Monday, September 24, 2018

Carter Stevens

Carter is a staff writer for Green Scene Marketing. He is a freelance writer and attorney who lives in Minnesota. He has lived in seven states, including New York and California. Carter writes about marijuana, politics, and legal issues. His favorite strain is Blue Dream.

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Arizona

More Medical Marijuana Dispensaries for Arizona

While attention is directed elsewhere, on states like New Hampshire and Illinois that have just legalized medical marijuana, patient access has been quietly advancing across one of the most conservative states to allow it. Medical marijuana dispensaries have been popping up across Arizona in recent months as the state’s medicinal pot law finally settles in. From border towns to the Phoenix suburbs, medical marijuana dispensaries have opened in small communities and big cities alike.

Arizona voters approved proposition 203 in 2010, legalizing medical marijuana in the state by just a few thousand votes. Under the law, a patient with a “debilitating medical condition” may possess up to 2.5 ounces of weed every two weeks by doctor’s recommendation.

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Arizona
Arizona is adding more medical marijuana clinics – allowing easier patient access.

The state has limited the total number of medical marijuana dispensaries to 10 percent of the number of pharmacies in the state and began handing out licenses last year. The first dispensary opened in Glendale, outside Phoenix, in December 2012.

The law approved by voters lets patients buy their pot from retail shops regulated by the state or grow it on their own. A number of growers have also hosted unofficial cannabis clubs, where patients pay membership fees and receive “free” medicine once they enter.

Though no one has declared these clubs illegal, several of them have been raided. And it’s not clear whether they’ll last now that full retail dispensaries are in the game.

Most of the pot shops that have opened so far are in or around Phoenix. New shops have recently opened in Tempe, Glendale and Deer Valley. But others are now operating around Tuscon, in Bisbee near the Mexican border and in Sedona, among other locations.

The newest dispensary to open shop is in Payson, a small community surrounded by Tonto National Forest about 80 miles north of Phoenix. Uncle Herbs dispensary was officially in business as of Aug. 3, after three years of planning.

“To us it seems surreal to finally open our doors,” said Tiffany Young of Uncle Herbs. “The intensity of this project has encompassed every moment of your time, resources and talent.”

The road hasn’t been easy for dispensaries. Though the medical marijuana law passed, the margin was narrow, and it doesn’t have the support of many in Arizona.

When the state held a lottery last year to determine who would get the limited number of available licenses, officials set a deadline for applicants: They must obtain their state registration certificates within one year of the drawing or they would lose any chance to reapply for a license at the location they sought.

By the time the deadline approached, only about 70 of 98 lottery winners had succeeded as of July 21. The rest were still caught up in zoning processes, landlord disagreements or other paperwork problems that made it impossible to comply with the deadline.

The tardy applicants were forced to sue the state, and they won. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled on July 29 that the state couldn’t deny the applications based on failure to meet the deadline.

That paves the way for even more dispensaries to open. With about 30 licenses unused, there are still a large number of shops in the planning stages. And Arizona will continue to open the door for medical marijuana patients.

Traffic Stop

Questionable Methods for Screening Pot Users in OK

Oklahoma’s new driving-under-the-influence law has pot users and marijuana advocates scratching their heads, opposed but unsure whether it might carry good news as well as bad.

Gov. Mary Fallin recently signed House Bill 1441, a law that deals with routine traffic violations. Most of its provisions apply to cases of drunk driving and DUI license revocations.

Pot DUI Checkpoint
Oklahoma is utilizing a checkpoint for pot that may used flawed methods.

But an amendment tucked into the bill has some weed proponents angry. It provides that any driver who tests positive for a Schedule 1 drug or one of its metabolites within two hours of arrest is guilty of impaired driving. Marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug under both federal and Oklahoma law.

By passing the bill, Oklahoma becomes the 11th state to institute so-called “strict liability per se” screening of drivers for marijuana. This means those who test positive for any amount of THC or THC metabolites are “per se” or de facto guilty of drugged driving.

Drivers who fail a drug test face misdemeanor charges and up to a year in jail, plus a fine of up to $1,000. Refusing to take the test can lead to a license revocation of 180 days.

Oklahoma already prohibits driving under the influence of pot, as it does with alcohol. But before this law, the state could only prosecute drivers when it could prove marijuana actually impaired their driving.

The new law will allow prosecutors to establish drugged driving based on the levels of drug metabolites in the body. The per se approach to impaired driving is already used with alcohol, in the form of the Breathalyzer. The difference is there is no floor for marijuana – any amount will trigger criminal charges.

The big problem with Oklahoma’s testing method, according to NORML and other pro-pot policy experts, is that it’s inaccurate and can snare people who haven’t been high for hours or even days. While THC itself passes through the body in a matter of hours, it leaves behind carboxy-THC metabolites, which can linger in the bodily fluids of a regular user for weeks or even months after the last use.

Even occasional users can turn up positive results on a metabolite test long after they last smoked. NORML blasted Oklahoma politicians for their reliance on the per se approach.

“Residual, low levels of THC may remain present in the blood of occasional consumers for several hours after past use and for several days in habitual consumers – long after any behavior-inducing effects of the substance has worn off.” –National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Website

“Under such internal possession statutes, known as zero tolerance per se laws, a motorist who tests positive for the presence of such compounds is guilty per se (in fact) of a criminal traffic safety violation,” the group wrote, “regardless of whether or not there exist supporting evidence that the defendant was behaviorally impaired by such compounds.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Mike Turner, said the state only planned to test for “active” metabolites, a point that NORML disputed.

But if Miller’s point were true, it would create a small measure of decriminalization in Oklahoma, giving pot advocates something to cheer. Drivers stopped on suspicion of impairment who test positive only for past marijuana use would not be subject to arrest.

Still, NORML suggests that even if the law is limited to active metabolites, it can lead to penalties against drivers who aren’t high.

“Residual, low levels of THC may remain present in the blood of occasional consumers for several hours after past use and for several days in habitual consumers – long after any behavior-inducing effects of the substance has worn off,” NORML said on its site.


Marijuana Advocates Pushing Hard

Marijuana advocates are looking to decriminalize Michigan, one city at a time.

Weed possession in Michigan is currently a misdemeanor, as it is in most of the country. Offenders are subject to arrest, a fine of up to $1,000, and up to a year in jail, plus a permanent criminal record that can make it hard to rent, borrow money and find a job.

Such strict penalties for a common, minor, non-violent offense lead to unnecessary incarceration and are partly racial; African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at much higher rates than Caucasians. Fifteen states have decriminalized pot to respond to these problems.

Michigan has approved medical marijuana under very limited circumstances, but there are no statewide proposals for decriminalization on the table. Instead, proponents are tackling the issue city by city.

Push to Decriminalize Michigan
Marijuana Advocates are pushing hard to decriminalize Michigan.

Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Detroit and Flint, Michigan, have all enacted ordinances decriminalizing pot. These laws make simple possession a civil infraction punishable by a small fine rather than a criminal offense. The city of Ypsilanti has enacted an ordinance instructing its police department to treat marijuana possession as its lowest priority.

These laws don’t make weed any less illegal in Michigan; state law always trumps municipal ordinance. But police are generally less likely to enforce a law when citizens have openly renounced it at the polls.

Now supporters of decriminalization are turning to two new towns, Ferndale and Jackson. Voters there will have a chance to decide this November whether they want their police to treat marijuana busts more like traffic tickets than criminal arrests. A similar petition is in the works in Lansing.

The Coalition for a Safer Michigan, a pro-marijuana group, is in charge of the petition drive. Tim Beck, the organization’s chairman, said they had enough signatures in both Ferndale and Jackson and nearly enough in Lansing.

“There is no doubt that we have enough signatures,” Beck said. “We have pre-verified every one of them. And our surveys show this is going to pass.”

The Ferndale petition had about 600 signatures but only needed 364. In Jackson, where 354 signatures were required, supporters gathered more than 550. If the petitions are approved by their respective city councils, they will appear on the November ballot.

In Lansing, supporters had more than 4,000 signatures at the end of July and needed another 200 by Aug. 6. Beck said his group hopes to turn victory in all three cities on election day into a tidal wave that will convince state legislators to change Michigan marijuana law.

MMJ in Washington D.C.

Legalization Battle in D.C. Appears to be Over

Patients who need medical marijuana can finally get their prescriptions filled in Washington, DC. The first medicinal weed went on sale in the nation’s capital July 29.

It was the first legal pot sale in the District in at least 75 years, and it marked the end of a legalization fight that dates to the 1990s. A man the paper identified as Alonzo, the first legal pot patient in the city, bought half an ounce from the Capital City Care dispensary in Northwest Washington.

The city’s voters first approved medical marijuana in 1998, following a push by HIV/AIDS activists to put it on the ballot. The measure passed with 70 percent support. But Congress, which controls the District’s local government, blocked the initiative for years. They stopped interfering in 2009.

Washington officials have been slowly enacting the program since then. They have taken pains to apply strict regulations on growers, sellers and patients. Only those with specific severe illnesses can qualify for legal pot, for example.

District officials want to avoid further clamp-downs by Congress or the White House. The Department of Justice and the FBI are within walking distance of at least one dispensary, and the Obama administration has yet to signal how it will respond to legalized medical marijuana in its own backyard.

Medical marijuana in the capital is available only to patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma or similar conditions, and patients receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy. They must obtain doctors’ recommendations and complete paperwork with the state before they can buy.

Patients may get pot only from licensed, regulated dispensaries, of which three are currently planning to offer pot. Capital City Care was the first to get its license. Patients are limited to two ounces of dried marijuana or its equivalent in any other form of pot.

So far, according to the Post, less than a dozen patients have obtained medical marijuana cards. The city has received requests from about 20 doctors for forms allowing them to make marijuana recommendations.

Washington DC
The Medical Marijuana Selection in Washington DC is limited. Te only dispensary open to date offers just four strains, at prices averaging about $400 an ounce


The selection as of yet is limited. Capital City Care, the only dispensary open to date, offers just four strains, at prices averaging about $400 an ounce. They include Blue Dream, Master Kush and Jack Herer, according to the Post. The variety should increase once more dispensaries open.

It remains to be seen what the federal government will do. But Congress has given up a decade-long fight to keep legal pot out of the District and the Obama administration has yet to take any steps to shut the program down.

And now patients have begun buying their weed, adding the District to a long and growing list of jurisdictions in the United States where pot is either decriminalized, legal for medical purposes, or outright legal.


Cities Banning Legal Marijuana Shops in Colorado

Colorado’s second-largest city has joined an ever-growing list of localities in Colorado banning weed shops even before legal pot gets off the ground. The Colorado Springs City Council voted 5-4 on July 23 to deny all applications for retail marijuana businesses.

That makes it one of more than 50 cities and counties in Colorado that have voted to prohibit pot shops despite their legality under state law. Already the recreational market in Colorado resembles the state’s medical market, a geographic patchwork of regulations where just a few liberal holdouts allow retail sales.

Indeed, as of now, only one large city in Colorado is expected to start accepting applications for pot stores later this year: Denver. Four of the top 10 cities in the state have moratoriums in place that will expire early next year: Aurora, Lakewood, Arvada and Pueblo. Those cities could also accept applications, but it’s not clear whether they will.

In all, about 20 cities and counties in the state are expected to accept applications. At least 56 other municipalities have voted to ban marijuana businesses. Most of those votes have come in recent weeks.

Many of the towns and counties that have banned retail pot are small, in rural areas. But some of the biggest cities in the state, including Greeley and Colorado Springs, have also enacted bans.

There are moratoriums in place in another 24 municipalities. That doesn’t mean those cities won’t ultimately allow marijuana shops, but it does mean license applicants won’t be able to open shop by Jan. 1, the opening date scheduled for other pot businesses.

Colorado was one of two states whose voters legalized the recreational use of marijuana in the November election. The other was Washington. Officials in both states are currently ironing out the details of their programs so sales can begin next year.

Colorado Legal Marijuana off to Rough Start
Despite Colorado legal marijuana laws, some cities are banning dispensaries from selling it.

Amendment 64, the law brought about legal marijuana in Colorado, was designed to spread retail shops across the state based on local population. But the amendment also included a provision allowing cities and counties to ban pot stores.

Most of the localities that have prohibited recreational shops also ban medical dispensaries. Colorado Springs, which has more dispensaries than any Colorado city except Denver, may be the only exception.

Retail pot will be allowed mainly in two parts of the state: the Denver area and some of Colorado’s resort communities, including Steamboat Springs and Telluride. The same is already true of the medical marijuana market.

Pot shop bans pose a unique set of challenges for the localities that do allow retail stores. On the one hand, Denver and other open-minded cities will have to police an increased marijuana business. On the other, they’ll gain the tax revenue that goes with that extra business.

The communities that ban weed stores, meanwhile, lose that tax money.

NASCAR Marijuana Ad Pulled

Marijuana Policy Project Advertisement

A much-hyped attempt to advertise the benefits of marijuana to NASCAR fans fell flat this week, in part because the broadcaster pulled it under political pressure and in part because it was never quite what the popular media made it out to be.

The fuss was focused on a video ad produced by the Marijuana Policy Project, the largest marijuana-oriented policy group in the United States. The 30-second spot was slated to run 72 times on a video billboard outside the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 27.

In fact it did, for most of the first day of the three-day event. Then the broadcaster, Grazie Media of Ontario, Canada, yanked the ad, supposedly after being informed it involved marijuana. The decision came after a day’s worth of angry coverage of the NASCAR marijuana ad.

The spot compares weed to beer and suggests alcohol is more damaging than marijuana. Pot, the ad notes, has “no calories, no hangovers” and is “not linked to violence or reckless behavior.” “Less harmful than alcohol and time to treat it that way,” the ad declares. No one is shown smoking or using pot.

The NASCAR Marijuana Ad:

Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert said the ad cost his group $2,200.

“I certainly hope we get our $2,200 back,” Tvert said. “We think it’s rather hypocritical for these folks to pull an ad highlighting the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol, yet welcome with open arms the copious amount of alcohol use taking place on the premises.”

An unnamed spokesman for Grazie Media told the newspaper his firm didn’t support “marijuana at family events” and “didn’t expect this ad to be interpreted the way it did. We don’t want anything to do with it anymore.”

Controversy over the ad got nationwide play as a news curiosity on the day before the race started and the ad was slated to air. Most commentators gave the impression the video board loomed over the entrance gate to the Speedway at 16th Street, where thousands of fans pass through.

Tvert and the Marijuana Policy Project may be partly to blame for this, as a news release from the group suggested the ad would be shown on a Jumbotron at the main entrance. In fact it was shown on a portable video board propped on top of a trailer next to food vendors. The space was leased from the American Legion.

According to USA Today, the ad was hard to hear and few seemed to notice it. It only aired part of the day, and never aired on race day, the most crowded day.

The purpose of the ad, of course, was attention, and the Marijuana Policy Project got that in spades. But by hyping the supposed animosity between marijuana “hippies” and NASCAR “rednecks,” the media badly missed the ball.


Minnesota Considering Medical Marijuana Legislation

The Minnesota Legislature is considering a bill that would let doctors prescribe weed to patients with severe conditions. The law has a good chance of passing both houses, which are dominated by Democrats who cleared out a conservative Republican majority in November.

But its ultimate future is far from certain, as Gov. Mark Dayton, also a Democrat, has said he is unlikely to sign any proposal that doesn’t have the fully support of law enforcement – an unlikely outcome. Police groups in the state generally oppose any plan that would make marijuana legal.

And there is a split among supporters of legalization, too. Some, particularly within the governing Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (the local equivalent of the Democrats) want to loosen the reins only on medical pot for a strictly limited portion of the patient population.

Others, especially those within the Independence Party, a third party with strong support in the state, want to push for full legalization. They have the support of marijuana advocates in Minnesota, including the local branch of NORML.

Pushing for Legalization in Minnesota

Medical Marijuana in Minnesota
Minnesota law makers are considering medical marijuana legislation.

“Our organization specifically is in favor of full legalization,” said Kurtis Hanna, former executive director of NORML in Minnesota “It’s not pushing for medical marijuana to be legalized. However, we aren’t against medical marijuana. We definitely would like to see it passed. However, we don’t see it as the solution to the problem, the full solution.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing), said she thinks talk about recreational pot is getting in the way of medical needs. “The conversation about the full legalization of marijuana really distracts from the message of the importance of medical marijuana,” she said.

Melin’s bill is currently before the Minnesota House. Similar legislation is being considered by the state Senate. This is not the first time the state Legislature has considered medical marijuana, and it may not be the last. Even if the bill passes both houses, Dayton is likely to veto it.

The governor said late last year he wouldn’t sign any marijuana legislation that law enforcement groups oppose. Most police and prosecutors groups in the state take the position that marijuana is a dangerous “gateway” drug that shouldn’t be legalized under any circumstances.

This includes the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, a prosecutors’ group that has vowed to vigorously oppose any medical marijuana law.

Without the support of police and prosecutors the law is almost certain to fail. But it does signal that Minnesota lawmakers are taking medical marijuana more seriously, and that they’re willing to fight their governor to make it legal.

DEA Raids Washington Dispensaries

Obama Administration Attacking Legal Pot Laws

The DEA set what could be a troubling precedent on July 24, raiding several medical marijuana dispensaries in the Puget Sound area, even though new laws make it legal to sell and possess pot at Washington dispensaries.

It’s unclear exactly what the raids portend for the treatment of Washington’s legal pot industry by the Obama administration. Reportedly they capped a two-year investigation into money-laundering and pot sales to unlicensed buyers.

Under those circumstances, the raided dispensary operators would fall outside Washington’s recreational pot law, which only allows marijuana sales in licensed retail shops. But the raids suggest a potential policy of federal harassment once recreational pot shops open.

The Obama administration has been ambiguous, at best, over how it will respond to the legalizing of pot in Washington and Colorado, both of whose voters took that step in November. Attorney General Eric Holder has promised to lay out the federal government’s policy toward these two states, but months have passed with no explanation and continued raids, especially on the West Coast.

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, so the laws enacted by Washington and Colorado voters are in conflict with those enforced by the federal government.

Washington Dispensaries Targeted

The raids on July 24 targeted at least three dispensaries in King, Pierce and Thurston counties, respectively: Seattle Cross, Tacoma Cross and Bayside Collective, Dennis Hiatt, a defense attorney, told KING-TV in Seattle. Bayside is located in Olympia, the state capital.

DEA Raids Washington Dispensaries
DEA raids Washington dispensaries; Obama administration continues to go against their word.

At least one other shop was raided, Hiatt said, and as many as 18 more raids were expected. Federal agents raided the shops with guns drawn and seized business records and pot intended for patients, including $2,500 worth of marijuana at one clinic meant for cancer patients.

Casey Lee, who works at one of the raided Washington dispensaries, told KING-TV an agent told him, “Things are going to be hell for you.” When asked why he kept working at the store after an earlier raid and three robberies, he replied that he did it to help patients.

“He told us that he wasn’t expecting that answer,” Lee said. Washington is still in the process of finalizing the rules that will govern weed shops once they open early next year. Customers will be limited to possession of one ounce of marijuana and pot must be sold in retail stores licensed by the state.

Since no such stores have opened yet, it’s impossible to know how federal law enforcement will treat them. But the aggressive prosecution of medical dispensaries up and down the West Coast is not an encouraging sign.