NEWS: Clearing away the pot stores, one raid at a time

Responding to citizen complaints, a plainclothes team of narcotics officers makes Eagle Rock a focal point.

As dusk settled on busy Colorado Boulevard, a squad of minivans and SUVs pulled to the curb outside a drab stucco rental that houses one of Eagle Rock’s medical marijuana dispensaries.

Plainclothes narcotics officers fanned out. One disarmed a startled security guard, another covered the door through the sights of a rifle and a third phoned the shop to announce the raid. A second guard, three employees and a dozen grim-faced customers filed out, hands in the air.

By the end of the operation, the officers had arrested the Colorado Collective’s owner and an employee and hauled away 40 pounds of marijuana and $17,000 in cash in large evidence bags.

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The raid was the fourth by a new Los Angeles Police Department team that is spearheading an aggressive push to shut down dispensaries that are illegal under a city ordinance that took effect four weeks ago.

“This is a high priority for the City Council and a high priority for the city attorney, so it’s a high priority for us,” said Capt. Kevin McCarthy, head of the Gang and Narcotics Division.

The ordinance allowed dispensaries that registered with the city in 2007, when it adopted a moratorium on new pot shops, to remain open. The rest, which opened in defiance of that ban, had to close by June 7. City officials say there were more than 400 illegal dispensaries, but they think most have since closed.

Asha Greenberg, an assistant city attorney who is overseeing the enforcement efforts, said she believes that as few as 20 to 30 illegal stores may still be defying the ordinance. “It’s also somewhat of a moving target,” she said, “because we hear of places open up and then close, we hear about places that have cut down on their hours and some places that have now turned into delivery services, so it runs the gamut of these places trying to get around the ordinance.”

In Eagle Rock, which emerged as the epicenter of the neighborhood activism against the pot-shop explosion, most of the unauthorized outlets that once ringed the area appear to have closed.

On Colorado Boulevard, the shades were drawn at ABC Caregivers and only the outline of the letters CNC remained on the glass door at CN Collective on West Broadway. The building on York Boulevard that had been Northeast Collective was being refurbished by a hypnotist who plans to open a clinic.

Several dispensaries, among scores that have sued the city to challenge the ordinance, hope to win a court order that will allow them to reopen. At the House of Kush on Colorado Boulevard, a printed sign said: “We are closed until further notice. Sorry for the inconvenience.” Organic Healing Center, also on Colorado, posted a hand-written note: “We are doing our best and fighting hard to get safe access back for you.”

At the Hummingbird Collective on York Boulevard in neighboring Highland Park, Marty Romero, one of the operators, watched as equipment was carted out and loaded into a U-Haul. The store, part art gallery, part hippie hangout, was filled with paintings, books and overstuffed furniture. A Buddha sat serenely near a glass door with the word “kindness” hand-painted on it. “We just took off ‘love,’ ‘peace’ and everything else, but it still says ‘kindness,’ ” Romero said. “The vibration was incredible.”

Under the ordinance, the city could seek court orders to close dispensaries and impose civil fines, but that is costly, ponderous and often ineffective. Instead, the city attorney’s office settled on the bluntest approach: criminal prosecutions that allow police to confiscate cash and pot and leave dispensary operators facing up to six months in jail on misdemeanor charges.

The tactic has dismayed medical marijuana advocates. “It seems ridiculous. These are peaceful people. It seems to me that there’s still reefer madness,” said Dege Coutee, who runs the Patient Advocacy Network. “It doesn’t make any sense to just steal the cash and the herb.”

To coordinate the raids, LAPD officials have assembled a team of eight narcotics officers. The team conducted three busts before the one at Colorado Collective, making a half-dozen arrests, seizing $7,265 in cash and 43 pounds of marijuana at Kush Korner II in Wilmington, Nirvana Pharmacy in Westwood and Kind for Cures in a former Kentucky Fried Chicken store in Palms.

The city is primarily targeting dispensaries fingered by residents who have been e-mailing between five and 10 complaints a day to “They are our best source because they are frequently in the neighborhood,” Greenberg said. “Some of these places, if the LAPD drives up in a marked car, they will close the door and pretend to be closed.”

The afternoon before the raid at Colorado Collective, two undercover officers walked into the dispensary posing as prospective clients. They filled out the required paperwork and were allowed to enter an inner room where the shelves of a long glass cabinet were lined with two dozen jars filled with pungent buds. The officers bought about $30 worth of pot and, because it was their first purchase, the “budtender” threw in a free joint.

Within a few hours, the officers had obtained a search warrant from a judge and convened with the rest of the task force. After a quick briefing, the officers strapped on bullet-protective vests and helmets and drove to the dispensary.

Inside, they moved from room to room, finding refrigerators and cupboards full of marijuana in jars, and tried to persuade Larry Lo, the dispensary’s operator, to open a large safe.

“Larry, you’ve got to think a little bit here,” said Lt. John King, who supervises the team. “We’re not here because we’re having fun. We’re here because we’ve got a warrant to search this place. I’m going to get into that safe one way or the other. I don’t want to, but I will ruin it if I have to.”

Lo was not swayed, so King called for a lock specialist, who arrived hours later and spent several more drilling into the lock to open it. When the safe finally popped open, police found it filled with cash and more marijuana. The seized pot could have a retail value of about $250,000 or more.

Evidence seized by police during such raids could be returned if those arrested do not face charges or are found not guilty.

Handcuffed and seated on a coach, Lo repeatedly insisted that his dispensary was registered with the city and allowed to operate.

“There must be a misunderstanding. I can show you the paperwork,” he told King. But King said, “We’re here because the city attorney says you’re one of the unfortunate ones whose license is null and void. You need to take it up with them.”

City records show that Lo did register in 2007 at the same Colorado Boulevard address, although he used the name Southern California Collective. And he recently notified the city that he planned to continue operating his collective under the new ordinance. Lo, who spent a night in jail after his arrest, declined to comment.

Police said the dispensary was on a list provided by the city attorney’s office. Greenberg noted that the collective was operating under a different name and said the office had received complaints about it, but declined further comment on the raid.

“That’s something we’re still looking at,” she said.

Source: Los Angeles Times



NEWS: Scientists find natural way to curb your greed

University of Manchester scientists have discovered a naturally-occurring appetite suppressant that could be used to make a diet drug without side effects.

Professor Simon Luckman and Dr Garron Dodd believe the peptide hemopressin, which affects the reward part of the brain responsible for hedonistic behaviour, might treat some aspects of alcohol and drug abuse.

Dr Dodd, co-author of the findings published in the Journal of Neuroscience, explains: “It has long been known that the rewarding aspects of feeding behaviour influence our appetite, so that sometimes we eat for pleasure rather than hunger. This is because the cannabinoid system in the brain – a component of the naturally-existing circuitry responsible for reward – is affected by chemicals that are termed ‘agonists’ which bind to its receptors and increase the reward from feeding.

“One such agonist is cannabis – it hijacks the cannabinoid system and leads to what is colloquially referred to as ‘the munchies’. Similarly, when you fast, the brain causes an increase in naturally-occurring agonists. This results in increased hedonic impact so that when you do eat, food tastes better.

“Conversely when ‘antagonists’ bind to the receptors of the cannabinoid system, it decreases the reward from feeding. By reducing hedonistic feeding, it is possible to help people lose weight by quenching the desire to eat.”

A synthetic antagonist, Rimonabant, was developed six years ago and marketed as an anti-obesity treatment. As well as acting in the brain to reduce feeding it also acted in peripheral tissues to reduce fat deposition. However, despite its efficiency at reducing body weight in humans, it was later withdrawn from the market due to undesirable side effects such as depression and increased suicidal thoughts. Dr Dodd believes that naturally-occurring hemopressin may not cause such side effects.

The scientists in the Faculty of Life Sciences, gave mice hemopressin and monitored feeding and other behaviours. They found that while feeding behaviour decreased, importantly, other behaviours were not affected by the natural antagonist. With the synthetic antagonist, feeding behaviour decreased, but other non-specific behaviours, such as grooming and scratching increased. This shows that, unlike the synthetic antagonists, hemopressin specifically affected feeding, acting to potentially reduce hedonistic behaviour without some of the “off-target” effects.

“We now plan to investigate this further,” Dr Dodd adds.

“This is a newly discovered peptide and we do not know yet exactly where it is expressed in the brain. We also need to find out whether it has prolonged actions on body weight. Finally, while our findings are an indication of safety, this cannot be immediately extrapolated to humans. This discovery does however offer new insights into how the brain controls appetite, and opens new avenues by which to manipulate this brain circuitry and aid the development of anti-obesity treatments.

“The existence of naturally-occurring agents, such as hemopressin, provides attractive targets for drug companies as they may be ‘safer’ in the long term. In addition, as peptides are modified quite easily there is the potential to target their uptake by the body to reduce undesirable side effects.”

Source: University of Manchester

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VIDEO: Jeeni Criscenzo on medical marijuana regulations at the San Diego Board of Supervisors Committee Meeting (June 23, 2010)


NEWS: Medical-marijuana advocates seek society’s approval

The liquid inside the test tube is neon green, the color of lime Kool-Aid or the mad-scientist potions found only in comic books. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the contents come with a whiff of danger. They are a mixture of marijuana and solvents, stirred together in a furious swirl by a lab technician wearing protective goggles and latex gloves.

Running the concoction through a $70,000 machine, the technician can learn with scientific precision the plant’s unique chemical makeup, its potency, even its growing method.

The ultimate goal? Find out how good it is.

“We’re not going to be taken seriously unless we have proof,” said Michael Lee, the owner of the lab and its adjacent medical-marijuana dispensary, Cannabis Therapeutics.

This is the new science of pot, part of a fresh wave of study and innovation among scientists and cannabis advocates all seeking to solve a central dilemma: In Colorado and other states, first came the approval of marijuana as medicine. Next comes the challenge of proving its effectiveness.

The newest research leaves little doubt that marijuana — or at least its chemical components — has promise in alleviating symptoms of some ailments, while also making clear that the drug is not without its drawbacks, some potentially serious.

What is less certain is whether Colorado’s medical-marijuana system of dispensaries and caregivers — where commitment to scientific rigor and compassionate patient care is largely voluntary — can maximize that treatment potential for the benefit of patients.

Some dispensaries keep detailed patient records and embrace scientific testing in the hopes of providing patients with what works best. But medical-marijuana users report other dispensaries seem interested in just slinging snazzy weed, regardless of a patient’s needs or ailments. (One ad on Craigslist: “Licensed caregiver looking to trade for Widespread Panic tickets.”)

The mainstream medical community, meanwhile, questions whether any system that uses a raw plant as medicine can be optimally effective. Instead, conventional drug researchers see promise mostly in harvesting marijuana’s ingredients for more traditional medicines and avoiding consumption methods like smoking that can hurt patients’ health.
“If there is any future for marijuana as a medicine,” a panel of experts wrote in a landmark 1999 report for the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, “it lies in its isolated components.”

Most marijuana advocates enthusiastically embrace a future in which pot is as much an accepted medicine as penicillin. But that future might not come without significant changes to the way medical marijuana is handled. New medicines require new tests and government approvals. Those lead to new regulations and new oversight. There is a focus on standardization, sterility, precision, discipline.

If there were ever a world where marijuana was available behind the counter at the corner pharmacy, the do-it-yourself independence of Colorado’s — and many other states’ — medical-marijuana system might not have a place. The bud could become obsolete, and dispensaries — both medically inclined and not — could go extinct with it.

Indeed, not every marijuana supporter is watching the development of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals enthusiastically.

“When they get through the FDA with their cannabis-based drugs, no legislature in the country will allow doctors and patients access to whole, smoked marijuana,” said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

Medical mystery

Medical marijuana hasn’t always been a strictly on-your-own endeavor.

Historians have found references to the use of cannabis by healers in China and India dating back to at least 2000 B.C. The Irish physician William O’Shaughnessy wrote about the medical uses of cannabis in the mid-1800s. Cannabis-based treatments were commonly prescribed in the early 1900s in America before marijuana prohibition, which came about in the 1930s because of concerns over the drug’s psychoactive effects and fears they could lead to criminal behavior.
What was missing, though, was an understanding of how marijuana provided its touted medical benefits — or, for that matter, even a basic understanding of how marijuana gets people stoned.

“We knew marijuana has effects,” said Bob Melamede, a biology professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a prominent marijuana activist. “So the question was, ‘How does it have them?’ “

Answers arrived starting in the late 1980s with the discovery in the body of something called the endocannabinoid system. The system acts much like a traffic-control network, with receptors spread out across the brain, the organs, the immune system and various other areas to regulate functions as diverse as appetite, mood and pain. Using chemicals produced in the body called cannabinoids as traffic cops, the body turns on or off those receptors and controls the different functions.

Sending certain cannabinoids to one receptor and flipping it on, for instance, stimulates appetite. Tripping another dampens the body’s inflammatory response.

Marijuana also contains cannabinoids that can fit into the endocannabinoid system’s receptors — purely “pot luck,” Melamede cracks. Ingesting marijuana unleashes into the bloodstream swarms of new cannabinoid molecules that quickly begin linking into the system and flipping switches. This explains both the medical and recreational effects of the drug — which in many cases are one and the same.

By jiggering with the receptors that control appetite, for instance, marijuana creates the much-joked-about munchies. But it is that same effect that spurs the appetites and calms the stomachs of cancer and AIDS patients. In the same way marijuana impairs the motor skills of some users, it can also calm the painful muscle spasticity of multiple sclerosis patients.

Highs and lows

There is no scientific consensus that marijuana cures any disease or ailment. But research generally suggests smoking marijuana has pain-killing, muscle-calming, nausea-controlling and appetite-boosting effects in many patients. That means studies have shown marijuana can provide benefits to patients suffering from each of the eight different medical conditions specified in the state’s medical-marijuana constitutional amendment.

Scientists, though, disagree to what extent marijuana is beneficial and whether marijuana is more effective in those areas than existing treatments. Medical-marijuana supporters, meanwhile, cite other studies hinting at benefits in treating anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and many other conditions.

The effects also vary from user to user, and using marijuana is not without its risks. Studies have shown smoking marijuana may be more harmful to the lungs than smoking cigarettes. Other studies suggest marijuana could lead to increased anxiety or more severe mental-health problems in some people and dependence in others. Marijuana is the most commonly cited drug for people seeking treatment for illicit drug abuse, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Mostly, though, mainstream medical-marijuana studies and research reviews conclude that more thorough clinical trials of the drug are needed. Those follow-up studies are made difficult by federal drug-control laws, which place tight restrictions on marijuana research.

The proliferation of state medical-marijuana programs has been of little use to researchers, said Cecilia Hillard, a neuroscience professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a past president of the International Cannabinoid Research Society. Participants in those programs are self-selected, she said. That means those patients are pre-disposed to thinking marijuana will help, further muddying the scientific analysis of raw marijuana’s benefits and drawbacks.

“It’s hard to say how much people are really using it medicinally versus recreationally,” Hillard said. “Right now we’re sort of to a point where the claims of medical benefit are so numerous and so over-the-top that you tend to get into the realm of, ‘Well, I just don’t believe any of this.’ People are saying it’s good for everything.”

A handful of recent clinical trials — the first clinical trials of smoked marijuana in this country in 20 years — have provided some clarity. After being tasked by the California state legislature, the University of California at San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research sponsored about a half-dozen placebo-controlled trials to assess whether marijuana is effective as a painkiller for HIV and multiple sclerosis patients and for people suffering from nerve damage.

Across the board, the trials found some promise in marijuana as a treatment option.

“I was a little bit surprised, to tell the truth,” said Igor Grant, the center’s director. “I somewhat expected that what we would get is a mixed result . . . which would not be so unusual. But the fact that all of them came up with a consistent result makes me feel a little more comfortable in saying we could have something here.”

That does not mean, however, that Grant is ready to proclaim marijuana as a miracle treatment. For starters, patients in the trials generally continued on the drugs they were already taking for their conditions and used marijuana to supplement. Second, Grant said, smoking marijuana is just too impractical a delivery method for medicine. Among the questions: How do you control the dosage?

“Would you prescribe smoking cannabis cigarettes in a hospital room where oxygen tanks may be present?” Grant asked. “The great likelihood is that we need alternative systems.”

And that is exactly where marijuana’s pharmaceutical gold rush is taking place.

Separating help from high

Sitting at lunch one day recently in a restaurant near his UCCS office, Melamede, the biology professor, reaches into his jeans pocket and pulls out two small vials containing inky green liquid. They are marijuana extracts, he explains, formulas carefully measured for potency and chemical makeup that can be taken under the tongue in a predictable dosage. He also has ideas for marijuana skin patches, tongue strips and lozenges, all part of a new publicly traded pharmaceutical venture he has embarked on called Cannabis Science.

“The key thing is,” he said, “we’re addressing the government’s concern that smoked marijuana is not medicine.”

Cannabis Science recently hired a company to help it negotiate the Food and Drug Administration approval process, and Melamede said he is hopeful it won’t be long before the company can begin clinical trials targeting veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain patients.

But Melamede knows he is already behind in the race. GW Pharmaceuticals, a British firm, is currently preparing for its final clinical trials in the United States on a drug called Sativex, a marijuana-derived mouth spray the company intends as a treatment for cancer pain. The drug has already won approval in Canada and Great Britain and is in the last stages of approval in Spain.

What makes Sativex unique among current pharmaceuticals is that it is a blend of natural cannabinoids made directly from marijuana plants — grown in southern England — rather than synthetic re-creations of marijuana components, like drugs such as Marinol.

GW believes such an approach will yield better medicine, and it is already experimenting with other cannabinoid combinations for new drugs.

“There are more than 60 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, so we believe that leaves plenty of scope for future development,” GW spokesman Mark Rogerson wrote in an e-mail.

Most exciting to those looking to establish marijuana’s potential benefits as medicine in a more socially accepted form is a cannabinoid called cannabidiol, or CBD. A batch of new studies suggest it may have medical effects like THC — the chemical in marijuana that gets a user stoned. But it eliminates the psychoactivity produced by THC. In other words, it’s medical pot that won’t get you high.

Colorado dispensaries have begun to stock marijuana strains high in CBD. But to tout a strain as being CBD-rich, it helps inspire consumer confidence to prove that it is, which is where laboratory testing comes in. Using pricey machines called high-performance liquid chromatography systems, medical-marijuana labs can detail the percentages of THC, CBD and a handful of other cannabinoids in the plant. The lab work is unchecked by the government and is performed only by labs either connected to or hired by dispensaries.

A number of dispensaries across the state now routinely place little cards detailing the test results next to each strain in their display cases. Patients can use the cards to pick marijuana suited to their need based on the numbers and not the strain names, which aren’t always descriptive of a strain’s effects.

“We hope to take the mystery out of the names and put in more science,” said Frank Quattrone, the owner of Pure Medical Dispensary in Denver. “. . . The names, hopefully, will become irrelevant.”

Dispensaries have also used the laboratory analysis as a guide in developing more potent product. Cannabis Therapeutics in Colorado Springs has developed a hash oil — essentially concentrated marijuana — that it touts as 86 percent THC. (Even the most knock-out marijuana buds are usually no more than 20 percent THC.)

Andreas Rivera, Cannabis Therapeutics’ manager, says the oil will only be sold to terminally ill patients as a form of palliative care.

“It’s really about pain management instead of getting people super stoned,” he said.

But the availability — and marketability — of such products raises a question: Are patients actually using the analyses to find the best medicine or the best high?

Inside Cannabis Therapeutics, it is clear most patients currently see only limited value in the new data. Some ask about the numbers, but their eyes quickly glaze over during the explanation. Others skip the numbers entirely, instead choosing by past experience or the much cruder ratio of how much “upper” versus “downer” the strain contains.

Most patients rely to some extent on the advice of the woman working behind the counter, Julie Anderson.

“I usually ask Julie what the best she’s got is,” said patient Frederick Ross, who suffers from such severe appetite loss because of various medical conditions that he eats only once a day. “I don’t play the numbers.”

But some patients have taken an interest in the new data. One woman with kinky, waist-length, brown hair crouched in front of the counter to study the numbers for several minutes before making her selection. She said she has been writing down the THC and CBD ratios of the strains she’s tried and has used the data to guide her decisions.

“I’m trying to apply some analysis to it and some logic based on the information I have,” explained the woman, who asked that her name not be used because she didn’t want her co-workers to know she is a medical-marijuana patient. “Hopefully I can make a more-educated decision.”

Whatever the efforts by dispensaries to put more science behind their products, though, they’re likely to be met with a sniff from the pharmaceutical industry, which believes most people will never accept taking medicine by smoking a raw plant.

“The current system of distribution may actually prevent cannabis from ever being accepted as a mainstream medicine by most patients and physicians,” GW’s Rogerson said.

People in the medical-marijuana business naturally bristle at such talk. But among some there is a sense that wider acceptability of marijuana by the medical world might actually restrict marijuana access.

State medical-marijuana programs, NORML’s St. Pierre explained, function as relative oases for cannabis access — bypassing a whole set of federal rules because the federal government simply refuses to participate. Right now, marijuana is legally a Schedule I controlled substance because the federal government sees no accepted medical use for it and considers it to have a high potential for abuse. That classification means doctors can’t prescribe it and pharmacists can’t distribute it.

If marijuana were to be placed in a less-restrictive classification — as a petition currently pending with the Drug Enforcement Administration requests — doctors potentially would be able to prescribe it. That ability, though, would bring with it Food and Drug Administration oversight, production controls, inventory caps, distribution limits, security rules and more. Plus, with a federally blessed system to get patients cannabis in the same way they get cholesterol drugs, why would most state governments continue with their jury-rigged medical-marijuana systems?

“We see this as a boxed canyon,” St. Pierre said.

Limitless learning

Back at Cannabis Therapeutics’ lab, John Kopta — a Colorado State University biochemistry grad who runs the facility — is more optimistic. Only a few other labs in the country, mostly connected to the medical-marijuana industry, are doing what his does. The more study they do, the more proof they have. The more proof they have, the more they can lead the way forward.

“There’s dozens of different cannabinoids in the plant, and we know of 10 of them and what they do,” he said. “It’s really limitless.”

Source: Denver Post


NEWS: Long Beach officials want to tax marijuana sales, crops

LONG BEACH – In an attempt to bring new revenue into the city coffers, Long Beach officials are proposing a tax on marijuana.

Director of Financial Management Lori Ann Farrell is asking the City Council on Tuesday to set a date for a public hearing to approve putting a marijuana tax measure on the November ballot. The proposal was added to the council’s agenda Friday this afternoon.

Under Farrell’s proposal, medical marijuana collectives would be charged a 5 percent gross receipts tax. A tax of 0.75 cents per square foot would be charged for sites that are used exclusively to cultivate marijuana.

California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996, but recreational marijuana use is illegal. That could change with Proposition 19, a measure on the November ballot that would legalize marijuana in California for people 21 and older.

Considering this possibility, Farrell’s proposal also includes a 5 percent to 10 percent gross receipts tax on other marijuana businesses.

If the council OKs the plan Tuesday, a public hearing would take place Aug. 3, when the council would vote on whether to place the tax on the ballot. Long Beach voters would have to approve the tax in November for it to go into effect.

Because no Long Beach elected positions are on the ballot in November, the council would have to declare a fiscal emergency in order to place the measure on the ballot.

The idea of taxing medical marijuana collectives has been bandied about since the council approved regulations in March that require collectives to register with the city, pay permit fees – which marijuana advocates say are exorbitant already – and run through a gamut of other requirements.

The law severely restricts where collectives can be located, keeping them out of residential areas, away from schools and 1,000 feet away from one anothereach other.

The ordinance also requires that Long Beach collectives grow their marijuana within the city limits and allows them to grow the plant on-site or to set up a separate cultivation location.

City officials have estimated that there are up to 85 collectives in Long Beach, but that number is expected to be reduced to 30 once the new restrictions are fully implemented, according to Farrell’s report. The last day for collectives to apply for a permit was June 18, and on Sept.

20 a lottery will take place to determine which among those that are too close together will be allowed to operate.

If voters pass the marijuana tax, Farrell said in her report that she doesn’t yet know how much money the city could raise.

Oakland, which was the first U.S. city to tax medical marijuana collectives, raised $23,608 in 2008 with a tax rate of 0.12 percent, according to Farrell. Voters there approved increasing the tax rate to 1.8 percent in July 2009, which it was estimated would raise $294,000, Farrell said.

Any extra revenue would be welcomed by Long Beach officials as the city faces an $18.5 million budget deficit in the next fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 and more shortfalls for at least the next two years.

Other cities, including Berkeley and Sacramento, are considering marijuana taxes as well.
However, Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, the country’s largest medical marijuana advocacy group, said Long Beach’s proposed 5 percent tax is “pretty steep.”

He said the tax could just get passed on to medical marijuana patients who may not be able to afford it. Ideally, no marijuana tax would be placed on the ballot, he said.

“We don’t believe that patients should be taxed at all for their medication,” Hermes said.
The organization considers marijuana to be the equivalent of prescription drugs, which aren’t taxed, Hermes said. On the other hand, cannabis is in a gray area – it isn’t recognized as a legal drug by the federal government, and doctors don’t give actual prescriptions for it.

Hermes said it is still much closer to a prescription medication than to an aspirin.

“You can’t just go into the pharmacy and get it over the counter,” he said. “You need to go to a physician and get a recommendation.”

The council meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, 333 W. Ocean Blvd. The meeting can be viewed live in Long Beach on Charter Communications Channel 3, Verizon FiOS channel 21, and online at

Video clips from past city council meetings on the topic of medical marijuana can be found broken down by speaker on our YouTube Channel.

Source: Contra Costa Times


NEWS: Decision Due in Challenge to California Dispensary Bans

A California appeals court is due to issue a decision this month in a case with far-reaching implications for safe access in the state.

ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford argued before the Fourth Court of Appeals that the state legislature barred local governments from using nuisance statutes to ban medical cannabis dispensaries.

“Local governments cannot simply ban an activity that has been deemed lawful by the state,” said Elford. “Dispensaries aren’t nuisances, they’re providers of essential health services.”

That argument was bolstered when the court requested additional briefing, and Senator Mark Leno, one of the principal co-authors of California’s Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420), filed papers telling the court that the legislature’s express intention was to facilitate safe access and block such bans.

The case, Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim, was brought by attorney Anthony Curiale on behalf of a dispensary that had been in operation for five months prior to Anaheim instituting a ban in July 2007. The appeal was filed in March 2008 after a Superior Court ruled that Anaheim could prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within its city limits.

Source: Americans for Safe Access (ASA)


NEWS: California Assembly to Vote on Joint Resolution. Bill Urges New Federal Policy on Medical Cannabis

A bill sponsored by ASA that urges federal officials to adopt a new national policy ensuring safe access is now before the California Assembly. Following testimony by California Director Don Duncan last month, the Assembly’s Committee on Health voted 10-3 to pass the non-binding resolution to the full Assembly.

“This legislation is needed now more than ever,” said Duncan in his testimony to the committee. “Lest federal officials think their job is done, they need to know their work addressing medical marijuana as a public health issue has only just begun.”

Originally introduced by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) in June 2009, Senate Joint Resolution 14 urges the federal government to end medical marijuana raids and to “create a comprehensive federal medical marijuana policy that ensures safe and legal access to any patient that would benefit from it.” The full Senate passed the bill last August by a vote of 23-15.

“Patients and providers in California remain at risk of arrest and prosecution by federal law enforcement,” said Senator Leno in a statement on the resolution. “And legally established medical marijuana cooperatives continue to be the subjects of federal raids and prosecutions.”

The Department of Justice issued a memo to US Attorneys in October 2009, discouraging them from prosecuting individuals who comply with state medical cannabis laws. But raids, arrests and prosecutions have occurred since then in California, Colorado and New Mexico. More than two-dozen patients and providers are currently being prosecuted under federal law and face decades in prison.

In California, medical marijuana provider James Stacy, whose dispensary was raided by the DEA in September 2009, a month before the Justice Department policy was issued, is scheduled to go to trial next month.

“No one should go to federal prison for treating illness or injury with a safe, effective medicine,” said Duncan. “Suffering patients across the country will benefit from a sensible, comprehensive federal medical cannabis policy.”

In addition to urging President Obama and Congress to “move quickly to end federal raids, intimidation, and interference with state medical marijuana law,” SJR 14 asks them to establish “an affirmative defense to medical marijuana charges in federal court and establish federal legal protection for individuals authorized by state and local law.”

Under federal rules of evidence, defendants facing federal marijuana charges cannot use their medical condition or compliance with state law as a defense in court. A bill to change that, the Truth in Trials Act (HR 3939), is currently pending before Congress.

If passed by the Assembly, the resolution will then be sent to President Obama, Vice President Biden, the Speaker of the House and each member of the California Congressional delegation.

Further information:
Senate Joint Resolution on medical marijuana
ASA fact sheet on SJR 14

Source: Americans for Safe Access (ASA)


NEWS: Grand Jury says government could benefit from legal pot: County could see $7.5 million gain from new taxes and decreased costs

SANTA CRUZ – Local governments could cash in on legal pot to the tune of $7.5 million, a new Santa Cruz County Grand Jury report concludes.

The analysis of the financial impact of Proposition 19, a measure on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot, which seeks to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, is one of several reports released Tuesday by the Grand Jury – and no doubt the most unusual.

As is typical, the Grand Jury spent the past year studying various government agencies, and in its final report raises issues and makes recommendations for the studied programs and groups, including the County Jail, the public defender’s contract, a drug treatment website and the Watsonville Personnel Commission, as well as for public libraries and the Lompico Water District, sections that were previously released.

But the pot report aimed to scrutinize the finances without weighing in on the issue.

“At the end of the day it’s up to the voters,” said Patrick Henderson, who chaired the marijuana committee. “We didn’t look into the morality of it, just the dollars and cents impact on Santa Cruz.”

The report, which opens with a light-hearted preamble titled “Getting the Dope on Dope: The Grand Jury Attempts to Clear the Smoke in the Joint from the Numbers,” derives some of its data from statewide estimates of marijuana use and enforcement costs. It also looked at local crime statistics.

Santa Cruz Police spokesman Zach Friend questioned one piece of data.

He said department figures from 2008 show 315 adult arrests/citations, while the Grand Jury report says there were 724. Friend said adults are the “overwhelming” majority when it comes to arrests and citations for marijuana.

Henderson said all the numbers came from the agencies themselves.

“If the data’s wrong, it’s because they gave us the wrong data,” he said.

The report assumes pot would cost $100 an ounce, that 19 million ounces would be sold statewide, and that the county would impose a $50-per-ounce tax. Under that scenario the county would collect $129,200 in sales taxes and $6.46 million from its pot tax.

The county also would lose about $400,000 in fines, seized property and enforcement grants, but would save $1.36 million in arrest, prosecution and incarceration costs, the report says.

What’s unknown, Henderson said, are the potential costs of legalizing the drug, lost productivity and addiction treatment, for example.

Supervisor Tony Campos, who is serving as board chair, hasn’t taken a position on Proposition 19, but he said he’s seen a huge change in attitudes about marijuana, even among some in law enforcement, during his 12 years in office. His “gut feeling” is that the measure will pass. If it does, he’s willing to tax sales.

“We sure could use it … to help our county pay for law enforcement, mental health services, health care for our elderly, to make sure there’s child care, and probably No. 1, to make sure our schools have money,” he said.

Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin, who favors legalizing pot with “reasonable regulation,” said his city can’t go it alone, but if state voters approve the measure, “it would be a good thing.”

Marijuana is not more dangerous than alcohol, he said, and much of the problem revolves around its status as an illegal substance, violent turf wars, for example.

“We certainly would tax the hell out of it,” Rotkin said. “Certainly, it’s not a necessity. It’s a luxury.”

Source: Mercury News


VIDEO: Dennis Boisvert’s public comment regarding medical marijuana at SD Council Meeting 06/29/10


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