By a narrow margin, Arizona voters have given their OK to legalized medical marijuana for people with chronic or debilitating diseases. The decision makes Arizona the 15th state to approve a medical marijuana law. California was the first in 1996, and 13 other states and Washington, D.C., have followed suit.
A proposed ballot initiative aimed for the November elections begs a key question looming over California's medical marijuana industry: Can stricter state regulation keep the federal government from shutting it down? Dispensaries, medical marijuana growers and a powerful union local are rallying behind an initiative that would regulate California's $1.5 billion pot trade.
A U.S. magistrate judge on Thursday sided with federal prosecutors in dismissing a lawsuit by the city of Oakland that challenged as illegal federal attempts to shutter the nation's largest medical marijuana dispensary. In filing the suit last October, Oakland became the first city to take on federal enforcement actions that have led to the closure of hundreds of dispensaries in recent years.
Recently, the California Medical Association, representing more than 35,000 physicians, the largest statewide physician organization in America, boldly decided to adopt a different, more pragmatic approach to the polarizing issue of marijuana decriminalization. The decision – the result of a carefully considered process, painstakingly researched and debated for more than one year – is centered on one concern above all others: patient safety.
Last week's request by Govs. Chris Gregoire and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee to have the federal government reclassify marijuana as medicine--which at first glance looked like unalloyed good news for those who support safe access for patients--is actually a double-edged sword.
President Barack Obama says he won't go after pot users in Colorado and Washington, two states that just legalized the drug for recreational use. But advocates argue the president said the same thing about medical marijuana - and yet U.S. attorneys continue to force the closure of dispensaries across the U.S. Welcome to the confusing and often conflicting policy on pot, where medical marijuana is legal in many states, but it is increasingly difficult to grow, distribute or sell it.
Four California-based U.S. attorneys have announced their intent to prosecute the medical-marijuana dispensaries, growers and delivery services that are breaking state and federal laws. What constitutes violations of law, however, is murky — and may put the very existence of the dispensaries at risk. "California law says that it's essentially O.K. to grow, have and transport marijuana if you're a patient authorized by a doctor or if you're the patient's primary caregiver and if you're providing the marijuana not for profit," a spokesman for the U.S. attorney says. "Stores are violating California law because they're operating at a profit and they're not a primary caregiver. It's very clearly laid out."
Colorado has become the third state to ask the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana in a way that allows doctors to prescribe it as a medical treatment. The state asked the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana from Schedule 1, a category that includes heroin, to Schedule 2. The change would allow doctors to prescribe pot and pharmacies to fill marijuana prescriptions. The governors of Rhode Island and Washington have made similar requests.
Colorado's top federal prosecutor has ordered 25 medical marijuana shops located near schools to close in an escalating pot clampdown, as the state gears up for a battle at the ballot box over broader recreational use of the drug. Attorney John Walsh warned owners of the centers in letters that they have 45 days to shut down or "action will be taken to seize and forfeit their property," his office said.
In a primary election race for Oregon's top law enforcement post, the candidate who pledged to protect medical marijuana patients scored a decisive victory over a rival who led a cannabis crackdown last year. Retired judge Ellen Rosenblum, strongly backed by proponents of liberalized marijuana laws, captured 63 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary for state attorney general. Because no Republicans sought their party's nomination for attorney general, the Democratic primary victor, Rosenblum, becomes the presumptive winner in November's general election, making her the first woman to claim that office.
Medical marijuana advocates have a message for Democratic leaders and federal prosecutors with an eye on political office: Don't mess with pot. Pushing back against a federal effort to stem the proliferation of medical marijuana operations, one of the nation's largest drug policy groups claimed credit for the defeat of a former federal prosecutor who was the early favorite to win the Democratic primary for Oregon attorney general.
A day after federal prosecutors moved to shutter the country's largest medical marijuana dispensary, city leaders and other officials came to the defense of Harborside Health Center, warning of dire economic and social consequences if Oakland's carefully regulated industry is quashed. "We cannot afford the money, we cannot afford the waste of law enforcement resources, and we cannot afford the loss of jobs that this would entail," City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said.
When people go to the polls two weeks from now they won't just be voting for candidates, in some states, they'll be passing judgment on social issues. In Oregon, Washington and the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado it's the legalization of marijuana. Part of this has to do with cash-starved governments looking for new things to tax for more revenue. But much of it has to do with the growing acceptance or at least tolerance for a drug that was once considered the devil's weed and a flashpoint for cultural and generational warfare.
A showdown over the fate of the country's largest medical marijuana dispensary heads to federal court, and the outcome could hint at what lies ahead as a growing number of states opt for legalization. This fall, Oakland became the first municipality to sue federal prosecutors in an attempt to block them from shuttering a medical cannabis facility.
In the last few months, officials in New Jersey, as well as several other states, have said that mixed signals from the Obama administration have left them unsure whether their medical marijuana programs could draw federal prosecution of the people involved, including state employees.
In the absence of government regulation, the local medical-marijuana industry increasingly is trying to professionalize the industry with such self-policing measures as "best practices" manuals, quality-control testing laboratories and training classes. After legal and political hiccups this spring and summer, the state's medical-marijuana industry is emerging reinvigorated, growing and almost entirely based in Seattle.
The largest study of its kind has unexpectedly concluded that smoking marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer. The new findings "were against our expectations," said Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles, a pulmonologist who has studied marijuana for 30 years. Marijuana also contains the chemical THC, which he said may kill aging cells and keep them from becoming cancerous.
In the summer of 2010, after legislators passed a law legitimizing dispensaries, there were 1,117 medical-marijuana businesses in Colorado. By the end of that year, as a "green rush" of cannabis entrepreneurs reached its apex, the total ticked up to 1,131. Today, there are 675. In terms of sheer numbers, Colorado's medical-marijuana industry has shrunk by more than 40 percent.
The sequential strategy will look familiar to Coloradans: first, pass a medical-marijuana law; then put dispensaries in place; then go for recreational legalization. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is pushing medical-marijuana laws in New York, Illinois and New Hampshire, along with contemplating a ballot initiative in Idaho. The true test for marijuana activists will come in 2016, the next presidential election year. That is when MPP hopes to run legalization initiatives in California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Maine.
Colorado's under-construction plan for regulating recreational marijuana nearly came unglued when lawmakers questioned whether the agency that would enforce the rules is up to the task. The plan called for the state's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division — which regulates medical-marijuana businesses — to transition to the Marijuana Enforcement Division and be in charge of all pot enterprises in the state. But a scathing audit cast doubt on the division's fitness for handling the massive job.