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medical cannabis

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 24, 2012

    Governor Lincoln Chafee signed legislation into law this week authorizing the creation of state-licensed ‘compassion centers’ to engage in the production and distribution of cannabis for authorized patients. It is the second time since 2009 that state lawmakers have approved legislation allowing for the state regulation of medical marijuana facilities.

    Under the new law, Senate Bill 2555, health regulators will license three not-for-profit entities, known as ‘compassion centers,’ to operate within the state. Compassion centers will not be allowed to cultivate more than 150 cannabis plants on the premises at any one time, only 99 of which may be mature. Centers will also be restricted to possessing no more than 1,500 ounces of usable product at any one time.

    Lawmakers have suggested that the imposed statutory limits will lower the likelihood of federal law enforcement officials interfering with the implementation of the law. At least one other state, New Mexico, imposes similar caps on authorized dispensaries.

    State lawmakers initially enacted legislation allowing for the authorization of ‘compassion centers’ in 2009. However, Gov. Chafee suspended the law in 2011, stating, “[L]arge-scale commercial operations such as Rhode Island’s compassion centers (would) be potential targets of ‘vigorous’ criminal and civil enforcement efforts by the federal government.” Earlier this year, Gov. Chafee agreed to revisit the issue and to work with lawmakers to amend the law so that a limited number of small-scale distribution centers could apply for state licenses.

    In response to the legislature’s actions, US Attorney Peter Neronha has said he will continue to oversee the enforcement federal drug laws. However, he has not specifically said whether ‘compassion centers’ will be targeted.

    Three states – Colorado, Maine, and New Mexico – presently issue licenses to allow for the state-sanctioned production and distribution of cannabis. So far, dispensary facilities in those states have operated largely without federal interference.

    Similar licensing legislation approved in recent years in Arizona, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington, DC has yet to be implemented by local lawmakers.

    In February, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell announced that he was suspending the implementation of a similar licensing program in that state.

    Rhode Island lawmakers legalized the limited use and cultivation of cannabis for therapeutic purposes in 2006. Over 3,000 Rhode Islanders are presently authorized under state law to use cannabis.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 14, 2011

    In recent months, the federal Justice Department has engaged in concerted efforts to crack down on the proliferation of medical cannabis related activities in states that allow for its therapeutic use under state law, including California, Montana, and Washington.

    Now, according to a CBS News report, the next state on the federal government’s ‘hit list’ is Colorado — arguably the state with the most comprehensive and stringent statewide regulations governing medical cannabis activities. These regulations explicitly license state-authorized cannabis dispensaries, of which there are now some 700 operating statewide.

    Nonetheless, the imprimatur of the state apparently carries little if any weight with the Obama administration at this time — despite promises (reiterated before Congress just last week by US Attorney General Eric Holder) that such prosecutions are “not a (federal) priority” and that the Justice Department only intends to target those entities who “use marijuana in a way that’s not consistent with the state statute.”

    Predictably, today’s CBS special report tells a different story.

    Crackdown On Colorado’s Medical Pot Business On The Horizon
    via CBS News Denver

    Federal authorities are planning to crack down on the medical marijuana business in Colorado on a large scale for the first time.

    Warning letters will be going out to dispensaries and grow facilities near schools, CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger has learned. So far it’s not clear how soon that will happen.

    Dispensaries that receive the letters will be given 45 days to shut down or move operations. If they don’t comply, they will be shut down by the U.S. attorney in Colorado.

    The dispensaries who are set to be targeted are the ones that are located within 1,000 feet of schools. That measurement is being used because that distance already appears in federal law as a factor in drug crime sentencing.

    The move comes after the Justice Department sent out a memo clarifying that marijuana has been and remains illegal under federal law despite what has taken place with state regulations. Colorado is one of 16 states where medical marijuana laws have been approved.

    Many of the state’s dispensaries that are closer than 1,000 feet to a school have already been approved to be there under local laws. They usually have been grandfathered in.

    … Robert Corry, an attorney who represents dispensaries, said medical marijuana operations are now strictly regulated under Colorado state laws.

    “The federal apparatus here has better things to do,” said Corry. “My reaction would be the federal government is essentially declaring war on the voters of our state (who) passed a Constitutional amendment.”

    U.S. attorneys in California recently announced in a separate medical marijuana crackdown that they would be targeting landlords who rent retail space to dispensaries, as well as dispensary owners themselves.

    Does anyone really believe that this is an appropriate use of scarce federal resources? Or that these actions are in any way consistent with Obama’s public pledge to cease utilizing “Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws on this issue?” I didn’t think so.

    If the federal government is truly concerned about the diversion of
    medical marijuana or its potential abuse in states that have authorized it then it would be better served to encourage — rather than to discourage — statewide and local efforts to regulate these actions accordingly. The Obama administration’s enforcement actions in California, Colorado, and elsewhere will only result in limiting adults’ regulated, safe access to cannabis therapy. It will also cost local jobs and needed tax revenue, and likely result in hundreds — if not thousands — of unnecessary criminal prosecutions.

    Legislating medical marijuana operations and prosecuting those who act in a manner that is inconsistent with state law and voters’ sentiment should be a responsibility left to the state and local officials, not the federal government. It is time for this administration to fulfill the assurances it gave to the medical cannabis community and to respect the decisions of voters and lawmakers in states that recognize its therapeutic efficacy.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 28, 2011

    “In the words of John Adams, ‘facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.'”

    So began the ironically titled op/ed, “Facts on medical marijuana are stubborn things, too,” by Joseph Summerill — general counsel for the Major County Sheriffs’ Association — which appeared in print in the Washington Examiner newspaper on Sunday.

    Yet as far as ‘facts’ were concerned, Summerill’s propaganda piece was altogether devoid of them.

    My colleague Russ Belville properly eviscerated Summerill’s tripe on the NORML blog here. My own rebuttal appears today in the Examiner here.

    Medical marijuana reduces pain

    Re: “Facts on medical marijuana are stubborn things, too,” Oct. 24

    Author Joseph Summerill is correct to assert that “facts … are stubborn things.” So stubborn, in fact, that he chooses to ignore them completely.

    Summerill alleges, “The undisputable facts, however, are that there are no sound scientific data supporting the medical value of marijuana.” The website PubMed Central, the U.S. government repository for peer-reviewed scientific research, disagrees. In fact, a simple word search on PubMed using the keyword “marijuana” reveals more than 2,100 published papers in peer-reviewed journals just this year alone.

    Of course, not every one of these papers pertain to the substance’s therapeutic potential. But many do.

    For example, the results of a series of randomized, placebo-controlled Food and Drug Administration-approved clinical trials performed by regional branches of the University of California demonstrated that inhaled cannabis holds therapeutic value that is comparable to or better than conventional medications, particularly in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and neuropathic pain. These findings were publicly presented to the California legislature, and also appear online here: http://www.cmcr.ucsd.edu/images/pdfs/CMCR_REPORT_FEB17.pdf. Further, the UC findings paralleled those previously reported by no less than the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health, which declared, “Results of short term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.”

    Those are the facts, Mr. Summerill. It’s time to stop denying them.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 26, 2011

    US News & World Report‘s ‘Debate Club’ is hosting an online forum right now regarding the question: “Should federal authorities be able to close medical marijuana dispensaries in California?”

    The forum includes rational commentaries from various drug policy reformers, including myself and MPP‘s Morgan Fox. Predictably, the debate also features several irrational essays from professional drug warriors such as Kevin Sabet, Peter Bensinger, and John Redman — who make claims like “We have seen that dispensaries have increased drug use and crime, and they are linked to numerous robberies, muggings, and murders” and “Marijuana, with 468 different chemicals and more cancer-causing agents and tar than tobacco cigarettes, is also a dangerous highway and workplace hazard.”

    Fortunately, visitors can not only respond to these allegations on the US News & World Report website here, but they can also vote ‘down’ the commentaries that they disagree with. (Not surprisingly, the present point total of the Sabet/Bensinger/Redman essays is a combined total of -1031.) Conversely, ‘Debate Club’ visitors can vote ‘up’ the viewpoints they support.

    To join the debate, click here.

    An excerpt of my commentary appears below.

    Obama Should Keep Promise on Medical Marijuana

    As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama stated, “The basic concept of using medical marijuana … [is] entirely appropriate,” and pledged, “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws on this issue.”

    As president, Obama promised, “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide [the] decisions of my administration.”

    Yet recent actions of the administration belie these assurances.

    … If the federal government is truly concerned about the diversion of medical marijuana or its potential abuse in California then it would be better served to encourage–rather than to discourage–local and statewide efforts to regulate this industry accordingly. The Obama administration’s proposed actions in California will only result in limiting patients’ regulated, safe access to medicine. It will also cost California jobs and needed tax revenue.

    Legislating medical marijuana operations and prosecuting those who act in a manner that is inconsistent with California law and voters’ sentiment should be a responsibility left to the state, not the federal government. It is time for this administration to fulfill the assurances it gave to the medical cannabis community and to respect the decisions of voters and lawmakers in states that recognize its therapeutic efficacy.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 14, 2011

    The First Amendment is the latest casualty of the Obama Administration’s stepped up war on cannabis.

    On Wednesday, the US Attorney for the southern district of California, Laura Duffy, announced her intent to target media outlets — in particular alt-weeklies like the San Diego Reader and the San Francisco Bay Guardian — that accept advertising dollars from medical cannabis operations.

    Feds to target newspaper, radio marijuana ads

    via California Watch

    U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy, whose district includes Imperial and San Diego counties, said marijuana advertising is the next area she’s “going to be moving onto as part of the enforcement efforts in Southern California.” Duffy said she could not speak for the three other U.S. attorneys covering the state but noted their efforts have been coordinated so far.

    “I’m not just seeing print advertising,” Duffy said in an interview with California Watch and KQED. “I’m actually hearing radio and seeing TV advertising. It’s gone mainstream. Not only is it inappropriate – one has to wonder what kind of message we’re sending to our children – it’s against the law.

    … Duffy said she believes the law gives her the right to prosecute newspaper publishers or TV station owners.

    “If I own a newspaper … or I own a TV station, and I’m going to take in your money to place these ads, I’m the person who is placing these ads,” Duffy said. “I am willing to read (the law) expansively and if a court wants to more narrowly define it, that would be up to the court.”

    Whether or not Duffy’s unconventional interpretation of federal law has any legal merit is, of course, beside the point. Her intent is to create a climate of fear that is so pervasive that media outlets ‘willingly’ cease accepting advertising revenue from dispensaries and other like-minded business.

    Such threats are nothing new for the federal government, which in recent months has successfully utilized similar tactics to coerce state and local banks to drop their accounts with state-sanctioned marijuana-related businesses and to intimidate landlords who rent their properties to tenants involved in medical cannabis facilities.

    Yet despite the government’s heavy-handed behavior, California bureaucrats have remained largely — and disappointingly — silent regarding the Justice Department’s intimidatory tactics. That is why it is more important than ever that you send the Obama Administration a clear and consistent message here.

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