Monday, September 28, 2009
California Medical Marijuana News
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
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