Wednesday, April 27, 2011

U.S. attorney: Justice Department considers medical marijuana to be illegal

Gazette State Bureau

Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 7:59 pm

Read the letter from US Attorney for Montana Michael Cotter to lawmakers @

HELENA รข€” The U.S. Justice Department will prosecute individuals and organizations involved in the business of any illegal drug, including marijuana used for medical purposes permitted under state law, Michael W. Cotter, U.S. attorney for Montana, said in a letter to top legislative leaders Wednesday.

In another development on marijuana Wednesday, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said he is likely to make some amendatory vetoes suggesting changes to the medical marijuana bill moving through the Legislature.

Senate Bill 423, by Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, is the last surviving bill to repeal Montana's medical marijuana law and enact a new one that would impose far stricter regulations and make it much tougher for people to obtain cards to use medical marijuana.

Earlier this week, Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, and House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, wrote Cotter to ask for his guidance as the Montana Legislature completes work on SB423.

In 2004, Montanans voted, 62 percent to 38 percent, to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Since the fall of 2009, the number of medical marijuana cardholders has skyrocketed to nearly 30,000 last month.

Cotter said the Justice Department has not reviewed the specific legislative bill. But he said the U.S. Justice Department "has stated on many occasions that Congress placed marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and as such, growing, distributing and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law, regardless of state laws that purport to permit such activities."

Cotter went on to say, "The prosecution of individuals and organizations involved in the trade of any illegal drugs and the disruption of drug trafficking organizations is a core priority of the department."

This core priority, he said, "includes prosecution of business enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana."

"While the department generally does not focus its limited resources on seriously ill individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, as stated in the October 2009 Ogden Memorandum, we maintain the authority to enforce the CSA against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law," Cotter said.

Cotter added, "The department's investigative and prosecutorial resources will continue to be directed toward these objectives."

In mid-March, federal law enforcement authorities raided 26 medical marijuana growing and dispensary operations in 13 Montana cities. They said they had probable cause that these businesses were engaged in large-scale trafficking.

Cotter said then that the search warrants executed were the culmination of an "18-month, multi-agency investigation into the drug trafficking activities of criminal enterprises." He said civil seizure warrants also were executed for financial institutions in Bozeman, Helena and Kalispell that sought up to $4 million.

Regarding the bill before the Legislature, Schweitzer said he probably would have some amendments when SB423 reaches him after passing both legislative houses next week.

"They're moving to a 'grow-your-own' (marijuana system)," Schweitzer said. "It does concern me. I don't know if it will end up being 2,000 patients or 30,000 patients growing their own."

He said that would make it harder to regulate than having a smaller number of producers growing for more people.

"We have some ideas that we think will make it better," Schweitzer said.

Westlake Village bans medical pot dispensaries

Although California passed Proposition 215 in 1996 decriminalizing the use of medical marijuana, many local cities passed ordinances outlawing cannabis clubs in support of the federal government’s anti-drug stance.

Westlake Village received inquiries from business people seeking to establish marijuana clinics in the city. In 2009, the city shut down a medical marijuana business that had opened at a La Baya Drive commercial center without permission.

Officials passed a subsequent moratoriums to evaluate the impacts of dispensary bans in other jurisdictions. They also wanted to wait for the results of a 2010 state initiative that would have legalized the use of marijuana before implementing their own prohibition.

Since the initiative failed at the polls last November, a city land use committee recommended that Westlake Village enact its own ordinance to prohibit marijuana distribution facilities throughout the city. Agoura Hills has a similar ordinance banning pot dispensaries. The Westlake Village law includes the sale of synthetic marijuana products.

Before voting, Mayor Ned Davis expressed some concerns about the proposed ban because, he said, it would forbid distribution of cannabis in pharmacies and medical offices even if the state allowed those operations in the future.

Medical marijuana should be available only to patients who truly need it, Davis said, adding, “The way California allows marijuana distribution is blatantly wrong. It just doesn’t work.”

Councilmember Mark Rutherford urged Sacramento legislators to solve the problems associated with Prop. 219. “All the city is doing is trying to work with the uncertainty in the law,” he said.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Most California voters say possessing small amount of illegal drugs should be misdemeanor, not felony

April 11, 2011 | 8:20 am

A strong majority of California voters believe the penalty for possession of a small amount of an illegal drug for personal use should be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, according to a poll released Monday by organizations seeking to relax drug laws.

The survey conducted by a professional polling firm found that almost 75% of California voters likely to cast ballots in 2012 believe the crime should be downgraded to a misdemeanor. And 40% went even further, saying they think it should be dropped to an infraction, which is the equivalent of a speeding ticket and carries no prison time.

The poll did not define what is considered a small amount of a drug. Possession of controlled substances, such as cocaine and heroin, is a felony, although charges are sometimes reduced. Marijuana is treated separately, and possession of an ounce or less is an infraction.

A majority of voters also said California sends too many people to prison. And almost 75% agreed that in the midst of a budget crisis, the state should instead use the millions of dollars spent to imprison drug users on schools, healthcare and law enforcement.

"The point here is that this is an overwhelming majority of California voters," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the deputy state director for Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization that supports efforts to reduce drug sentences. "Californians don't want to waste money on incarcerating people for drug possession. They'd rather see that money go for something else."

The poll was released by the Drug Policy Alliance along with the ACLU of Northern California in San Francisco and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. It was designed and administered by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling firm.

Support for reducing drug possession penalties crosses party lines, drawing favor from substantial majorities of Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan voters. Most voters in every region of the state also back the change. Voters also indicated they are more inclined to reelect state lawmakers who vote to reduce the penalties for drug possession.

Nearly a quarter of the voters surveyed said Californians caught with a small amount of an illegal drug for personal use should not spend any time behind bars, while 27% said they should be locked up for less than three months. Just 8% suggested incarceration for a year or more.

The statewide poll surveyed 800 voters who intend to vote in the 2012 general election. They were questioned between March 21 and 24. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The results and analysis can be viewed at

-- John Hoeffel

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

*Five Medical Marijuana Activists Arrested Today at San Diego City Council Protest

Americans for Safe Access
For Immediate Release:*April 12, 2011

*/Patients, supporters resist passage of flawed ordinance & forced
closure of all city collectives/

in the San Diego City Council chambers protesting the final vote on a
local distribution ordinance, which advocates say imposes a citywide de
facto ban on collectives. During the hearing, members of the "Stop the
Ban Campaign" -- a coalition of over 20 local, state, and national
groups spearheaded by Canvass for a Cause and the San Diego Chapter of
Americans for Safe Access (ASA) -- repeatedly chanted "We demand safe
access," disrupting the session, forcing council to clear the chambers,
and postponing a critical vote on the ordinance.

The Stop the Ban Campaign has demanded that the City Council amend its
ordinance to include a compliance period that will avoid the immediate
closure of more than 100 facilities currently serving thousands of area
patients, and to open up available space in the city so that collectives
can actually relocate. Unfortunately, despite years of study, thoughtful
recommendations from a city-appointed task force, countless letters
received from constituents, hundreds of supporters at the last public
hearing, the City Council has so far refused to acknowledge the
recommendations of experts and the will of the people.

"The patient community in San Diego will not be deterred despite the
efforts of the City Council," said ASA San Diego Chair Eugene
Davidovich, one of the protest organizers and people arrested today.
"One way or another San Diego patients will gain safe access to their
medication, but it would be much more effective for the city to work
with us instead of fighting us at every step of the way."

Prior to the bill's first reading on March 28th, the Stop the Ban
campaign organized the largest letter-writing campaign in the city's
history, during which San Diego residents wrote in opposition to the
ordinance, requesting the passage of specific amendments. The ordinance
was also opposed by the Chair and Vice-Chair of the City's Medical
Marijuana Task Force. Left with little option, activists chose
nonviolent civil disobedience to protest the council's decision to
ignore years of citizen and expert input into the development of

Advocates are now targeting San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, urging him to
reject the bill and tell the City Council to come back with a version
that reflects the community's input. While litigation is likely to
result from the passage of the ordinance in its current form, there is
another move afoot. The San Diego chapter of ASA in collaboration with
the Stop the Ban Campaign submitted a ballot proposal to the city clerk
on Monday in an attempt to put the issue before the voters. A
little-used process involving the city's Rules Committee, could prompt a
public hearing on the proposed measure and if approved by the committee
would be sent to the council for placement on the next election's ballot.

*Further information:*
San Diego medical marijuana ordinance:
Manifesto from arrested activists:
San Diego ASA chapter website:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

AZ: Rules about medical marijuana in Arizona released

The state health department on Monday released its final version of medical-marijuana rules, which detail how dispensaries will be chosen and distributed throughout the state.

The release wraps up the state health department's four-month rule-making process. Arizona's medical-marijuana program officially begins April 14, when the Arizona Department of Health Services will begin accepting patient applications. The program should be fully functioning by the end of the year.

In November, voters passed Proposition 203, which will allow qualifying patients with certain debilitating medical conditions to receive up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from dispensaries or cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants if they live 25 miles or farther from a dispensary. There will be between 120 and 126 dispensaries throughout the state, proportionate to the number of pharmacies.

Since early February, the state health department received more than 1,450 electronic comments on the second draft of its rules. The agency held four public forums - in Flagstaff, Tempe and Tucson - where about 150 people gave input on the rules.

"Ultimately, whether it becomes recreational over time is directly related to whether physicians across the state take this seriously and really make full assessments of patients, and only write certifications for people who really do have debilitating medical conditions," said Will Humble, ADHS director.

Humble said one of the main problems he expects in the first couple of weeks of the program is patients submitting doctor certifications that are incomplete or not in the department's accepted electronic format. Several doctors have been writing medical-pot certifications before the department finalized its rules.

"(The patients have) been walking away with sheets of paper that they believe are certifications that we'll accept. The fact is, we will only accept certifications that are on the department-provided form," Humble said.

The main changes made to the final version relate to selecting and distributing dispensaries:

- Dispensary selection

The final version builds on the previous draft's proposed two-step process of approving applications. Dispensary agents will be required to first apply for a registration certificate, which would include a background check and basic information such as location. The agent then will apply for an operating license, which requires more detailed plans, such as a site plan and a certificate of occupancy.

ADHS has added more requirements to the first application step. For example, applicants must include a business plan that shows projected expenditures before and after the dispensary is operational, and the projected revenue.

The final rules make it easier for dispensary owners to change locations within their designated health area.

- Dispensary distribution

There will be one dispensary in each Community Health Analysis Area, a geographical breakdown of the state that the DHS previously used to track public-health statistics. There are 126 of these health areas in the state, close to the number of dispensaries allowed.

If there is one qualified applicant for one health area, the department will approve the dispensary. But if there is more than one qualified application for the same health area, prospective dispensaries will be evaluated on a set of standards: whether the dispensary has access to $150,000 in start-up capital; whether the applicant has been bankrupt; whether anyone with a 20 percent or more interest in the dispensary is a board member or a principal member; whether the applicant is a resident of Arizona for three years; and whether the applicant has outstanding fees, such as federal, state and local taxes and child support.

If the applicants all rank the same, the department will choose dispensaries randomly.

One of the reasons this provision was included in the final rules was to encourage applicants to set up shop in rural areas of the state, Humble said. If applicants do not meet the standards, they will have a better chance applying for a less competitive health area. After three years, dispensary owners can apply to move to a different health area, perhaps inside the Valley.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Whittier city officials consider cap of one on medical marijuana dispensaries

By Mike Sprague, Staff Writer

Posted: 04/07/2011 05:39:51 PM PDT

WHITTIER - The city's only legal medical marijuana dispensary may become a monopoly of one.

Concerned about a potential influx of such facilities, city officials have proposed a cap of one on the number allowed in Whittier.

The amendment to the zoning ordinance - recommended Monday on a 5-0 vote by the Planning Commission - is expected to go to the City Council at its May 10 meeting.

Assistant City Manager Jeff Collier said the cap of one was based on the small number of Whittier residents holding state-authorized medical marijuana cards. It's only 22.

"We're providing the number of businesses necessary to serve that particular constituent base," Collier said.

"We don't need an influx of these throughout our city," he said. "We're accommodating the use but we're not going beyond what's is necessary to serve (Whittier) residents."

The proposed new law would allow for a second medical marijuana dispensary if the owner could demonstrate through documented evidence there is "compelling need and demand for a second facility to serve residents of the city of Whittier only."

Robert Ortiz, director of the Whittier Hope Collective, the dispensary that opened in July of 2010, said he was surprised to hear about the proposed law.

"It's obvious (city officials) feel that's what the city needs," Ortiz said. "I can't say that I'm really more excited or not excited."

Ortiz, whose group has about 2,500 patients, said he doesn't believe the law creates a monopoly.

"There are other options for patients, the most important of which is home cultivation," he said.

In addition, there are other dispensaries in nearby Santa Fe Springs, he said.

Bill Britt, executive director for the Association of Patient Advocates, criticized the potential action.

"I can't think of anything as un-American as that," Britt said.

"No other business is restricted like that. Patients will suffer," he said. "How many pharmacies are there in the city? How many liquor stores are there?"

Britt also said to base a law on the number of patient cards is misleading.

"Everybody's afraid to the get the cards," he said. "Plus it costs $75, just if you're on Medi-Cal. And that's on top of getting the doctor's letter."

Britt said he believes that 10 percent of any city most likely uses marijuana for medical reasons.

562-698-0955, ext. 3022

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trutanich Talks Pot Shops, Crime and Moving Billboards

The Los Angeles city attorney is also already looking for a local storefront for an office to run his district attorney campaign.

By Mike Szymanski | 4-7-11 | 4:30pm

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich spoke to members of the Studio City Chamber of Commerce Thursday afternoon about what his offices does in fighting crime, how medical marijuana shops will soon be closed, and what is being done about moving billboards.

“I try to explain it this way: we are the guards at the bank gates of the city’s money,” Trutanich told the chamber members at a luncheon held at the Out Take Bistro. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

The San Pedro resident, who brought up four children, and once had an office on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, said 70 percent of every crime that goes through the Los Angeles Police Department comes through his office. His staff of 300 attorneys handle about 110,000 police reports, and they take 75,000 cases a year. He credits some of his vigorous prosecutions with the lowered crime rates in the city.

On the civil site, about 2,800 cases have been filed against the city and remain open, that’s not including 7,800 worker’s comp cases. Budget cuts have hit his office, like all city offices, and he said no one has been hired, not even an office worker, and he has a $300,000 surplus so far.

Trutanich said about $60 million to $90 million of debt that people and companies owe to the city is still outstanding and needs to be collected.

In order to deal with some of the heavy workload, the former U.S. Coast Guard man patterned a program as if it were part of a military reserve detail. He has volunteer attorneys just out of law school come in to train for 30 days and then spend four-and-a-half months working in a courtroom with an attorney as an apprentice, and then they are active deputy city attorneys.

“It is like a reserve cop, you can't tell the difference,” Trutanich explained. “And by the end of it, they have more face time with judges and courtroom experience than some of the partners in the firms that they’ll eventually work for.”

The reserve program has since been adopted by San Diego and Sacramento and received national media attention as a model for cash-strapped city attorneys.

“Truly the termites are holding the house together,” Trutanich quipped about the budget crisis.

During his term, 85 civil cases have been tried, and five resulted in negative results, he said.

As far as the medical marijuana shops, he said 200 of them exist in the city borders, and 43 received letters to close down. About 50 to 60 lawsuits are still pending about the lottery system and other reasons to stay open, but Trutanich said most of the rulings in court have been on the city’s side, and the shops must close down.

About the mobile signs law that was also a pet project for City Councilman Paul Krekorian, Trutanich said, “I know there are some people who think they can get around it by saying the signs are not mobile if they are behind a bicycle or something like that.”

He is referring to signs that are driven through the streets, or left in parking spaces all day.

“I told my staff this morning in a meeting that I don’t care if the sign is behind a bicycle, a horse or a camel, if it’s movable like that then it is illegal, and we will prosecute.”

Trutanich is already making plans to run for Los Angeles County District Attorney position in 2012 and is looking for an office to run his campaign on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. He said things are not strained between him and present district attorney Steve Cooley.

“Steve and I shared a cigar last night, we’re working well together,” Trutanich said. “And we’ll probably have another cigar soon again."