Wednesday, September 30, 2009
REGION: State appeals court upholds LA city's dispensary ban
Decision could have widespread significance, attorney says
EDWARD SIFUENTES - esifuentes@nctimes. com
Posted: Monday, September 28, 2009 5:30 pm
In a legal blow to medical marijuana advocates, a state court ruled last
week that local governments can ban medical marijuana dispensaries from
setting up shop in their jurisdictions.
The state's Second District Court of Appeal said in its decision that
the city of Claremont in Los Angeles County could ban dispensaries
without violating the state's medical marijuana laws. Those laws include
the 1996 Compassionate Use Act, which legalized marijuana for medical
use, and the 2004 Medical Marijuana Program Act, which lets people
cultivate marijuana collectively.
That is because neither law "compels the establishment of local
regulations to accommodate medical marijuana dispensaries, " according to
the court's ruling.
The Sept. 22 opinion could have wide-ranging implications for cities and
counties statewide, including San Diego County and other cities in the
region that are drafting new ordinances to regulate medical marijuana
dispensaries, said an attorney involved in the case.
"What this court said is that if you are arguing that a city cannot ban
a dispensary, that argument is no longer valid," said Jeffrey Dunn, a
San Diego attorney who represented the city of Claremont in the case.
Several cases are moving though the state's court system addressing
various legal questions on what cities and counties can and can't do to
San Diego County officials and medical marijuana activists said they are
especially watching a case involving the city of Anaheim in Orange
Some medical marijuana activists say they believe the county is closely
following the Anaheim case because the supervisors here want to
permanently ban medical marijuana dispensaries, not regulate them.
Supervisor Pam Slater-Price has said she would be willing to ban
dispensaries in the county. Other supervisors have declined to say
whether they would support such a ban, but the majority of the board has
been outspoken opponents of the state's medical marijuana laws.
In 2006, the supervisors filed a lawsuit to overturn the state's 1996
medical marijuana law. The supervisors unsuccessfully challenged the law
all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear an appeal
Earlier this month, the supervisors extended a temporary ban on
dispensaries through August 2010. Some medical marijuana foes called for
an outright ban on the establishments, which they contend promote teen
drug use and attract crime into neighborhoods.
The Anaheim case, which was heard last week by the Fourth District Court
of Appeal, has attracted widespread attention among medical marijuana
activists and local governments. If the court upholds the ban, it may
encourage other cities and counties to ban dispensaries, medical
marijuana activists say.
A ruling is expected in the Anaheim case within 90 days.
Joe Elford, an attorney with the medical marijuana advocacy group
Americans for Safe Access, said the two cases are different. That's
because the Anaheim law not only bans dispensaries, but makes it a crime
to operate them.
"Unlike the Anaheim case, the Claremont case does not involve criminal
penalties ... so I don't think it will impact the Anaheim case," Elford
The Second Court of Appeals also did not analyze in detail whether the
Claremont law pre-empts the state's medical marijuana program, Elford
said. Pre-emption is a legal term meaning that when laws conflict, the
law from the higher jurisdiction supersedes the lower one.
Dunn said he agreed that the criminal aspect of the Anaheim law makes it
different from the Claremont case. But he said he disagreed that the
court did not significantly consider the question of pre-emption.
The opinion thoroughly analyzed state preemption law and determined that
cities and counties can retain their power to regulate and, if
necessary, restrict dispensaries in their jurisdiction, Dunn said.
Call staff writer Edward Sifuentes at 760-740-3511.
http://www.nctimes. com/news/ local/sdcounty/ article_82a043af -1c2c-5226- 84\
Court hears arguments over medical-marijuana ban
Patients want appeals court to revive lawsuit that challenged Anaheim's
ban on pot dispensaries.
By RACHANEE SRISAVASDI
The Orange County Register
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
SANTA ANA – Several medical marijuana patients attended a state
appeals court hearing Wednesday that could determine the legality of
city ordinances that have banned medical marijuana dispensaries.
The 4th District Court of Appeal heard arguments in the case of
Qualified Patients Association – a group of such patients – vs.
the City of Anaheim, which approved an ordinance in July 2007 that
forbids the outlets and makes operators subject to criminal prosecution.
The patients group wants the appeals court to resurrect their lawsuit,
which was dismissed by a lower court judge.
"Our alternative is to get (marijuana) from a gang member or cartels,''
said Marla Jones of Huntington Beach, who said she uses marijuana to
relieve pain from flesh-eating bacteria. "That's what cities are pushing
us to do."
"It's really sad that cities are encouraging the black market,'' added
her husband, David, who said he uses medical marijuana for leg pain.
The couple cannot buy medical marijuana in their hometown of Huntington
Beach – which is one of several Orange County cities to ban
At issue is a conflict between federal, state and local laws. Federal
law deems all marijuana use criminal, but the state allows its use for
In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, also known as the
Compassionate Use Act, which decriminalized the use of marijuana for
medicinal purposes. The state legislature in 2003 established the
Medical Marijuana Program (MMP), which allows cards to be issued to
qualified patients and their caregivers.
But since then, cities have passed ordinances forbidding such
dispensaries – like the city of Anaheim.
"It's essentially a criminal ordinance that criminalizes legal
conduct,'' said Anthony Curiale, an attorney for the medical marijuana
patients, of Anaheim's ordinance.
Joe Elford, an attorney for Americans for Safe Access, a national
medical-marijuana advocacy organization, told the three-judge panel that
hundreds of cities are waiting for the court's decision in this case to
determine the legality of banning such dispensaries.
Several cities in Orange County have filed briefs in support of Anaheim,
including Costa Mesa, Cypress, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Newport Beach,
Orange, Placentia, Tustin and Westminster, according to the group.
"There is a lot of uncertainty here in the state … and we seek
guidance,'' Elford said.
But, one of the justices, William F. Rylaarsdam, noted that the appeals
court is limited to ruling on the question before it – whether a
Superior Court judge should have granted a motion by Anaheim to throw
out the lawsuit.
"I'm a little uncomfortable to be in the guidance business,'' Rylaarsdam
As for the city of Anaheim, it wants the appeals court to uphold the
lower court's ruling that dismissed the patients' lawsuit.
Assistant City Attorney Moses Johnson criticized the state program that
set up the dispensaries "a bad state law" and said he believes the law
does not pre-empt the city's ordinance.
He also told the panel the Anaheim City Council decided to ban
dispensaries partly because they were allowing recreational drug use.
"We're only banning dispensaries. We didn't ban all medical marijuana
use,'' he added.
But, Justice Richard M. Aronson pointed out the ordinance – which
defines dispensaries as any location that dispenses medical marijuana to
three people or more – could apply to a family.
"It seems to criminalize the actions of a parent,'' who may give
marijuana to his cancer-ridden child, he said.
Johnson replied the judges had the option of striking the criminal
penalty clause from the city's ordinance.
A ruling is expected within 90 days.
Contact the writer: 714-834-3773 or rsrisavasdi@ ocregister. com
http://www.ocregist er.com/articles/ marijuana- medical-court- 2578591-city- \
LA may shut medical pot dispensaries
From wire service reports
Posted: 09/22/2009 10:23:52 PM PDT
A Los Angeles City Council committee Tuesday began considering a
proposed permanent ordinance to require the immediate closure of
hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries that operate for profit.
The City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee heard presentations
from the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, L.A. County District
Attorney's Office and Los Angeles Police Department, but decided to hold
The proposed ordinance allows the operation of medical marijuana
collectives, which are groups of qualified patients, and primary
caregivers who cultivate medical marijuana solely for the qualified
Under the proposed ordinance, collectives must be at least 1,000 feet
from other collectives, schools, playgrounds, child care facilities,
religious institutions, public libraries, public parks, hospitals and
Collectives would also be limited to giving their members medical
marijuana only between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. They cannot have more than
five pounds of dried marijuana nor have more than 100 plants on their
property at any time.
Before collectives can begin operating, their location will be inspected
by Department of Building and Safety officials to ensure compliance with
Once the collectives are in place, they are required to document each
member's participation in the medical marijuana cultivation, and provide
an accounting of their expenses.
Collectives that began operating before Sept. 14, 2007, and registered
with the City Clerk's Office before Nov. 12, 2007, will be given 90 days
to comply once the ordinance takes effect.
Collectives that began operating after that time frame are required to
comply immediately, or be shut down.
"We are not talking about a dispensing model," Deputy City Attorney
Heather Aubry said. "We are talking about a collective cultivation model
whereby patients, their caregivers, can come together and cultivate
medical marijuana for provision to their patients, which is in
compliance with state law."
Joseph Esposito, head deputy district attorney for major narcotics at
the L.A. County District Attorney's Office, stressed "it is our position
that over-the-counter sales of marijuana in exchange for money and the
profitability - the tremendous profitability that's attached to those
sales - are illegal under California law."
Esposito said California allows "very specific conduct: qualified
patients and their caregivers can cultivate and can use. That is it.
There is no additional language that says you can sell
Several owners and customers of medical marijuana dispensaries, as well
as members of collectives, packed the hearing to protest the proposed
Among them was Umberto Martinez, Jr., who is paralyzed from his navel to
his feet, and said he needs medical marijuana to help him cope with back
Martinez said he owns a collective that sells medical marijuana to more
than 1,000 other people.
"We do have to make some sort of profits," Martinez said. "Not a lot of
profits but a little bit, because we do have bills to pay, we do have
mortgages and rents to pay, and we do have car payments as well."
A legal loophole in a temporary ordinance had led to the uncontrolled
proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries. It is believed that as
many as 600 of them opened across the city within a span of months.
http://www.dailybre eze.com/news/ ci_13399142? source=rss
Dana Point heading to court over pot dispensaries' records
The city says it's seeking documents from five operations in town to
figure out if they are legal. The dispensaries refused, in part, on
privacy and constitutional grounds.
BY VIK JOLLY
The Orange County Register
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
An Orange County Superior Court judge is expected to rule on Oct. 2
whether to enforce Dana Point's subpoenas for five medical marijuana
dispensaries' records as part of a city investigation.
The dispensaries, among other objections to the subpoenas, say the city
did not follow proper procedure to issue a subpoena.
The city in July served the subpoenas for records to those operating
marijuana dispensaries following a request to amend zoning laws to
permit dispensaries, city attorney Patrick Munoz said.
The city does not have a specific ordinance prohibiting medical
marijuana dispensaries. But that does not mean the operations are
permitted, like many other uses not specifically addressed in municipal
codes, said Munoz.
Before making any decision, the council wanted to determine if existing
dispensaries are complying with state laws or if they are operating
illegally, he said.
The subpoenas followed, but the five dispensaries have not complied.
One of the dispensaries argued that the city's request for records among
other reasons violates medical and financial privacy rights of its
members, the Fifth Amendment's protection against self incrimination and
the Second Amendment protection of freedom of association.
"The council is curious: are the existing organizations complying with
all the state laws, (if so) then they might be more interested changing
the municipal codes," Munoz said. "If the exiting businesses are just a
sham and basically selling dope, then that might change their views."
COMPASSIONATE USE ACT
The California Compassionate Use Act, also known as Proposition 215,
which was approved by voters in 1996, allows for the use of marijuana
for medicinal purposes.
Patients can legally use marijuana with permission from doctors under
that law. However, federal law still forbids marijuana possession in
most cases, which officials and lawyers say creates conflicts.
Several Orange County cities have adopted ordinances that ban medical
marijuana dispensaries, including Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Laguna
Niguel, Garden Grove, Seal Beach, Lake Forest, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Hills
and Orange. The only city in Orange County that has approved
dispensaries is Laguna Woods.
Richard Brizendine, an attorney for the Dana Point Safe Harbor
Collective which started in late 2008, said a City Council resolution
was required before Dana Point forged ahead with the subpoenas.
The resolution would have defined the "purpose of the subpoena so the
legislative body simply cannot go on a fishing expedition," said
Brizendine of Evans, Brizendine & Silver in Long Beach.
"It's our position that the use is allowed in the Town Center because
they allow uses such as retail and pharmacies," he said. "Just because
this is a pharmacy that provides medical marijuana doesn't mean that it
Safe Harbor is a collective licensed and authorized by the state and
operating lawfully within state guidelines, Brizendine said.
If the judge on Oct. 2 turns down Dana Point's request to enforce the
subpoena, "we'll go back to the drawing board," Munoz said. Should the
judge side with the city, the five entities will be asked to produce the
records the city is seeking in a reasonable time, he said.
"Over the past several 11 months, the city has received numerous
complaints from residents and business owners relating to several
dispensaries operating within the city and has discovered the operation
of yet other dispensaries by conducting its own investigation, " Mayor
Lisa Bartlett says in her report to the court signed Aug. 26.
ONGOING LEGAL FIGHTS
Meanwhile, in a separate case, several medical marijuana patients
attended a state appeals court hearing last week that could determine
the legality of city ordinances that have banned medical marijuana
The 4th District Court of Appeal heard arguments in the case of
Qualified Patients Association – a group of such patients – vs.
the City of Anaheim, which approved an ordinance in July 2007 that
forbids the outlets and makes operators subject to criminal prosecution.
The patients group wants the appeals court to resurrect their lawsuit,
which was dismissed by a lower court judge.
More than three dozen cities and several statewide law enforcement
groups have filed briefs in support of Anaheim's ordinance, including
Costa Mesa, Cypress, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Newport Beach, Orange,
Placentia, Tustin and Westminster, according to Americans for Safe
Access, a national medical marijuana advocacy organization, which also
has filed a brief in the case.
Other Orange County cities are pursuing separate litigation.
Lake Forest decided to file lawsuits this month against approximately 10
medical marijuana dispensaries, as well as property owners who leased
commercial space to them, in an effort to stamp out the businesses.
The city had already adopted an ordinance prohibiting businesses that do
not adhere to state and federal law, in essence prohibiting the
dispensaries within city limits.
Register staff writer Rachanee Srisavasdi and Erika I. Ritchie
contributed to this report.
Contact the writer: 949-465-5424 or vjolly@ocregister. com
http://www.ocregist er.com/articles/ city-dispensarie s-marijuana- 2585649-m\
Marijuana clinic opens doors
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
By Tarryl Jackson
tjackson@citpat. com -- 768-4941
A medical marijuana clinic -- the first in the Jackson area -- opened
Monday for chronic-pain patients seeking the use of medicinal marijuana.
The Medical Marijuana Clinic assists people in applying for the Michigan
medical marijuana registry identification card.
``There's a lot of people who can benefit from the medicinal use of
marijuana,'' said Joe Monahan, manager of The Medical Marijuana Clinic.
``We help educate people who feel they can benefit from this.''
The legal use of medicinal marijuana is still in its infancy in
Michigan. Both proponents and opponents of the law, approved in November
by Michigan voters, say there are still some gray areas.
Under the law, a patient must obtain a written certification from a
physician that verifies the patient has a debilitating medical
condition, such as cancer or AIDS. The patient then applies for a
registry identification card with the state Bureau of Health Professions
within the Department of Community Health.
As of Friday, the state had received 6,778 applications and issued 6,080
registration cards, said spokesman James McCurtis. Of the issued cards,
4,329 were for patients and 1,751 were for caregivers.
The local clinic does not provide marijuana or assist people in
obtaining the drug, Monahan said.
Located at 330 W. Franklin St., the clinic offers free prescreening for
people who might qualify for the registry card. The visit with the
office's physician, which is required to complete the application
process, costs $200.
Qualifying patients must have their medical records, which must be dated
within the last three years.
The clinic will not offer ongoing care, and the physician's visit will
be limited to discussing the patient's case as it applies to registering
for the identification card.
There are at least a dozen medical-marijuana clinics throughout the
state, said Greg Francisco, executive director and founder of the
Michigan Medical Marijuana Association.
Physicians are not allowed to give marijuana to patients or help them
obtain it, Francisco said.
``The patients are entirely on their own,'' he said. ``There's still a
lot of misinformation out there.''
There have not been any major problems in the area with people abusing
the medical marijuana law, Jackson County Undersheriff Tom Finco said.
For people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes, ``they know what
they have to do in order to possess it,'' Finco said. ``The law is the
law, and we're going to enforce it.''
Registered patients or caregivers are allowed to grow limited amounts of
marijuana in an enclosed, locked facility.
However, the law neither protects marijuana plants from being seized nor
individuals from being prosecuted if the federal government chooses to
take action against patients and caregivers under the federal Controlled
``The basic challenge is that the federal government sees (marijuana) as
an illegal substance,'' said Dr. Daniel Michael, president-elect of the
Michigan State Medical Society. ``A lot of physicians are justifiably
hesitant about being involved in the process of certifying patients to
obtain a registry card.''
For more information about the clinic, call 787-1206 or visit
www.themedicalmarij uanaclinic. com.
http://www.mlive. com/news/ citpat/index. ssf?/base/ news-29/12542331 2510451\
Medical marijuana laws get continued scrutiny
By ERIC LINDBERG — Sept. 30, 2009
During their second attempt to beef up laws that regulate medical
marijuana dispensaries, Santa Barbara city leaders listened through
another lengthy session of public input before making decisions on
several of many issues that have cropped up due to the proliferation of
Along with agreeing that a cap on the number of dispensaries allowed to
operate in the city would be appropriate, members of the ordinance
committee moved toward requiring dispensaries that had been
grandfathered in under the current ordinance to conform with the
regulations within a shorter, six-month period.
However, time ran out before the committee could address other potential
changes to laws concerning pot shops. Some community members have asked
for stricter security, an increased buffer zone around schools and
parks, and a moratorium on new dispensaries, citing an increase in crime
and negative neighborhood impacts.
Others have urged city officials to protect access to medical marijuana
for those who legitimately use the drug to treat chronic pain and other
At least 15 dispensaries exist in the city, ranging from several that
have been approved by city officials but haven't opened yet to
others that are operating illegally. City leaders noted that it is
unclear if the current regulations are sufficient, as many of the pot
shops are operating outside the law.
"Our entire experience is with illegal dispensaries and ones that
are currently non-conforming, " Councilmember Das Williams said,
arguing that the city needs to speed up the process to get all
dispensaries operating under the current rules. "That's the only
way we can even tell if our regulation is good or bad."
That discussion spawned a proposal to shorten the period of time for
non-conforming dispensaries to get in step with the rules, and the
committee ultimately agreed to recommend that the full council drop that
timeframe down from 18 months to six months.
"Since we did try to craft a rational ordinance and since we are
trying to make more changes to that ordinance to make it better, I think
it's a reasonable change to reduce the amount of time the existing
nonconforming dispensaries have to come into conformance, "
Councilmember Dale Francisco said.
The committee also agreed that placing a cap on the overall number of
dispensaries citywide is a good idea and agreed that it would be making
a recommendation along those lines in the future, although the specifics
of that plan will likely be ironed out when the discussion continues in
the coming weeks.
"We do want a cap," Williams said, adding, "We may want to
parcel that out geographically. "
Responding to concerns expressed by residents of the lower Eastside
community, where several dispensaries have sprung up along Milpas and
Haley streets, he said a reasonable cap would certainly prevent any more
pot shops from opening along the Milpas Street corridor.
But for many who spoke during the public comment period, including
Superintendent Brian Sarvis of the Santa Barbara School Districts, there
are already too many dispensaries in that area.
"We would prefer that you shut down the Milpas corridor
altogether," Sarvis said, describing how a student told him
recently, "This stuff is becoming so easy to get we might as well
put it in our vending machines."
After continuing the hearing to a later date — which had yet to be
determined — Williams warned those in attendance that public comment
would likely be limited in the future unless geared toward a specific
part of the ordinance up for discussion.
"If we spend the whole meeting listening to your concerns, we
can't do anything to strengthen the regulations, " he said.
http://www.thedaily sound.com/ 093009dispensari es
Booming medical pot sales concern officials
By William M. Welch, USA TODAY
Posted 9h 59m ago
Updated 7h 31m ago
LOS ANGELES — Almost 13 years after California became the first
state to allow the sale of marijuana for some medical conditions
storefront purveyors of the drug are nearly as easy to find as a taco
Yet police and prosecutors say the law is vague on who can sell pot and
in what circumstances. They worry that the state unwittingly created
safe havens for drug pushers who are doping the population with
"They appear to be run by drug dealers who see an opening in the market
and a way to make a fast buck," says San Diego district attorney Bonnie
Dumanis, who says every pot store her office has looked at is operating
The tangle of regulations and alleged criminality that has followed in
the aftermath of California's first in the nation medical marijuana law
is hardly restricted to the Golden State.
Thirteen states, from New England to the Pacific Northwest, have passed
laws by ballot or legislative action permitting marijuana possession for
some medical reasons even though the drug is illegal under federal law.
Some, like Rhode Island, where a medical marijuana law passed in 2006,
officials are still trying to figure out how to set up places where
people can buy the drug. In Colorado, which approved medical marijuana
sales in 2000, cities are passing moratoriums to halt the blossoming of
marijuana stores. New Mexico's lone non-profit licensed to distribute
pot is overwhelmed by demand.
In Washington state, a legal dispute rages over whether the law permits
people to just grow their own pot or also buy it from dispensaries.
Stewart Richlin, lawyer for more than 150 medical marijuana collectives
in Southern California, says states that legalize medical marijuana must
accept the commerce that follows.
"Once we acknowledge patients have a right to cannabis, they have to get
it somewhere," he says.
The medical marijuana movement was begun by advocates who say pot can
provide relief for a wide range of illnesses, from AIDS to arthritis.
Why should people suffer when pot can help, they say?
"It's highly effective in certain circumstances, " San Diego physician
Bob Blake says.
Critics say a law meant to benefit a relatively few number of patients
is being exploited by entrepreneurs who are making big money.
Los Angeles Police Lt. Paul Torrence says the department investigated a
clinic in the fashionable Venice area that was doing up to $140,000 in
sales a month. In San Diego, where authorities this month shut down 14
medical marijuana sellers, Dumanis said at least one was operating on
that scale as well, over $700,000 in six months.
City Council members Janice Hahn and Dennis Zine, in proposing Los
Angeles tax medical marijuana sales, point to Oakland, where they say
four licensed dispensaries had gross sales of $19.6 million in 2008.
"It's a very, very profitable business," says Torrence, of LAPD's gang
and narcotics division. "That's clearly outside the boundaries of the
voters' intention in passing Prop 215."
California voters approved that proposition in 1996. The law leaves
regulation up to local governments, and there's a vast difference in how
receptive each is to medicinal pot.
State Attorney General Jerry Brown issued guidelines that said
non-profit cooperatives and collectives are legal if certain
requirements are met.
In Los Angeles, the growth of storefronts selling marijuana has been
Torrence says there are more than 400 registered with the city. But
there may be many more — as many as 800 applications have been filed
and many operate without approval, says Jane Usher, special assistant
"The practical reality has proven to be these facilities have by and
large opened without any kind of registration, application, nothing,"
Colorado says it's beginning to see something similar. Its law created a
state registry to track patients authorized to use medical marijuana,
but made no provision for sellers.
"They have kind of sprung up rather recently in numbers across the
state," says Mike Saccone, spokesman for Attorney General John Suthers.
"Law enforcement is concerned."
To qualify for medical marijuana in California, patients must have a
doctor's "recommendation. " Prescriptions for pot are prohibited by
federal law. Advertisements abound from doctors who recommend medical
marijuana to qualifying patients.
Blake, 60, who went into a practice devoted to medical marijuana after
28 years as an emergency room physician, says he doesn't use it himself
but sees pot as a safer alternative to morphine, OxyContin and other
"I never saw a person die of a marijuana overdose. Narcotics overdose?
You bet," he said.
Police are skeptical about the medical need in most cases, Torrence
"I have yet to see a person enter the clinic that appears to have any
kind of medical problem," he said. "Most of the people I see going in
are young people that appear very healthy."
13 STATES IN 13 YEARS
Thirteen states have laws that legalize medical marijuana:
State Year passed How passed
California 1996 Ballot measure
Alaska 1998 Ballot measure
Oregon 1998 Ballot measure
Washington 1998 Ballot measure
Maine 1999 Ballot measure
Colorado 2000 Ballot measure
Hawaii 2000 Legislature
Nevada 2000 Ballot measure
Montana 2004 Ballot measure
Vermont 2004 Legislature
Rhode Island 2006 Legislature
New Mexico 2007 Legislature
Michigan 2008 Ballot measure
http://www.usatoday .com/news/ nation/2009- 09-29-medical- marijuana_ N.htm?c\
Medical Marijuana Bill Gains Momentum
By Nyier Abdou
September 30, 2009, 12:30AM
His bedroom bears all the telltale signs: the distinct, lingering odor
of marijuana, the rolling papers tossed carelessly on the desk, a pile
of lighters stashed in a bedside table. Christiane Oliveri pulls open
her son Michael's desk drawer and there it is, plain as day -- nearly
half a pound of marijuana.
New Jersey considers a medical marijuana law
Michael, 25, who suffered deep depression as a child due to the onset of
debilitating muscular dystrophy, recently moved out to California and
has come home to Oradell, in northern New Jersey, for his sister's
wedding. The drugs, the smoking, the marijuana leaves plastered on the
back of his wheelchair -- this is Christiane Oliveri's new reality. And
she hopes it stays that way.
As New Jersey lawmakers consider legalizing marijuana for medicinal use,
residents like Oliveri, a 54-year-old architect and artist from Egypt
who says marijuana use transformed her son from a morose zombie into a
self-confident, sky-diving optimist, are championing the cause.
At 5-foot-11, Michael Oliveri, who has been wheelchair-bound since the
age of 18, weighs just 90 pounds -- "Ninety-five since he came home,"
Christiane Oliveri says proudly. "We're going for 100." His upper body
is so skeletal, it seems dwarfed in proportion to his head. His bicep
and tricep muscles have died, leaving his upper arms half the size of
his forearms and making it impossible to straighten his arms completely.
Years of taking powerful prescription medications to ease pain from
crushed discs in Michael's lower back have damaged his stomach to the
point that he is permanently nauseous. "I wake up feeling like I'm going
to throw up all over the place," he says, lying in bed on a hot August
morning while his mother fetches the strain of marijuana that best helps
him wake up and settle his stomach -- "Morning Sugar," it's called.
In the complex world of medical marijuana, all weed is not created
equal. Michael Oliveri, who made a difficult move away from home for the
first time nearly a year ago in order to live in California, where
medical marijuana was legalized in 1996, has brought home about 10 types
of marijuana. Strains like "Sour Diesel" and "Grape Ape" -- known as
"sativas" -- are uppers, or "daytime weed." They are psychoactive,
helping with alertness, and give Michael a much-needed appetite.
Strains like "L.A. Confidential" and "Grand Daddy Purple" -- known as
"indicas" -- work as a muscle relaxer and offer the best pain relief,
Michael says. They help him relax enough to go to sleep at night.
"Everybody thinks, 'oh, it's weed -- you get high,' " Michael Oliveri
says. "The good thing about Cali is my choice of functional medication
... I can actually find a way to not get stoned, but be comfy -- be
This is difficult new ground for the Oliveris. Christiane Oliveri, a
suburban mom who set up a local youth center so teenagers wouldn't get
involved with drugs and alcohol, admits she "freaked" when Michael
started using marijuana. Michael's father, Anthony, cut him off
financially when he moved to California for the marijuana, and has only
recently started to come around. He still looks on disapprovingly as his
wife helps prepare Michael's morning hit of marijuana in a Volcano
Vaporizer next to his bed.
"I did the journey of doctors with him," Christiane Oliveri explains --
specialists, deep-tissue massage, excruciating physical therapy,
expensive chiropractic treatments. There were 27 epidurals. The
medications, including more than two years on a morphine patch, were
devastating for Michael. He grew withdrawn and lifeless, his mother
says. "There was no Michael in there," Christiane Oliveri says. "Just a
body and someone who is surviving. No food whatsoever."
Eventually, Michael ended up hospitalized from fecal poisoning -- a side
effect of morphine is severe constipation. The near-death experience was
the final straw for Michael. Over a gut-wrenching eight-month period, he
weaned himself off morphine, gave up on doctors, and turned to the one
thing he found, quite by accident, greatly helped his pain and nausea --
The transformation was stark, Christiane Oliveri says. Michael developed
an appetite and started going out with his friends again and playing his
bass. "I realized, wait, we have Michael back," she says. "He's actually
happy. He's joining the family."
Michael is so thankful for marijuana that he has the THC molecule -- the
active ingredient in marijuana -- tattooed on his right forearm, with a
heartbeat line morphing into a symbol for infinity. "It's keeping me
alive more than anything else," he says. "If I had not seen it with my
own eyes, I would not have believed it," Christiane Oliveri told members
of the state Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee this summer.
"Marijuana is a miracle."
In February, the state Senate passed the New Jersey Compassionate Use
Medical Marijuana Act, 22 to 16, with two abstentions. If enacted, the
law would decriminalize marijuana use for people suffering from certain
debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS, multiple
sclerosis, glaucoma and epilepsy. A modified version cleared the
Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee in June and is expected to
be up for a vote after the Assembly reconvenes this month.
The New Jersey medical marijuana bill has made strange bedfellows of one
of the Assembly's most conservative Republicans -- Michael Patrick
Carroll, of Morristown -- and one of its most liberal Democrats -- Reed
Gusciora, of Princeton. The two are among the primary sponsors of the
Assembly bill. Gov. Jon Corzine has indicated he would sign the bill.
"Legislators really understand suffering. Suffering is universal," says
Meagan Johnson, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance in New
Jersey, which has advocated for medical marijuana laws. "We've found
that there is bipartisan support for medical marijuana in the state of
Under the proposed law, doctors would be able to recommend marijuana to
patients with whom they have an established relationship. Nonprofit
groups would be allowed to set up "alternative treatment centers," which
would be licensed and regulated by the state Department of Health and
Senior Services. The centers would be permitted to grow marijuana and
sell it to patients who have been approved by the Department of Health
and issue a registry identification card.
The cards would have to be renewed annually. While marijuana remains a
Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, the
New Jersey bill notes that 99 percent of marijuana arrests are made
under state law, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the
FBI. In March, Attorney General Eric Holder made clear that federal
agents would no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries that appear
to be complying with state laws, a shift from Bush administration
The New Jersey bill cites a report by the National Academy of Sciences'
Institute of Medicine commissioned after the passage of medical
marijuana voter referenda in California and Arizona. The study,
completed in 1999, found cannabinoid drugs -- particularly THC -- have
"potential therapeutic value" for pain, anxiety, nausea and vomiting,
and appetite stimulation, but warned smoking marijuana was a poor
delivery system for THC because of its harmful effects.
Opponents of New Jersey's medical marijuana law point to reports of
rampant abuse of the law in California, where patients with questionable
conditions can easily access legal marijuana. But sponsors of the New
Jersey bill say they crafted the bill to avoid the most dangerous
misuses by giving strict, centralized oversight to the Department of
Health and limiting the amount of usable marijuana a patient can have to
one ounce per month. The Assembly heath committee further tightened the
bill by eliminating a provisions that would have allowed patients to
grow up to six marijuana plants. The Assembly version also requires
patients to pick up the marijuana in person, instead of sending a
"There are 13 other states that have these laws. The New Jersey bill is
based on the best practices of all those states," Johnson says. "Our law
would actually be the most restrictive law in the country."
"I'm not stupid enough to say we're going to craft a perfect bill," says
Democratic state Senator Nicholas Scutari, a primary sponsor of the bill
and a practicing attorney in Linden. But the state already regulates a
number of dangerous substances, Scutari says, including alcohol -- once
a federally banned substance -- and tobacco, as well as the distribution
of powerful and highly addictive pharmaceutical drugs. "I'm just saying
we shouldn't treat it that much differently, " Scutari says of medical
Nancy Fedder, 62, a former database manager who lives with her daughter
and grandchildren in Hillsborough, doesn't want to go to jail.
At home, when the pain resulting from her multiple sclerosis doesn't
keep her in bed, she's the fixer-upper, the pet-rabbit feeder, the
babysitter. But every now and again, she willfully and purposely breaks
the law. She drives into New York City to buy marijuana from an
underground cooperative of patients.
"I could probably go to a local high school and get some,
unfortunately, " Fedder says, but she trusts the co-op. "There's no
Ecstasy thrown in there for an extra kick."
One of the downsides of the going to the co-op, however, is the long
drive home. "I'm very scared," Fedder says. "I'm crossing state lines.
It's in my car. I'm afraid of getting pulled over -- for anything, a
busted tail light."
Johnson says people all over New Jersey are living with the same fear.
"They don't want to be associated with criminals and feel ashamed that
they're accessing their medicine on the black market," she says.
In her white shorts and loose printed blouse, her walker parked nearby,
Fedder looks like anyone's grandmother, not a shifty drug user. But
there are still whispers among parents at the local bus stop, where her
grandchildren are picked up for school. Her open support for a medical
marijuana bill has raised a few eyebrows in Fedder's prim, leafy suburb
and it upsets her. "It's not an easy decision to make," she says.
Opponents of medical marijuana say people like Fedder are the exception
-- extreme cases tricked out by activists to garner sympathy.
The majority of people who will benefit from a medical marijuana law,
opponents say, are recreational users.
"The people who want to legalize drugs have financed this whole effort,"
says David Evans, a Pittstown attorney and executive director of the
Drug Free Schools Coalition. "They are basically using sick people to
further their agenda."
Numerous testimonies from patients, sincere though they may be, are not
enough, Evans says. "We don't make medical decisions in this country by
anecdotal stories," Evans says. "Otherwise, we'd just be approving
medicine based on the way we did it a hundred years ago." The FDA trial
process is not perfect, he says, but it's critical in protecting people
from the potentially serious consequences of taking medication. To
sidestep that process is simply "reckless public policy," he says.
Ironically, it was Evans who was instrumental in formulating the
American Bar Association' s position supporting medical marijuana in the
late 1980s. "It's a very good argument," Evans says, referring to the
testimonies of sick and dying people. As a cancer survivor and EMT,
Evans is no stranger to pain and suffering, but he says after doing
research into the harmful effects of marijuana, he regrets his initial
Evans also takes issue with the widespread belief that marijuana is
essentially harmless, pointing to studies like one from Harvard Medical
School two years ago that found marijuana, in any form, opens the body
to the virus that causes Kaposi's sarcoma, a type of cancer. People with
compromised immune systems, such as AIDS patients, would be particularly
As his children play in the backyard, Charles Kwiatkowski reaches behind
a spice rack in a kitchen cabinet and pulls out a plastic tub of
prescription medicines he keeps hidden from his three daughters. The
container is stuffed with prescription bottles, including OxyContin,
Neurontin, muscle relaxers and antidepressants. There are small yellow
Post-its reminding him which side effects are caused by each drug:
"nausea," "hot flashes," "dizziness." Another note says "suicidal
Kwiatkowski, 38, who lives near the Jersey Shore in the town of Hazlet,
suffers from multiple sclerosis. Complications from the disease have led
to nerve damage in his spine and blurred vision. His head will often
jerk involuntary. Sometimes the pain is so unbearable that he gets up in
the middle of the night, stands in the corner of the living room, leans
his forehead against the wall and tries to sleep standing up.
Eight years ago, Kwiatkowski' s condition worsened and he no longer could
continue his job as a computer programmer at AT&T. His physician
prescribed a slew of medicines but the side effects -- severe nausea,
weakness, even temporary blindness -- put a strain on his marriage and
scared his children.
"I would scream at my children quite often and I didn't know why I was
doing that. I'm really a loving dad," says Kwiatkowski, who keeps
pictures of his daughters -- Allie, 9, Casey, 7, and Madison, 4 -- in
every room of the house.
Kwiatkowski says using marijuana allows him to drastically reduce the
prescription swings and go swimming and kick a ball," Kwiatkowski says.
"Without marijuana, I'm stuck in bed having muscle spasms most of the
day." The marijuana, which Kwiatkowski inhales using a Volcano Vaporizer
kept in a locked box in the basement, also helps clear his multiple
sclerosis-related vision impairment, including the persistent "floaters"
in his field of vision. "They're black spots just flying everywhere --
which keeps me from seeing my beautiful girls," Kwiatkoswi says. "If
there's a medication that fixes your vision enough to see your children,
that would be a medicine from God."
Kwiatkowski says a bag of vapor in the morning and in the evening -- his
wife, Mary, locks the basement door when he is medicating -- is all he
has needed since he started using marijuana several years ago.
"My eyesight gets better, my pain gets less and my balance improves 100
percent," Kwiatkowski says. "I lose the neuralgia feeling, where it kind
of feels like someone is pulling the skin off your face."
When Fedder's granddaughter was 11, she started the school's D.A.R.E.
program, which teaches children to avoid drugs. Fedder decided to sit
her down and discuss her medical marijuana use, which she does out of
"When we first started talking about it, she says, 'Grandma, that's so
bad for you. It's addictive and it's illegal,' " Fedder recalled. She
made a distinction between abuse of marijuana and the careful use of
dangerous drugs -- such as her pills -- to alleviate pain. "She lives
with me, she knows what I live with. She was very understanding. "
Anti-drug groups have warned legalizing medical marijuana sends the
wrong message to children and will increase young people's interest in
trying it. Evans points to marijuana food products sold at legal
dispensaries in other states that are marketed to imitate popular candy
bars, like "Buddafinga, " "Pot-tarts" and "Munchy Way."
Steven Demofonte, a 25-year veteran of the Mount Laurel Police
Department who retired last year and testified against the medical
marijuana bill on behalf of the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police,
expressed similar concerns. "Unfortunately, marijuana has been that
gateway drug that so many young people that I've dealt with over the
years begin with," he says.
But the bill's supporters openly scoff at this argument.
"How can it be more prevalent than it is today?" Carroll says. "If I
want marijuana right now, I can get it in 10 minutes. If it's that easy
to get, it's hard to see how anything we're going to do could make it
Scutari pointed to the frequent abuse of prescription medications by
teenagers, who raid their parents' medicine cabinets and hold "pill
parties," where the medications are dumped into a party bowl and offered
around. "These pills are widely available," Scutari says.
"The whole thing about what the children are going to think really comes
to good parents versus bad parents," says Charles Kwiatkowski. "That's
just a part of life."
There is widespread support for a medical marijuana law in New Jersey.
In 2002, Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics conducted a
poll that found 82 percent of residents support the use of marijuana for
medicinal purposes if recommended by a doctor; 61 percent says they
"strongly support" the idea.
The New Jersey poll reflects national polls on the subject. A Time/CNN
poll conducted the same year found the vast majority of respondents --
80 percent -- think marijuana should be dispensed for medical purposes.
A similar poll conducted by the AARP in 2004 found 73 percent of people
over 45 agreed.
But Demofonte says his organization is uncomfortable with the bill
because law enforcement has reported spikes in crime in states where
medical marijuana has been legalized. "People are shot and victimized
who work in these facilities," Demofonte says. "There's street corner
dealing that goes on around these facilities. It creates an excessive
burden on law enforcement wherever these dispensaries have shown up."
The original Senate bill, Demofonte says, was "outrageous" because it
loosely defined "chronic pain." He added that the Assembly's version,
which removed chronic pain, just gives the illusion that it's more
strict. In reality, a catchphrase allows the Department of Health to add
conditions at its discretion.
"Can it help some people? There's no doubt in my mind . . . If it was
solely for those few individuals who need it, I don't think there's
anyone in this state that would say it's not okay for them to do it. I
wish someone would come up with a bill that would target simply those
But Carroll, the state Assemblyman, sees it another way. Not long ago,
he had a relative with ovarian cancer who was hospitalized seven times
with severe complications.
"If her doctor had told me at the time that smoking marijuana would have
increased her appetite," Carroll says, "I would have personally gone to
the Green, called a press conference, found a drug dealer and bought it
right there in front of everybody, including the attorney general, and
dared them to arrest me."
http://www.nj. com/insidejersey /index.ssf/ 2009/09/post_ 3.html
Rialto City Council seeks medical marijuana ban
Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/29/2009 08:01:00 PM PDT
Updated: 09/29/2009 08:01:01 PM PDT
RIALTO - Medical marijuana facilities may be banned from the city.
The City Council in a 4-0 vote last week introduced an amendment to the
municipal code prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries and
"All those provisions are all just primarily saying that we're
establishing the sections of the code that would prohibit medical
marijuana dispensaries in commercial and industrial areas throughout the
city," said Michael Story, development services director, in a report to
California voters in 1996 approved Prop. 215, permitting access to
marijuana for medicinal purposes.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a lawsuit San Bernardino
County filed jointly with San Diego County that sought to overturn the
so-called Compassionate Use Act on grounds that the federal law banning
marijuana possession and use under any circumstance overrides the state
However, on the same day the council introduced the amendment, a state
appellate court ruling upheld a lower court's injunction against a group
that sought to operate a dispensary in Claremont.
The injunction precludes the group from operating a dispensary in
Claremont as long as the city's moratorium against the establishment of
dispensaries remains in effect, and until the city grants them a
business license and a tax certificate to operate.
The decision essentially opens the door for local officials to determine
the fate of medical marijuana dispensaries, said Jeffrey V. Dunn, an
attorney with Best, Best and Krieger who handled Claremont's case.
"The argument had been that (the state law) had somehow required cities
and counties to have dispensaries, and what the Claremont case said was
cities and counties can decide whether to have medical marijuana
facilities," Dunn said.
There are no medical marijuana facilities in Rialto, and the code
doesn't address the issue, officials said.
But since 2007, the city has received several requests from groups
seeking to operate here, according to a staff report.
The city in August 2007 imposed a moratorium on medical marijuana
facilities that was extended two months later and ran out on Sept. 19.
But in July, the Planning Commission reviewed the proposed code
amendment and recommended its approval.
Councilman Ed Palmer said Tuesday he supports the amendment, in part,
because he believes dispensaries are not regulated enough.
"That's not something that I really want in the city," Palmer said.
"There's too much mis-uses of it. It's not what it was meant to be."
Councilman Ed Scott was not present for the vote.
http://www.contraco statimes. com/california/ ci_13446903? nclick_check= 1
Boulder DA: Enforcing pot laws is lowest priority
Garnett tells county commissioners marijuana law needs more clarity
By Erica Meltzer Camera Staff Writer
Boulder Daily Camera
Posted: 09/29/2009 11:25:39 PM MDT
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said Tuesday that the
state's medical marijuana laws desperately need more clarity, and he's
not interested in prosecuting cases that fall in the gray areas between
legalization and prohibition of the drug.
Enforcing marijuana laws is his office's lowest priority, Garnett told
the Boulder County commissioners.
"I want to spend as little of my office's resources as possible
prosecuting marijuana cases," he said. "I want to be practical and
helpful to the medical marijuana community. I also want to be realistic
about what the law is."
The commissioners asked Garnett to address the enforcement around
medical marijuana after Superior and Broomfield moved to ban medical
marijuana dispensaries and comments Garnett made questioning whether
dispensaries are legal caused on uproar within the medical marijuana
In response to the controversy, a group of dispensary owners will meet
Wednesday in Longmont to discuss forming a trade association to
self-regulate the industry. They hope to forestall harsher regulations
at the state or local level.
Mark Rose, owner of Grateful Meds in Nederland, said in a phone
interview that dispensary owners need to be mindful of their impact on
the community and remember that not everyone is comfortable with
"The people and the voters of Colorado have given us a great opportunity
to do something really great for people," he said. "What really gets me
is the people pushing the limits and putting a stick in the eye of the
people who didn't vote for this. If you push it too far, the backlash is
going to be way worse than what we have now."
In Longmont, a grower tried to lease warehouse space across from a
middle school, but the landlord backed out in the face of public outcry,
Garnett said. Some people want to see commercial growing operations that
supply dispensaries. He heard of another dispensary owner who wanted to
put in Fussball tables, a non-medical touch for a supposedly medical
Garnett said there should be regulations around these issues, similar to
the way liquor stores and bars are regulated. But as the law stands, he
said, it's not clear whether dispensaries are even allowed by the state
constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana. That amendment
allows "caregivers" to possess marijuana to give to patients.
Garnett said he is convinced by arguments in favor of dispensaries and
understands the logic of allowing commercial growing operations to
supply them. He also thinks there are strong arguments the state
constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana does not allow for
dispensaries. He does not believe the law allows for commercial growing
Garnett said without either self-regulation or state intervention, more
towns may try to ban dispensaries, while others will use zoning to
severely limit where they can operate.
Garnett said the Legislature should provide more clarity; his job is to
decide which cases to prosecute.
"Trials should be about the facts, not the law," he said. "Cases should
not be prosecuted when there is real doubt about what the law is."
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett told the county
commissioners Tuesday the state's medical marijuana laws need
clarification because of discrepancies between what medical marijuana
laws allow and other drug laws ban. He said:
Whether dispensaries are even legal remains unclear. Most dispensaries
would not meet the definition of primary caregiver, but patients who are
prescribed marijuana need to buy it somewhere if they don't want to grow
Commercial growing operations probably are not legal, but if there are
dispensaries, it makes sense to have growers to supply them.
Land-use regulations likely will be the next battleground, as some
municipalities move to ban dispensaries within their boundaries and
others try to regulate where they can locate.
Liquor licensing rules may provide a model for regulating dispensaries.
It's legal to sell alcohol, but local zoning and the liquor board
regulate who can sell alcohol, where liquor stores and bars may locate
and what rules govern each.
Probation rules must accommodate probationers' rights to use marijuana
for medical reasons.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or
http://www.dailycam era.com/boulder- county-news/ ci_13450163
Monday, September 28, 2009
Chances are high pot measure will pass
Sunday, September 27, 2009
That proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in California for
people 21 and older - and let local government tax the sales - has a
good chance of passing.
People are no longer outraged by the idea of legalization, and truth be
told, there is just too much money to be made both by the people who
grow marijuana and the cities and counties that would be able to tax it.
Unlike the 1970s, when Mayor George Moscone first moved to decriminalize
pot, marijuana is no longer about hippies. Thanks to medical marijuana,
pot has moved from the alleyways to Main Street, with pot clubs
springing up all over the state.
And let's be honest for a moment. How many of the people going into
those clubs do you think are really sick? Anyone who has observed those
operations knows that much of the pot is being used recreationally
anyway, so we might as well have a discussion about whether to bring it
out in the open.
You might think the Legislature would pick up on this, and indeed
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, has made a proposal to
legalize and tax pot. But although legalizing marijuana fits both
Republicans' libertarian instincts and Democrats' progressivism, they
won't touch it with a 10-foot-long pack of rolling papers.
For all our weak-kneed politicians, however, I don't see any organized
opposition to legal pot on the horizon. So if the pot growers put their
money in the right places, they win in 2010.
http://www.sfgate. com/cgi-bin/ article.cgi? f=/c/a/2009/ 09/26/BA4019SMHB .D\
California mulls legalising marijuana
Emilio San Pedro
Published: 2009/09/27 13:23:00 GMT
In 1996, voters in California approved a referendum that made it legal
for the first time in decades in the US for people to consume cannabis
for medicinal purposes.
More than a dozen states have followed suit since and several others -
the most recent of which is Massachusetts - have approved laws
decriminalising the possession of small amounts of the drug.
Now, there are moves afoot in California to go further to fully legalise
Evidence of the impact that the approval of medicinal marijuana has had
on some areas of California is clear in Oakland.
Across the bay from San Francisco, it has come to be known as
Oaksterdam, in a nod to the symbolic global capital of marijuana
The relaxed approach to marijuana use in this part of Oakland has led to
the opening of several marijuana dispensaries.
They are establishments in this once deprived area of town which sell a
broad array of cannabis related products, from food products such as
brownies and cereal bars laced with cannabis to traditional marijuana
"This is where it all started," says Richard Lee, a leading advocate for
the legalisation of cannabis, pointing to a building where the first
ever dispensary was opened in 1996.
His sense of excitement is palpable as he shows me around Oaksterdam,
which beyond dispensaries is also home to a facility where state
residents can go through the process of getting the ID needed for their
right to use cannabis for medical purposes.
The area is also home to the Oaksterdam University, which Mr Lee runs.
He shows me around the student union of the university, which he
describes as a trade school for all of those interested in finding a
place in the thriving cannabis trade that medicinal marijuana has
Mr Lee tells me that making cannabis use legal makes economic sense but
would also help in the fight against the Mexican drugs cartels.
"According to some estimates, the Mexican cartels get about 60-70% of
their money - their profit - from cannabis," he tells me.
"So if we cut that out of the equation then theoretically 60-70% of the
violence they perpetrate would be cut out, because they'd have less
money for the guns and weapons and ammunition to kill people and to
spend on bribing officials and all the rest," Mr Lee says.
That perspective, along with the fact that the California state
authorities estimate that marijuana could bring in nearly $1.5bn a year
in much needed tax revenue if it were legalised, has led to an increased
support among the state's voters for the full legalisation of the drug.
And, politicians like Tom Ammiano, who represents one of the most
liberal districts of San Francisco in the California state assembly,
have been paying close attention.
Mr Ammiano came into politics as a trailblazing gay rights activist in
the 1970s and has long advocated greater tolerance for cannabis use.
Earlier this year, he took that approach one step further and introduced
a bill in the California state assembly, which, if approved, would grant
cannabis the same legal status in the state as alcohol and tobacco.
" We like to say prohibition is chaos and regulation is control
Tom Ammiano California State Assemblyman
That would put California ahead of even Amsterdam, where marijuana use
is tolerated but not altogether legal.
Sitting with him in his office in the state government building in San
Francisco, with its sweeping views of the city, it becomes very clear
that his proposal is far from a flight of fancy.
He tells me he has been finding that more and more of his colleagues in
the state assembly are coming around to seeing why moving towards
legalisation makes perfect sense.
"People across the board, whether they're conservative or liberal, have
come to realise that the so-called war on drugs has failed and failed
miserably," Mr Ammiano says.
"In fact, it's costing us money instead of saving us money. This new
approach would be a way for the policing efforts to be focused on the
big bad guys, the cartels, with their violence and murder, and lighten
up on the more minor offenses. We like to say prohibition is chaos and
regulation is control," he adds.
"On the streets a drug dealer does not ask a kid for his ID before
selling him cannabis," he concludes with an acerbic, humorous tone that
serves as proof that he has, beyond politics, also had some success in
his other career as a stand-up comedian.
But, despite his optimistic tone, Mr Ammiano says that he knows that
those who oppose his proposal, including key figures in the medical and
law enforcement community, are armed with statistics pointing to the
damaging long-term effect of the drug and have the stamina and resources
to wage a major fight to ensure that the bill never gets signed into
One of those opponents of the proposal is Ronald Brooks, the president
of the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, which
represents more than 70,000 narcotics enforcement officers in the US.
We meet in the town of Redwood City, south of San Francisco, and as I
get in his car, we drive past what appears to be a nondescript office
However, he tells me that, in the 1980s, it was a bank - the place where
his partner on the police force was killed in front of him by a ruthless
marijuana dealer, who was carrying out a bank robbery to fund his drug
He says experiences like that have strengthened his resolve that America
can't allow itself to take on a more lenient approach to marijuana.
"This argument of freeing up law enforcement so that we can take on the
cartels is seriously flawed," he tells me.
"This is really a hoax being perpetrated on the voters of California to
authorise their political agenda - that is to legalise marijuana as one
step to legalise drugs in America because they simply don't think that
the government ought to control drugs," he adds.
"The people who are going to lose if this gets approved are the
taxpayers because we're going to have increased costs associated with
this, both healthcare and law enforcement costs, and the people who have
to drive on the state's highways who are going to be in danger from
being hit by someone intoxicated from using cannabis. This is simply a
reckless public policy," he concludes.
Back across the San Francisco Bay in Oakland, specifically Oaksterdam,
the patrons of the Bulldog Cafe are enjoying their legally sanctioned
right to consume marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Gary has travelled from Texas for the weekend to attend a seminar on the
cannabis trade at the Oaksterdam University across the street.
He is in his 50s, but says he is hoping to take the information he has
picked up in his course on the cannabis business and make a
life-transforming move in the coming months to California.
"My girlfriend and I are interested in moving to California from Texas
to become a part of this here. We're not quite sure where we fit in but
we want to get into the business itself. We feel it's an emerging
industry, and this is where I feel compelled to come," he tells me as
the smell of cannabis wafts through the room.
Like Gary, there are hundreds of others participating in the courses at
the Oaksterdam University on any given week.
Beyond that, there are more than 200,000 people in the state registered
as consumers of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
As for Mr Ammiano's proposal to legalise marijuana in the state, that is
still making its way through the California state assembly and it is
difficult to say whether it will succeed or not.
What is clear, however, is that whatever the outcome of the legalisation
proposal, the medical marijuana law and the multi-million dollar
industry it has spawned appear to be here to stay in California.
Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news. bbc.co.uk/ go/pr/fr/ -/2/hi/americas/ 8275794.stm
Privacy at issue in marijuana regulation
By Phillip Zonkel, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/26/2009 09:37:30 PM PDT
LONG BEACH — A controversial item that critics have said would
violate medical marijuana patients' privacy rights is part of a proposal
under review by the City Council, which would regulate medical marijuana
The proposal was discussed Monday by the City Council's Economic
Development and Finance Committee, but the item was not addressed. The
proposal will be taken up at another economic development and finance
committee meeting, but a date has not been scheduled.
At the Aug. 4 City Council meeting, Councilwomen Suja Lowenthal
introduced and the council passed a motion for regulating medical
marijuana collectives, also know as dispensaries, that recommended the
collectives give the city "a list of the primary caregivers and
qualified patients that belong to the collective."
The recommendation raised eyebrows from some medical marijuana
advocates, who said it would trample patients' confidentiality.
The motion was a collaboration between Lowenthal and council members Rae
Gabelich, Robert Garcia and Val Lerch.
Long Beach is considering regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries
because the city has not established its own standards. As a result,
nobody knows how many exist or how and where they operate, city
officials have said.
Around 40 may exist in the city, officials have said.
Several collective managers and members at the Aug. 4 City Council
meeting who favored medical marijuana regulations said giving the city a
list of primary caregivers and patients was unacceptable.
"I have a problem with it. It's a violation of confidentiality, " said
Katherine Aldrich, founder of The 562 Collective "I'd like to know if
you would do the same thing at CVS or Rite Aid? Would (you) ask them to
turn over their lists of patients and what medications they are
Lowenthal says council members don't intend to violate anyone's privacy.
"I didn't recognize that piece as a violation of anyone's rights," she
said. "The real intent was to find a way to validate legitimate patients
with legitimate prescriptions. "
Lowenthal said no option exists for the city to achieve that goal;
however, the state attorney general guidelines regarding medical
marijuana collectives outline ways to validate qualified patients,
including identification cards.
Collectives are supposed to operate under those guidelines, which were
set forth last August.
Those guidelines describe not only what cooperatives and collectives
are, but also state they must be nonprofit operations, obtain a state
seller's permit, maintain membership records and verify member status,
prohibit distribution and sales to nonmembers and provide adequate
security ensuring patients are safe and surrounding homes or businesses
are not affected by nuisance activity such as loitering or crime.
Collectives remain illegal under federal law, but U.S. Attorney General
Eric Holder has said as long as they follow state law, dispensaries will
not be raided by federal law enforcement agents.
Gabelich says the idea of the city being given a list of patients and
their primary caregivers had been included in previous drafts of the
document, which the four council members had been working on for two or
three months, but none of them had voiced concerns.
"It didn't raise red flags (for me) then. I was preoccupied with other
aspects (of the motion)," Gabelich said. "I didn't even think of the
(patient confidentiality) part. I was surprised no one thought of
Garcia said the motion was "written incorrectly. That wasn't what we
were trying to say."
Lerch said he is in favor of the collectives keeping a patient list, the
same way pharmacies keep a patient list, but the city should not have
access to those lists unless required by a court order.
Lerch said he did not tell his colleagues he was concerned about the
"I was going to wait and see what the city attorney would say," Lerch
Deputy City Attorney Cristyl Meyers says the City Attorney's Office will
present a report within 30 days that "will make it clear to all council
members what is allowed and what is not allowed under the law."
Drug policy legal experts also said they were concerned about the
recommendation for the city having a list of medical marijuana patient
"It was a very bad idea," said Joe Elford chief counsel with Americans
for Safe Access, a patients rights' advocacy group.
"There's no legitimate reason why the city would need these names. There
are ways of doing it without compromising the names of patients who are
in the collective."
For example, Elford said, "A judge or another judicial officer can look
at collective's list in private and then return the document, and the
city would not see them."
Other items in the medical marijuana proposal include legal definitions
of collectives; zoning criteria for the location and size of collectives
within residential- zoned area; the ability to prohibit any collective
from being within 1,000 foot radius of schools, parks, licensed child
care facilities or other collectives and an appropriate fee payable to
the city prior to the dispensary receiving a permit.
phillip.zonkel@ presstelegram. com, 562-499-1258
http://www.presstel egram.com/ ci_13430433
NORML tackles crime and money
Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Posted: 09/27/2009 01:24:13 AM PDT
Marijuana advocates further discussed the possibility of legalization
Saturday at the 38th annual National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Laws, emphasizing arguments for its positive side effects on
crime and California's poor economy.
With panels on Mexican drug cartels and using marijuana legalization as
a source of revenue for the government, NORML members discussed wasted
law enforcement resources and the benefits.
Former NORML Director Richard Cowan estimated that 90 percent of the
Mexican drug trade involves marijuana.
Drug Policy Alliance Director Ethan Nadelmann said the best way to deal
with the violence of the Mexican drug cartels would be to end the
prohibition of marijuana.
"Mexico would more or less be removed from this business," he
Other panelists agreed, saying that ending prohibition will also stop
the institutionalized corruption within law enforcement that is related
to the drug trade.
"I don't know any police department in any part of the county that
has not had been tainted by at least one case," said Norm Stamper,
former Seattle police chief and now a member of the NORML advisory
CA NORML Director Dale Gieringer said the role of law enforcement as
well as the creation of a new revenue stream is what will spark the
interest of citizens who don't smoke pot themselves.
Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who proposed the tax on
medical marijuana in Oakland that passed earlier this year, said she
thinks the measure passed because people saw how much money could be
made off the taxes.
"People want to make nonsense claims about stoners being irrational,
but what could be more irrational than throwing away billions of dollars
each year?" she said.
Gieringer said the amount of money that could be made through statewide
taxes is still unclear. While the Board of Equalization estimated that
the passing of Tom Ammiano's bill on legalization could generate nearly
$1.4 billion in revenue, Gieringer said the results of the several
statewide initiatives are still unknown.
At a breakout session on the law reform and activism plans in
California, members discussed the mobilizing of several groups,
including Americans for Safe Access; Drug Policy Alliance; Students for
Sensible Drug Policy; the West Coast Leaf, a newspaper focused on
cannabis news; and the newly created Medical Cannabis Safety Council, a
nonprofit that hopes to become the industry regulator.
Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or e-mailed at
http://www.times- standard. com/localnews/ ci_13432306
California dreaming of full marijuana legalisation
Mike Harvey in San Francisco
September 28, 2009
The smell gives the game away. A sweet herbal scent wafts from the
medicines inside the smart display cases in the Harborside clinic in
This is a marijuana dispensary, where the prescriptions have names like
Super Silver Haze and Purple Trainwreck and customers need a
"recommendation note" from a doctor.
Medical marijuana has become big business in California and the drug is
approved for a range of conditions and for "any other illness for
which marijuana provides relief". In these straitened financial
times, booming sales and healthy tax revenues mean that full
legalisation of cannabis may be just around the corner.
The Harborside Health Centre — opened by Stephen DeAngelo, 51, in
2006 — alone employs 77 people, has 30,000 registered patients and
brings in about $20 million (£12.4 million) annually in revenue.
Across California there are an estimated 2,100 dispensaries,
co-operatives, wellness clinics and taxi delivery services in the sector
known as "cannabusiness" . That is more than all the Starbucks,
McDonald's and 7-Eleven outlets in the state put together.
These dispensaries, with names like My Green Heaven Ministry, sell
marijuana in bud and resin forms and offer other cannabis products,
including hash cookies, cooking oils and bottled drinks.
In some high-end stores, there are pastry chefs to ensure the
highest-quality cannabis baked goods. Most cannabis co-operatives, which
produce their own plants, also sell potted plants and seeds for patients
to grow their own medicine.
"People are choosing to become legal cannabis consumers because they
don't want to go out on the corners and deal with thugs and
gangsters to get their medicine," Mr DeAngelo told The Times.
Activists and business owners at last week's annual conference of
the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in
San Francisco are feeling more optimistic about the future of dope in
America than they have for years — because they have economics on
The recession has made the prospect of collecting taxes on marijuana
sales as tempting as ending Prohibition was in the 1930s to many
Legalisation might bring state and federal governments about $7 billion
annually in additional tax revenue, while saving them $13.5 billion in
law enforcement costs, Jeffrey Miron, the Harvard economist, estimates.
In California Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor, who has had to cut
services to handle a $24 billion budget deficit for the coming year, has
suggested that legalisation should be considered.
Tom Ammiano, a Democrat California assemblyman from San Francisco, has
introduced a Bill to treat marijuana like alcohol, taxing sales to
adults while barring possession by anyone under 21. He estimates that
this would generate up to $1.3 billion in revenues. There is also a
voter initiative to put legalisation on a ballot in elections next year.
Many, such as Mr DeAngelo, see medical marijuana as the route to full
legalisation. More than 70 per cent of Americans favour the use of
medical cannabis. Allen St Pierre, executive director of NORML, said:
"The vanguard of reform is medical access. The Baby Boomer
generation grew up with marijuana and now have the reins of power. Every
measurable metric is swinging our way."
Already, dozens of dispensaries are opening in states from Oregon to
Colorado to Rhode Island. Thirteen states have laws that allow patients
to use marijuana, typically to alleviate chronic pain, deal with the
effects of chemotherapy or even as an appetite stimulant. Fifteen states
are considering similar legislation in the coming year.
Proposals by Mr DeAngelo — who uses marijuana to relieve pain from a
degenerative disease — for Oakland's four cannabis dispensaries
to pay an extra sales duty have been adopted, making it the first place
in America that collects a specific cannabis tax.
Mr DeAngelo estimates that the authorities will receive an extra $1
million next year. California required dispensaries to pay sales tax
only in 2007. Conservative estimates put gross statewide medical
cannabis sales at about $2.5 billion, generating taxes of about $220
All this has occurred under a federal regime that still outlaws medical
cannabis. Officially, the US Government has banned cannabis sales since
the 1930s, but over the past decade or so the federal authorities have
scaled down punitive action. In late February, Eric Holder, the
Attorney-General, confirmed that federal raids and prosecutions would no
longer be carried out against anyone complying with state medical
Today California has up to 400,000 medical marijuana patients. About 600
came to Harborside for the drug each day, Mr DeAngelo said.
"It is good for insomnia, stress, anxiety and chronic pain." And
for the economy, he could have added.
Marijuana was used medicinally in the ancient world and has been in use
in Eastern cultures for thousands of years. It was introduced to Western
medicine by William Brooke O'Shaughnessy, an Irish physician, who
conducted a cannabis experiment in 1830 while at the Medical College of
Cannabis was sold in the form of a powder or tincture early in the 20th
century, but, as concern grew over its associations with crime and
psychosis, it was steadily outlawed, then banned altogether by the US
Government in 1937
Some doctors object to the use of cannabis as a medicinal remedy because
its effects can be unpredictable. Most pharmaceuticals are formed from a
purified chemical compound. In contrast, marijuana, which usually
consists of the dried, ground-up flowers of a plant, contains at least
400 compounds, including more than 60 cannabinoids, which have
therapeutic effects. The proportions of these compounds vary greatly
from plant to plant, and smoking — which allows cannabis to enter
the bloodstream faster than ingesting the drug — seems to many to be
an undesirable way to deliver medicine to sick patients
There are pharmaceutical forms of cannabis on the market and companies
are pursuing more reliable commercial chemical variants
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has ruled that there is no
scientific justification for the medical use of marijuana. According to
the DEA: "Legalisation of marijuana, no matter how it begins, will
come at the expense of our children and public safety. It will create
dependency and treatment issues, and open the door to use of other
drugs, impaired health, delinquent behaviour and drugged drivers."
Despite this, the latest federal survey indicates that more than 100
million Americans have tried the drug at some point
http://business. timesonline. co.uk/tol/ business/ industry_ sectors/health/ a\
R.I. finds little guidance as it plans marijuana dispensaries
01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, September 27, 2009
By Cynthia Needham
Journal State House Bureau
When Rhode Island opens its first medical marijuana dispensary, it will
join a select club.
Though 12 states have legalized marijuana for qualifying patients, only
California and New Mexico have authorized sale of the drug for medical
purposes –– a key difference for patients. That leaves Rhode Island
officials just two places to turn for guidance.
Since legalization there, California has emerged as something of a
troublesome stepchild of the movement. California's medical
marijuana centers are unregulated, which has led to safety problems and
prompted federal raids.
"It is entirely too messy a situation in my interpretation and I say
that as a Californian, " said Bruce Merkin, director of
communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that advocates
for decriminalizing marijuana.
A 2006 law in New Mexico allowed the creation of dispensaries as part of
its "medical cannabis program." But the statute took time to
implement and the first of those centers did not open until late July,
having decided to use a delivery-only approach to serve the 600 patients
in the state's program.
"The only problem is that they ran out of their current supply,"
said Julie Roberts, acting director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico.
State regulations allow for the center to have a maximum of 95 plants,
which were quickly used up. The nonprofit group that runs the center is
now working to produce more and will begin deliveries again in October.
As Rhode Island moves toward the establishment of its first dispensary,
Stephen Hogan, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy
Coalition, believes the operator selected to run it would be wise to
avoid a delivery service –– though Rhode Island law would allow it.
"When you have a delivery service there are a lot of issues that
come into play," he said, noting the frequent robberies of food
However Rhode Island's system evolves, other states interested in
establishing dispensaries will be watching to see what happens here, and
whether it works.
"It's a real responsibility, " Hogan said. "We are
trailblazing on this."
In addition to California, New Mexico and Rhode Island, 10 states have
legalized medical marijuana: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan,
Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
Efforts in several of those states to allow dispensaries have stalled in
recent years over concerns about the conflict between local statutes and
federal drug law, which bans the use of marijuana. But a promise by
Attorney General Eric Holder to stop the Bush-administration raids on
California clinics appears to have revived the issue in several states.
http://www.projo. com/news/ content/MEDICAL_ MARIJUANA_ STATES_09- 27-09_3GFR\
As R.I. prepares for first marijuana clinic, questions abound
01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, September 27, 2009
By Cynthia Needham
Journal State House Bureau
The late state Rep. Thomas Slater was a driving force behind legislative
efforts to create medical marijuana dispensaries.
The Providence Journal / Connie Grosch
Sometime next year, somewhere in Rhode Island, the state's first
marijuana dispensary will hold a deliberately quiet opening and patients
in the medical marijuana program will buy their first dose.
Depending on whom you ask, that dispensary can't come soon enough,
or it's a crisis waiting to happen.
For people who depend on marijuana to ease the pain of chronic or
debilitating illnesses, it will be a safe, reliable place to obtain the
But there's a long list of unanswered questions that have others,
particularly those in law enforcement, worried: Who's going to run
the center? Where will it be located? What security precautions will be
taken to make sure the center is not robbed?
Ellen and Stuart Smith say it's imperative that these issues are
resolved, to ensure a smooth opening of a clinic where Ellen can buy the
only drug that relieves her vice-like pain from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome,
a degenerative tissue disorder.
The crippling condition that displaces her joints is getting
progressively worse and now often requires her to use a wheelchair.
Allergies prevent her from taking almost all pain medications.
"Without this, she'd be dead," said Stuart Smith, her
husband of 36 years. "She's had 17 surgeries and this is all
that allows her to get out of bed in the morning."
The Smiths don't take kindly to marijuana jokes –– quips
suggesting that the law serves drug dealers and aging hippies. They are
neither. She is a 59-year-old retired schoolteacher and he, a
62-year-old former Department of Children, Youth & Families employee.
They are middle-class parents of four who came to marijuana as a last,
awkward resort when doctors had nothing else to offer.
But they are also fed up. They've struggled to grow the plant,
watched crops wilt and several times been victimized by thieves. Earlier
this month, local teenagers in the middle of the night sneaked onto
their wooded property in Scituate and snipped away two-thirds of their
A marijuana dispensary, they say, would relieve those headaches and give
Ellen Smith and the 953 other patients in the state's program a safe
place to purchase the drug.
"This is what's saving my life right now," Smith said, her
voice calm despite her obvious pain. "I don't know how long that
life is but right now this is getting me quality I wouldn't have. I
have four kids and grandchildren someday and I want to see them. This is
giving me that."
SIXTEEN MILES AWAY at Providence police headquarters, Lt. Michael E.
Correia, head of the narcotics bureau, awaits the arrival of Rhode
Island's first medical marijuana dispensary with growing unease.
Since the legislature legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes four
years ago, police departments around Rhode Island have seen firsthand
the problems that come with it.
In one instance, a patient authorized for medical marijuana use was
selling the drug out of his house, along with opiates and steroids. In
another, a cardholder was so inexperienced about how to grow marijuana
under intense indoor heat lamps, he started a fire in the basement of
his Olneyville home.
"There's already a tremendous potential for abuse with the
law," Correia said. Adding storefront dispensaries that grow and
sell the drug "is just doubling that potential for trouble" by
creating a new target for criminals interested in stealing marijuana.
The department's detective commander agrees. "Supporters of the
legislation are going to say that's not our problem. That's not
what the law is meant to do," said Maj. Thomas F. Oates III.
"But these centers are going to be someone's problem and,
really, it will fall to us."
The General Assembly gave final passage to the medical marijuana law in
2006 and made it permanent in 2007, both times over vetoes from Governor
The law allows patients with debilitating medical conditions, such as
cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis, to possess up to 12 marijuana plants
or the equivalent of 2.5 ounces of marijuana at any one time. They may
also select up to two "caregivers, " to provide it for them, so
long as those caregivers have no felony drug convictions.
What it didn't do was establish how patients and caregivers were
supposed to obtain the drug.
Almost immediately, the law's supporters, led by the Rhode Island
Patient Advocacy Coalition, began pushing for state-regulated marijuana
dispensaries, known as compassion centers, so patients wouldn't be
forced to grow it or buy it on the street.
While 12 other states allow marijuana use for medical reasons, only New
Mexico and California have legalized the sale of marijuana to qualifying
patients, though California's centers are not regulated by the
Rhode Island lawmakers were initially wary of dispensaries, in part
because of the clash between state law and federal law, which still
makes marijuana use illegal. The Bush administration had raided several
such clinics in California, sending the message that state statutes
would be ignored.
But the Obama administration curtailed such raids, easing some of those
On Smith Hill, the quickly fading opposition had more to do with the
efforts of Providence Rep. Thomas C. Slater, the state legislator behind
the original medical marijuana bill. Slater was losing a long battle
with breast cancer, a condition which made him eligible for the medical
marijuana program. (He enrolled, but he said he never used the drug.)
His impassioned speech on the House floor in May about the ravages of
pain prompted a standing ovation and left several representatives near
Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed compassion center bills
that just a year earlier had died in committee. Then they quickly
overrode Carcieri's veto, and the bills became law in a session when
nearly every other major social initiative sputtered to a stop.
The law requires the Health Department to prepare for the first of up to
three dispensaries; in August, it released a 22-page draft of
regulations that outline what potential candidates need to know to apply
to run the first center.
Once department officials select an operator sometime early next year,
they will assume an oversight role, regulating the facility much as they
do pharmacies and nursing homes.
Health Department Director Dr. David Gifford acknowledges the state is
in unfamiliar territory.
"We're going to do the best we can with our staff, but there
isn't much to go on," he said, noting the lack of forerunners in
other states. Even New Mexico's experience offers little guidance
because its one medical marijuana center is a delivery service, not a
The police and patients say part of the problem is that the Assembly
passed a law that was in some ways vague. It doesn't specify how the
police are to be involved, or require any professional expertise of
those selected to run the center, although they can't have felony
records. It also doesn't address how much they can possess, and what
is an appropriate dose for a drug whose strength can vary widely.
And it didn't provide any funding for the Health Department to get
the program up and running.
At an information session in August for those interested in opening a
center, Charles Alexandre, the Health Department official tasked to
oversee the clinics, in addition to his other responsibilities, could
not answer many of the questions he was asked.
"I don't think the Health Department really understands what
it's getting into," said Dr. Todd E. Handel, a Pawtucket
physician who specializes in pain management and has recommended
marijuana usage to several of his patients. "This is something
that's really been forced down their throats by the legislature and
I don't think the department really wants to be involved, or has the
funding to do this."
Gifford admits there are challenges, but says the department oversees a
range of businesses, from nail salons to x-ray clinics. Once an operator
is selected, health officials will work with them to make sure proper
security and management procedures are established. "There's no
facility, even ones that are much more high risk to people's health
where we have people monitoring every day, not even brain surgery,"
But police departments are deeply worried by that paucity of details.
They question how an operator can be trusted to sell marijuana only to
those authorized to buy it and how they will keep their supplies of
marijuana safe from theft. They're already frustrated by their
inability to obtain the names of patients and caregivers, which has led
to investigations of people they later learned were legally growing or
using the drug. When the centers open, it's unclear whether police
will have jurisdiction over them. "In a perfect society, we have
this place where marijuana is going to be grown and provided to patients
and caregivers," said State Police Capt. David Neill. "But
unfortunately you always have a criminal element to think about. People
are going to look at this center — where there will be a lot of
money involved — and ask `How can I get in?' "
Rep. Joseph Almeida, D-Providence, who voted in favor of compassion
centers this spring, now agrees that the law needs work. He is
considering drafting legislation that would give the police a strong
role in the monitoring of compassion centers.
For Handel, the Pawtucket pain doctor, the bigger risk may be the
potential lack of medical oversight. The statute does not require the
centers to have any affiliation with medical professionals. By contrast,
New Mexico requires marijuana dispensaries to have a health-care
professional on their boards. "If someone is going to supply
medication to a patient, they need to be able to monitor what the
benefits are as well as the adverse effects," Handel said.
At a pharmacy, he notes, professionals track how much medicine a patient
is given, and are available to warn about possible side effects.
"The way this is set up there is no physician and no pharmacist
monitoring intake," Handel said. "There is no one keeping an eye
out for abuse."
ELLEN SMITH, the Scituate marijuana patient, agrees there is the
potential for problems.
"We need to get this right," she said. "We are being watched
by all the other states that might be considering this. If we don't
set a good example with the first center, we could be blowing it, not
just for ourselves but for the entire country."
Smith gets visibly angry when she talks about those looking to abuse the
marijuana statute. "We need to find a way to get rid of these people
because there's a whole bunch of us who are not well and desperately
need this law," she says.
Two days after the Smiths sat down to discuss the importance of the
dispensaries, they say they got another reminder of why they're
needed. They were robbed. Again.
Teenagers cut away four plants that were lush and close to harvest,
despite the Smiths' elaborate laser alarm system and the fact that
Stuart Smith had been sleeping on the porch to ward off intruders.
The Smiths got lucky. They were able to identify the thieves and got
pieces of the plants back for Ellen to process into oil that she takes
once a day.
But when you're 59 and you've lost much of the life you knew and
the teaching job you loved to illness, there's only so much you can
"This is just one more example of why we need these centers,"
Smith said. "We feel terrorized, we feel frightened and we don't
deserve to live like this."
With reports from W. Zachary Malinowski
Medical marijuana by the numbers
Patients in Rhode Island's medical marijuana program 764.
Caregivers authorized to grow or procure marijuana for patients
1. Patient registration cards revoked because of a marijuana-related
1. Caregiver cards revoked because of a marijuana-related arrest
Source: R.I. Department of Health
http://www.projo. com/news/ content/MEDICAL_ MARIJUANA_ CENTERS_09- 27-09_3GF\