Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Budget, marijuana ordinance committee before Butte County supervisors

OROVILLE -- Butte County's Board of Supervisors can be expected to have a long and possibly difficult day Tuesday, as they conduct a public hearing on the proposed budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

The proposed budget, including all categorically earmarked funds, comes to more than $425 million.

The General Fund — that portion of the budget that pays for "discretionary" programs, such as firefighting and law enforcement — makes up only $128.5 million of the total.

During the public hearing on the budget, county department heads usually come forward in an attempt to persuade the supervisors to increase their allocation.

The agenda also calls for the board to transfer 10 percent of the Public Health Realignment Trust Fund and 5 percent of the Mental Health Realignment Trust Fund to the county's Welfare Fund. There is also a scheduled discussion on the size of the contingency fund.

Also on the board's agenda for its regular session is a request to endorse a grant application that would create an "agricultural easement" on 145 acres of land adjacent to Hegan Lane in Chico, half a mile west of the "green line" — the demarcation point between urban and agricultural uses.

The Northern California Regional Land Trust will apply for the grant from the state Department of Conservation's Farmland Conservancy Program. The documents going to the supervisors don't specify the precise amount of the grant request other than to say it will cover the market value of the property.

The land is currently in agricultural production and the proposed easement is meant to guarantee it will remain that way.

In other issues, the supervisors are being asked to establish a marijuana ordinance committee to work with the sheriff, district attorney, county counsel, Department of Development Services and the county administration in helping to craft proposals on how to regulate the growing of medical marijuana. The committee would also look at other medical marijuana issues including how, where and if to allow cannabis dispensaries in county jurisdiction.

Public Meeting

Butte County Board of Supervisors

Budget hearing at 1:30 p.m., regular session begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday

In the Administration Building on County Center Drive in Oroville

Marijuana lollipops for sale on Lakers parade route


In addition to the sales of Lakers paraphernalia and water, some surprising entrepreneurs took to the parade route to sell their wares.

Among them was a mobile truck, Weed World Candies.com, selling marijuana lollipops in hues of orange and blue. (The truck itself is green with a photo mural of young women in bikinis sorting marijuana leaves.)

The assortment included brands of marijuana such as OG Kush and Grand Daddy Perp. The truck’s owner, Bilal Muhammad, said he was recently forced to shut down his store in West Hollywood and had taken his business on the road.

Customers approaching his truck were asked if they had a prescription card allowing them to purchase marijuana and then were handed a free lollipop.

“It’s been working out very well,” he said of business before driving away as police became visible in the distance.

So far, Muhammad was able to work without interruption from police.

-- Gale Holland


Monday, June 28, 2010

Medical pot can cost parents in custody disputes

MATLOCK, Wash. -- Nicholas Pouch runs an organic farm and a glassblowing studio on a 20-acre spread in southwest Washington's timber country. Spicy mustard greens, tomatoes and corn sprout in humid greenhouses as chickens and sheep roam nearby.

It would be an ideal place for children to romp, Pouch thinks. But his children can't be there because he's a medical marijuana patient.

A drug task force acting on a tip from his former partner raided his grow operation in 2007. Even though Pouch's criminal charges were dropped, she cited the arrest and his marijuana use in winning full custody of their boys, now 9 and 11.

For the past 2 1/2 years, Pouch has seen the boys twice a month, during supervised visits at a neutral house in Olympia. "There's no reason anybody should have to go through this," Pouch said. "Why aren't they here, chasing snakes like they like to do?"

More than a decade after states began approving marijuana for medical use, its role in custody disputes remains a little-known side effect.

While those laws can protect patients from criminal charges, they typically haven't prevented judges, court commissioners or guardians ad litem from considering a parent's marijuana use in custody matters - even in states such as Washington, where complying patients "shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege," according to the law.

Arbiters often side with parents who try to keep their children away from pot. Medical marijuana activists in several states, including Washington, California and Colorado, say they've been getting more inquiries from patients wrapped up in custody-divorce cases in recent years as the ranks of patients who use marijuana swell.

Lauren Payne, legal services coordinator with a California marijuana law reform group called Americans for Safe Access, said that since mid-2006 her organization has received calls about 61 such cases.

In Colorado last month, an appeals court ruled that medical marijuana use is not necessarily a reason to restrict a parent's visitation. Washington courts have held otherwise.

"The court cannot countenance a situation where a person is using marijuana, under the influence of marijuana and is caring for children," an Island County, Wash., judge ordered in one such dispute. "There's nothing in the medical marijuana law that deprives the court of its responsibility and legal authority to provide for proper care of children so that people aren't caring for children who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs."

In that case, the medical marijuana patient, Cameron Wieldraayer, was granted only supervised visits with his two young daughters - a decision upheld by an appeals court.

Many patients insist that using pot makes them no less fit as parents, and that they shouldn't lose custody or visitation rights if there's no evidence they're abusing the drug.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, two of the 14 states with medical marijuana laws - Michigan and Maine - specify that patients won't lose custody or visitation rights unless the patient's actions endanger the child or are contrary to the child's best interests.

Pouch, who grows marijuana in an old chicken coop, smokes a few puffs three or four times every day, and says he doesn't get high the way he did when he used marijuana recreationally in his younger days. He said he uses it to treat pain from carpal tunnel syndrome aggravated by glassblowing, as well as a shoulder that frequently pops out of its socket due to old sports injuries.

"I'm an outgoing, upstanding person. I do three different farmers markets and I'm a member of the Mason County Chamber of Commerce," said Pouch, 37. "I am not an activist at all, but I have the right to use this. It aids my pain, and it allows me to function in my everyday activities, where pills and opiates don't."

The mother of Pouch's boys declined to comment.

Pouch also has a young daughter with another woman, and is also allowed only supervised visits with her. This month, after a guardian ad litem made a favorable report about Pouch's parenting skills, a court commissioner awarded him custody - but then stayed the decision while the girl's mother challenges it.

Opposing spouses often argue that they have a right to keep their children away from illegal substances, and marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

With some other medications, such as narcotic painkillers or bipolar medications, judges can require tests to establish how much of the drug a parent has in his or her system, said Eleanor Couto, a family law attorney in Longview, Wash.

But treatment providers can't prescribe specific amounts of marijuana without running afoul of federal law, so it isn't always clear what constitutes an appropriate level of the drug.

"How do you monitor how much someone can smoke?" Couto asked. "How do know they're able to adequately care for that child? I think it's got to be a case-by-case basis."

Seattle lawyer Sharon Blackford noted that urine tests can establish how much marijuana is in a patient's system based on current use, and that monitoring is "as easy to do for medical marijuana as it is for alcohol."

Couto said she represents one father who worked out a tentative arrangement with his ex whereby he can continue to use medical marijuana, as long as someone else watches their child while he does.

In another case, she's representing a father who is trying to win primary custody of his teenagers for the first time because their mother is married to a medical marijuana patient who also has a history of minor criminal offenses and several drunken-driving convictions.

Early this year, a judge who called Washington's medical marijuana law "an absolute joke" and "an excuse to be loaded all the time" ordered that stepfather, Julian Robinson, to keep at least a quarter-mile from the teenagers because of his marijuana use, according to a transcript of the hearing.

That means Robinson can't be around the children he has raised for the past 13 years, even though they live in his home near Castle Rock, with his wife and their four younger children.

Robinson sometimes stays with friends or rolls out a foam sleeping pad in his neighbor's horse trailer. He misses baseball games and church services.

"It has torn my family apart," Robinson said. "We used to do everything together."

Pouch, who said he's spent $35,000 on legal costs in the past four years, hopes to persuade the court to grant him partial or even primary custody of his children.

In the meantime, they dug a garden last year at the Olympia home rented by South Sound Family Services where they have their supervised visits. Pouch brought in manure and vegetable starts last month. The boys planted corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins.



Pouch's farm: http://www.naturescreationfarm.com/

Americans for Safe Access: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/

Plan to burn pot riles activists

Julie Falco got hot under the collar when she learned Cook County would burn 5,500 pounds of cannabis seized last week in one of its largest busts.

"Depending on its purity, that represents a lot of medicine that could have helped so many Illinoisans," said the North Side woman who uses marijuana to ease the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

The reaction was echoed by others calling on the state to join 14 others in legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes. It also follows last Wednesday's seizure of 5,525 pounds of cannabis.

The cache, carrying a street value of $20 million, was found in a house on West 47th Street in southwest suburban Lyons, police said Friday. A man renting the property, Frederico Moreno, 35, has been charged with manufacturing and delivery cannabis. He faces 6 to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Police are planning to incinerate all but 10,000 grams of the marijuana, saving that amount as evidence.

"We will solicit a court order today to have the rest incinerated safely," Kevin Ruel, deputy chief of special investigations for the Cook County sheriff's office, said Friday.

Advocates for legalization object to the move.

"Incinerating it is a waste," said Lisa Lange, who relies on cannabis to ease chronic pain associated with degenerative osteoarthritis. "I would prefer to see it tested and then, if safe, distributed to compassionate care clubs."

Still, she argued that the size of the seizure -- product police allege was bound for Chicago streets -- won't dent local supply.

"The only way to stop this trafficking is to show compassion of those who rely on medical cannabis and pass Bill 1381," said Lange, who like Falco is working with various groups, including the Marijuana Policy Project based in Washington, D.C.

'There is support on both sides'

The Illinois Senate has already passed that legislation. House Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) is planning to introduce it for a vote in the House as early as November.

He now has 58 of the 60 votes needed to get the measure passed in January, he said Saturday. The liberal Democrat said he's confident the remaining votes can be secured after the pressure of November elections has passed.

"There is support on both sides," he said Saturday. "What we have is a very narrow piece of legislation that avoids the problems of dispensaries like those in California."

Bill 1381 would stop short of setting up those businesses, which operate in many of the 14 states with medical marijuana laws. The Illinois legislation is the most limited and would require patients to cultivate marijuana plants at home, restricting them to having three mature specimens at any one time. They would also be responsible for cultivating the seeds. If passed, the the legislation would expire after three years.

They're compromises, but ones Falco hopes will satisfy lawmakers and lead to broader legalization in three years.

"It's only a start," she said.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Local legislator lends an ear and a compassionate heart for medical marijuana

MUSCATINE, Iowa -I f Iowa supporters of medical marijuana find a sympathetic ear in the Iowa Legislature, it will be because of lawmakers like Jeff Kaufmann.

Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who represents the 79th House District, together with legislative candidate Mark Lofgren of Muscatine, a fellow Republican who's running for the seat in the 80th District currently held by Nathan Reichert, D-Muscatine, attended a Saturday afternoon screening of the documentary film, "Waiting to Inhale," at the Musser Public Library.

Lofgren took notes but offered no public comments.

The event, which attracted 11 people, was sponsored by the group Iowa Patients for Medical Marijuana, founded by Jimmy Morrison, 23, of Muscatine.

Kaufmann urged people who want the law changed, including those with fibromyalgia, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and those with Multiple Sclerosis -patients who say marijuana reduces their pain or nausea - to be careful how they lobby their legislators.

"You are asking us to go into the fray, but we can't address your issues without asking the tough questions," he said. "There is no chance for this bill (which would legalize marijuana use for medical purposes only) unless you shut the door and triple lock it" against those who would prefer that Iowa approve marijuana for recreational use, too.

"I'm the only legislator who showed up today. I'm here," he told a crowd who shared with Kaufmann both their pain and their tears, "because my mother suffered from fibromyalgia."

Lisa Jackson, 44, of Crawfordsville, also has fibromyalgia, a chronic condition with symptoms that include pain, tenderness and stiffness in the muscles and joints, and fatigue and anxiety.

She said that smoking marijuana has enabled her to "get out of bed, raise 50 chickens, mow 2 1/2 acres and keep the kids fed and dressed. To me that's a life I can be proud of."

She described a life before trying medicinal marijuana in which "my family carried on around me, but without me."

A little more than two years ago, she said she was seated on her bed holding her husband's gun, ready to take her own life. Then her husband walked into the room, and the two had a heart-to-heart talk about "how our lives had to change."

For her the most beneficial change was when she began smoking half an ounce of marijuana each week.

"My children know I smoke and why," she said, her talk interrupted a few times by tears. "In many ways they have paid a higher price than I have."

Kauf-mann said he got his first inkling of Iowans' strong support for a change in the law during what he called a "listening post" event in Clarence.

"It doesn't get much more conservative than Clarence," he said. "I threw out (the topic of) medical marijuana and at least 90 percent of them said they believed we should continue to have the discussion."

"It's an idea," he added, "that you've convinced me needs to be discussed (in the Legislature). We're still small enough (in Iowa) that people talking to (legislators) can change our minds.

"Now," he said of the proposal, "we need to make it politically viable."

After the film, Morrison talked about the prospects of following up February's vote by the Iowa Board of Pharmacy to recommend that the Legislature remove marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which by definition have no medicinal use and a high probability of addiction.

Medical marijuana proposals died during the 2010 session. Morrison said he and Jackson want to help form a study group that includes patients, scientists, law enforcement officials and drug treatment providers.

Kaufmann said he supports that idea, even if it's not appointed by the Legislature.

"We read reports from task forces all the time," he said. "Sometimes we turn them into bills."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Legit medical pot growers to be identified in registry

SAN FRANCISCO — After police confiscated 162 marijuana plants from a Taraval neighborhood home last week, a registry of certified medical cannabis growers in San Francisco will be put together by the Police Department and health officials.

The arrest has caused an uproar among medical marijuana advocates because the suspect provided pot to a dispensary and had papers that allowed him to grow the plants, according to members of Axis of Love, a collective of medicinal marijuana providers.

On June 10, police raided a home at 215 Crestmont Drive about 1:30 p.m., according to police. Officers arrested Cody Phillips, 28, and took the 162 plants, several bags of marijuana, cash and growing equipment.

Prosecutors charged the case and there was some confusion about the legitimacy of the grower’s papers, according to police Cmdr. John Loftus. The home also had problems with its electrical wiring, and PG&E was called to the house at one point.

There’s currently a citywide permitting process for medical dispensaries that includes hearings in front of city planners, but there’s no local registry for the growers who supply medical marijuana.

"We are hoping for some kind of guidelines so that they can register with the Department of Public Health," Loftus said. "There is a large criminal element that grows marijuana illegally and does it for profit. We’re having problems distinguishing between the two."

The Police Department has not been able to provide consistent numbers on marijuana arrests despite repeated requests from media organizations and an oversight committee formed in 2006 after The City passed legislation making marijuana offenses the lowest priority for police.

One member of the Marijuana Offenses Oversight Committee, Catherine Smith, said there have been 71 raids on grow houses in the past year. Many of those have come in the Taraval police district, which includes the Sunset district.

"That’s a lot of home invasions," Smith told the Police Commission on Wednesday. "Some of them were warranted. Most of them were not."

Police commissioners Petra DeJesus and Jim Hammer agreed with the idea, saying there should be a way to separate legitimate medical cannabis growers from illegal ones.

Collecting signatures to legalize marijuana turns violent

SPOKANE -- A Spokane activist is hitting the pavement hard collecting thousands of signatures for Initiative 1068 to legalize marijuana. But the person who owns the pavement triggered a heated exchange on one Spokane street corner.

Angela Johnson has been prepared for the rain as she stood on Ruby and Division for several days. But the thing she was not prepared for was the backlash from property owners. Johnson had put signs on the public sidewalk telling drivers where to pull in and sign a petition for I-1068.

She did not have any problems until Thursday morning. The property owner came over furious. Johnson said the owner told her she was trespassing and she had to leave. Johnson said that was not a problem and moved her car. But it didn't stop there.

"He said he was going to take the signs because they were on his property. He tried to rip the signs out of the ground and he grabbed my arm and I got scratched," said Johnson.

Johnson is not pressing any charges and is now looking for a new location. But she says that does not make what happened right.

"I understand as much passion as I have for the cause, they have the same passion against the cause. But I didn't expect to be confronted like that in that hostility," said Johnson.

Calls to the property manager went unanswered.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Prosecutor whacks weed

The city's top drug prosecutor is campaigning to stop a bill that would legalize medical marijuana -- warning state lawmakers that the current proposal could boost crime by creating more pot delivery centers than Starbucks, The Post has learned.

"I am writing to express concern for the public health and safety of all New Yorkers, if the 'medical marijuana bill' should pass," special narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan said in a stern letter to lawmakers.

The measure working its way through both houses of the state Legislature would allow patients with life-threatening diseases or severe pain to toke marijuana. The state Health Department would regulate so-called marijuana dispensaries and prescribers.

But Brennan -- who supports the study of marijuana for medical use -- said the bill is "far too loosely drawn, and offers no safeguards to protect the health of those who use it, and the safety of the communities where marijuana dispensaries would be located."

Brennan outlined a number of flaws in the legislation, including:

* Allowing an unlimited number of "unregulated" marijuana dispensaries, which could be near schools or in high-crime neighborhoods.

She noted that in Los Angeles there were more pot palaces than Starbucks, adding that the city was forced to shut down 437 marijuana dispensaries last week.

"Dispensaries have proven to be public nuisances and magnets for crime," Brennan said

* Failing to require a doctor in "good standing" to meet with a patient before providing a certification to obtain medical marijuana. The bill would allow veterinarians and podiatrists to prescribe marijuana, she said.

* Lacking protocols to test for dangerous contaminants that could harm patients with weak immune systems, such as HIV or those undergoing chemotherapy.

New Pot Ordinance Approved

By a 6-1 vote, the Santa Barbara City Council tentatively approved a new and stricter medical marijuana ordinance that would allow no more than three dispensaries within city limits. In addition, the council agreed to place an initiative on the November ballot asking city voters whether dispensaries should be banned outright. The vote came after more than three hours of passionate debate, ornate oratory, and intricate procedural maneuvers among a board of elected officials who have collectively wrestled with the issue for no less than 22 meetings over the past two years.

The vote comes three weeks after the council seemed to have put the matter to rest. That’s when the council tentatively adopted a measure that would have set the maximum number of dispensaries at five. That vote came unglued, however, when Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss experienced a change of heart two weeks ago and opted — upon reconsideration — to vote against an ordinance that he had helped craft. At that point, Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilmember Bendy White concluded the council had reached an impasse and proposed placing two competing initiatives on this November’s ballot — one in favor of the five-dispensary ordinance and another for a total ban.

Dispensary opponents on the council opposed the two-initiative solution, however, and persuaded White — a self-described swing vote — to vote in favor of the one-initiative approach. With White’s vote, the anti-dispensary block — councilmembers Dale Francisco, Frank Hotchkiss, and Michael Self — had the votes. At that point, Councilmember Das Williams and Mayor Schneider joined with them, leaving Councilmember Grant House as the sole councilmember to vote against the new ordinance and the proposed ballot initiative.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Marijuana Ordinance to Go Before City Council for Vote

Since last July, the conversation around Santa Barbara’s medical-marijuana ordinance has changed from where, to how, to whether dispensaries should be operated at all within the city limits.

When it meets Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council will have four options to consider, but if its track record holds firm, there is likely to be a fifth — indecision or continuance.

Five of seven votes are needed to approve any sort of action regarding the medical marijuana storefront collective ordinance — whether it’s adoption, further revisions, sending the topic back to the Ordinance Committee to consider a ban, or pursuing competing ballot measures on November’s ballot.

At the May 18 meeting, a 5-2 vote pushed the ordinance to Tuesday, where members were expected to adopt it without further ado. However, the crucial fifth vote given by Frank Hotchkiss is moot, as he now plans to push for a complete ban.

“Everything’s back on the table,” Mayor Helene Schneider said.

She and Councilmen Grant House and Das Williams have consistently voted for the ordinance revisions to move forward. Ordinance Committee member Bendy White has been hesitant with some aspects, usually arguing for more restrictive requirements, such as excluding the downtown area. He also recommended a two- to four-cap maximum and stricter location limits during his time on the Planning Commission.

He and Schneider have announced that, if the issue gets stuck in gridlock, they would propose two conflicting ballot measures regarding storefront collectives. Voters would be faced with adopting a ban or the revised ordinance — and if both passed with more than 50 percent, the one with the most votes would prevail.

Council members Dale Francisco — who was on the Ordinance Committee previously and helped craft the document he now votes against — and Michael Self dissented in the May 18 vote and show no signs of changing their minds. Francisco has openly supported a ban and argued for a discussion of the dispensary vs. collective legal dilemma late last year. He and former Councilwoman Iya Falcone brought the issue of ordinance revision to the council last July.

Self, in addition to Schneider, has never been on the Ordinance Committee.

Arguments for the dispensaries have focused on safe access to medicinal marijuana, while opponents have focused on the possibility of crime and illegal use and abuse of the system.

Tuesday’s meeting will begin at 2 p.m. in City Hall, Anacapa St. The item is on the consent agenda, although it’s likely to be pulled off for more discussion.

Judge: Pot shops must close immediately

LAKE FOREST – A Superior Court judge has issued a final order requiring all medical marijuana dispensaries in the city to close immediately.

Judge David Chaffee ruled that "all defendants and their officers, agents, employees, representatives and all persons acting in concert or participating with them are prohibited and restrained from engaging in committing, providing the location or performing by any means activity related to the distribution of marijuana."

The order, made public Monday, appears to be the final chapter in the city's effort to shut down the dispensaries which officials say are operating in violation of the city's zoning code.

In September, Lake Forest sued 35 people in the city, including medical marijuana dispensary owners and retail landowners who rented space to them. Since then, 11 collectives have shut down; 10 continue to operate.

"This has been an important issue to the city," said Jeffrey Dunn, who has litigated the cases on part of the city. "They (dispensaries) create a whole host of problems for the city. They are not and never have been an allowable use."

The city's attorneys are contacting the remaining dispensaries to see of they will shut down voluntarily or if the Orange County Sheriff's Department needs to enforce the judge's order, Dunn said.

The remaining open dispensaries include: 215 Agenda, Vale Tudo Café, Lake Forest Patients Collective Association, Lake Forest Wellness Center and Collective, Evergreen Holistic Collective, Independent Collective of Orange County, GGICO, The Health Collective, New Amsterdam Cooperative and the Lake Forest Community Collective.

Chaffee issued his initial ruling on the issue May 12, siding with the city and allowing it to seek a preliminary injunction to stop the dispensaries from operating. The city argued the dispensaries violate zoning laws.

Chaffee agreed, citing two reasons:

•Cities are legally prohibited from passing land-use ordinances that violate state or federal law. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, so land-use laws that allow medical marijuana dispensaries would be prohibited.

•Because the city municipal code does not allow dispensaries, they have to be closed down.

Dunn said he believes Chaffee's ruling could eventually force the closure of all marijuana dispensaries in the state. For now, because the ruling is a trial court decision, it applies only to Lake Forest.

"Were it to be appealed and a court of appeal would uphold this ruling, it could be precedent setting for other cities in California," Dunn said after the May 12 decision. "It means medical marijuana dispensaries aren't allowed in the city of Lake Forest and they shouldn't be allowed in any cities – that's the big story in this."

Christopher Glew represents some of the dispensaries in the city. On Monday afternoon, he said none of his clubs had been served with papers, ordering them to close.

"If the police were to take action, it would be an abuse of police power because this is a civil order," he said. "The proper remedy would be to address it with a contempt proceeding."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Eliot, Maine, voters shoot down moratorium on medical marijuana

ELIOT, Maine — Organizers behind a nonprofit entity looking to grow
and dispense medical marijuana out of a locally based clinic cleared a
substantial hurdle Saturday when town meeting voters shot down a
proposed moratorium that would have allowed elected Eliot officials more
time to study the issue before permitting such activities within the

Substantial debate over the topic preceded a simple hand vote that saw
the proposed moratorium failing to pass muster, with some voters saying
they didn't want to support a temporary ban that seemed too open-ended,
with one resident arguing it would let selectmen study the issue "in

About 100 Town Meeting voters gathered at Marshwood Middle School on
Saturday to vote on 40-plus warrant articles dealing with everything
from proposed zoning ordinance changes to budgetary items for the
2010-2011 fiscal year.

Among the most heavily debated and discussed item on the warrant was the
proposed moratorium, which represented a reaction to "inquiries" on the
part of those looking to establish a medical marijuana dispensary in

The proposed moratorium article noted the Maine Department of Health and
Human Services has indicated it plans to approve a medical marijuana
dispensary in York County by July 9 as part of a Maine Medical Marijuana
Act passed in November of 2009.

Maine DHHS data indicates a nonprofit dispensary operator will be
allowed to open up such facilities in eight districts in Maine.

Eliot officials proposed a moratorium to allow for more time for
municipal leaders to establish regulations and determine the potential
impacts of having such a facility in the community.

It stated: "The Town anticipates that such a study and review and
development of regulation will take at least six months from the
effective date of this Moratorium."

The approval of such a ban would have been a blow to the "Green
ReliefMD" organization, which is eyeing a Route 236 property as a
possible location for a dispensary clinic it hopes the Maine DHHS will

Green Relief Executive Director Ron Fousek said his organization has
been searching for a place to locate a dispensary in the York County
district with the deadline for their DHHS application rapidly
approaching at the end of the month.

Fousek said towns like Sanford, Kittery, Biddeford, North Berwick and
York already have approved moratoriums preventing them from being viable
locations in the upcoming application process.

GreenRelief is made up of a number of practitioners who will be looking
to grow medical marijuana in a secure indoor facility and allow those
with appropriate prescriptions to come pick it up. Fousek said his
organization would hand out the medical marijuana to those with proper
prescription cards with the recipients receiving a "trip ticket" that
allows them to legally take it from the facility to their homes.

Fousek addressed Eliot voters on Saturday, arguing the medicinal
benefits of the drug for those suffering with chronic illness.

He balked at talked that the introduction of such a facility would lead
to increased crime, noting hundreds of studies have proven it as an
effective drug for the treatment of everything from chronic illness to
addictions to more serious drugs.

"More is known about this plant than any other in the world," Fousek

Eric Friberg — another practitioner from GreenRelief and Gulf War
veteran who has used marijuana for medical purposes — noted the
dispensary will not be a place were drugs are dealt to anyone who wants

"We are going to be heavily regulated ... give us a chance," Friberg

Brian Enger — another practitioner — told the voters they have
little to worry about.

"We are not here to be pot dealers," Enger said.

Some Eliot residents expressed concerns that Maine laws regulating
dispensary operators allow for a 24-hour window before they come in and
check that they are operating correctly and growing within the set
guidelines spelled out by the law.

"I'm very concerned about the public safety aspects," said State Rep.
Sarah "Sally" Lewin of Eliot.

Eliot Police Chief Theodor Short didn't express any overarching concerns
about such a facility coming to town, but did note his department is
looking at how other communities have handled such facilities.

He said it isn't for his department to decide whether a moratorium was

Others expressed support for such clinics.

Janice Cerabona — a local voter — was nearly in tears when she
recalled her daughter's pain as she struggled with diabetes
complications that took her life in 2005.

"Conventional medicine could not help her," Cerabona said.

Others opposed the proposed moratorium simply because its wording didn't
prescribe a set amount of time for the town leaders to review the issue.

Budget Committee Chair John Reed said the proposed moratorium appeared
to amount to a "not in my backyard" response to Maine's approval of such

He said the moratorium as proposed would allow the study to take place
of an "infinite" amount of time.

Residents eventually voted against the moratorium.

Fousek said the vote will let his organization at least apply to open a
dispensary in Eliot.

He said the group is looking to open their clinic in a building on a
property near the junction of routes 236 and 101.

Unlikely evangelist for legal marijuana

Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, June 13, 2010


At first glance, Richard Lee looks nothing like a man who regularly smokes dope and spent his youth working with rock 'n' rap gods from Aerosmith to LL Cool J. Or who gunned his Harley up and down Texas highways as a young man, and has a will as stubborn as iron.

He looks like, well, a quiet business yuppie. In a wheelchair. With tidy slacks and button-down shirt, short cropped hair and a shy smile.

Even cops trained to assess people are surprised - especially once they learn that this quiet guy is the champion for one of the most revolutionary social-change movements of our time, the legitimizing of marijuana.

Lee's latest effort is the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act on the Nov. 2 ballot, which would make California the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use. Its passage would notch the 47-year-old Oakland man a spot in the annals of pot.

Such notice wouldn't be all that new for him. From hemp activism in Texas to building a cannabis university empire in Oakland, Lee has been a pioneer in the marijuana movement for 20 years - something that neither he nor his conservative Republican parents could have foreseen.

It all began with a catastrophic accident in 1990 that broke his back.

From rock to activism

Lee was 27 and working as a lighting technician for Aerosmith when he slipped on a catwalk in New Jersey while setting up for a concert. The resulting spinal injury left him paralyzed from the waist down - and suddenly the young man who flew ultralight planes and loved motorcycles and playing basketball was grounded. At least as far as his legs were concerned.

Medicinal pot which was illegal then - was the only thing, he said, that dampened back spasms as he sat in his wheelchair. When he was carjacked in Houston a year into his disabled life and waited nearly an hour for uninterested cops to show up, he found his cause.

He figured police were probably off wasting their time making marijuana busts instead of chasing the people who had stolen his car.

"I felt like, here was this wonderful medicine of cannabis that had helped me so much, and why were the cops going after people using and selling it instead of the psychos and sociopaths who are out there robbing people?" Lee said. "I thought I should do something about it."

He soon opened a hemp clothing store in Houston and became a nationally known spokesman for the weed - for both clothing and smoking use - at trade shows and community gatherings.

Other than rock 'n' roll lighting, the only hint of a career he'd had before then had been studying advertising and public relations at the University of Houston, where he dropped out in 1984.

He'd spent his youth in Texas in a house with four brothers mostly having a good time, "not really thinking about the future." Traveling the nation setting up the light racks for top acts of all kinds - he also worked with Dwight Yoakum - had seemed like enough of an avocation.

No more. Pot is now his life's work. He is so serious about its positive qualities that he rarely even calls it pot, weed or dope anymore. Its cannabis or marijuana, terms that connote the legitimacy with which he regards the plant.

Libertarian leanings

"My parents are Republicans, and actually, I'm kind of a conservative," said Lee, who is unmarried and childless. "You might call me a bit of a Libertarian. I think government is very wasteful, and for a lot of things, the free market can do better. So I guess you could say in some ways this was an unusual path for me.

"But it fits."

"When Richard told me that marijuana helped him, I did not want to hear that," Lee's 80-year-old mother, Ann Lee, said by telephone from her home in Houston. "We had always thought marijuana was the weed of the devil, and I did not want to hear anything about Richard having anything to do with it."

But after seeing that smoking helped their son's pain and eased the depression that followed his accident, Ann and her husband, Bob, 85, became reluctantly accepting. Ann was a schoolteacher and Bob ran a library for accountants and attorneys. This drug thing, they said, was not in their personal frame of reference.

"When you have a young son sitting in his wheelchair telling you that marijuana, of all things, has helped him so much with his pain, you can't dismiss it," Ann Lee said. "We realized it wasn't just because he wanted to get high. We had to gulp hard, pray hard, believe in our son and then do a heck of a lot of reading and research."

Mom to campaign

Twenty years later, the couple still get ribbed by their Republican friends for supporting their son's enterprise, but they say they hear more words of support, even in church. This summer and fall, Ann Lee intends to fly to California to help campaign for Richard's measure.

"The older I get, and the more I look back and think how I grew up in Louisiana with Jim Crow, and didn't really understand it as a white person," she said, "the more I realize that we should be talking against an unjust drug war against marijuana just the way we did against Jim Crow."

As for the career path her son has chosen - "I would never have thought he'd choose this, but then Richard has always marched to his own drumbeat and had real integrity," Lee said. "I knew he wouldn't do anything ordinary as a career.

"I just didn't know it would be this. He's worked hard and I'm proud of him." Richard Lee already had a reputation as a leader in the national movement to legalize hemp when he showed up in Oakland in 1998 to work in the medicinal cannabis business created by California's pas sage, two years before, of Proposition 215.

Starting out an employee for the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, he soon opened a couple of his own dispensaries, including the SR-71 - named, from his love of aviation, after the Blackbird reconnaissance airplane. The plane's manufacturer, Lockheed, was not amused, so he eventually gave it the name it has today Coffeeshop Blue Sky.

Oaksterdam University, which teaches how to run a business or personal grow operation in the decriminalized medicinal marijuana trade, followed in 2007 in Oakland as the nation’s, first marijuana college. The district where the school sits, just north of the downtown core, got its name after Prop. 215 inspired a flurry of pot dispensaries there and local fans melded the names of Oakland with weed-tolerant Amsterdam. Lee appropriated the moniker for his cam-pus and is now so associated with the district that High Times magazine last year dubbed him "the mayor of Oaksterdam.”

Today, with a T-shirt and paraphernalia shop, grow operation and other businesses, Lee's empire pulls in $5 million a year. (Lee says his take from that is about $50,000 annually.) The $i.5 million in annual fees and local and state taxes that Oaksterdam University and Lee's other outfits collectively pay has made him a power player in area politics.

50-50 odds

It surprised nobody when he became the first person in many years to generate a ballot initiative to legalize pot. Polls place the measure's chances at about even for November.

If the measure passes, marijuana will still be illegal under federal law. Don't expect Lee to shy away from a fight with Washington.

"The most notable characteristic of Richard is his persistence," said Steve D’Angelo, whose Harborside Health Center cannabis dispensary in Oakland is the biggest in the United States. "I've known him since 1994, when we were both foremost advocates for hemp, and he is focused like a laser on whatever his goal is.

"If he wasn't working for medicinal cannabis, he'd be an advocate for some other form of social justice."

Lee may be the unthreatening face for his cause, said El Cerrito police Capt. Mike Regan, but he's not convincing the majority of those in law enforcement.

Some officers and judges have come out in favor of the November initiative, but more -including the California Police Chiefs Association - are opposing it.

Making it worse?

"Richard looks like John Q. Citizen, and he's actually a really nice guy," said Regan, who speaks all over the state against marijuana use. "But I believe medical marijuana in California has grown wildly out of control, and I think the initiative would make it much worse.

"This is not a harmless drug."

He said Lee took him on a tour of Oaksterdam once, and he found the business impressive. But strictly medicinal use is one thing, Regan said and rampant use, which he believes is what the measure would encourage, is another.

"I don't agree with him, but he listens to your viewpoint and gives you his viewpoint," the captain said. "Years ago, the only people I saw promoting this kind of business were dope dealers, and they looked like Cheech and Chong. Then you meet someone like Richard Lee, and you realize that today they are businessmen.

"But let's not kid ourselves," he said. "You're talking about some serious dollars being earned there. And when a cop who's been in this business a long time takes a look at the marijuana business that's grown up all over this state, it looks like a criminal enterprise from long ago. You've got lots of cash, tons of unaccounted marijuana hanging around, and a product that is illegal." '

Education challenge'

Lee has heard the criticism before, and he's sure he will hear it more when the campaign starts heating up over the summer. He has even taken heat from some growers in Mendocino and Humboldt counties who say his advocacy of indoor growing undercuts the purity of their outdoor, supposedly more organic, operations.

Lee shrugs at the flak. An "education challenge," he calls it.

"Support goes up for what we are doing the more people learn about it, and realize marijuana is not terrible, and that it is safer than alcohol and healthier than prison," Lee said.

"I'm sure I'll have a few more gray hairs by November," he said, cracking his shy smile. "But I do think we'll get our point across enough to win."

E-mail Kevin Fagan at mkfagan@sfchronicle.comailto:.


Don't forget to join my Medical Marijuana News From Brett Yahoo newsgroup for the latest marijuana and medical marijuana news http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/mmjnews/

"A Pot Smokers Dilemma: An empty bowl needs to be filled while a filled bowl needs to be emptied. It never ends."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Eliot voters to consider moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries

ELIOT, Maine — Voters at Saturday's annual Town Meeting will decide
whether to impose a six-month moratorium on siting a medical marijuana
dispensary in town.

Selectmen proposed the moratorium at their May 27 meeting after the
measure was discussed in executive session, said Chairwoman Elizabeth
O'Donoghue. "The only thing that happened at the meeting was that we
decided to put it on a warrant article," she said, adding there has been
no public discussion. "We had word from the planning assistant that
somebody was trying to rent property to a group that was planning to
grow medical (marijuana), and that started the whole thing."

The board proposed a moratorium to give the town time to write an
ordinance to provide itself protection the state law may not have,
O'Donoghue said. The language of the moratorium states "a medical
marijuana dispensary presents the potential for new and unknown impacts,
including public safety concerns and concerns about compatibility with
surrounding uses." The moratorium would give the town six months to
study the issue and develop regulations governing their location and
operation, if needed, she said.

The state began accepting applications this month from nonprofit
corporations to become dispensaries under Maine's Medical Use of
Marijuana Act. The state will allow eight dispensaries, one in each of
its eight Public Health Districts including York County, according to
the Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS expects to approve the
location of a dispensary in York County by July 9.

The act passed last November allows patients with "debilitating medical
conditions" diagnosed by a physician licensed in Maine to receive
written certification allowing them to "acquire, possess, cultivate,
manufacture, use, deliver, transfer or transport marijuana and/or
paraphernalia without fear of prosecution."

Rep. Sarah Lewin, R-Eliot, said allowing medical use of marijuana would
bring other serious drug use issues.

"It was written with nowhere near the limitations that are needed to
protect the citizens where this stuff is grown and sold," she said. "The
good and kind and compassionate people of Maine heard how much people
are suffering from cancer and other issues, and how much relief they
would get from smoking marijuana and no one ever explained how serious
the use of marijuana is in many, many cases."

Lewin said marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to more serious drug
use and would add to existing drug problems in terms of costs of law
enforcement and treatment.

"It costs the state nearly $900 million a year in substance abuse
funding," she said, adding there are other costs in public safety. "It's
still against federal law to have this stuff."

Colorado's pot debate is headed to the cities

Less than a week after a new law cleared the way for Colorado cities to
ban marijuana dispensaries if they wish, some are already moving to ban
pot shops.

One of the biggest battles is brewing in Colorado Springs, where city
officials were expected Friday to sign off on a petition drive seeking
to shutter more than 100 dispensaries located there.

And a ban is already headed to ballots in Aurora, Colorado's
third-largest city. Aurora has had a moratorium banning dispensaries so
far, but the vote could make the ban permanent.

Gov. Bill Ritter approved a law Monday to allow cities to ban
dispensaries. Marijuana advocates say city bans will face lawsuits.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Democrats debate pot policies

SPRINGFIELD — Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin on Tuesday
said Vermont should decriminalize marijuana to help free up prison space
and money better devoted to education and other social needs.

"We need to have an honest conversation with Vermonters about changing
laws that are diverting resources and attention from real problems, and
filling our prisons up with folks that shouldn't be there," Shumlin said
in a forum last night with the other four Democratic candidates running
for governor.

"I believe it's a mistake to be sending young people on second, third,
fourth offenses to prison on marijuana-related charges," said Shumlin, a
Putney Democrat who has previously sponsored a decriminalization bill.
"That's where we could make a difference."

None of the other four candidates explicitly called for the
decriminalization of marijuana, which has been opposed by outgoing
Republican Gov. James Douglas, but others touched on the issue.

Former state Sen. Matt Dunne, a Hartland Democrat, said policymakers
need to "connect the dots and right-size the way we punish people" and
said an occasional Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 91 in Hartford
was burdening local courts by "going after individuals who have small
amounts of marijuana … it's crazy."

A third candidate, Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz, D-Montpelier,
said Vermont needs to rethink how it punishes people for petty crimes, a
theme touched on by other candidates, as well.

"We need to think differently about how we are dealing with crimes
related to a drug habit," she said.

The forum at Springfield High School was attended by more than 110
Windsor County residents and also touched on single-payer health care,
job creation and wind energy.

"What the state of Vermont is suffering from is a lack of a plan" on
energy, said Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Bartlett, D-Hyde
Park. She also said the state should not raise taxes next year to curb a
looming deficit until more savings are found, but said a $55 million
rainy day fund will have to be tapped to balance the budget.

State Sen. Doug Racine, D-Richmond, along with the other Democrats,
criticized a Republican proposal, since scrapped, that threatened to
merge regional economic development and planning councils.

"The administration didn't understand what was going on in the counties.
The state doesn't have one economy. It's a collection of individual,
local economies," Racine said.

Racine, a former lieutenant governor, also touted the endorsement from
the Vermont-NEA and the Vermont AFL-CIO, two labor unions that together
represent about 20,000 Vermonters.

"It was a real boost to my campaign," Racine said.

After the debate, Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand, who was
in the audience and has long favored a proposal to regulate and tax
marijuana, credited Shumlin for taking on the issue of decriminalization

"Other people talked generally about emphasizing treatment. Peter was
the only one who had a significant proposal about changing marijuana
laws," said Sand, who has yet to publicly endorse a candidate. "I was
happy to hear that. I hope that discussion continues."

Shumlin did get slightly edgy in his remarks, making light of the
homophone "doobie," common slang for a joint of marijuana, and the last
name of Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the likely Republican gubernatorial

After the debate, Weathersfield resident Chris Harris, a former
Democratic town chairman, said he hasn't written any of the candidates
off and has yet to make up his mind.

"It's remarkable that Vermont has this number of excellent candidates,
and it's going to be tough to choose. I don't know that I'll do it
before I get into the voting booth," Harris said.

Berkeley seeks revenues from medical marijuana

Seeking to bring in revenue from the city's flourishing medical
marijuana businesses – and setting the stage for the possible
legalization of pot by voters in November – Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates
is proposing a new tax on cannabis businesses.

Under a proposal he presented to a medical marijuana subcommittee on
Wednesday, Bates would tax medical marijuana dispensaries $25 per $1,000
in gross receipts. If pot becomes legal after the November election,
Bates is proposing to levy a tax on those selling pot for recreational
use of $100 per $1,000.

"I am shooting high with this tax," said Bates. "It can be

The proposed tax was significantly higher than one recommended to the
city council in May, and drew surprised gasps from the audience, which
was made up of patients, representatives from Berkeley's three
dispensaries and patient collectives.

Bates and City Council members Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Linda
Maio, and Max Anderson have been meeting regularly to gain a better
understanding of Berkeley's medical marijuana industry. The aim is
to put a measure on the November ballot.

As Bates passed out his proposal, he cautioned that none of the city
council members had seen it, and that it most likely will be changed
significantly before it goes on the ballot. The medical marijuana
subcommittee will meet next Wednesday to discuss the proposal further.
It will then go to the City Council on June 29.

Bates' proposal would:

* Allow each of the three dispensaries to have an ancillary site in
an industrial area. These sites would not serve patients, but would be
used to grow marijuana and process cannabis products.

* Limit cultivation by collectives to 100 square feet in a house.

* Require that there be a buffer zone between dispensaries and
private schools, in addition to the one required for public schools.
Reduce this zone from 1,000 to 500 feet.

* Require dispensaries who get a new ancillary location to dedicate
1/10 of their product to low-income patients.

* Impose a maximum tax rate of either $25 per $1,000 of gross
receipts on dispensaries or $25 a square foot if the dispensaries become

* Tax sale of cannabis used for recreation at $100 per $1,000 of
gross profits. (if possible)

* Modify the structure of the Medical Cannabis Commission to make it
a city-appointed commission. This would diversify its membership

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dispensaries quietly close as L.A. ordinance takes effect

Officials with the Los Angeles city attorney's office Monday said they
believe there will be "substantial compliance" with an ordinance that
shuts down more than 400 medical marijuana dispensaries that opened over
the last two and a half years.

But Assistant City Atty. Asha Greenberg said her office wouldn't rule
out taking "enforcement action" against possible holdouts.

"I don't think anyone should assume they can remain open and that the
city is not going to take any action any time soon," Greenberg said.
"It's a definite possibility. Anyone who is not living in a cave" knows
that the ordinance went into effect Monday.

Reports from police officers, building inspectors and residents will
help identify possible violators. City prosecutors also set up an e-mail
address for the public to report scofflaws:

Offenders face civil penalties of $2,500 a day and six months in jail.
Dispensaries that registered with the city in 2007 will have until
Monday to file paperwork showing their intent to comply with new
location restrictions.

Signs posted on the doors of the City Clerk's office Monday indicated
that staff members were prepared for an onslaught of medical marijuana
operators filing notices of intent to register on the first available

But things seemed to run smoothly with only a handful of people in line
by mid-morning. By noon, about 50 people had been through the office to
submit paperwork on their intent to register, a process that took about
20 minutes.

"I thought it was going to be a little crazy," James Catipay, 33, said
as he exited the office with his business partner, Peter Tejera. The two
operate Herbalcure in Los Angeles and although they have a week to file
the paperwork, they wanted to do it as soon as possible.

"It demonstrates responsibility," said Tejera, 41, a real estate

Catipay and Tejera said they opened Herbalcure in 2007 because they
wanted others to benefit from the remedy they had used to relieve their
own pain left by illnesses.

Tejera said he found that cannabis relieved the pounding headaches that
came after an aneurysm. Catipay, an attorney, said he used marijuana to
address the breathing problems left by sarcoidosis.

Both believe the city's regulation of marijuana collectives is a wise

"There need to be guidelines," Tejera said. "The city has to get control
of what's going on from a safety standpoint."

The new ordinance prohibits dispensaries from being located within 1,000
feet of "sensitive use" areas such as schools, churches and parks,
setting the stage for the closure of more than 400 outlets.

Attorney Eric Shevin, who is representing more than a dozen medical
marijuana patients in a class-action lawsuit against the city, argued
that the law would unconstitutionally bar patients' access to their

On Friday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant
rejected their bid for a temporary restraining order. The judge did ask
for additional arguments on whether allowing certain dispensaries to
remain open while closing others would be a violation of the equal
protection clause of the California Constitution.

Shutting down some 400 existing dispensaries would have tremendous
fallout, both economically and practically, said Shevin, who accused
city officials of changing the rules on the collectives that existed
before 2007 by prohibiting transfer of ownership.

"Landlords, who have been relying on this rental income, are going to
have leases terminated," Shevin said. "The overall effect will take time
to play out but the types of things we can expect to see are that
patients are going to have difficulty obtaining their medicine and the
few stores that remain will have difficulty meeting the demand."

Lack of cash could snuff pot measure

SEATTLE — An effort to legalize marijuana for adults in Washington
is in danger of not making the ballot this year, after support from the
state's progressive establishment failed to materialize.

Initiative 1068 would remove all state penalties for marijuana
possession, cultivation, use and sale. It's one of the most sweeping
marijuana reform efforts playing out around the country this year, and
polls have suggested it would pass — if it makes the ballot.

Campaign chairman Douglas Hiatt on Monday told The Associated Press more
than 100,000 people have signed a petition to get the initiative on the
ballot. The group needs 241,000 signatures by July 2.

The campaign can't afford to hire paid signature gatherers, and has
recently been counting on financial support from the Service Employees
International Union — a big player in liberal politics.

But Monday, the labor union said no such support would be forthcoming.

"It's really unfortunate, but you cannot do this without
money," Hiatt said when the AP informed him of the SEIU's
decision. "I never intended I-1068 to be an all-volunteer effort.
We'll make a decision in a couple days about whether we're going
to go forward."

Hiatt and a few other activists filed the initiative with the Secretary
of State's Office in January, calling their group Sensible
Washington. They argued that in a time of dire budget woes, the
state's government should stop spending millions of dollars a year
on police, court and jail costs for people who use or produce marijuana.

But they failed to line up establishment support in advance, and the
state Democratic Party declined to contribute to the effort.

"There's a lot of support for this within the party, but
it's just not a high priority," state party chairman Dwight Pelz
said Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington also declined to
endorse the initiative, saying it supports marijuana legalization but
thinks legalizing the drug without providing a regulatory framework
governing its cultivation and distribution is irresponsible.

The campaign responded by saying that since initiatives can cover only
one subject in Washington, there was no way to both remove criminal
penalties and create a regulatory system.

The Legislature would rush to regulate marijuana if the initiative
passed, supporters argued.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Aspiring marijuana growers look to stake a claim in N.J.'s new industry

With N.J. expected to permit the sale of medicinal marijuana soon, The
Star-Ledger visited Colorado and New Mexico to observe the impact
legalizing the drug for medical reasons has had in those states.

ASPEN, CO. — The line of people spilled outside the door, even while
it rained.

Some 3,000 Colorado medical marijuana patients ventured to this posh
skiers' paradise for one weekend in April, and for the $25 entrance
fee, each received a plastic green bracelet granting them entrance to a
veritable pot flea market.

They lingered over cases of handblown, multicolor glass pipes, ooohed
and ahhed over enhanced confections likes Rice Krispies Treats and
chocolate-covered pretzels, and snapped up tiny bags of pot from dozens
of growers.

But only 130 people — who paid $100 or more — earned themselves
a Willie Wonkaesque Golden Ticket, giving them critic-like status to
decide — from their own home, no smoking on site, please — who
should win the first annual Cannabis Crown for the best weed.

Nicki Gross of Aspen didn't have a golden ticket and wasn't
there for fun. She was there to learn more about the medicine that
reduces her chronic back pain. "I'm in excruciating pain right
now,'' Gross said through clenched teeth. "I wish we could smoke
here. All I take is one hit at a time — the stuff is really

Held at two of Aspen's exclusive hotels, the conference embodied the
best of what the burgeoning medical marijuana industry has to offer: a
recession-defying opportunity with seemingly limitless economic
potential. Equally important to many entrepreneurs, the industry also
satisfies a benevolent urge. Everybody in the industry can rattle off a
string of examples of how marijuana has helped people walk, eat,
function and sleep better while diminishing their reliance on
prescription painkillers and their discomforting side effects.


But for every heartfelt testimonial, dispensary operators can share
insomnia-provoking tales of what it's like to enter an industry
shunned by banks, insurance companies, many elected officials and large
segments of mainstream society. Competition is fierce, and there are few
tested models of success to emulate.

That uncertainty hasn't stopped an expanding group of aspiring
growers and dispensary owners from making their own pitch to get in on
the ground floor in New Jersey, where nary a detail about New
Jersey's medical marijuana program has been disclosed, and the
governor is delaying the launch of the program until as late as next

But even with the most restrictive medical marijuana law in the country,
New Jersey will gain jobs and revenue, said Gus Escamilla, founder and
CEO of Greenway University, which helped open 230 dispensaries in
California and Colorado.

Medical marijuana "helped the economy in Denver in so many ways.
Security companies, CPAs, attorneys, physicians — their practices
are booming. We are about to see something similar occur'' in New
Jersey, Escamilla said. Greenway hosted a seminar in Paterson yesterday
and was scheduled to hold another today to teach people the business.


There are no authoritative economic studies of the medical marijuana
industry in the 14 states where it has been legalized.

In Denver alone, 279 storefronts that were vacant less than a year ago
are now occupied by licensed medical marijuana dispensaries that each
paid the city $5,000 for a license, according to state Treasury and
Economic Development statistics. In Colorado, 199 shop owners paid
$631,000 in sales tax from February, and 201 more registered with the
state have yet to pay any sales tax, said Mark Couch, spokesman for the
Colorado Department of Revenue. Colorado also charges $90 for every
person who applies to be a patient, and there are 80,000 of them.


No one working in Colorado's medical marijuana industry would call
this an easy way of life.

Jesse Lafayette, his wife Holly Bockenthien, and two partners took a
vacant gas station in downtown touristy Glenwood Springs and opened
Peaceful Warrior dispensary and grow operation in September.

Since then, they said, two banks they had been doing business with
dropped them in fear the federal government might question any
involvement with what is still an illegal substance. And the couple
works all the time because they've been robbed by some of the
employees they hired, they said. "We can't trust anybody,''
Bockenthien said.

But Lafayette, 33, who holds degrees in horticulture, and Bockenthien,
26, a cattle owner, say they are committed to their patients — a
steady roster of 350 people, like Noel, a mother of three recovering
from a brain tumor. She stopped in on a Sunday afternoon in April for
marijuana for her pain — instead of morphine.

Bradley Mann of Monroe and some partners have already formed a nonprofit
entity, the Compassion Associates Inc., to be among the first in line
when the state chooses the dispensary operators. The organization plans
to start an assistance fund for low-income patients, and a launch a
website that will inform the public about the program, said Mann, a
42-year-old father of four who is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"Whether we get a license or not, we have a few different things we are
doing to reach our goal of supporting patients.''


Medical Marijuana for sale: A sample of edible and smokable menu items
sold in Colorodo, which will undoubtedly make their way to New Jersey.

Sellers say they strive to charge less than the illegal dealers, but
many comply with state law and charge sales tax.

• 1 gram of marijuana: $20

• 1/8 ounce of marijuana: about $50

• 2 ounces of marijuana (the monthly limit for N.J. patients): $560
and up

• Pot-laced ice cream cups: $8 - $10 each

• Keef Cola: $8 per bottle

• Hard candies: $3

• Rice Krispie Treat: $5 - 10

• Brownies: $5 - 10

• Tinctures: (marijuana-infused drops for tea and other drinks and
foods) $30 per ounce

• Hand-blown glass pipes: starting at $15

New medical-marijuana regs now law in Colorado

Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law today two bills regulating and
legitimizing the state's medical-marijuana industry.

"The companion measures I signed today strike a delicate balance between
protecting public safety and respecting the will of the voters," Ritter
said in a statement.

The bills — which impose complicated licensing requirements on
medical-marijuana dispensaries and crack down on unscrupulous doctors
indiscriminately handing out marijuana recommendations — were some
of the most high-profile measures passed in the legislature this year.

But Ritter signed the bills, House Bill 1284 and Senate Bill 109, this
morning without the usual public ceremony such attention-grabbing
legislation usually commands. Instead, the bills were signed privately
along with a slate of 28 various other bills before Ritter headed out on
a bill-signing tour in southwestern Colorado.

Supporters of the bills say they will professionalize the
medical-marijuana industry and make it harder for people to abuse the
system. But several prominent medical-marijuana advocates say the rules
go too far, will drive marijuana dispensaries out of business and will
push patients back into the underground marketplace. A team of lawyers
has already begun recruiting potential plaintiffs for lawsuits
challenging the laws' constitutionality.

A number of law enforcement officials, meanwhile, say the rules don't go
far enough. They argue that, by permitting marijuana dispensaries, the
legislature overstepped its constitutional authority.

Of the pair, Senate Bill 109, which requires that patients have a "bona
fide" relationship with the doctors who recommend marijuana for them,
had the less bumpy ride through the legislature.

The new law will require doctors to have completed a full assessment of
the patient's medical history, to talk with the patient about the
medical condition that has caused them to seek marijuana and to be
available for follow-up care. The law also prevents doctors from getting
paid by dispensaries to write recommendations.

Supporters hope the measures will eliminate fast food-style
medical-marijuana-recommendation operations that critics say have
swelled the state's registry with illegitimate patients.

"Senate Bill 109 will help prevent fraud and abuse," Ritter said in his
statement today.

House Bill 1284, which creates strict new regulations for
medical-marijuana businesses, generated considerably more controversy.
The law requires that dispensaries be licensed at both the state and
local levels, and it allows local governments — or voters — to
ban dispensaries and large-scale marijuana-growing operations in their

Some cities have already moved to do just that. Vail's Town Council
voted last week to ban dispensaries, while Greenwood Village officials
are currently drafting an ordinance to do the same. Aurora City Council
members are preparing a ballot question that would ask voters whether
they want dispensaries in the city, and a number of other cities have
extended their dispensary moratoriums while they figure out what to do.

The new law will place other requirements on dispensaries, as well.
People convicted recently of a felony — or at all of a drug-related
felony — will be barred from operating a dispensary. People who have
lived in Colorado for fewer than two years cannot open a new dispensary.
And all dispensaries must grow at least 70 percent of the marijuana they
sell, meaning people currently operating as wholesale growers either
have to partner with a dispensary or shut down.

Significantly from a legal standpoint, the law also makes a distinction
between dispensaries and "primary caregivers" — small-scale
marijuana providers whose work is protected in the state's constitution.
In order to qualify for that special protection now, caregivers can
serve no more than five patients and grow no more than six plants per
patient, in most cases. They must also register with the state.

Dispensaries, the new law says, are not caregivers and don't qualify for
their elevated, constitutional protection.

A number of dispensary owners fear that — between the new
requirements and the ability of local governments to ban dispensaries
— the law may put them out of business.

But Ritter said in his statement today that the law will allow
communities to put "sensible and much-needed controls" on dispensaries.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Going to pot: 'Cannabis caravans' give Montanans permission to smoke medical marijuana

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — As Bob Marley music wailed in the next room, the makeshift clinic hummed along like an assembly line: Patients went in to see a doctor, paid $150 and walked out with permission to buy and smoke medical marijuana.

So it went, all day, at a hotel just blocks from the state Capitol that was the latest stop of the so-called cannabis caravan, a band of doctors and medical marijuana advocates roaming Montana to sign up thousands of patients.

"You're helping end suffering on this planet for human beings," clinic organizer Jason Christ said as he sat outside the hotel in an RV filled with pot smoke.

To the dismay of state medical authorities and lawmakers, the caravans have helped the number of pot cardholders in Montana swell over the past year from about 3,000 to 15,000.

Christ's group, Montana Caregivers Network, will take the caravan out of Montana later this month for the first time, with clinics scheduled in three Michigan cities: Detroit, Kalamazoo and Lansing. He said pot advocates from several other states — including New Mexico, New Jersey and Hawaii — have contacted him to inquire about setting up similar businesses.

The state medical board is trying to curtail the mass screenings and recently fined a physician who participated in a similar clinic in the first disciplinary action taken against a doctor in a Montana medical marijuana case. The board found that the doctor had seen about 150 people in 14½ hours, or roughly a patient every six minutes, nowhere near enough to provide appropriate care in the eyes of medical observers.

The board also recently reminded physicians that they must perform thorough examinations, take medical histories, discuss alternative treatments and monitor patients' response to the cannabis — standards that typically apply when prescribing other medication.

"Be on the alert. You are still held to these same standards," said Jean Branscum, the board's executive director.

The roving cannabis caravans appear to be unique to Montana, although mobile marijuana operations have arisen elsewhere. A rolling marijuana dispensary in California sold chocolate-covered cookies, brownies, pretzels and other marijuana-laced items out of an RV before authorities moved to shut it down.

Mike Meno, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, the chief lobbying arm of the legalization movement, said the 14 states that allow medical marijuana have varying regulations that could make it difficult for the caravans to operate outside Montana.

"The more I hear about these things, it sounds like they're not following the intent of the law," Meno said. "People say they might be making a mockery of the law, and I hope that's not the case."

Medical marijuana has been legal in Montana for more than five years, allowing people with debilitating conditions to buy pot with a doctor's permission.

After the Obama administration announced last year that it would not prosecute medical marijuana users, the pace of registrations quickened, and people began flocking to the caravans.

At a recent stop in Helena, the clinic processed between 200 and 300 people seeking one of the coveted registration cards.

In the hotel conference room, when patients emerged from behind a curtain after talking with a doctor, they were ushered to the next room, where a half-dozen marijuana providers competed to become their personal "caregiver," as the suppliers are called in Montana.

A group called the First Montana Grow Circle signed up 15 new patients that day. One of them was a state employee who spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared repercussions from her employer and her family.

She said she went to the clinic during her lunch hour after her personal doctor declined to prescribe medical marijuana for her severe migraine headaches. "He said I am not the type of person he would prescribe it for. He said I'm not there yet based on my medical history," the woman said.

She said the doctor at the clinic gave her the recommendation she was looking for after a 15-minute examination and a promise to send him her medical records. She said the marijuana has eased but not eliminated her headaches.

The Montana Board of Medical Examiners fined Dr. Patricia Cole $2,000, accusing her of practicing substandard care at a medical marijuana clinic in Great Falls last year. The caregivers' network is paying her fine. She is also barred from participating in such clinics.

The board said Cole did not document whether she took medical histories or performed physical examinations, did not discuss proper dosing and failed to document a risk analysis of medical marijuana for them.

Cole said she agreed to the punishment, but believes she is being made an example of as the board seeks to halt the caravans. She said she reviewed medical histories online before the clinic.

At the same, some lawmakers say the clinics demonstrate the pot boom is out of control and the rules need tightening.

Despite the warnings and the disciplinary action, the cannabis caravans are slated to roll on next month with stops in Kalispell, Missoula, Great Falls, Helena, Bozeman and Billings.

"Change is scary. I understand," Christ said of the backlash. But he added: "The need is out there. Patients are in pain."