As Colorado embarks on a pioneering venture to fully legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis, other U.S. states look on to assess whether a similar approach could be effective in their own constituencies. With both a tax and regulate bill as well as a medical cannabis bill introduced to the state senate in 2013, New York could be the third state, after Colorado and Washington, to fully legalize marijuana. The recreational bill is modeled after Colorado's current system, making its performance there over the next few months carry serious implications for its potential to win support in New York.
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, introduced in the New York state legislature this past December, aims to gain support by addressing many of the same problems Amendment 64 attempts to remedy in Colorado. New York leads the nation in marijuana arrests, which disproportionately target minorities, as exemplified by the ongoing controversy over the police's "stop-and-frisk" policy. Though not explicitly stated in arguments for Amendment 64, Colorado law enforcement statistics showed a similar bias in cannabis arrests through 2010. More universally, a legalization model frees up law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes rather than non-violent drug offenses. And of course, no state can ignore the prospect of a rich new channel of tax revenue. Colorado has already proven legal cannabis to be a market success. With the New York bill adding on-site consumption to its model, the potential for growth, and thereby tax revenue, looks very promising. But Colorado established recreational sales only after it had achieved a working medical model. Can New York, a state without a precedent, effectively double-clutch into both recreational and medical legalization?
Absolutely, says Evan Nison, co-founder and director of the New York Cannabis Alliance, citing strong bipartisan support of both bills in the state legislature. "The benefits of the medical bill are getting through to conservatives who initially opposed legalization of any kind," says Nison. Since it was introduced in June, 62 assembly members and 14 senators have agreed to co-sponsor the medical bill, known as the Compassionate Care Act. The more recent tax and regulate bill is just beginning to build support, with four assembly members and two state senators cosponsoring thus far.
Despite a somewhat promising show of support, the state senate proved sluggish in 2013 when it came to marijuana reform. Though the state assembly passed a decriminalization law and a medical marijuana law for seriously ill patients, the state senate adjourned without moving on either.
This is why having two bills in play may actually be beneficial to the effort, according to Derek Peterson, founder of Terra Tech, a grow equipment supplier with plans to invest in New York's potential legal cannabis market. "Even if the recreational bill doesn't have a shot, it helps the medical bill move forward by bringing more eyes to the issue itself." Peterson foresees that having a more radical bill for full legalization makes the medical bill appear tame and reasonable by comparison, allowing lawmakers to support it with significantly less risk. The downside to two bills may be that they confuse the legalization issue for both lawmakers and the general public.
There is no guarantee that the state legislature will complete action on any marijuana reform bill in 2014, but just four days into the new year, the New York Times reported that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is set to announce an executive order, bypassing the state legilature, that allows for 20 hospitals in the state to treat seriously ill patients with cannabis. Though Cuomo remains publicly skeptical of medical legalization, this demonstration of malleability on the issue puts him on par with the opinions of state residents, 82% of whom support medical legalization, according to a 2013 poll. This coalescence recalls Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signing Amendment 64 into law even though he publicly opposed it, citing a "genuine shift in public opinion." Both Cuomo and Hickenlooper are up for re-election this year.
With an early win for 2014, supporters of legalized cannabis in New York are confident that attitudes have shifted enough, statewide as well as nationally, for real change to take effect this year. While the arguments for and against it have remained ideological, Colorado's progress in 2014 will provide New York, and other states considering legalization, a tangible demonstration of what legalization can accomplish and where it may falter.
ELMA, Wash. -- The legalization of marijuana in Washington state prompted Elma's police chief to lay off the city's drug detection dog last month.
Police Chief Jeff Troumbley also said the rising costs for caring for Riggs the K-9 officer caused him to eliminate the position.
Riggs was trained to alert officers when he smells one of five drugs: marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
Since Riggs cannot tell the difference between marijuana and the other drugs, Troumbley said the dog was not as effective as he was before voters passed Initiative 502.
Before I-502 if Riggs smelled one of those drugs in a car, police were able to use his alert to get a search warrant. Now police need other evidence to obtain a warrant.
"With the changes I couldn't justify the expense of what we were getting out of the drug team," said Troumbley.
Riggs' partner at Elma police is now his owner.
"I don't think he's ready to retire yet," said Officer Josh Wheeler, who said he wishes Riggs was still with him out on patrol. "Let him do what he's trained to do.”
Original article: http://biotrackthc.com/news/i-502-helps-put-wa-drug-dog-out-work
ALBANY — Joining a growing group of states that have loosened restrictions on marijuana, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York plans this week to announce an executive action that would allow limited use of the drug by those with serious illnesses, state officials say.
The shift by Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who had long resisted legalizing medical marijuana, comes as other states are taking increasingly liberal positions on it — most notably Colorado, where thousands have flocked to buy the drug for recreational use since it became legal on Jan. 1.
Mr. Cuomo’s plan will be far more restrictive than the laws in Colorado or California, where medical marijuana is available to people with conditions as mild as backaches. It will allow just 20 hospitals across the state to prescribe marijuana to patients with cancer, glaucoma or other diseases that meet standards to be set by the New York State Department of Health.
While Mr. Cuomo’s measure falls well short of full legalization, it nonetheless moves New York, long one of the nation’s most punitive states for those caught using or dealing drugs, a significant step closer to policies being embraced by marijuana advocates and lawmakers elsewhere.
New York hopes to have the infrastructure in place this year to begin dispensing medical marijuana, although it is too soon to say when it will actually be available to patients.
Mr. Cuomo’s shift comes at an interesting political juncture. In neighboring New Jersey, led by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican whose presidential prospects are talked about even more often than Mr. Cuomo’s, medical marijuana was approved by his predecessor, Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, but was put into effect only after Mr. Christie set rules limiting its strength, banning home delivery, and requiring patients to show they have exhausted conventional treatments. The first of six planned dispensaries has already opened.
Meanwhile, New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, had quickly seemed to overshadow Mr. Cuomo as the state’s leading progressive politician.
For Mr. Cuomo, who has often found common ground with Republicans on fiscal issues, the sudden shift on marijuana — which he is expected to announce on Wednesday in his annual State of the State address — was the latest of several instances in which he has embarked on a major social policy effort sure to bolster his popularity with a large portion of his political base.
In 2011, he successfully championed the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York. And a year ago, in the aftermath of the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Cuomo pushed through legislation giving New York some of the nation’s toughest gun-control laws, including a strict ban on assault weapons. He also has pushed, unsuccessfully so far, to strengthen abortion rights in state law.
The governor’s action also comes as advocates for changing drug laws have stepped up criticism of New York City’s stringent enforcement of marijuana laws, which resulted in nearly 450,000 misdemeanor charges from 2002 to 2012, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates more liberal drug laws.
During that period, medical marijuana became increasingly widespread outside New York, with some 20 states and the District of Columbia now allowing its use.
Mr. Cuomo voiced support for changing drug laws as recently as the 2013 legislative session, when he backed an initiative to decriminalize so-called open view possession of 15 grams or less. And though he said he remained opposed to medical marijuana, he indicated as late as April that he was keeping an open mind.
His shift, according to a person briefed on the governor’s views but not authorized to speak on the record, was rooted in his belief that the program he has drawn up can help those in need, while limiting the potential for abuse. Mr. Cuomo is also up for election this year, and polls have shown overwhelming support for medical marijuana in New York: 82 percent of New York voters approved of the idea in a survey by Siena College last May.
Still, Mr. Cuomo’s plan is sure to turn heads in Albany, the state’s capital. Medical marijuana bills have passed the State Assembly four times — most recently in 2013 — only to stall in the Senate, where a group of breakaway Democrats shares leadership with Republicans, who have traditionally been lukewarm on the issue.
Mr. Cuomo has decided to bypass the Legislature altogether.
In taking the matter into his own hands, the governor is relying on a provision in the public health law known as the Antonio G. Olivieri Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Program. It allows for the use of controlled substances for “cancer patients, glaucoma patients, and patients afflicted with other diseases as such diseases are approved by the commissioner.”
Mr. Olivieri was a New York City councilman and state assemblyman who died in 1980 at age 39. Suffering from a brain tumor, he used marijuana to overcome some of the discomfort of chemotherapy, and until his death lobbied for state legislation to legalize its medical use.
The provision, while unfamiliar to most people, had been hiding in plain sight since 1980.
But with Mr. Cuomo still publicly opposed to medical marijuana, state lawmakers had been pressing ahead with new legislation that would go beyond the Olivieri statute.
Richard N. Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who leads the assembly’s health committee, has held two public hearings on medical marijuana in recent weeks, hoping to build support for a bill under which health care professionals licensed to prescribe controlled substances could certify patient need.
Mr. Gottfried said the state’s historical recalcitrance on marijuana was surprising.
“New York is progressive on a great many issues, but not everything,” he said.
Mr. Gottfried said he wanted a tightly regulated and licensed market, with eligible patients limited to those with “severe, life-threatening or debilitating conditions,” not the broader range of ailments — backaches and anxiety, for instance — that pass muster in places like California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996.
“What we are looking at bears no resemblance to the California system,” Mr. Gottfried said.
While he was aware of the Olivieri statute, he believed it had not been implemented because it would have required “an elaborate administrative approval process,” which he said could be overly burdensome on patients.
Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, praised Mr. Cuomo’s decision as “a bold and innovative way of breaking the logjam” in Albany, though it may not be the final word on medical marijuana.
Mr. Cuomo “remains committed to developing the best medical marijuana law in the country,” Mr. Nadelmann said. “And that’s going to require legislative action.”
The administration has much work to do before its program is operational: For starters, it must select the participating hospitals, which officials said would be chosen to assure “regional diversity” and according to how extensively they treat patients with or research pertinent illnesses like cancer or glaucoma.
Another hurdle: State and federal laws prohibit growing marijuana, even for medical uses, though the Obama administration has tolerated it. So New York will have to find an alternative supply of cannabis. The likely sources could include the federal government or law enforcement agencies, officials said.
Original article: http://biotrackthc.com/news/new-york-state-set-loosen-marijuana-laws
Washington (AFP) - Stocks of companies involved in the marijuana industry -- medical or otherwise -- hit fresh highs Thursday after Colorado launched the first legal US sale of recreational pot.
Investors took the huge lines outside pot retailers in Colorado as a harbinger of potential growth in the still-new industry.
With one study predicting a $10 billion a year industry by 2018, hopes are that the legalization of private cannabis use could eventually divert the fortunes reaped by illicit growers and traffickers to shareholders.
Most of the companies involved though remain small and untested, and trade on over-the-counter markets.
The biggest gain Thursday was at the well-established MediSwipe, Inc, which sells transaction processing systems to the medical industry.
In October the company launched a cooperative in Colorado to work with licensed marijuana industry participants, most of them too small to afford quality financial processing systems on their own.
MediSwipe shares climbed 69.4 percent to 18.8 cents.
GreenGro Technologies, which sells growing systems and equipment popular with pot farmers, spiked 52.3 percent to 6.7 cents.
GW Pharmaceuticals, which focuses on medicines derived from marijuana, rose 5.7 percent to $3.30.
MedBox jumped 57.2 percent to $28.70. The company makes high-security storage and dispensing machines for controlled medicines, equipment used by marijuana distributors.
Shares of California-based grower Medical Marijuana Inc. were up 22 percent to 18.9 cents, and medicine-focused Cannabis Science surged 44.4 percent to 7.4 cents.
Hemp, Inc, which grows industrial hemp and is starting to market hemp seeds as a nutritious "superfood", gained 50.8 percent at 3 cents.
Acknowledging the difficulty of gauging a mostly illegal industry, analysts put the size of the US market, legal and illegal, in the low tens of billions of dollars a year.
In a study last year, ArcView Market Research put the size of the national legal market at $1.44 billion, and forecast a rise to $2.34 billion this year, helped in a large part by Colorado's move.
The largest state market is California, selling nearly $1 billion worth of marijuana a year for medical use
The ArcView study said the market has the potential to grow to more than $10 billion within five years, especially if other states like California follow Colorado's example.
"Gains will come in the form of increased demand in existing state markets, as well as from new state markets coming online within a five-year horizon."
Pot-related shares though have been a mixed bag, with many in the penny-stock category that lends itself to manipulation.
In August the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority issued a warning over possible scams involving marijuana stocks, including trader "pump and dump" schemes, and companies which advertise big gains but have little real income or experience in the industry.
"One low-priced stock now claiming to be in the medical marijuana business has had four name changes in the past 10 years," FINRA said, while another had just changed from ostensibly being in the coffee industry.
Denver (CNN) -- Colorado began allowing the sale of recreational marijuana on January 1 to anyone age 21 or older.
Residents can now buy marijuana like alcohol -- except the cannabis purchase is limited to an ounce, which is substantial enough to cost about $200 or more.
It's a big moment: Colorado became the first state in the nation to open recreational pot stores and became the first place in the world where marijuana will be regulated from seed to sale. Pot, by the way, is the third most popular recreational drug in America, after alcohol and tobacco, according to the marijuana reform group NORML.
Here are 10 things to know about what will be a closely watched landmark law.
How can this be?
Voters wanted this. And the law is now in the Colorado constitution after 55% of voters said yes to legalizing recreational marijuana.
Colorado wasn't the only state to OK this in November 2012. Voters in Washington also said yes, but that state won't open marijuana retail outlets until later in 2014.
There are the usual "legalize it" arguments about how pot is less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco and how legalization would save taxpayers $10 billion yearly on enforcing the prohibition.
Then there's the reality we all know: There will be a tax bonanza to public treasuries.
Retail weed will have a 25% state tax -- plus the usual state sales tax of 2.9% -- making recreational pot one of the most heavily taxed consumer products in Colorado. Some communities are adding even more taxes to the product.
The additional revenue will initially amount to $67 million a year, with $27.5 million of it designated to build schools, state tax officials say.
So why bother with separate medical marijuana?
Because buyers of medical pot won't face the additional taxes.
Medicinal weed in Colorado still requires a physician's recommendation, and the dispensaries will be separate outlets from the recreational pot retailers.
How much recreational weed can I buy?
If you are 21 or older, you can buy up to an ounce at a licensed store, as long as you have a Colorado ID. People from outside Colorado can buy a quarter ounce.
Only three dozen or so stores, however, opened on January 1, and Denver was home to 18 of them. In fact, there were concerns that supplies would be sold out on the first day, with so few stores having passed the lengthy licensing process so far. About 160 retailers are still seeking licenses statewide.
Users can also share an ounce of cannabis with a friend as long as no money is exchanged.
Where can I light up?
You won't be allowed to smoke pot in public and, in fact, can't even smoke in the pot shop or other establishments governed by the state's Clean Indoor Air Act.
That leaves the smoking to private properties, with the owner's permission.
Communities and counties can still choose not to allow recreational marijuana stores in their local jurisdictions, and a good many towns have, such as Colorado Springs and Greeley.
Meanwhile, ski resorts are concerned about scofflaws lighting up while on the slopes, with smoke intruding on family outings.
Can I grow my own?
Yes, you can grow up to six plants in your home, but the pot patch must be enclosed and locked.
Can underage people get busted for pot?
Yes, it's illegal to possess and use marijuana if you're under 21, but the city of Denver in December decriminalized pot for people between ages 18 and 21. The city will keep the fines -- but remove the jail time -- for being caught with an ounce or less. The potential jail time had been up to a year.
Youths under age 18 could be sent to a juvenile assessment center instead of jail. The measure ensures kids "don't have to live into adulthood with mistakes they might have made when they were 19," Councilman Albus Brooks said in a Denver Post article.
What about DUI?
A motorist in Colorado can be ticketed for impaired driving if his or her blood shows more than 5 nanograms of active THC, the active constituent of marijuana, NORML says on its website.
Some users will fall below that level three hours after consuming pot, but "some people will still be well above 5 ng," NORML says. "Do recognize that the effects of alcohol and marijuana together may be more than the sum of their parts."
Some analysts describe impairment as a guessing game, depending on the person.
"Is Colorado's marijuana DUI rule flawless? Far from it. But as the state's policy makers have come to realize, the world's first legal pot rules aren't going to be perfect. They just have to be good enough. Good enough to keep the feds away, good enough to keep marijuana stakeholders happy, good enough to keep Coloradans from worrying they've made a horrible mistake," University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin and writer Joel Warner wrote in Slate in December.
And what about the feds?
It's always been a murky relationship between the feds and those states with laws authorizing medical -- and now recreational -- marijuana. Federal law says the drug's possession, manufacture, and sale is illegal, punishable by up to life in prison, and its mass cultivation is a sensitive subject among growers, experts say.
But in August, the U.S. Justice Department said it won't challenge Colorado or other states with laws legalizing recreational marijuana. Instead, federal officials will focus on serious trafficking and keeping the drug away from children.
Does this confuse you?
It should, one legal analyst says.
"They should be confused," attorney Alan Dershowitz said. "The federal government still takes the position technically that you're violating federal law if you're complying with the state law. But the Obama administration, I believe, has recently has taken a turn on its approach to drug enforcement."
Can I giggle?
Let the jokes and puns begin -- stoned or not.
Even Colorado NORML is being cheeky about it, posting online a list of what's allowable under the new recreational pot law.
It's called "Doobie-DOs."
Marijuana users in Colorado and Washington are counting down the hours before the western US states become the first to legalize recreational pot shops on January 1.
Blazing a trail they hope will be followed in other parts of the United States, cannabis growers and others are also rubbing their hands, while tax collectors are eyeing the revenue the newly-legalized trade will generate.
Enterprising companies are even offering marijuana tours to cash in on tourists expected to be attracted to a Netherlands-style pot culture -- including in Colorado's famous ski resorts.
"Just the novelty alone is bringing people from everywhere," said Adam Raleigh of cannabis supplier Telluride Bud Co.
"I have people driving in from Texas, Arizona, Utah... to be a part of history.
"Over the last month I have received somewhere between four to six emails a day and five to 10 phone calls a day asking all about the law and when should people plan their ski trip to go along with cannabis," he added.
Medical marijuana is already legal and regulated in 19 US states, and has been allowed in some cases for the past 20 years. And in most of them, private consumption of cannabis is not classified as a crime.
But Colorado and Washington are creating a recreational market in which local authorities will oversee growing, distribution and marketing -- all of it legal -- for people to get high just for the fun of it.
The market is huge: from $1.4 billion in medical marijuana in 2013 it will grow by 64 percent to $2.34 billion in 2014 with recreational pot added in Colorado and Washington, according to Arcview Market Research, which tracks and publishes data on the cannabis industry.
Both states legalized recreational consumption of marijuana in referendums in November last year, but new rules coming into force on January 1 allow cannabis shops.
In Colorado, famous for its Rocky Mountain ski resorts, officials this week issued 348 retail marijuana licenses including for small shops which from January 1 can sell up to 28 grams of pot to people aged 21 or older.
Washington state authorities have received applications for 3,746 marijuana business licenses, including 867 retail licenses, according to The Seattle Times newspaper, which urged caution in an editorial.
"Legalization of marijuana (is) a seismic change in drug-control policy, perhaps the biggest since the end of alcohol prohibition. Supporters and skeptics need to take a deep breath," it said.
Colorado's branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said everyone will benefit.
"It will mean jobs, tax revenue for the state and local jurisdictions, increased tourism, and a developing progressive new industry in Colorado," NORML attorney Rachel Gillette told AFP.
"It will also have an impact in that marijuana sales will be brought out of the shadows and the black market," she added.
Michael Elliott, head of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, noted that Colorado has licensed medical marijuana businesses since 2010, but said the influx of tourists for recreational use of pot could lead to shortages.
"It's tough to know whether supply will meet demand, mainly because it's tough to know the impact of tourism on this new market," he said.
"It looks like demand will exceed supply, so I anticipate that prices in Colorado will go up ... But as time goes on, more businesses will open meaning there will be more supply," he added.
Telluride Bud Co's Raleigh compared decriminalizing pot shops to legalizing same-sex weddings, which are now allowed in more than a third of US states.
"Give it six months, and when other states see that the sky didn't fall and the revenue we are producing, I believe this will spread just like gay marriage," he said. "You just can't stop the will of the people."