Congress Hands A Mixed Bag to Marijuana Movement

The year-end spending bill gives momentum to the marijuana movement, plus a painful setback

For the marijuana legalization movement, 2014 ends the way it began: with legal changes that showcase the movement’s momentum alongside its problems.

Tucked into the 1,603-page year-end spending bill Congress released Tuesday night were a pair of provisions that affect proponents of cannabis reform. Together they form a metaphor for the politics of legal cannabis—an issue that made major bipartisan strides this year, but whose progress is hampered by a tangle of local, state and federal statutes that have sown confusion and produced contradictory justice.

First the good news for reformers: the proposed budget would prohibit law enforcement officials from using federal funds to prosecute patients or legal dispensaries in the 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that passed some form of medical-marijuana legalization. The provision was crafted by a bipartisan group of representatives and passed the Republican-controlled House in May for the first time in seven tries. If passed into law, it would mark a milestone for the movement, restricting raids against dispensaries and inoculating patients from being punished for an activity that is legal where they live but in violation of federal law.

“The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana, and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana to some degree,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said in a statement to TIME. The California Republican’s work on the issue reflects the strange coalition that has sprung up to support cannabis reform as the GOP’s libertarian wing gains steam and voters’ views evolve.

At the same time, the House chose to overrule Washington, D.C., on the issue. Last month voters in the District chose to liberalize its marijuana laws, passing an initiative that legalized the possession, consumption and cultivation of recreational marijuana. The move, which was supported by about 70% of the capital’s voters, paved the way for D.C. to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington State by establishing a tax-and-regulatory structure for cannabis sales in 2015.


Sparks, Nevada – medical business licensing info

Sparks council members approved amendments to business licenses for medical marijuana establishments.
Sparks City Council members passed amendments on medical marijuana business licenses in a 4-1 vote on Monday.

Councilman Mike Carrigan voted down the amendments, which set fees for applicants looking to open a pot establishment such as a growing facility, testing lab or dispensary.

“The whole medical marijuana establishments for us has been a three-step process,” city spokesman Adam Mayberry said.

“So this is the third and final step that basically allows (a marijuana facility),” Mayberry said. “If in fact they’re going to set up a business in this city, they’ll need a business license. Our business licenses never allowed that.”
Business licensing fees vary depending on the type of medical marijuana facility, Mayberry said.

Testing labs will be required to pay an $80 yearly base fee, while cultivation and production facilities will pay a $3,000 annual fee.

All three establishments also will need to pay an additional $1 for each $1,000 in gross receipts in excess of $10,000.
Meanwhile, dispensaries pay an annual base fee of $5,000 plus $5 for each $1,000 in excess of $10,000, Sparks City Manager Steve Driscoll said.

The city of Sparks won’t be issuing licenses until the state has its ranking and gives the city recommendations, Councilman Ron Smith said at Monday’s meeting.

Sparks police can also suggest revocation when they come across something that justifies it, Sparks city planner Armando Ornelas said.
“We wouldn’t expect business applicants to submit an application immediately,” Ornelas said.

Medical marijuana debated in Kentucky for PTSD


FRANKFORT, Ky. – Decades after the war, Vietnam veteran Danny Belcher tells of still waking at night with visions of dead friends and bodies hanging in trees. That’s when he reaches for his marijuana pipe.

“I realize it’s just a nightmare,” he said. “I will light that pipe up. I’ll be a criminal. I’ll go back to sleep.”
Advocates of medical marijuana, like Belcher, returned to Frankfort on Thursday, urging state lawmakers to lift legal restrictions on the drug for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

The testimony to the Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection was the latest in a series of legislative hearings this year on allowing cannabis for health conditions such as pain and cancer symptoms.

Belcher told lawmakers that he became a “down in the gutter drunk” after returning from the war and later was prescribed a myriad of powerful drugs for PTSD that did more harm than good.

He said marijuana eventually helped him break free of alcoholism and get off the prescriptions.

“If it gives us a quality of life back, why not do it instead of drugging these veterans up and destroying their liver, their lifestyle,” he said. “Let them have a quality of life where they can be productive citizens again.”

Still, clinical and psychiatric experts from the Louisville Veterans Affairs Medical Center are cautioning lawmakers over a lack of controlled drug trials and clinical evidence for treating PTSD patients with marijuana.
They testified Thursday that there are no statistics showing whether veterans who have been treated with the drug in other states are doing better than those receiving conventional medicine.

“A lot of veterans anecdotally will say that it does help with calming them down and with sleep … but research just isn’t there yet,” said Mary Sweeney, a staff psychologist and specialist in PTSD and substance use disorder for the Louisville VA.

Two bills to permit medical marijuana in Kentucky died in committee during the 2014 General Assembly session. But lawmakers enacted another measure that allows trial use of cannabis oil to treat seizures in children.

Advocates hope it’s a sign that medical marijuana will fare better in the legislature next year. But opponents have raised concerns over a lack of studies on the drug and argue that medical arguments are a veil for recreational use.

Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs reports that diagnosis of PTSD among veterans has been climbing for a decade due largely to combat trauma, grief and military sexual abuse.

More than 350,000 veterans are believed to suffer from the disorder nationwide, including about 18,500 in the network that serves most of Kentucky and Tennessee along with portions of other states.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, who chairs the Senate veterans committee, said he maintains an open mind on the issue and called the hearing a fact-finding effort.

He also predicted that medical marijuana will eventually become legal in Kentucky even though it faces an “uphill battle” in the legislature.
But “the devil is in the details,” he said. “And I don’t know what the details are.”

USAToday.Com – Edibles potency meeting in Colorado today

Colorado is reviewing how much pot is a reasonable amount to have in edible marijuana products, such as candies, cookies and beverages.

A statewide working group is meeting Wednesday for a fourth and final time before proposed rules on the issue are made public, most likely in the next couple of months, according to Natriece Bryant, spokeswomen for the Colorado Department of Revenue, tasked with marijuana oversight in the state.

Currently, a serving of a pot-infused edible can contain no more than 10 milligrams of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and a product cannot contain more than 10 servings, or a total of 100 milligrams of THC.
However, Colorado marijuana laws do not dictate what constitutes a serving size.

The potency of marijuana edibles gained prominence recently when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about her scary experience after eating a pot candy bar.

Moreover, marijuana edibles have gotten more scrutiny in recent months from state regulators after two deaths in Denver. In April, a woman was shot in the head by her husband while she was on the phone with 911.

The woman had told the dispatcher that her husband was hallucinating and may have consumed a marijuana-infused edible and painkillers.

A month before that, a 19-year-old student fell to his death from a hotel balcony after eating six servings of a pot cookie. It’s unclear the precise role of marijuana in the two deaths.

New Jersey MMJ Program *update* (NJ.Com)

After predictions that New Jersey’s medical marijuana program could serve tens of thousands of patients with severe and painful illnesses, only 2,342 have signed up — a participation rate so small some worry the very future of the program could be at stake.

Lawmakers, some dispensary operators and patients blame the sluggish enrollment on the program’s rigid rules, exorbitant costs for patients and growers, and Gov. Chris Christie’s contention that he does not need to do anything more to enhance participation.

And they say one major roadblock is that so few New Jersey doctors are willing to recommend patients for medical marijuana.

“We have a dysfunctional program, and I think it’s going to take some sort of ‘pot summit’ bringing together patients, doctors and legislators to really make this a success,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), one of the lead sponsors of the law.

“We are hearing more and more anecdotal evidence that dispensaries are not sustaining themselves, the quality (of the marijuana) is not always there, and it’s difficult for doctors and patients to get into the program,” Gusciora said.

The lawmaker said while he has “every faith” in state Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd, “there is so much reticence on the administration’s part, I don’t know how you break that logjam. All they have to do is open their eyes.”

Enrollment in the program has more than doubled in the last year as two of the state’s three medical marijuana dispensaries opened their doors. But it’s nowhere near the 5,000 to 30,000 medical marijuana patients advocates anticipated when the law was passed. Dispensary owners looked at disease statistics in New Jersey and expected at least 50,000 patients. The state’s first dispensary opened in December 2012.

“We thought we would have 10,000 patients by now,” said Yale Galanter, attorney and spokesman for Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge, which has served 1,700 since opening six months ago.

The Compassionate Care Foundation center in Egg Harbor Township, which opened with great fanfare in October after securing a state-backed loan, says it needs 2,000 patients to break even and has served 600. The owners report bagfuls of cannabis are going to waste, and expansion plans are on hold.

Chief operating officer Bill Thomas quit last week, saying he could no longer work without getting paid.

Doctors are ‘key’
“We know the key to this program being viable is getting doctors involved,” he said.

Patients must be referred by a doctor in order to participate. Just 296 of New Jersey’s 21,000 licensed physicians have signed up.

Many doctors don’t want their name on the state’s website, according to Gusciora, and dispensary officials from Woodbridge and Egg Harbor Township. They said doctors who are in the program report that they get calls from people diagnosed with illnesses they don’t treat, as well as others who don’t qualify for the program. As that word spreads, other doctors are wary about joining the program, the officials say.

And given the stigma surrounding marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law, some doctors fear they will lose patients or alienate their practice partners.

“They are not saying (their names) should be a secret,” said David Knowlton, a founder and board member of Compassionate Care Foundation. “But having it on the website implies to patients they can walk in and be seen.”

‘Convenient excuse’
Larry Downs, executive director for the Medical Society of New Jersey, said he found the lack of doctor involvement a “convenient excuse” for the program’s struggles.

“If dispensary owners have overestimated the market, then that is not the concern of the medical field,” Downs said.

“If doctors believe it is a legitimate therapy, being published on a website is not going to stop them,” he added. “A lot of doctors do not believe it is a good therapy and that it does not meet standards of efficacy and safety.”

The slow enrollment rate and struggling dispensaries have had a ripple effect on some patients.

Betty Rand, an 89-year-old homebound stroke patient from Millburn, says medical marijuana eases her pain and muscle spasms, but it would be far easier if she could get it in the form of a lozenge. Smoking makes her cough and adds to her suffering from the host of other illnesses she’s battling.

Dispensaries, however, don’t offer lozenges or any edible product yet. The health department is reviewing manufacturing plans from the Woodbridge dispensary. With lagging enrollment, Egg Harbor officials have said they can’t afford the expense of developing a new product.

Rand describes the program as “a job they’ve half-done and are not finishing right, They are not making an effort, and as long as Christie is there, he is not going to do it.”

Knowlton, a former deputy health commissioner, says he’s far from giving up on the program. He is talking with O’Dowd and program director John O’Brien about changes that could make it more accessible, such as allowing hospice centers and nursing homes to act as couriers for registered patients in their care. People who cannot obtain their own marijuana may identify a caregiver to retrieve it for them, but a caregiver can only serve one patient.

“I recognize that with a program that has this much scrutiny, the state has to move slowly,” Knowlton said. “I think the department is trying to be helpful but cautious. They have to think ‘How could this go bad?’ I am confident this is going to work out. This is just a trying time.”

Full article at NJ.Com 👍

Cannabis conference at Navy Pier this weekend

A group of medical professionals, grassroots criminal justice activists and public officials will gather in Navy Pier this weekend to discuss and debate issues surrounding the use of medical marijuana, officials said.

The Chicago Cannabis Conference will take place Saturday and Sunday and will feature industry experts who will talk about how the drug has benefited patients, where the drug has failed and how regulation plays into health care and access to the plant. Keynote speakers will also conduct workshops on how to cook with the drug and discuss the politics behind making the substance legal.

“This event offers a way for people to learn more about our new medical cannabis law and the changing political landscape,” said Dan Linn, executive director for Illinois NORML, a group that pushes to eliminate penalties for adults that use the drug responsibly. “There is widespread support for medical cannabis and there is growing support for legalizing cannabis entirely. This event helps to legitimize the industry and this movement and remove the stigma from people who support ending the prohibition on this plant.”

Under federal law, marijuana is classified as an illegal and dangerous substance.

The conference comes at a time when Illinois and the city of Chicago is struggling to establish a firm position on the substance , in spite of federal rules. In 2012, the Chicago City Council voted to implement a system of ticketing those caught with small amounts of marijuana and fine them rather than arrest them.

At the time, officials said the new law would free police officers to concentrate on more serious crimes and free the city of the financial burden from incarcerating non-violent users of the drug.

At the same time, there is also a move to establish rules to allow medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers to set up in the city.

The conference, which will occur both on Saturday and Sunday, is hosted by My Compassion, a non-profit group that organizes educational events about the drug, but also promotes its use for medicinal reasons. The event starts at 10 a.m. at 600 E. Grand Avenue.

Las Vegas council agrees to initial medical marijuana rules

By Joe Schoenmann
Wed, Jun 4, 2014

The complexity of regulating medical marijuana tongue-tied Las Vegas lawmakers as they slogged through 27 pages of proposed rules today.

When the City Council finished, this is what they did:

• They approved language in the law’s preamble that correlated medical marijuana dispensaries with “violent crime robberies, burglaries, traffic, noise, drug and gang activity, organized crime and … money laundering and firearms violations.” Lois Tarkanian, Stavros Anthony, Steve Ross and Mayor Carolyn Goodman agreed with that language.

• Limited medical pot dispensaries to the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. An attempt to extend those hours was voted down.

• Agreed to allow medical pot deliveries to the homes of those with Nevada medical marijuana card holders.

• Agreed that medical pot can be obtained in Nevada but outside of Las Vegas if the city’s business licensing chief determines there’s a shortage in Las Vegas.

• Voted to ban misleading, deceptive or false advertising.

• Voted to review medical pot licenses after the two years.

• Voted to lower required surety bonds from $500,000 to $250,000.

City staff said they will be holding public workshops in the next few weeks and that the city will likely begin accepting applications in July.

The council’s votes came two weeks after the council approved zoning rules for dispensaries, production and cultivation facilities. Only 12 dispensaries will be allowed in the city. There are no limits on cultivation or production facilities, but all medical pot businesses must be 1,000 feet from schools, 300 feet from parks and community centers, and 300 feet from places of worship.

Dispensaries will also be allowed on Fremont Street east of 8th Street and on Las Vegas Boulevard.

By state law, 66 medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed in the state, including 40 in Clark County. Of those 40, Las Vegas gets 12, Henderson gets five, North Las Vegas gets four and Mesquite would get one.

Council members stressed that this is all new territory; they aren’t sure how these regulations will work in the long run. If they find it isn’t working, “then we go back,” said Councilman Ross. “If there’s too little or too much enforcement, we go back and change it.”

Other regulations outline annual license fees:

• Permit application fee, nonrefundable: $5,000.

• Cultivation facility: $20,000 for first 5,000 square feet; $10,000 for each additional 5,000 square feet.

• Edible marijuana products facility: $25,000.

• Dispensary: $75,000

• Testing lab: $10,000.

• Not for kids: Products can’t be made or packaged in ways that might attract minors (remember candy cigarettes?). Same goes for advertising.

• Advertising restricted largely to newspapers, magazines or other periodicals, as well as online media. No ads on vehicles, radio, video or via handbills.

• No product use within the facility.

• Round-the-clock surveillance with a live feed available to Metro Police. On-site security is required for cultivation facilities from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

• Tax reports, business plans, resumes, accounting plans and financial histories of each owner, in addition to copies of all contracts for consulting, management and leases required to obtain a special-use permit.

• The city can deny an application if it feels a business is “not in the best interest of the welfare, health or safety of the city.”

Before the votes, several people testified that license fees were so high that many well-intentioned, would-be owners were priced out of the market.

Councilman Bob Beers said many of the fees were set by state lawmakers, and the Legislature was the appropriate body to consider those issues.

The 27-page document finally passed after six hours of discussion.