Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Afghanistan now world's top cannabis source: U.N.

KABUL (Reuters) - Long the world's largest producer of opium, the raw
ingredient of heroin, Afghanistan has now become the top supplier of
cannabis, with large-scale cultivation in half of its provinces, the
United Nations said on Wednesday.

Between 10,000 and 24,000 hectares of cannabis are grown every year in
Afghanistan, with major cultivation in 17 out 34 provinces, the U.N.
drug agency (UNODC) said in its first report on cannabis production in

While some countries grow cannabis on more land, Afghanistan's robust
crop yields -- 145 kg of resin per hectare compared to around 40 kg per
hectare in Morocco -- make it the world's largest producer, estimated at
1,500-3,500 tons a year.

"This report shows that Afghanistan's drug problem is even more complex
than just the opium trade," said Antonio Maria Costa, head of UNODC in
the report.

"Reducing Afghanistan's cannabis supply should be dealt with more
seriously, as part of the national drug control strategy."

For years Afghanistan has been the world's largest producer of opium, a
paste extracted from poppies and processed into heroin. While land
cultivated with poppies fell by 22 percent last year, record yields
meant production fell only 10 percent.


The illegal opium trade is said to fuel the insurgency in Afghanistan
with the Taliban siphoning off millions of dollars from the trade by
imposing taxes on farmers and smugglers in return for ensuring safe
passage of the drug.

"Like opium, cannabis cultivation, production and trafficking are taxed
by those who control the territory, providing an additional source of
revenue for insurgents," the report said.

As with opium, most cannabis cultivation takes place in the south of the
country where the insurgency is strongest, UNODC said, with more than
two-thirds (67 percent) of cannabis farmers also growing opium.

One of the main reasons cannabis is so widely grown, UNODC said, is
because of its low labor costs and high returns. Three times cheaper to
cultivate than opium, the net income from a hectare of cannabis is
$3,341 compared to $2,005 for opium.

"The entire process is a non-expensive, fast industrial process, which
is indeed somewhat worrying," Jean-Luc Lemahieu, head of UNODC in
Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul.

"We have already enough problems with the opium so we don't want to see
the cannabis taking over."

Afghanistan still grows far more opium than cannabis, however, and
Lemahieu said it was unlikely to overtake the poppy crop as it required
a lot of water to grow -- in short supply in Afghanistan -- and had a
very short shelf life.

"You can walk around with opium for 10 to 15 years and, perhaps, like
the wine it gets better with the time. For cannabis ... you need to
process it really immediately," said Lemahieu.

While cannabis production in 2009 was valued at an estimated $39-94
million, this is only about 10-20 percent of the total farm-gate value
of Afghanistan's opium production, because so much more opium is grown.

While some of the cannabis is consumed within Afghanistan, most of the
drug is smuggled abroad following the same routes as opium, UNODC said.
In 2008, 245,000 kg of cannabis was seized in southern Kandahar near to
the border with Pakistan.

"As with opium, the bottom line is to improve security and development
in drug-producing regions in order to wean farmers off illicit crops and
into sustainable, licit livelihoods, and to deny insurgents another
source of illicit income," Costa said.

Medical marijuana dispensary bill delayed

RICHLAND, Wash.-- As the special session continues at the state capitol,
one issue not up for debate is a bill to legalize medical marijuana
dispensaries. Sen. Jerome Delvin, (R), planned on introducing
legislation, but now he's going to wait.

Today the senator told KNDU his plans to introduce a medical pot
dispensary bill went up in smoke when he found out just how far apart
the two sides in this issue are. But while this is a delay, all sides
want better regulation to happen.

"I don't think that they want to grow it themselves," says Delvin. "But
I think a lot of them are forced into it right now."

The law would have to change to get legal medical pot dispensaries,
something Delvin wanted to propose this year; but now he says it's off
the table.

"I just got the sense that in this 60 day session," he says. "Because of
the budget and the concerns of that budget that the people are going to
be more focused on that then worrying about a medical marijuana bill
going through."

Medical cannabis patients say they would prefer to have dispensaries for
their medication because right now their options are to grow it
themselves, or buy it from a dealer. But many patients cannot grow the
crop and they say they are forced to buy it off the street.

Law enforcement and the prosecutor's office is the other side of this
issue. They want to make sure all laws are enforced and right now the
law is you need a prescription and you have to grow the marijuana

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pot breaks the age barrier

Its name might be its strongest asset: The Regulate, Control and Tax
Cannabis Act, a marijuana legalization effort that goes out of its way
not to say the word "marijuana."

I suspect its organizers learned something from the failure of
predecessors -- like the Inalienable Rights Enforcement Initiative, a
name that sounds like it was dreamed up by a bunch of guys passing
around a bong.

The Cannabis Act, which qualified last week for the statewide November
ballot, ran its first radio ad Sunday: a former Los Angeles deputy
sheriff explaining "why cops support Tax Cannabis 2010, the initiative
to control and tax cannabis."

Never mind that the state's law enforcement organizations are already
lining up to oppose it.

Supporters, bankrolled so far by an Oakland marijuana dispensary owner,
plan to spend as much as $20 million to convince California voters that
legalizing marijuana will help solve the state's budget woes and blunt
the reach of drug cartels.

The initiative would move the battle over marijuana modestly forward by
making it legal for anyone 21 and older to possess an ounce of marijuana
and/or grow whatever can fit in a 5-by-5-foot plot. It would allow
cities and counties to decide whether to allow sales and tax the

That feels to me like a natural progression of California's cannabis
policy, which essentially decriminalized possession 35 years ago -- an
ounce gets you a $100 fine -- and in 1996 deemed pot to be medication.

The premise of the proposed law: Marijuana has more in common with
alcohol and tobacco than with heroin and cocaine.

Or: Is there much really much difference between going home and smoking
a joint and going home to a glass of Merlot?

Polls suggest that mothers in their 30s and 40s -- who are likely to
have teenagers at home -- might side with law enforcement against the
proposal. I understand that reflexively. It's hard to say yes at the
ballot box when you've spent years telling your kids to "just say no" to

But the reality is that any 18-year-old with a hankering for pot and
$100 can head to Venice Beach and be legally smoking within an hour.

Acne, anxiety, an ankle sprain -- virtually any ailment qualifies for
treatment with medical marijuana.

"It's easier now [for 18-year-olds] to get cannabis than booze," said
Dale Sky Clare, spokeswoman for the cannabis campaign. "Our current
policies have failed to keep cannabis away from our kids or to educate
them about the dangers of dependence."

She's confident that moms will come around once "we make sure they
understand your next-door neighbor is not allowed to turn into a grow
operation. . . . And no more back-alley deals. You'll have a retail
facility, someone who has a license -- and can lose it if they sell to
your underage child."

What about all those studies that say pot is getting stronger and more
dangerous? I asked.

That's fear-mongering by opponents, Clare said.

"We've got science on our side. And our studies kick their studies'

If moms are going to be the naysayers, I figured young people would be
the initiative's biggest supporters. So I spent this spring break
weekend chatting with my daughters and their friends, from 19-year-olds
to mid-20s.

They weren't as enthused as I'd expected. Most everyone knows somebody
with a cannabis card.

"The kids who want it can get it," my 19-year-old daughter told me. On
campus, it's hard to avoid it.

It turns out that while pot smoking is dropping among teens, it's rising
among baby boomers. Ten years ago, one in 20 pot smokers was in my
demographic -- between 50 and 59 years old. Now the number is one in 10.
And as we age -- and kids move out -- the number seems to grow.

Drug policy experts say baby boomers have more invested in legalization
because they are less likely to embrace risky options. They don't have a
street connection or want to wind up listed on a dispensary's log.

Still, they know that a little weed might make you feel young and giggle
a lot, but it isn't going to ruin your life.

Like it or not, their children know they know. A 20-year-old I spoke
with was stunned when she went with her mother to an Eagles concert and
saw "all the old people lighting up." My daughter told me she and her
friends were once approached by an elderly woman in a beach parking lot
who implored: "Do you have a joint? . . . Please . . . my husband is
making me crazy."

And young people who confessed to pinching a bud from their parents'
stash years ago now worry the old man is raiding theirs.

Maybe it's time we stopped pretending there's nothing odd about the fact
that every gas station and liquor store has a giant display of Zig-Zag
papers for something we're not allowed to roll, and "smoke shops" can
sell water pipes if we all pretend that they're for tobacco.

Come November, we'll see if a state too strait-laced to let gay people
marry is open-minded enough to let us all toke.

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Robbed; Two Injured

A medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado Springs was robbed and two
people injured Monday afternoon.

Colorado Springs police say Green Earth Wellness Center at 519 North
30th St. in Colorado Springs was robbed around 1:35 p.m. Monday.

Police say two suspects attacked and forced two employees into a back
room before looting the business of cash and marijuana products. Both
victims suffered minor injuries; one was sprayed in the face with pepper

Cops say the suspects ran from the business and that no getaway car was
seen. Detectives say one suspect is a white male, mid-20's, 5'10" 160
pounds, with short light brown hair. The other is a white male in his
20's, 6' 5", thin to medium build, with short brown hair.

Police say this is the first medical marijuana dispensary robbery in
Colorado Springs, and authorities say other dispensary owners should be
aware and on the lookout for suspicious activity.

If you know anything about the robbery or those suspects, call Crime
Stoppers at 634-STOP. Your anonymous tip could earn you a cash reward.

DC Medical Marijuana Bill Moves Forward

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- Washington would allow people to have up to 2
ounces of marijuana a month -- enough for about a joint a day -- for
medical use under a bill that moved forward Tuesday.

The bill would not allow patients to grow their own marijuana, but a
committee would study whether to allow so-called "home cultivation" by
patients and caregivers and make a recommendation by 2012. The bill was
approved by two city government committees on Tuesday. It still needs
approval of the full council, an approval that could come as early as

Citizens approved an initiative legalizing medical marijuana in 1998,
but Congress blocked its implementation until December.

Qualifying patients would be allowed to get up to 2 ounces of dried
marijuana a month under the bill, though it allows the mayor to increase
that amount to 2.5 ounces.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Let the sick decide if marijuana is medicine

Pain can saturate one's entire being. This hit home recently when my
mother endured bouts of chemotherapy for stomach cancer. Drugs to
relieve her relentless nausea offered little benefit. As with countless
other patients, her medicine made matters worse.

For patients in intractable pain, time is not on their side. Therefore,
for supporters, New York's pending legalization of the medical provision
and use of marijuana is timely. Meanwhile, the debate continues.

Good ethics requires good facts, as in accurate, relevant and
evidence-based. Clearly, cannabis' history of illegal use and
association with lethal drugs has overshadowed its supposed therapeutic
value in alleviating chemotherapy-induced nausea, reducing glaucoma's
intraocular pressure, mitigating AIDS symptoms and relieving chronic
pain. Furthermore, its psychoactive component spawns fears of dependency
and abuse, although authorized stimulants, antidepressants and
analgesics also produce highs and lows.

While critics allege medical marijuana to be addictive, a so-called
gateway to lethal drugs and without medical benefit, they also reject it
as valid medicine. So, is medical marijuana "real medicine" or an

This deep-seated question is unsettling.

Why? Because it unearths an unhealthy tension among politics, power and

In his "Social Transformation of American Medicine," sociologist Paul
Starr chronicles this tension by describing how U.S. mainstream
medicine, through licensing and certification requirements, assumed a
purportedly more "scientific" medical paradigm that marginalized
alternative, including herbal, therapies.

Wedded politics and science then enabled federal agencies' virtual
embargo on serious research into marijuana's therapeutic efficacy. To
illustrate, the National Institute on Drug Abuse plantation at the
University of Mississippi is the only place where researchers can
legally obtain marijuana. Yet, with pressure from the Drug Enforcement
Agency, NIDA's ongoing denial of research on the plant's medical
benefits has blocked important clinical studies.

As Madelon Lubin Finkel, clinical public health professor at Cornell's
Weill Medical College asserts, "reasons for this prohibition are clearly
politically ideological."

Politics' power over science is especially apparent since the biggest
stakeholder in defining "real medicine" is the pharmaceutical industry,
"Big Pharma." Generous government funding for research into a synthetic
substitute for tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive chemical
in marijuana, led to the 1985 FDA approval of Marinol(r), a prescription
drug for chemotherapy-related nausea and AIDS patients' weight loss.
Touted as safer and more effective than natural botanical marijuana,
Marinol, as "real medicine," may have diverted research from the
therapeutic potential of the plant itself.

Since good ethics requires good facts, without sufficient comparative
clinical studies, findings become arbitrary. Is a synthetic substitute
better than nature's botanical remedy?

In their book "Dying to Get High," sociologist Wendy Chapkis and
communications expert Richard Webb argue that "pharmaceutical purity" is
a misleading notion given the rubric of side effects for most
prescription drugs, ranging from organ damage to heart failure to nausea
to depression to suicidal tendencies. At $30 a pill, Marinol is a costly
trade-off for the patient, but profitable in one of the most lucrative
industries in the United States, Big Pharma.

The moral center of concern in health care should be the patient. When
that center shifts to political ideology, we abdicate moral
accountability to our patients.

Will legalizing medical marijuana help restore accountability?

Although the jury is still out regarding side effects, the Institute of
Medicine's 1999 report "Medicine and Marijuana" finds "no conclusive
evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the
subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs." Moreover, the Drug Policy
Education Group's 2002 account ( refutes DEA
arguments regarding marijuana's harms.

We can bestow dignity on patients by empowering them to make their own
informed choices among reasonable options. As to these options, good
science and sound moral principles -- not political ideology or industry
profit -- should help determine how we characterize "real medicine."

Legalizing Marijuana to Be on Ballot for Californians

Richard Lee is a well-known businessman in Oakland, Calif. His business
is marijuana -- and it is booming.

From his coffee house selling medical marijuana, to his trade school for
marijuana growers, Oaksterdam University, Lee employs 58 people and pays
hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in taxes.

But last week, Lee achieved what is arguably his biggest success yet,
after California's secretary of state ruled that his campaign to make
marijuana legal had gathered enough signatures to place the issue before
voters this November.

"I've always thought since I grew up in the '70s that cannabis
prohibition is unjust and hypocritical," Lee said.

The initiative would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce
of marijuana for personal use. It also would allow the growing of up to
25 square feet of marijuana per residence.

If the ballot measure is approved, California would become the first
state to allow the recreational use of pot. It is likely to be a fierce

Lee, a 47-year-old taciturn transplant from Texas, spent $1 million from
his marijuana businesses -- all of them legal -- on the petition drive
that got the referendum on the ballot.

And now he hopes to raise $20 million for the fall campaign. He's being
advised by some well-known political strategists, most notably Chris
Lehane, who worked in the White House under President Bill Clinton and
was a top operative in Al Gore's 2000 presidential race

"We're starting radio commercials Monday in Los Angeles and the Bay Area
and we have over 100,000 friends of Facebook," Lee said. "We're raising
money from all over the United States on the Internet because people
know this is a national issue and it starts in California."

But opponents are mobilizing, too.

Pastor Ron Allen of Sacramento is one of the leaders of a coalition of
cops and clergy who say legalizing marijuana will lead to the use of
harder drugs and only cause more problems for society.

For Allen, this is also a personal crusade. He was a crack cocaine
addict for seven years, and he says it all started with marijuana.

Passage "would devastate California to the fullest extent. ... This is
the worst thing that California could ever try to do," Allen said.

"To legalize marijuana with our kids, we are going to see more dropouts,
we are going to see more crime, we are going to see more thefts, and we
are going to see our kids just hanging out on the corner," he said.

Still, opposition to legalization is easing, both in California and

Indeed, in some ways, Lee is a living symbol of how marijuana is
becoming mainstream.

His Oaksterdam University -- the name is a marriage of Oakland and
drug-tolerant Amsterdam -- has grown to three campuses in California and
one in Michigan. More than 4,000 people are expected to take classes
this year.

The school, which boasts that it provides "quality training for the
cannabis industry," and Lee's other businesses have helped to revitalize
part of downtown Oakland and turn the city into something of an
unofficial capital of the legalization movement.

Oakland already has passed its own version of the statewide ballot
question. Its referendum directed the Oakland police to make enforcement
of marijuana laws their lowest priority. Lee was a prime mover behind
that ballot question, too.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll in January found that 46 percent of
Americans support legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal
use, up from 39 percent in 2002 and 22 percent in 1997. A Field Poll
last year found that 56 percent of Californians support the idea.

In 1996, California became the first state to make medical marijuana
legal. Thirteen states have followed suit, and more are considering it.
Making recreational use legal is the next logical step, Lee said.

And in these tough times, he and other advocates say they have a
powerful new argument: Governments need the cash that taxing marijuana
could generate.

"The bad economy has definitely helped us out a lot as far as opening up
a lot of people's minds to seeing that this is a waste of money and that
we need to use our public funds better and tax these people," Lee said.

Advocates say taxing marijuana could generate $1.4 billion in revenue
for California every year, and save the state tens if not hundreds of
millions dollars more in enforcement costs.

But any tax revenue derived from legalizing marijuana would be "blood
money," Allen said.

"They would have to have new smokers and new smokers would be our youth
and our next generation," Allen said.

"And the money that they are talking about gaining on taxes, they are
not telling us on how much more the parents will spend on funerals, on
how much more the kids are going to spend in the emergency room," he
said. "It will exceed those taxes."

The referendum's passage would set up a clash with federal law, which
still considers marijuana a dangerous drug. But Lee and other advocates
said they doubt the federal government would ever come after individuals
for smoking pot.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

City takes step toward increased regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries

The City Attorney's Office was directed Wednesday to draft a proposed ordinance to strictly regulate where medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed to operate in San Diego.

The proposed zoning law would prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from locating in residential areas or within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, libraries, churches, parks and places where children frequent.

Medical marijuana storefronts would also be barred from locating within 1,000 feet of each other.

Operators of medical marijuana dispensaries would have to hire security, obtain appropriate land-use permits, operate as a nonprofit and could only open their doors during certain hours of the day.

Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would have to comply with the zoning regulations if the ordinance is approved by the full City Council.

The Land Use and Housing Committee voted 3-1 to have the City Attorney's Office draft the measure and forward it to the full City Council for consideration sometime within the next two months.

Arguing that the proposed ordinance would not go far enough, Councilman Tony Young cast the dissenting vote.

He sought a moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries and a cap on how many are allowed to operate in the city.

"I think we should regulate this industry as much as we can," Young told his colleagues.

The proposed regulations largely mirror those made by an 11-member task force established by the city to address concerns about the proliferation of unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

However, committee members called for more stringent guidelines on how close medical marijuana dispensaries can be to each other and sought the addition of parks and places of worship to the buffer zones.

Alex Kreit, who chairs San Diego's Medical Marijuana Task Force, urged the committee to act quickly on the guidelines, arguing that if the city opts to "kick the can down the road," the "problem becomes more difficult to deal with."

San Diego resident Scott Chipman called for an immediate moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, telling the committee that the stores have "sprung up like weeds across the city."

"There were five of them last February, and by October there were 90 of them in San Diego," Chipman said. "They are close to schools, shopping malls and grocery stores, everywhere that children and families go."

City staff confirmed there are more than 80 medical marijuana dispensaries now operating in San Diego.

Others called on the committee to adopt the task force's recommendations, arguing that the guidelines would help legitimate medical marijuana patients and the community.

"We are asking you, do what needs to be done," Rudy Reyes, a medical marijuana advocate who was burned during the 2003 wildfires, told the
committee. "All we are asking you to do is support these guidelines. They were well made."

Craig Beresh, president of Southern California NORML, an organization working for the legalization of marijuana, told the committee that the dispensaries are there to help sick people.

"This isn't a bunch of drug dealers," he said. "These are a bunch of sick people."

It became legal in California for seriously ill patients under the supervision of a doctor to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes in 1996 with the passage of Proposition 215. Since then, cities around California have struggled with how to balance the needs of patients with the growing number of marijuana dispensaries.

Measure to legalize marijuana will be on California's November ballot

An initiative to legalize marijuana and allow it to be sold and taxed
will appear on the November ballot, state election officials announced
Wednesday, triggering what will probably be a much-watched campaign that
once again puts California on the forefront of the nation's debate over
whether to soften drug laws.

The number of valid signatures reported by Los Angeles County, submitted
minutes before Wednesday's 5 p.m. deadline, put the measure well beyond
the 433,971 it needed to be certified. Supporters turned in 694,248
signatures, collecting them in every county except Alpine. County
election officials estimated that 523,531 were valid.

The measure's main advocate, Richard Lee, an Oakland marijuana
entrepreneur, savored the chance to press his case with voters that the
state's decades-old ban on marijuana is a failed policy.

"We're one step closer to ending cannabis prohibition and the unjust
laws that lock people up for cannabis while alcohol is not only sold
openly but advertised on television to kids every day," he said.

Lee, tapping $1.3 million from his businesses, has put together a highly
organized campaign that he emphasized Wednesday would be led by a team
of experienced political consultants, including Chris Lehane, a veteran
operative who has worked in the White House and on presidential

"There's all kinds of big professional politicos who are coming on board
now to take it to the next level," Lee said.

Opponents have also started to put together their campaign. "There's
going to be a very broad coalition opposing this that will include law
enforcement," said John Lovell, a Sacramento lobbyist who represents the
California Police Chiefs Assn. and other law enforcement groups. "We'll
educate people as to what this measure really entails."

The measure, like the medical marijuana initiative, could put California
on a collision course with the federal government. The possession and
sale of marijuana remain a federal crime.

This month, President Obama's drug czar, R. Gil Kerlikowske, decried
legalization in a speech to police chiefs in San Jose.

The initiative would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce
for personal use.

Possession of an ounce or less has been a misdemeanor with a $100 fine
since 1975, when Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who was then governor, signed a
law that reduced tough marijuana penalties that had allowed judges to
impose 10-year sentences.

Legalization supporters note that misdemeanor arrests have risen
dramatically in California in the last two decades. The initiative would
also allow adults to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana per
residence or parcel.

But the measure, known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act,
goes further, allowing cities and counties to adopt ordinances that
would authorize the cultivation, transportation and sale of marijuana,
which could be taxed to raise revenue.

Supporters hope this feature will win over voters watching local
governments jettison employees and programs in the midst of a severe
budget crisis.

Three other marijuana legalization initiatives have been floated this
year but are not expected to qualify for the ballot. One failed, one was
withdrawn and one remains active.

Lovell said that the initiative would lead to increased marijuana use,
cause the same kind of social ills as alcohol and tobacco and put more
demands on law enforcement. He said voters are distressed by the medical
marijuana law. "Neighborhoods feel very uncomfortable with these
locations that have a lot of dope and a lot of cash," he said.

Lee countered that the state's experience with medical marijuana shows
"the sky didn't fall." He said the measure would allow police to focus
on serious crime, undercut Mexican drug cartels and make it harder for
teenagers to buy marijuana.

Underscoring the importance the backing of law enforcement will play,
Lee's campaign on Wednesday highlighted the support of retired Orange
County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray, a former L.A. County deputy
sheriff and Torrance police officer.

With polls showing that a slim majority of voters support legalization,
the legalization campaign will be trying to appeal to a slice of
undecided voters who are mostly mothers. "It's always easier for people
to say no than to say yes for an initiative," said Mark Baldassare, the
pollster for the Public Policy Institute of California.

Lee hopes to raise as much as $20 million. He will probably be able to
tap a handful of wealthy advocates who have supported efforts to relax
drug laws, including multibillionaire investor George Soros and George
Zimmer, founder of the Men's Wearhouse. Zimmer has donated at least

Lovell said he expected to raise less than his opponents but would have
enough to get his message out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mendocino County legitimizes medical marijuana growers

Mendocino County officials have approved sweeping regulations aimed at
ending the county's long-running pot wars and harnessing the
economic power of the region's number one crop.

Medical marijuana, growers, Mendocino County

On a 3-2 vote, the county Board of Supervisors adopted the plan
yesterday amid a long-running debate over whether Mendocino should
embrace or reject its reputation as California's pot capital (sorry
Humboldt County).

"This vote bridges the divide in this county and bring an end to the
polarization that has burdened our community for the past years,"
said Matthew Cohen, an organic farmer who runs a medical marijuana
collective near Ukiah.

Many localities around California have imposed regulations or bans on
dispensaries (storefronts) that provide marijuana to patients who
qualify under state law.

But the new regulations in Mendocino could be the first in the state to
create a legal framework for marijuana growers, treating them like any
other business.

The plan stipulates that all growers must operate as non-profit
collectives – in line with state guidelines – but it also
requires collectives to pay sales tax to the state Board of Equalization
"if they intend to sell directly to qualified patients or primary

To coax more growers into the open, the ordinance raises the number of
pot plants that can be cultivated on a parcel of land to 99 (from 25).
But only if the grower follows state guidelines and gets a special
permit from Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman.

Here's what Sheriff Allman told me this morning on KQED's California

"What we are saying is if you are going to grow the 99 plants, law
enforcement is going to have full access to your property. We're going
to be able to inspect, we're going to be able to see how healthy your
plants are, and if you have seven-pound plants, you're going to have a
real problem because that's too much pot."

Supporters hope the plan will reduce environmental damage caused by
"guerrilla growers," move pot cultivation out of towns to more
remote areas and raise more tax receipts for cash-strapped local

Gerald Ensley: Legalizing marijuana is just a matter of time

Time magazine recently published an interesting statistic: 5.1 percent
of Americans aged 55 to 59 smoke marijuana regularly — a major jump
from 2002, when 1.6 percent of Americans aged 55 to 59 admitted to
smoking pot regularly.

The magazine attributed the rise to the aging of the baby boom
generation. And you can look at the stat four ways:

One, it shows marijuana use is not just for the young and wild. We can
only assume the age bracket — where AARP membership and senior
discounts begin — was considered significant because it says old
people are smoking.

Two, it's a tsk-tsk about how baby boomers just won't stop their silly

Three, it shows a decline in marijuana usage: Back when boomers were
young, half of us were smoking pot. So if just 5 percent of us are still
smoking, usage has dropped dramatically.

Or fourth: The handwriting on the wall is getting bigger. We need to
make pot legal. You don't want Grandma and Grandpa doing hard time, do

We get closer to legalizing pot all the time.

A national poll in October found that 44 percent of Americans support
legalization — up from 36 percent in 2005. Fourteen states have made
marijuana legal for medical purposes since California became the first
in 1996. Fourteen other states are now considering changes in their laws
against marijuana, ranging from allowing medical marijuana to

Florida is not among those 28 states, though polls have shown that a
majority of Florida voters support medical marijuana. A group is trying
to get medical marijuana on the Florida ballot this fall. Here's hoping
they succeed.

This is what some of us always believed would happen with marijuana
laws: People would realize the folly of keeping marijuana illegal and
change the laws. I think we imagined it would happen sooner than it did
and in more sweeping federal fashion, rather than the slow trickle of

But as you get older — say 55 to 59 — you realize that's how
things work. Look at health care reform. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt,
there have been efforts to institute some form of national health
insurance. Now, 60 years later, President Obama finally succeeded.
Sometimes, it takes decades for the steady plodding of logic and
determined supporters to get the right thing done.

Ending the prohibition on marijuana is about taking it out of the dark
of criminal activity and profit and bringing it into the light of the
nation's daily commerce. It's just so logical.

If we tax marijuana, government will have much more revenue — for
things such as health care. If we regulate marijuana, it will reduce its
availability to children — who can get it illegally from friends and
acquaintances. If we eliminate the penalties for possession, we can stop
the unfair and costly jailing of people — whose only crime is
preferring marijuana to alcohol when they relax.

If we legalize marijuana, we can make marijuana available nationwide to
those who need it medically — and eliminate such farces as Wal-Mart
firing a Michigan employee who failed a drug test after using marijuana
prescribed by his doctor.

And if we legalize, we can help stop the drug cartel violence, which is
ripping apart Mexico and spreading into the U.S. According to the
Marijuana Policy Project, the largest marijuana reform organization in
the U.S., more than 18,000 people have been killed in Mexico by drug
violence since 2006. The U.S. Justice Department reports that cartels do
business in 230 American cities. Annually, 60 percent to 70 percent of
marijuana sold by cartels is sold in the U.S. It's an annual $8 billion
to $10 billion industry for the cartels, whose violence will continue as
long as they are making money.

We will never eradicate the human affection for intoxication, as was
proved by the failed efforts of alcohol prohibition in the early 20th
century. But we can stop the violence and costs associated with
marijuana prohibition by taking its distribution out of the hands of
criminals — and stop criminalizing those who use it.

It's the right thing to do. If only to save Grandma and Grandpa from

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ailing await medicinal marijuana

COLLINGSWOOD â€" Donna Doak anxiously awaits the day when she can
get a prescription for marijuana.

The Swedesboro nurse, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and spinal
stenosis and is wheelchair-bound, said marijuana can ease her pain
without the nasty side effects of her current medications.

"Now that it's been legalized, I want to pursue it," said Doak, who was
among the roughly dozen people who attended a town hall meeting at the
Collingswood Library sponsored by the Coalition for Medical Marijuana
New Jersey. "I just think it's going to really enable me to have a
better quality of life."

In January, New Jersey became the fourth state on the East Coast to
legalize medicinal marijuana when then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed the
Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act into law.

The legislation legalized marijuana use in the treatment of certain
conditions, including glaucoma, seizures, cancer, AIDS, inflammatory
bowel syndrome and neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis.

While many of the details of New Jersey's law are still to be
determined, patients should be able to obtain a prescription that would
allow them to purchase marijuana from a state-licensed alternative
treatment center as soon as July.

"Marijuana is a safe, effective and inexpensive treatment for a host of
diseases," said the coalition's executive director, Ken Wolski, a
registered nurse.

Fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana.

"Another dozen states are considering similar laws," Wolski said.

Among the states considering medical marijuana bills this year are
Alabama, Delaware, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

"We do have the most restrictive bill in the country," said Wolski,
adding that New Jersey is the only state that doesn't allow home

Coalition officials estimate that roughly 4,000 people in New Jersey
will obtain a prescription for marijuana.

"One of the more common questions we get is if insurance companies will
pay for medical marijuana," coalition board member Chris Goldstein said.
"I think medical marijuana is equal to an over-the-counter medication.
They don't cover Tylenol, they don't cover ibuprofen, so I don't think
they'll cover medical marijuana."

Coalition members also discussed the case of a Franklin Township man
with multiple sclerosis who was sentenced to five years in prison for
growing marijuana in the backyard of his rental property.

A sign that read "Pardon John Ray Wilson" and "medical marijuana
patient, not a criminal" sat on a table at the library.

"To me, it was a travesty of justice," Wolski said.

"It's the most lenient sentence that the judge could give under the
law," Goldstein said. "The question is whether he'll be able to use
medical marijuana when he goes on parole."

James Wayne, of Bellmawr, uses marijuana to lessen the pain for a head
injury and severe back problems but will not be able to obtain a
prescription under the new law because chronic pain is not one of the
approved uses.

"The Percocet makes me nauseous and I can't think right," Wayne said. "I
smoke two or three hits and I'm good for a couple of hours. I would much
rather have the person who is driving my children to be taking marijuana
for their pain than taking 10 milliliters of Percocet."

Goldstein said the coalition will host town hall meetings throughout the
state to educate people about the law and discuss its implementation.

"This is legal now," Goldstein said. "You don't have to be afraid to
talk about this. It's a private decision to use medical marijuana just
like it's a private decision to use any medication."

The War on Drugs Is Doomed

They say that the first step in dealing with a problem is acknowledging
that you have one. It is therefore good news that Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton will lead a delegation to Mexico tomorrow to talk with
officials there about efforts to fight the mob violence that is being
generated in Mexico by the war on drugs. U.S. recognition of this shared
problem is healthy.

But that's where the good news is likely to end.

Violence along the border has skyrocketed ever since Mexican President
Felipe Calderón decided to confront the illegal drug cartels that
operate there. Some 7,000 troops now patrol Juárez, a city of
roughly one million. Yet even militarization has not delivered the
peace. The reason is simple enough: The source of the problem is not
Mexican supply. It is American demand coupled with prohibition.

It is doubtful that this will be acknowledged at tomorrow's meeting. The
drug-warrior industry, which includes both the private-sector and a
massive government bureaucracy devoted to "enforcement," has an enormous
economic incentive to keep the war raging. In Washington politics both
groups have substantial influence. So it is likely that we are going to
get further plans to turn Juárez into a police state with the
promise that more guns, tanks, helicopters and informants can stop
Mexican gangsters from shoving drugs up American noses.

Last week's gangland-style slaying of an unborn baby and three adults
who had ties to the U.S. Consulate in Juárez has drawn attention to
Mrs. Clinton's trip. The incident stunned Americans. Yet tragic as they
were, statistically those four deaths don't create even a blip on the
body-count chart. The running tally of drug-trafficking linked deaths in
Juárez since December 2006 is more than 5,350. There has also been a
high cost to the city's economy as investors and tourists have turned

Even with low odds of a productive outcome, though, Mexico can't afford
to write off tomorrow's meeting. It is an opportunity that, handled
correctly, could provide for a teachable moment. I suggest that one or
two of Mexico's very fine economists trained at the University of
Chicago by Milton Friedman sit down with President Obama's team to
explain a few things about how markets work. They could begin by
outlining the path that a worthless weed travels to become the funding
for the cartel's firepower. In this Econ 101 lesson, students will learn
how the lion's share of the profit is in getting the stuff over the U.S.
border to the American consumer. In football terms, Juárez is first
and goal.

Mexico hasn't always been an important playing field for drug cartels.
For many years cocaine traffickers used the Caribbean to get their
product to their customers in the largest and richest market in the
hemisphere. But when the U.S. redoubled its efforts to block shipments
traveling by sea, the entrepreneurs shifted to land routes through
Central America and Mexico.

Mexican traffickers now handle cocaine but traditional marijuana
smuggling is their cash cow, despite competition from stateside growers.
In a February 2009 interview, then-Mexican Attorney General Eduardo
Medina Mora told me that half of the cartel's annual income was derived
from marijuana.

This is especially troubling for Mexican law enforcement because
marijuana use, through medical marijuana outlets and general social
acceptance, has become de facto legal in the U.S., and demand is robust.
The upshot is that consumption is cool while production, trafficking and
distribution are organized-crime activities. This is what I called in a
previous column, "a stimulus plan for Mexican gangsters."

In much of the world, where institutions are weak and folks are poor,
the high value that prohibition puts into drugs means that the thugs
rule. Mr. Medina Mora told me in the same 2009 interview that Mexico
estimated the annual cash flow from U.S. drug consumers to Mexico at
around $10 billion, which of course explains why the cartels are so well
armed and also able to grease the system. It also explains why
Juárez is today a killing field.

Supply warriors might have a better argument if the billions of dollars
spent defoliating the Colombian jungle, chasing fast boats and shooting
down airplanes for the past four decades had reduced drug use. Yet
despite passing victories like taking out 1980s kingpin Pablo Escobar
and countless other drug lords since then, narcotics are still widely
available in the U.S. and some segment of American society remains
enthusiastic about using them. In some places terrorist organizations
like Colombia's FARC rebels and al Qaeda have replaced traditional

There is one ray of hope for innocent victims of the war on drugs. Last
week the Journal reported that Drug Enforcement Administration agents
were questioning members of an El Paso gang about their possible
involvement in the recent killings in Juárez. If the escalation is
now spilling over into the U.S., Americans may finally have to face
their role in the mess. Mrs. Clinton's mission will only add value if it
reflects awareness of that reality.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Our View: Medical pot should come from well-regulated farms

A law meant to improve patient access to marijuana could put drugs in
the wrong hands.

A clear majority of voters last November clearly stated that they wanted
medical marijuana patients to have access to the drug through local

Legislators heard them, and should do nothing to stand in the way of
those wishes being carried out.

But that's not to say that all the details of the law as conceived by
its supporters were completely thought out and publicly debated. While
the question of whether patients should get the marijuana that they say
makes them feel better was debated, the question of who would grow the
marijuana was not.

There is a clear public interest in making sure that the marijuana
distributed under the new law goes only to people who are supposed to
have it, and that the quality of the drug is similar in all the

Both of those questions call for centralized growing facilities licensed
and overseen by the state.

That does not fit into the vision of some of the referendum's original
backers, who would like to see every dispensary grow its own.

But this is not a law meant to promote local agriculture; it was born of
a medical referendum that involves distribution of an illegal drug.

The Legislature should not take chances here, but pass Rep. Anne
Haskell's bill that would create a central growing system.

Backers of medical pot want workers shielded

PHOENIX - Arizona workers who use medical marijuana - should voters
approve use of the drug in November - won't have to worry about being
fired for testing positive at work.

A proposed initiative would allow doctor-authorized use of marijuana to
relieve suffering from several specific conditions, and would allow
creation of a network of nonprofit shops that could sell the drug.

The ballot measure also contains anti-discrimination provisions,
including one that says an employer cannot make hiring, firing and
disciplinary conditions based on a person's status as the holder of a
medical marijuana card. That protection extends to someone who tests
positive for the drug unless the company can prove the person used or
possessed marijuana on the job or was "impaired" during work hours.

Andrew Myers, campaign manager for the Arizona initiative, said it is
the intent of backers to prohibit workers from being fired for testing
positive on the job.

"I believe that our language is very clear on that point," he said in
response to the revelation a worker in Michigan was fired after testing
positive. The man used marijuana under that state's law to deal with
sinus cancer and a brain tumor.

But the Michigan law does not include the same worker protections
contained in the version of the law likely to appear on the ballot here
in November. Backers claim they already have the 153,365 valid
signatures necessary to qualify.

Attorney Don Johnsen said current state and federal law does not require
companies to make accommodations or provide special treatment for those
who are using marijuana.

"This ballot initiative obviously would reverse that," he said.

Johnson said the provision allowing employers to terminate someone was
"impaired" probably won't be much of a factor because "proving something
like that is very expensive and very difficult and very risky."

Attorney David Selden said proving impairment will be difficult because,
"Unlike alcohol testing, drug testing doesn't measure the current level
of impairment."

Selden said it probably would take an employer catching someone smoking
marijuana on the job, or possessing it, to be able to fire someone.

The initiative, modeled after similar laws in other states, requires
"written certification" from a doctor to get up to 2.5 ounces of
marijuana every two weeks. The drugs would come from nonprofit

Arizona voters actually approved a measure in 1996 allowing doctors to
prescribe otherwise illegal drugs to seriously and terminally ill
patients, only to have key provisions repealed by the Legislature.

That repeal was overridden by voters in 1998. But the wording of the
measure - requiring an actual written prescription - made it useless
after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency threatened to revoke all
prescription-writing privileges of any doctor who wrote such an order.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

City chided over pot raid

Costa Mesa is giving mixed messages to medical marijuana patients.

Mayor Allan Mansoor met medical marijuana advocates Tuesday afternoon to
hear their concerns and discuss possible solutions.

About the same time, police searched a suspected marijuana dispensary,
carrying out bags of evidence and arresting an employee.

"Unfortunately, while we were meeting with the mayor, your Police
Department was raiding one of our collectives, and we're not happy
about that, but we appreciate your time," Marla James, a member of
American for Safe Access' Orange County chapter, told city officials
at Tuesday's council meeting.

Police served a search warrant at the dispensary, Doc's, and
arrested Rick Allen, 51, who was booked on suspicion of possessing
marijuana for sale and transporting it.

The raid is part of a city effort to eliminate the seven to nine
marijuana dispensaries that are operating in violation of its law.

Mansoor said he was not aware of Tuesday's raid, but that there are
no mixed messages.

"We're simply upholding our current laws," he said.

Mansoor met with the residents and supporters at their request, he said.

The mayor added that he's open to discuss ways to help those in need
of medical marijuana, while honoring law enforcement concerns.

Costa Mesa City Atty. Kimberly Hall Barlow, who's preparing a study
session for the council on the issue, said the ordinance isn't meant
to discriminate against patients, but that it prohibits illegal
businesses from setting up shop.

"We are not aware of legal collectives operating in the city,"
she said.

State law prohibits the sale of marijuana, but a 1996 proposition
legalized the cultivation and use of pot for patients suffering from
chronic pain, cancer and other ailments.

In recent months, and after U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder's
announcement that his office will no longer go after marijuana
dispensaries, California cities have seen an increase in the number of

Kansas Lawmakers Consider Medical Marijuana

Topeka (WIBW) - A Kansas House committee is weighing the controversial
issue of medical marijuana.

The Health and Human Services committee held an informational meeting on
the topic Wednesday.

It was spurred by a proposal from Rep. Gail Finney to legalize marijuana
for medical purposes. The Wichita Democrat's bill would allow doctors to
recommend medical marijuana to patients with serious illnesses.

Several people spoked to the committee, many carrying pictures of family
members. They told lawmakers how marijuana may have helped ease the
pains of their loved ones, especially compared with more traditional

The Medical Marijuana Project says 14 states, including Colorado and New
Mexico have passed similar laws.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Divided council's pot law draws patients' ire

LONG BEACH - Just when Long Beach's medical marijuana ordinance seemed a
done deal, the City Council took another crack at it Tuesday night.

After months of lengthy meetings to try to come up with a way to
regulate medical marijuana collectives, the council still had to do some
serious negotiating and needed seven separate votes to finally approve
the law 5-4.

The ordinance wasn't to the liking of medical marijuana advocates and
collective operators, who after the vote called the law a virtual "ban"
on marijuana.

Chief among their objections was that a requirement that all medical
marijuana provided by local collectives be grown within the city limits
would be too onerous and would make it difficult for patients to receive
the marijuana they need.

Another controversial issue was the council's decision last week to
expand school buffer zones for elementary and middle schools from 500
feet to 1,000 feet, as well as keep the 1,500-foot buffer zone around
high schools.

Marijuana advocates said that adding on top of those rules a restriction
limiting patients to being members of only one dispensary will leave
patients with few marijuana options in Long Beach.

"If one collective doesn't have the medicine you need, you need to be
able to go to another one," Madeleine Johnson of Americans for Safe
Access said after the meeting.

The law also requires marijuana collectives to register with the city,
provide the names and contact information of its managing members, and
to take on-site security measures, among other rules.

The council began working on a way to control the proliferation of
collectives in a September committee meeting, and has had meeting after
meeting since then to work out the complex legalities of the issue.

On Feb. 9, the council approved the creation of a less restrictive
version of the law that didn't limit where marijuana may be grown and
restricted collectives from operating only within 500 feet of elementary
and middle schools.

Then, after law enforcement officials and a representative of the
District Attorney's Office gave a presentation to the council later that
month, telling them that Long Beach should restrict cultivation to
within the city limits in order to comply with state law and have an
enforceable ordinance, the council delayed having another vote.

Last week, the council voted 5-4 to pass the law with the additional
in-town cultivation rule.

The ordinance was agendized for a final reading Tuesday, but Mayor Bob
Foster announced that the vote would be a first reading only, likely
because there were enough substantial changes made to the law last week.
That means the ordinance must still go back to the council for a final

On Tuesday, council members weren't satisfied with this outcome, and
they took a long and convoluted road to reach an agreement. Try to
follow along.

Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal made a motion to approve the ordinance.

Councilwoman Rae Gabelich then made a motion to approve the law but to
add a 2,000-square-foot size limit on marijuana cultivation and
collective sites in commercial pedestrian corridors and to allow
patients to join up to three collectives.

Councilman Gary DeLong made another substitute motion to approve the
original ordinance but give collectives an extra six months (in addition
to the 120-day grace period they were already to have once the law is
signed by the mayor) in which to comply so that they would have time to
grow enough marijuana for their patients' needs.

Each motion failed on either a 4-5 or 3-6 vote, but the votes didn't all
fall along the same divisions on the council. Almost every council
member cast a "no" vote on at least one motion.

Councilman Patrick O'Donnell next tried to find some common ground,
making a new motion that integrated the original ordinance with the
2,000-square-foot building rule and giving collectives an extra four
months to comply. Gabelich asked O'Donnell to add an allowance of two
collective memberships for patients, but O'Donnell drew the line there.

It didn't matter, however, because the vote failed as well with a 4-5

Lowenthal then tried her hand at bridging a compromise after she had
voted against the previous motion. She moved to reconsider the vote,
which the council decided voted 5-4 to allow.

Lowenthal made the previous motion again, but asked to remove the
2,000-square-foot restriction, leaving only the original ordinance and
the extra four months for collectives to comply.

It wasn't done yet, though, because Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga made
a substitute motion to continue the matter to the next meeting. Her
proposal failed 4-5, and Lowenthal's motion was finally approved 5-4.

Voting against the ordinance were Uranga, Gabelich and council members
Val Lerch and Robert Garcia.

Czech pot smokers exhale with relief over new drug law

PRAGUE — Czech pot smokers have breathed a sigh of relief after the
government clarified a law on drug use, turning the country into one of
Europe's safest havens for casual drug users.

Under the more transparent and liberal law in effect since January,
people found in possession of up to 15 grammes (half an ounce) of
marijuana or growing up to five cannabis plants no longer risk prison or
a criminal record, but can only be fined if caught.

"Our legislation says that possession and growing of marijuana for
personal use is not a crime," said journalist Jiri Dolezal, slowly
savouring a joint he just rolled with admirable expertise.

Now, "if the police find you carrying less than 15 grammes, you don't
risk anything except a fine of up to 15,000 korunas (580 euros, 800

Dolezal has led a tireless campaign to relax the laws on "soft" drug use
in the pages of Reflex, the respected magazine where he works.

The weekly even organises an annual contest for the best photo of
marijuana grown by its readers, the Reflex Cannabis Cup, in this
ex-communist country where one-third of all adults and half of youths
under 24 years confess to having tried cannabis at least once.

The new law replaced an ambiguous one that made it a penalty to be in
possession of "a larger than small amount" of marijuana.

"It will reduce contacts between youths and dealers who, sooner or
later, offer them hard drugs," asserted Dolezal, puffing on what in
colloquial Czech is called "brko" for "quill", or "spek" for "bacon

But Karel Nespor, a doctor who heads the addiction treatment centre at
Prague-Bohnice psychiatric hospital, is concerned about impact the eased
law may have on health.

"One study found that the risk of heart attack is four times higher in
the hour after someone smokes a marijuana joint," he recently told the
Czech daily Dnes .

"Marijuana use also risks provoking 'cravings' for the drug," he said.

Adopted after years of wrangling, the new drug law also allows people to
possess less than 1.5 grammes of heroin, a gramme of cocaine, up to five
grammes of hashish, and five LSD blotter papers, pills, capsules or

Czechs can also legally grow up to five cannabis or coca plants or cacti
containing mescaline, and possess up to 40 magic mushrooms.

If growers comply with the legal limits, possession is treated as a
minor offence, while the possession of bigger amounts may result in up
to six months in prison for hemp and up to a year for magic mushrooms,
plus a fine.

In neighbouring Poland and Slovakia, people possessing any amount of
marijuana risk ending up behind bars.

"Czech society is secular and more free, I would say," said psychologist
Ivan Douda, who specialises in treating addicts. "Our laws are more
tolerant and more pragmatic. We are closer to the Dutch legislation."

Cannabis use is technically illegal in the Netherlands, though the
consumption and possession of under five grammes was decriminalised in
1976 . That amount is sold legally in one of 700 or so licensed Dutch
"coffee" shops. Cannabis cultivation and mass retail remain illegal, and
magic mushrooms were banned in 2008.

Douda, however, warned that the new law would not resolve all drug

In recent years, he has traveled around the country, meeting students to
raise awareness about the risks of using not only cannabis but also
other drugs including tobacco and alcohol.

"Alcohol is an underestimated drug, while marijuana is overestimated and
too severely criminalised," he said.

Neither Dolezal nor Douda feel the more relaxed drug law will transform
their country into "an Amsterdam of the East".

"There is a difference between the approach in Amsterdam, which is more
tolerant towards dealers, and that of Czech authorities, who are easier
on the users," said Dolezal.

The psychologist conceded it was inevitable that cannabis lovers from
neighbouring countries would come from time to time in search of "a more
liberal environment."

Recently, Czech police discovered that a fast-food kiosk in Cesky
Tesin/Cieszyn, a town on the Czech-Polish border, was selling Polish
clients marijuana along with their French fries.

"Regulars were offered French fries as a bonus," joked local police
spokeswoman Zlatuse Viackova.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Medical marijuana patient dies of injuries

Pierce County sheriff’s detectives are trying to learn who killed
a medical marijuana patient who had been growing 150 pot plants on his
Orting-area property and been the victim of attempted robberies in the

“We’ve been working on the case, and it just continues to
get more complicated,†sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said

Detectives suspect Michael S. Howard, 38, might have been targeted in a
robbery, but they had no suspects in his slaying. He died Saturday after
being struck in the head, possibly by a crowbar, four days earlier.

Howard suffered back injuries in a couple of accidents years ago and
used medical marijuana to deal with the pain, said his stepfather,
Michael Atkins.

He was a patient of CannaCare, a Seattle-area organization that provides
patients with marijuana plants and advice about Washington’s law,
said Steve Sarich, the group’s director.

Howard also posted on CannaCare’s online forum and volunteered
his time for the advocacy group.

Investigators had nothing connecting Howard’s death to a robbery
that ended early Monday in a shootout at Sarich’s Kirkland home.
King County sheriff’s investigators believe the home might have
been targeted because of a medical marijuana grow operation inside.

Sarich was wounded in the face and leg by shotgun pellets during the
robbery. He shot one of the four robbers, who was taken to Harborview
Medical Center in Seattle with life-threatening injuries.

Before the shooting, Sarich raised concerns about robberies of marijuana
patients. He said patients are reluctant to report the robberies because
law enforcement officers ignore the crimes and instead focus on the
patients for having pot.

“What happened to Mike Howard could happen to me or any other
patient in Washington as long as we can’t trust the police to do
their jobs,†Sarich wrote in a letter Sunday to state Sen. Jeanne
Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle. “This is beyond disturbing.â€

In Pierce County, sheriff’s investigators were called to
Howard’s home in the 17700 block of 147th Avenue East about 4:30
a.m. March 9. A woman at the home called 911 after Howard was hit by an
unknown attacker.

Howard was bleeding from a head injury and conscious when deputies
arrived. They interviewed him about what happened, Troyer said.

He said his dogs started barking, and he armed himself with a can of
bear spray and went outside to investigate. He confronted someone and
was hit in the head with an object, Troyer said.

Howard could not describe the attacker. He did tell investigators he was
a medical marijuana patient but denied having any pot plants and then
declined to answer questions, Troyer said.

The woman told deputies that there had been other attempted robberies at
the home, some of which were not reported.

Howard was taken to the hospital, but his condition worsened, and he
died Saturday at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma.

Meanwhile, his stepfather called deputies after finding a crowbar on
Howard’s property. The crowbar was taken as evidence Wednesday,
but Troyer said investigators are unsure if it was used in the attack on

Detectives got a search warrant for Howard’s property and found
150 marijuana plants. Under state law, medical marijuana patients can
grow up to 15 plants.

Detectives from the homicide, special investigations and intelligence
teams were working on the case.

“We are looking at other robberies there and other incidents this
guy has been involved in,†Troyer said.

Howard was convicted of third-degree assault Feb. 23 after he
pepper-sprayed a man who’d come to shut off his power Nov. 17,
according to court documents. He was in the Pierce County Jail from Jan.
5 until Feb. 24, Troyer said.

Friends and family remembered Howard as a man with a big heart who bred,
raised and sold pit bulls. He worked as a home inspector and enjoyed
riding motorcycles and quads, said Atkins, his stepfather. “He
was a good, friendly guy,†Atkins said.

In an e-mail to The News Tribune on Sunday, Sarich raised concern about
the Sheriff’s Department’s investigation of
Howard’s death and said medical marijuana patients “never
get help from law enforcement.â€

Troyer denied that the case wasn’t being fully investigated.

“These are extraordinary circumstances,†he said.
“It’s very complicated.â€

West Hollywood Councilman Gets Behind Full Legalization Of Pot

A West Hollywood city councilman says he's the first politician in
Southern California to support a statewide initiative that would
legalize marijuana for recreational use. The ballot measure, which
appears to have enough signatures but which has not yet been certified
for the ballot by the Secretary of State, would treat marijuana like
alcohol, tax it and make available to the 21-and-older set. Polls
indicate California voters support full legalization.

"West Hollywood council member John Duran is the first elected official
in Southern California to endorse The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis
Act of 2010," reads a statement from his office.

The initiative is being pushed and funded by Richard Lee, owner of an
Oakland medical marijuana dispensary and pot college Oaksterdam
University. His effort netted 680,000 signatures; only 433,971 need to
be validated for the initiative to qualify for the ballot.

San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco has also
introduced a full-legalization measure in Sacramento.

"During Prohibition, the most dangerous form of underground alcohol was
'moonshine' that was unregulated and sometimes fatal," said West
Hollywood states Duran. "Today, Mexican drug cartels produce unregulated
marijuana heavily-laden with unsafe pesticides and making billions of
U.S. dollars in the process. The 'reefer madness' mentality of our
failed criminalization of marijuana must come to an end just as
prohibition did. Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Calif. man investigated over alleged DEA threats

SACRAMENTO, Calif. â€" A Northern California man arrested after
park rangers allegedly spotted him waving a handgun at a national
monument near the Oregon border will likely face more charges for
threatening to kill federal agents and their families, authorities said

Micha Godfrey was arrested Thursday after park rangers at Lava Beds
National Monument saw him acting suspicious and found that the convicted
felon was carrying a revolver and wearing a bulletproof vest.

The 37-year-old was charged Friday with being a felon in possession of a
firearm and ammunition. He has been placed on a federal hold in
Sacramento County Jail, and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for
March 26.

Godfrey had already been under investigation for threatening to kill
Drug Enforcement Agency agents and their families, and authorities on
Friday seized thousands of rounds of ammunition from his home in Tule
Lake, which is about 10 miles from the national monument.

The DEA said in a statement that it received information earlier this
month suggesting that Godfrey made the threats toward the DEA in e-mails
he sent to a Web site supporting medical marijuana. DEA Assistant
Special Agent in Charge Gordon Taylor said authorities have obtained the
e-mails but have not released specifics, including the Web site address.

Godfrey had a means to carry out his promise to bomb or burn DEA agents
and their children, Taylor said.

"We took the threat very seriously in light of what's happened recently.
All you have to do is look at the Pentagon shooting," he said, referring
to the gunman who shot at police officers in front of the Pentagon
earlier this month.

The DEA, working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, also
took four firearms, a second bulletproof vest, a computer and marijuana
plants from Godfrey's home on Friday.

Godfrey has two prior felony convictions: one for first degree burglary
in 1992 and another from 2001 for obstructing or resisting an executive

Medical Marijuana Patient Protests After Being Fired for Drug Use

BATTLE CREEK - Joseph Casias says he was unfairly fired from Wal-Mart
after he tested positive for a controlled substance. He's a registered
medical marijuana patient.

He says he's battled sinus cancer and a brain tumor for eleven years.
Most of the time, he's treated his pain with a concoction of pain
killers. But when Michigan legalized marijuana for medical purposes, he
signed up. Casias is one of the state's 10,022 registered patients.

In the fall of 2009, Casias fell while on the job. He says Wal-Mart
required him to take a drug test, which came back positive for a
controlled substance. Casias was fired.

On Sunday, dozens of people protested outside of Wal-Mart, saying what
the company did wasn't legal. But a spokesperson for the retailer
disagrees. The company says the test don't say which drug was found in
Casias' system; all it shows is that a controlled substance was found,
which is a violation of its drug-free policy.

The Michigan Community Health Department, which oversees the program,
says if an employee is taking marijuana for medical purposes, they
cannot be terminated for drug use. However, the health department
doesn't get involved in legal matters, and a spokesperson says if Casias
wants his job back, he'll probably have to get a lawyer.,0,464792\


Rally for fired medical pot patient

Joseph Casias tested positive for marijuana

Updated: Sunday, 14 Mar 2010, 11:46 PM EDT
Published : Sunday, 14 Mar 2010, 6:00 PM EDT

By Dani Carlson\

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) - A rally was held Sunday in support of
Joseph Casias, a registered medical marijuana user and cancer patient
who was terminated from his job at Walmart late last year.

Casias, a five-year employee, was fired after testing positive for a
controlled substance: marijuana.

"If I take a medication that I have a legal right to take, why should I
lose my job for that?" Casias said. "Especially when I gave everything I
had for them (to) try to be a role model employee."

He has a prescription for the drug and said he uses it for pain from
sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor he has been suffering from
for the past 10 years. Marijuana is one of the only things that can help
get him through the tough times, he said.

Casias didn't use marijuana on the job or before work during his years
at Walmart, he said. He hurt himself on the job, and after that, had a
routine drug test.

That's when the controlled substance was detected. He told 24 Hour News
8 he showed his managers his medical marijuana card, but eventually was
fired anyway.

"I'm just trying to control my pain," Casias said. "That's the only
thing I'm trying to do here -- control my pain. I'm not an abuser of the
drug or anything like that."

He said he shouldn't have been fired in a state where medical marijuana
is legal.

The law on the issue isn't crystal clear. According to the text of the
law at, it says people using medical marijuana "shall not
be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied
any right or privilege, including but not limited to civil penalty or
disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional
licensing board or bureau, for the medical use of marihuana in
accordance with this act."

But later on, it says, "Nothing in this act shall be construed to
require ... An employer to accommodate ... any employee working while
under the influence of marihuana."

Casias and dozens of supporters gathered outside the Battle Creek
Walmart, where Casias used to work, to protest. The group wanted him to
get his job back, receive an apology from Walmart and a change in

However, Casias said even if Walmart offered him his job back, he's not
sure he would take it. At this point, he and his family are debating how
far they will take this fight, he said.

"In states such as Michigan, where prescriptions for marijuana can be
obtained, an employer can still enforce a policy that requires
termination of employment following a positive drug screen," said Anna
Taylor, of Walmart Corporate Communications in an e-mail. "We believe
our policy complies with the law and we support decisions based on the

Walmart should change its policy, Casias said.

"I think employees should be judged by the quality of their work, not
the quality of their urine," said Greg Francisco, a protestor and the
executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association. He
told 24 Hour News 8 the ACLU is aware of this issue.

"(It's) overwhelming and I feel very blessed at the same time that all
these people gave up their time to fight for this effort," Casias said.

Casias said Walmart is trying to challenge his unemployment benefits. He
has a phone hearing scheduled at the end of March.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Marijuana collective in Wildomar closed, for now

Wildomar's first medical marijuana collective, open for just three days,
has closed its doors after being ordered by the city to shut down.

A cease and desist order was delivered to the collective on Mission
Trail on Monday by a Wildomar code enforcement officer.

Zoning rules, inherited from Riverside County when Wildomar became a
city in 2008, ban marijuana facilities from the city. Advocates argue
that such regulations are overruled by state laws allowing for medical

General Manager William Sump said the collective closed on Monday, when
it was so ordered. He said he believes the ban is not allowed by state
law, but wanted to maintain an amicable relationship with the city in
hopes of working out an agreement to reopen.

Several medical marijuana patients came in over the weekend, Sump said.

A collective allows patients with doctor's recommendation to buy
marijuana from other patients who grow it. The nonprofit collective is
allowed to take a small cut of the proceeds for operating expenses.

Word of the closure came during a city council meeting on Wednesday.
About a half-dozen medical marijuana advocates spoke during the
meeting's public comment period.

Some on the city council said they would support a nonprofit marijuana
collective if it were regulated. Others said they needed more
information on the subject.

Councilwoman Sheryl Ade chided Sump for opening without the city's
permission, but said Wildomar should move forward on regulations that
would allow a collective. The city should try to be a model for others
in the county, she said, by passing rules to ensure the operation is
"nonprofit, regulated and safe."

"We should be managers," Ade said.

The council directed City Manager Frank Oviedo to look into the issue,
with the possibility of drafting a new ordinance. The council could it
up at its next meeting, on March 24.

Sump is also general manager of a similar collective in Riverside. As in
Wildomar, that operation opened despite zoning laws that city officials
said banned marijuana facilities.

Since opening in December, the Riverside collective has been allowed to
operate without government interference, Sump said. The only contact
with law enforcement came recently when a police officer viewed footage
from the building's security camera that helped determine who was at
fault in a nearby car accident, he said.

Hawaii legislature considers loosening marijuana laws

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three marijuana bills are making their way
through the Hawaii State Capitol. One bill would take away criminal
penalties for anyone caught with less than an ounce of pot. Instead they
would pay a civil fine of $300 for the first offense and $500 after

Another bill would allow medical marijuana patients to have more plants
and ounces.

A third bill would allow medical marijuana dispensaries with the
government approving permits for shop to open. That bill cleared another
committee today, despite opposition from police and prosecutors.

At the very least the state and counties could make few million dollars
a year selling marijuana but opponents say it comes at too high of a

The marijuana discussion was passed around a capitol committee room. The
debate is over establishing something called "compassion centers," to
sell pot to any patient with a doctor's permit.

"One of the problems with this is it would be almost impossible for the
compassion center to verify that these are actually legitimate permits,"
testified Keith Kamita, State Department of Public Safety Narcotics
Enforcement Division Chief.

Another concern is that the government would essentially become a drug
dealer taking a cut from the marijuana sales. The state would tax $30
per ounce and the counties would get $5,000 in annual registration fees.

Even in the worst of economic times the state attorney general, speaking
on behalf of all county police chiefs and prosecutors says that's a
terrible idea.

"It allows essentially anyone other than a convicted felon to set up
massive centers for the sales of marijuana," testified Mark Bennett,
State Attorney General. "It just makes absolutely no sense for the State
of Hawaii to become potentially the legal marijuana sale capitol of the

Plenty of supporters also spoke up.

"What you do is increase the supply you decrease the value. If you get
rid of the black market, you got rid of the black market," testified
Myron Berney, supporter. "Moses never said anything bad about it. Jesus
never said anything bad about it. Buddha or Mohammed never said anything
bad about it."

"It's been smoked for thousands of years all over the world, no one has
ever died from ingesting marijuana," testified George Fox, supporter.

"I think it's now important that we now provide the mechanism for people
like myself, patients suffering, to have this available to them,"
testified Brian Shaughnessy, private attorney.

"My point is in Hawaii we have an opportunity to do it right we can
design a distribution center from scratch," testified Pamela Lichty,
Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii President.

Most lawmakers agreed approving the bill and sending it to the judiciary
committee bringing the pipe dream closer to reality.

"We believe this is a mistake and will bring a great many ills to
Hawaii," said Attorney General Bennett after the hearing.

Lawmakers also attached amendments to the bill today that said a
marijuana center should be placed within one mile of a police station,
but not within two miles of a school although lawmakers also said there
are a lot more details to work out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Medical marijuana conundrum

I’m not sure yet what to make of the arrest of an owner-operator
of a medical marijuana facility called 215 Agenda in Lake Forest, and
two others. There certainly are operators of such facilities who operate
outside the law, and the state law and guidelines issued by Attorney
Gen. Jerry Brown, though they were developed in cooperation with patient
advocates, have some ambiguities and shortcomings, IMO. On the other
hand, given that it issued complaints against 35 facilities last year
and has made it clear it wants to shut down all such operations in the
city, it appears that Lake Forest is not all that interested in a
good-faith effort to allow California’s medical marijuana law to
operate without unnecessary hindrance. A particular example of bad faith
is the city attorney’s invocation of federal law. The city is a
subdivision of the state and its officials’ job is to uphold
state law, not federal law.

One thing is clear. If Mark Moen, 50, described as the owner, is
convicted on all charges he could face 39 years in state prison. At a
time of prison overcrowding and state budget crisis that would be a
gross misuse of taxpayers’ money. DAs routinely overcharge when
filing charges, which gives them the option of whittling them down or
plea-bargaining as a trial approaches, but that is ridiculous. He is
also being held on $500,000 bail and must prove bail money comes from a
legal source â€" the money is presumed guilty until proven
innocent, the reverse of proper legal procedure â€" before it can
be used to bail him out.

Part of the state law, SB 420, that tried (in good faith, I think) to
systematize and regularize Prop. 215, passed by voters in 1996, has
already been struck down by the state Supreme Court. The guidelines on
quantities were deemed a legislative amendment to a proposition passed
by voters, and under the state constitution a voter-passed proposition
can only be amended by voters in a subsequent proposition. I
wouldn’t be surprised if another provision in SB 240 and the AG
guidelines â€" that dispensaries or facilities must be non-profit
cooperatives â€" were invalidated eventually. They arise from a
widely held superstition that non-profit is somehow more noble and moral
than profit-making. In a reasonably free economy profit comes from
serving and satisfying customers. In non-profits where revenues exceed
expenses fairly substantially, it generally goes to high salaries rather
than being plowed back into the mission. Is that more noble or moral
than owners who took risks reaping rewards? Are ordinary pharmacies
required to be non-profit institutions?Moen is also facing 38
money-laundering charges. In a decent society there would be no such
crime as money-laundering, and such charges are more often piling-on by
prosecutors than evidence of actual wrongdoing. In addition, the charge
that they didn’t require purchasers to participate in collective
activities or grow marijuana for others rests on what I think is a
pretty shaky interpretation of the relevant laws and guidelines.

In the end, these kinds of prosecutions and campaigns against medical
marijuana providers are likely to build support for the proposition that
will be on the November ballot to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana
for any use by adults in California. The voters tried to carve out an
exception to the marijuana laws for bona fide patients, but official
foot-dragging and bad-faith harassment has made that much more difficult
than it had to be. An increasing number of people are ready to throw up
their hands in the face of such official intransigence and say just
legalize the stuff. Whether it will be a majority of Californians by
November â€" the campaign on either side hasn’t gotten
underway yet and it could get nasty and packed with lies and appeals to
prejudice â€" I’m not yet prepared to predict.

Pot returning to Morro?

Morro Bay leaders are taking great pains to avoid past problems as they
continue to draft regulations for the operation of medical marijuana

The city council voted 4-1 on March 8 to create a subcommittee to hammer
down legal terminology and possible ramifications for allowing up to two
dispensaries. City Attorney Rob Shultz will return a redrafted ordinance
to the council within 90 days.

The council said it recognized the need for a source of such treatment
for people with illnesses on the Central Coast, but the city will
proceed cautiously.

“It’s clear we’re in muddy waters here,â€
councilman Rick Grantham said at the meeting, citing the discrepancy
between state and federal law regarding medicinal marijuana. “I
would never want to see what happened to Charlie happen to anybody

Grantham was referencing the embattled former Morro Bay dispensary owner
Charles Lynch, who sat quietly in the back of the room during the

“Bottom line is, this is going to happen sooner or later,â€
Grantham told New Times. “There’s money to be made, and
city governments are strapped for cash. And it doesn’t seem fair
residents have to go to Oakland or L.A. for medicine.â€

Councilwoman Carla Borchard was the sole opposition for moving forward
and asked if the city was putting itself at risk of litigation.

Of the 16 public speakers, five were explicitly against allowing
dispensaries and cited the proposed location and “unsavory
characters†some said the businesses would attract.

Mayor Janice Peters, however, said that when the previous dispensary
operated, she received no complaints from surrounding businesses or

“I never got that call,†she said. “This was not
something we can say didn’t work.â€

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Long Beach to consider medical marijuana regulations

Los Angeles has its much-contested pot dispensary ordinance. Now
it’s Long Beach’s turn.

On Tuesday night, L.A. County’s second-largest city is likely to
vote on its own sweeping medical marijuana regulations, which would cap
the number of dispensaries at 18 -- two for each council district -- and
require them to register and be licensed by the city.

Home to as many as 80 dispensaries, according to city estimates, Long
Beach is the latest in a wave of cities across California that have
tried to clamp down on medical marijuana distributors.

Under the ordinance, which is being considered for the first time in its
entirety after months of debate, only medical marijuana dispensaries
could grow the plant and would have to disclose their cultivation sites.

It also would require buffer zones of 500 feet to 1,500 feet around
schools and bar dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of each
other. In practical terms, the law would drastically reduce the number
of dispensaries, which are currently unregulated, and limit them to
major boulevards or industrial areas, City Atty. Bob Shannon said. The
ordinance would take effect 90 days after it passes.

In January, the Los Angeles City Council passed some of the
state’s toughest restrictions to curb the hundreds of
dispensaries that have spread throughout the city.

Medical marijuana advocates sued the city last week, saying the
regulations were so limiting they would require the vast majority of
dispensaries, even law-abiding ones, to shut their doors.

Long Beach officials said their ordinance was designed to be less
restrictive than Los Angeles'. No dispensaries would be grandfathered
in, but Shannon said the criteria for choosing which ones get to stay
has not been decided.

Still to be worked out is whether the city will restrict cultivation to
within city limits, as recommended by law enforcement officials, or
extend that to Los Angeles County.

Councilman Robert Garcia said Tuesday that he has concerns with such a
provision, saying the limitation could bring an unwanted swath of pot
farms to the city.

Nonetheless, he said he would support the ordinance if it broadened
cultivation to include all of California.

"We have to make it accessible and fair and make sure the patients have
access to it," Garcia said "But we also have to make sure the
collectives are being good neighbors."

-- Tony Barboza

City tries to crack down on pot shops

SANTA ANA â€" Bob Guedea sells his marijuana from a sparse room in
an otherwise unremarkable office building, breaking the law every day.

He has an orange permit on the lobby wall that says he's licensed by the
state of California to sell medical marijuana. What he doesn't have
â€" what he can't get â€" is a permit from the city.

Santa Ana banned marijuana dispensaries more than two years ago. But
city officials now believe that at least 29 have opened illegally,
including Guedea's BNT Medical Collective Inc.

"How is it you can be legal from California, but you can't get a damn
city license?" said Guedea, who opened his collective with a partner in
mid-December. "On the one hand, it's legal, and on the other hand, it's
not, and you're still in the same state."

The issue is by no means unique to Santa Ana. Cities from Yorba Linda to
San Clemente and beyond have attempted in recent years to restrict
marijuana dispensaries without running afoul of state law, which allows
the use of medical marijuana.

Both sides are closely watching a legal challenge to Anaheim's law,
which â€" like the law in Santa Ana â€" outlaws marijuana
outlets. An Orange County judge dismissed that challenge in 2008, but
marijuana advocates have appealed.

Santa Ana's law allows the marijuana itself â€" in the hands of a
qualified patient, for example, or given out by a hospice or hospital.
But it flatly prohibits any dispensary that provides marijuana to more
than a single patient.

That law has been on the books since late 2007, but it hasn't stopped
dispensaries from opening. Some apparently lied about what they were
doing so they could get a business license, City Attorney Joseph
Fletcher said; others opened without one.

The city has sent formal notices in recent months to 29 businesses
suspected of being dispensaries and their landlords, warning that they
appear to be in violation of the city's ban. Jay Trevino, the city's
director of Planning and Building, called it an ongoing investigation
and said a "small handful" of the dispensaries have shut down.

A shop called SoCal Compassion was one of them. Its owner, Jason Scoby,
decided to move to unincorporated Sunset Beach rather than fight Santa
Ana. He's now planning to open a school for medical-marijuana vendors
that he calls Cannabis State.

"Shops are going to be in every city in California," he said. "We just
wanted to see if we could work with them, get some regulations. They're
not going to budge."

He and other dispensary owners say such outright bans of their business
overlook an economic reality. The demand for medical marijuana is high,
they say â€" and that means someone is always going to be looking
for a way to supply it.

A small group of dispensary owners have lobbied Santa Ana in recent
weeks, urging city leaders to rethink their ban and to consider
regulating dispensaries instead. But, Trevino said, "There is no current
effort to change that."

At BNT Medical Collective Inc., Guedea compared medical-marijuana
dispensaries to gophers: try to remove them from one part of town, and
they'll re-appear in another.

He and his business partner, Tommy Montejano, said they have every
license and permit they need to sell marijuana legally, except for the
city business license. They sell their marijuana â€" with names
like Grand Daddy Purple and Master Kush â€" to around 120 regular
clients from a quiet office building on Fourth Street.

They say they're not looking for a fight with the city. But they do
intend to stay open.

"There's a lot of people here that need their medication," Montejano
said. "That's what we're here for. I just think we should be given a

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Agencies' hands tied on medical marijuana

A Fairplay woman who has tied a severely painful rash to her use of
contaminated medical marijuana has raised important issues about the
ability of any state or local agency to take action if bad medical
marijuana is sold.

But is there such a thing as "bad medical marijuana?" According to a
variety of sources, there is indeed a possibility that marijuana
contaminated by mold can cause a host of harmful symptoms.

But Flume inquiries indicate that no local or state agency in has the
authority to do anything about it.

On Feb. 23, Fairplay resident Maureen Shoniker dialed 911 to report that
"she had received a rash from a medical marijuana dispensary," according
to a report from deputy John Burk of the Park County Sheriff's Office.

Burk talked to Shoniker on the phone, and in his report said that her
account was confusing and muddled. He then went to her residence in
Fairplay, and Shoniker told him that she "developed a severe rash from
the new medical marijuana," called Ice, that she had received from her
caregiver, Tammi Castle, according to the report.

Castle operates a medical marijuana dispensary called Kind Mountain at
the Green Door, which is located on Front Street in Fairplay.

Shoniker told The Flume she got the rashes two or three days after
smoking the medical marijuana, and that she called The Flume so that no
one else would be harmed. "No one needs to be suffering like I'm
suffering," she said, noting that her pain was worse than childbirth.

Shoniker, who smokes medical marijuana because of "severe back damage,"
said that the medical marijuana was sticky. "It was really weird
looking. It did not look normal," she said.

Castle denied there was anything wrong with the medical marijuana she
sold to Shoniker, and she said she bought it from another marijuana

"She's had the exact same medicine the whole time she's been my
patient," Castle said.

Shoniker told The Flume that a young man warned Castle to burn her
plants while she was at the dispensary, but Castle said she doesn't grow
medical marijuana except for a few sapling plants and useful marijuana
couldn't be harvested from those.

Those plants are to sell to customers interested in growing their own,
she said.

Shoniker said she sought medical treatment from Fairplay-based physician
Dr. Katherine Fitting.

Fitting, through her office staff, declined to comment for this story.

Whether or not Shoniker did indeed get her rash from medical marijuana
sold by Castle, her case and the inquiries into it have raised
interesting questions about medical marijuana.

Shoniker said she has called local, state and federal agencies, and she
hasn't been successful in getting any action taken.


Burk's report indicates: "I advised [Shoniker] that tainted prescription
drugs are investigated by the Food and Drug Administration/Department of
Health and not by the Sheriff's Office. She again demanded that I arrest
Castle for causing her rash." Burk again advised her to contact the FDA.

However, medical marijuana is illegal under federal law. And it is not
regulated by the FDA, as pointed out by an FDA spokeswoman in a National
Public Radio interview in 2006. (See

Robin Phillips, director of Park County Public Health, said her office
couldn't do anything about Shoniker's complaint, and Phillips sought
help from another Park County department.

She called Tom Eisenman, Park County Development Services coordinator
and director of Environmental Health. Eisenman told The Flume that
because the issue was connected to medical marijuana, he wasn't sure
what could be done until state legislation refines the rules.

"It's up in the air," he said.

Regarding the issue of a possible mold contaminant, the county could
only step in if the mold posed a threat to the public, he said. If there
was mold growing in a public building, it would be a different case, he

Eisenman said there are mechanisms in place that would allow Park County
commissioners to convene as a board of health to classify a building as
an eminent health hazard.

Then steps could be taken requiring the owner to remove the mold.

But if it was a private residence, the county would have no authority to

Eisenman said he has mold -testing kits that he can distribute to
homeowners. In some cases, the county will even pay for the testing to
be done, but it would be up to the homeowner to move on from there.

State level

As far as regulation at the state level, agencies don't seem to know
what to do either.

Mike Saccone, a spokesman for the Office of the Colorado Attorney
General, said the language of Colorado Amendment 20, which legalized
marijuana for medical use, doesn't mention dispensaries, much less
offers guidelines on how to regulate it.

"There is a big gray area out there right now," he said.

He said that's one of the questions Colorado legislators are trying to
deal with regarding the medical marijuana issue.

Saccone then referred questions to Mark Salley, communications director
for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. It
maintains the list of registered medical marijuana users and also
provides patients with medical marijuana registration cards.

But beyond that, the CDPHE doesn't do anything regarding medical
marijuana or dispensaries, said Salley.

"I often tell reporters that I couldn't tell you how many dispensaries
there are," he said. "We don't track dispensaries, and we don't regulate

Can it be harmful

Park County Undersheriff Monte Gore said the deputy followed up on the
call with the Park County Department of Public Health and with a "local

"There's no way that anybody can attribute the symptoms that this person
has as coming from marijuana," he said. "We're not sure if it came from
marijuana or some other source."

He did warn medical marijuana patients about the risks of buying a
product that was essentially unregulated.

"If you're going to buy medical marijuana, buyer beware," he said.

According to several sources on the Internet, marijuana tainted with
mold can cause health problems to those exposed to it.

A 2009 presentation by Jerry Bucklin, chief executive officer of Folsom,
Calif.-based Network Environmental Systems, states that a recent survey
in Canada indicates some law enforcement officials have suffered various
illnesses responding to marijuana, including "headache, nausea,
breathing difficulties, sinus congestion, sinus irritation and skin

Bucklin was out of town and could not be reached by The Flume.

Donald Rothenbaum, senior vide president with NES, said that only a
small percentage of people may get sick when exposed to certain molds
tied to marijuana growth. So it's possible that Shoniker got the rash
while other patients didn't who had the same exposure. And Shoniker's
two- to three-day lag in reaction? "There's always that possibility, but
a rash is not necessarily specific to mold," Rothenbaum said. For
instance, he said, it's also possible the rash could have been produced
by pesticides used to fight spider mites in marijuana growth.

Bucklin's 2009 presentation states that with respect to "cannabis
horticulture," the optimal relative humidity for the growth of marijuana
plants is 60 percent to 70 percent, while the optimal relative humidity
for mold growth is more than 60 percent.

"Marijuana growth has been associated with many types of bacteria and
fungus," says the Bucklin presentation. "Opportunistic pathogens can be
produced with post-harvest and storage of marijuana."

Rashes were among the potential "health effects" listed by Bucklin as a
result of mold amplification that can take place. He noted that
"stachybotrys," which has been "labeled by the media as Black Mold" has
the potential to cause death to highly sensitive individuals and has
been "found in indoor grow operations in Ontario, Canada."

In addition, Atlanta-based BioSign Labs has reported:

"People who have smoked hand rolled cigars and marijuana that was mold
contaminated have reported contracting respiratory fungal infections."


Castle said that she has been a caretaker for Shoniker since November,
and has never had a problem with her until recently.

Castle also denied Shoniker's assertion that she bought Ice marijuana
from Kind Mountain at the Green Door.

She said "Ice" is one of the varieties that she stocks, but Shoniker
never bought that strain of marijuana.

While she doesn't deny that Shoniker might have been stricken with a
rash, Castle said it wasn't from her product.

"I don't know what it was," she said. "It wasn't the medicine."

Castle said none of her other patients are complaining of similar
rashes, and that the marijuana in her store isn't even grown there.

But Rich Sloan, Shoniker's fiancé, said there haven't been any
changes to their home to explain the rash.

And Shoniker told The Flume: "I have no allergies whatsoever."

Castle said she buys from a vendor who runs a separate dispensary, but
declined to identify the source of her marijuana.

She said she does grow marijuana seedlings that she sells to patients
who are interested in growing their own marijuana for personal use, but
she said those plants aren't infected with mold, either.

Castle said she hasn't been visited by any law enforcement officers
regarding Shoniker's claims, but if she was visited by them, she would
comply with any investigation because she has nothing to hide.

She said she believes the retaliation from the rash comes from an
ongoing dispute between Shoniker and her ex-husband, who is dating
Castle's daughter.

Shoniker filed a restraining order on Feb. 22 protecting herself, her
fiancé, and her daughter from her ex-husband.

Castle said that Shoniker's ex-husband was trying to obtain full custody
of their daughter.