are getting marijuana that has been tested to make sure it doesn’t contain any pesticides or bacteria. Not only does the Cannabis Bureau sell cannabis across all pharmacies in the Netherlands through a prescription, but it also distributes the drug to Italy, Finland and Germany through the Ministry of Health of each country. According to the agency’s data, it sells around 100 kilos of cannabis every year.

The situation couldn’t be more different in the U.K., where it is unlawful to self-medicate cannabis regardless of the disease people suffer from. In 2005, Barry Quayle and Reay Wales, who were both afflicted by serious and chronic conditions, found no relief in prescription drugs and turned to cannabis to alleviate their pain. But a U.K. court ruled against them.

“The whole debate in relation to the use of cannabis for medical purposes is highly politicized,” said Daniel Godden, an associate solicitor for Hodge Jones & Allen LLP in London. Those who say marijuana is relatively safe can face severe political consequences. Last month, Professor David Nutt, the British government’s chief drug adviser, was removed from his post after he said the drug was less harmful than alcohol.

Favorable views toward cannabis face opposition from some local politicians and international lobbying groups. Jorgen Sviden, director of Stockholm-based European Cities Against Drugs, which represents 261 cities in 30 countries, isn’t convinced of the drug’s medical qualities.

“In principle, we don’t have an argument against cannabis as a treatment, but we haven’t seen any scientific evidence that provides a convincing argument for its medical use,” he said. “If in the future we come across proof that cannabis is a good treatment, then this is good.”

Some initiatives have managed to stay away from the political debate, however. The U.K. happens to be home to GW Pharmaceuticals PLC, which manufactures a drug based on marijuana extract — Sativex. Although it has some ingredients that derived from the actual drug, it has been treated by the U.K.’s regulators as a medicine like any other as it doesn’t contain the psychotropic substances marijuana does. The company is preparing to launch the drug into other parts of Europe, in partnership with Germany’s Bayer AG and Spain’s Almirall SA.

GW is hoping to sell its product, which will treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, across all countries in Europe but has initially filed for a license in the U.K. and Spain so far. Paul Cuddon, an analyst with KBC Peel Hunt in London, says he expects the drug to win approval in both countries in the first half of 2010 and then the firm will file for individual approval in each country.

“I’m not anticipating any legal problems in the rest of Europe at all,” Mr. Cuddon added. “This is a treatment that is highly different from raw cannabis and it has undergone rigorous chemical trials.”

Other countries have tough stances, however. Ireland, for example, doesn’t recognize marijuana as a drug with medical benefits. This means that manufacturing, producing, selling or possessing cannabis is unlawful for any purpose. The Ministry of Health is the only government branch that can grant an exception, but a spokesman said it never has.

Noel McCullagh, 34, has learned this the hard way. An Irish citizen, Mr. McCullagh lives in the Netherlands, where he uses cannabis medication to treat the severe effects of his muscular dystrophy. However, Irish authorities have warned him that he will be arrested if he enters his native country in possession if cannabis-based treatment.

In Sweden, the law doesn’t recognize the cannabis to have any medical use.

Beyond the debate of marijuana’s use, Dr. Willem Scholten, of the World Health Organization, believes patients should have access to high-quality medicine. So if cannabis has medical attributions, “there needs to be a system in place to ensure that patients get their medicine without any contamination and that they get the same content every time.”

Despite the radically different approaches in Europe, some believe the continent will eventually adopt it as a medical treatment.

“I can imagine European citizens will eventually think cannabis is a good medicine and that it should be accessible to people who suffer from serious pain as a result of HIV, multiple sclerosis or other grave illnesses,” said Brendan Hughes, senior legal analyst of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon. By JAVIER ESPINOZA. Source.

November 25, 2009 – Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urged the City Council on Wednesday toadopt a medical marijuana ordinance that would put a limit on the number of dispensaries.

“We have a right as a city to cap the number,” he said, saying that a cap was “without question” needed to reduce the number to a level that the Police Department and city officials can adequately monitor. “Communities have a right to protect the character of those communities and the security of those neighborhoods.”

The mayor declined to say what he thought the cap should be. “I can tell you that the current number of 800, or whatever, 900, is way beyond what any city should be able to accept,” he said.

The council, which debated its draft ordinance Tuesday, instructed city officials to study a citywide cap between 70 and 200 dispensaries, and separate caps, set by population, for each of the city’s 35 community plan areas or 21 police divisions.

A number of cities have caps, but most of them are much smaller than Los Angeles. Oakland, the largest city to impose a cap, allows four.

Villaraigosa, who has to approve the ordinance, said the council needs to write one that does not allow dispensaries to sell marijuana in a way that violates state law.

Council members decided Tuesday not to ban medical marijuana sales, disregarding the advice of the city attorney and the Los Angeles County district attorney, who believe the law makes any sales illegal.

Instead, the council adopted a provision that allows cash contributions for marijuana, which was a compromise that members believe will allow sales to continue and the city attorney’s top aides said would not run counter to state law.

Villaraigosa said he had not reviewed the provision. “I’ve been dealing with a bunch of other things all day long,” he said in a short interview outside his City Hall office.

Although there is debate about whether the law allows sales, the law is clear that dispensaries cannot make a profit. Villaraigosa said he believed many in the city were violating the requirement.

“People are trying to drive a truck through loopholes, and when you have that number it makes it very difficult for us,” he said.

john.hoeffel@latimes.com

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