Posted on January 27, 2014 | Category: Medical Marijuana
With the help of a massive infusion of money from attorney John Morgan, the petition to put medical marijuana on Florida’s Nov. 4 election ballot squeaked past the deadline to get enough petition signatures to qualify.
As of Friday, state election officials had verified 710,508 valid petition signatures, with 683,149 needed by Feb. 1.
That doesn’t make it certain Floridians will get to vote on the measure, however. One major hurdle remains: The state Supreme Court must approve the legality of the measure and its ballot language.
Attorney General Pam Bondi has challenged the language as unclear and misleading. Oral arguments were heard on the challenge in December, and the court must issue a decision by April 1.
If the court approves the language, a hard-fought campaign could result.
Polls have shown strong public support for the idea of allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes when prescribed by a doctor. A Quinnipiac University survey last fall showed Florida voters favored it 82-16 percent.
That sounds like a comfortable margin, considering it takes a 60 percent vote to amend the state Constitution.
Drug abuse opponents, however, contend the measure would lead to spillover use of marijuana for recreational purposes and have vowed to oppose it.
Advocates of liberalization of marijuana laws say support for such measures tends to decline somewhat when discussion turns to establishing an actual medical marijuana industry. The amendment would set up a state program for identifying patients entitled to obtain marijuana and certifying treatment centers to produce and distribute it.
“We’ve seen that kind of polling on the question of whether doctors should be able to recommend it, but usually the numbers drop a bit when you ask about setting up a system to produce and distribute it,” said Steve Fox, a veteran campaigner for liberalized marijuana laws. “During the campaign, it tends to get a bit tighter.”
There’s also “a definite pattern” that marijuana initiatives get 8 to 10 percent greater support during presidential election years, when more young people turn out to vote, than in off-years like this one, he said.
Among the opponents of the measure is the Drug Free America Foundation, based in St. Petersburg — an organization supported by major Republican political donor and political activist Mel Sembler.
Calvina Fay, executive director of the foundation, has said a campaign will be mounted against the measure if it makes the ballot.
In a written statement Friday, Fay said the petition meeting the signature requirement “really doesn’t change anything. ... We believe the language is misleading and are hopeful that the Justices’ will rule soon. This also doesn’t change the fact that the initiative is riddled with loopholes that would create de facto legalization in our state. We believe that if this gets to the ballot, Floridians will vote wisely and reject it.”
Morgan, a wealthy Orlando trial lawyer who’s principle of the Morgan & Morgan “for the people” law firm, is also a major political donor and an important political patron of former Gov. Charlie Crist, now running against Gov. Rick Scott. He has vowed to support a campaign in favor of the issue with “whatever it takes.”
Morgan said he has spent $3 million to $4 million so far supporting the initiative, most or it for gathering petition signatures. When it appeared late last year that the campaign might run out of time to gather signatures before the Feb. 1 deadline, Morgan upped the pay for the signature gatherers from $1 to $4 for each signature, drawing in workers from out of state.
Ben Pollara, manager of the initiative campaign, called it “an historic day for Florida – we’re thrilled to have gone above and beyond the signatures we need. If the court allows it on the ballot, we’re confident the people of Florida will back it.”
Pollara said medical use of marijuana “is not a controversial issue – if a doctor and patient decide it’s of benefit, the patient ought to be able to use it without having to live like a criminal.”
There will be one other citizen-sponsored constitutional amendment initiative on the ballot. Already designated Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment would require the state to set aside at least a third of the proceeds of the document stamp tax on real estate documents in a fund for purchase of land for conservation.
The state Legislature could add constitutional amendments to the ballot as well.
Original article: http://biotrackthc.com/news/medical-marijuana-has-enough-signatures-florida-ballot
Posted on January 14, 2014 | Category: Medical Marijuana
A long-time health administrator was named Monday as executive director of the state’s nascent medical marijuana program, an appointment that comes with ultimate authority to decide which companies are granted licenses to open dispensaries where the drug will be sold.
Karen van Unen had served as a consultant to Massachusetts officials during the launch of the program and has been a chief operating officer and program director at a number of non-profit organizations in Boston. She will oversee “all aspects of the medical marijuana program,” according to a statement from the Department of Public Health.
In addition to selecting which of the 100 applicants will win one of the 35 coveted dispensary licenses later this month, van Unen will have oversight over inspection of dispensaries, and the creation of a database listing people authorized to get medical marijuana, which is expected to be running later this year, the department said.
“Her management expertise in public health and commitment to safety and patient access will successfully guide the implementation of the Commonwealth’s medical marijuana program,” Cheryl Bartlett, state public health commissioner, said in a statement.
In addition to advising DPH, Van Unen spent the last year consulting for the Tufts University School of Public Health and UMass Boston, according to her resume.
She previously served as chief operating officer for eight years of DotWell, a Dorchester public health nonprofit agency.
Van Unen has a bachelor of arts in psychology, a master’s degree in education, and a master’s in business administration, all from Boston University, according to her resume, which lists fluency in Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamentu, a language spoken in several Caribbean islands.
“Karen’s combination of governance and clinical experience seems perfect for the role,” said Scott Hawkins, a consultant to several applicants hoping to be awarded dispensary licenses.
Van Unen is a board member and past president of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, which said in a statement that she is a skilled manager and administrator and a passionate public health advocate.
“It will not be an easy job, but we are confident that Karen has the skills to run a highly professional program that balances access for patients with serious health conditions with concerns about diversion, especially to youth,” Rebekah Gewirtz, the association’s executive director, said in a statement.
The health department is scheduled to announce its decision Jan. 30 on the awarding of the first 35 marijuana dispensary licenses. The agency last month named a seven-member committee to evaluate the applications and recommend which ones should be selected.
Documents released by the department late last year regarding the evaluation process stated that the committee would make its recommendations to the state’s public health commissioner.
“The DPH Commissioner will make the final decision in consultation with the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services,” it said.
Department spokesman Dave Kibbe said Monday that that process has since changed.
“The final decision is made by van Unen,” he said. “People need to understand that the selection committee is a really important part of that process and that hasn’t changed.”
Original article: http://biotrackthc.com/news/massachusetts-names-director-new-medical-marijuana-program
Posted on January 10, 2014 | Category: Medical Marijuana
By Fox News, January 9, 2014
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially unveiled a plan Wednesday to allow medical marijuana in the state to help those suffering from cancer and other diseases.
The Democrat announced in his State of the State speech he is using his administrative powers to allow 20 hospitals to dispense marijuana to patients under state Department of Health regulations, rather than craft legislation.
The announcement marks a reversal for Cuomo, who had previously opposed medical marijuana.
While praising the governor's action, some advocates say New York should still enact legislation authorizing a state medical marijuana program that has been blocked so far by the state Senate's Republicans.
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, and Democratic Sen. Diane Savino of Staten Island have recently held hearings on a bill they are sponsoring called the "Compassionate Care Act," which would regulate and tax medical marijuana. It has previously passed in the Assembly, but failed to get through the Senate.
State Sen. Liz Krueger, another Manhattan Democrat, has been pushing legislation to legalize and tax recreational use of marijuana, arguing state policy outlawing the drug has been costly in terms of law enforcement resources and the futures of people convicted of crimes.
In states that permit medical marijuana, it is commonly prescribed for chronic pain, nausea from cancer chemotherapy, glaucoma and some other conditions. Other controlled substances like narcotics are already authorized for medical use in New York. Although marijuana remains illegal in New York, possession of small amounts has been reduced to a low-level violation subject to a fine.
Cuomo used the speech to tout his accomplishments in the past three years as he prepares to run for a second term in the fall.
Cuomo also pushed for all-day pre-kindergarten and for the state to take over construction projects at LaGuardia Airport and Kennedy International Airport, among other issues.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Original article: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/01/09/gov-cuomo-announces-new-york-will-allow-limited-use-medical-marijuana/
Posted on December 27, 2013 | Category: Medical Marijuana
WASHINGTON — The tidy Takoma Wellness Center, one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries to open in the nation's capital, has a quaint reception area furnished with black leather chairs, plants and artwork. On the front desk are a pile of business cards and a sign-in sheet.
In the back, shelves are stocked with the latest marijuana accessories: pipes, cookbooks, even a machine that mixes the drug into butter or oil for cooking.
All that's missing are more patients.
Since opening this summer, the three Washington, D.C.-based marijuana dispensaries have served a total of 111 patients in a district with about 600,000 residents. That's about 100 times fewer patients, on a per capita basis, than states such as California or Oregon, where the drug can also be legally used to alleviate illnesses.
Not surprisingly, all three of the dispensaries say they are losing money.
"I think there was a general expectation that the numbers would be higher," Jeffrey Kahn, owner of Takoma Wellness Center, said in an interview.
The low numbers reflect a medical marijuana program that is considered the most restrictive in the nation. Patients can get prescriptions only from doctors with whom they have had an ongoing relationship, and only if they suffer from one of four conditions: HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer or severe muscle spasms, such as those caused by multiple sclerosis. Although just three dispensaries have opened, the law allows up to five.
To even visit one, patients must register with the health department, make an appointment and show a district-issued ID card before passing through security.
That's a stark contrast from California, where patient registration is voluntary, doctors use their own judgment to determine whether medical pot can relieve an ailment, and some dispensaries are located just steps from the beach or deliver to a patient's door. In other states, the list of qualifying conditions is longer. A law passed in Illinois this year included 30 ailments.
"They deliberately have the most buttoned-down laws in the country," said Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA. He said the district's strict rollout of medical marijuana reflected a desire by local officials "to keep the feds calm."
For more than a decade, D.C. officials struggled to make medical marijuana available to their residents. In 1998, 69% of district voters approved a medical marijuana initiative.
But such efforts were routinely overruled by conservative members of Congress, who wield unusual influence over the district's laws.
After the 1998 ballot measure, then-Rep. Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia, amended the district's budget to keep money from being spent on the program, effectively blocking it.
But changing attitudes from Congress, as well as from the Justice Department, have opened the door for the district to quietly begin its medical marijuana program.
Even Barr, who left office in 2003, reversed his position after aligning with libertarians. His newfound opposition to government intrusion led him to lobby Congress in 2007 on behalf of the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit advocacy group that supports legalization, to remove his own amendment. (He is now running for Congress again as a Republican in Georgia's 11th District.)
The Barr amendment was removed in 2009, and medical marijuana became legal in the district in 2010, drawing little notice from Congress.
By that time, medical cannabis was legal in 14 states. Even when Colorado and Washington state passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana use last year, Congress said "nothing. Not a whisper," said Kleiman, who advised Washington state officials on how to set up their legal marijuana program.
The Justice Department subsequently said it would not challenge the legalization programs as long as they were well-regulated.
That move paved the way for dispensaries in Washington, D.C., to operate with little fear of federal intervention. "We're part of a robust regulatory system that the Justice Department called for," said Takoma's Kahn.
Many patients and doctors praised the district's program, saying marijuana has been shown to relieve pain and improve appetites. Michelle Hill, a patient at another dispensary, Metropolitan Wellness Center, said the drug helped with the severe spasms she suffered because of a spinal cord ailment.
Posted on December 17, 2013 | Category: Medical Marijuana
Washington medical marijuana patients might be able to grow their own cannabis plants at home after all, a move that could shake up the expected market for retail shops.
The state Liquor Control Board has signaled it will officially recommend to lawmakers that MMJ patients be able to cultivate cannabis at home, rejecting proposals by three other government agencies that have come out against all home growing.
Under the liquor board plan, qualified patients and caregivers could grow up to six plants.
The final decision on this issue is extremely important for Washington marijuana businesses.
Hydroponics stores and companies that sell small-scale growing equipment could lose business if the state completely bans home cultivation, which is currently allowed for medical cannabis.
On the other side of the equation, a ban would benefit state-licensed retail shops, commercial cannabis grows and edibles companies by forcing everyone to buy marijuana. That could lead to tens of millions of additional dollars in sales for these companies.
The Liquor Control Board’s suggestion on home grows will carry a lot of weigh with lawmakers, as the agency is developing the overall list of recommendations for marijuana rules and regulations. Board members will vote on the final list of recommendations this week and send them to the Legislature by Jan. 1.
While lawmakers can change the recommendations, most of the major suggestions likely will stand.
Original article: http://mmjbusinessdaily.com/home-grow-reversal-mixed-bag-for-wa-cannabusinesses/
Posted on December 13, 2013 | Category: Medical Marijuana
Federal Officials, Financial Industry Representatives to Address Marijuana Banking Crisis
Members of the Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group to discuss ways to resolve dangerous and unnecessary situation more than three months after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) pressed for timely action
Washington, D.C. – The Seattle Times reports that the federal Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group will hold a meeting today that will include a “frank discussion” among federal regulators, financial industry representatives, and members of law enforcement regarding the banking crisis for state-legal marijuana businesses.
According to Jennifer Shasky Calvery, director of the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), FinCEN and other Treasury Department groups have begun conversations with the Department of Justice. Currently, state-licensed marijuana businesses are denied access to even the most basic of banking services, such as checking and savings accounts, based on Treasury and DOJ’s interpretation of current banking laws.
The Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group advises the Director of FinCEN on the operations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and is the means by which modifications to BSA regulations are considered. Current BSA regulations require banks to file “suspicious activity reports” any time a transaction of $5,000 or more takes place if the financial institution has reason to believe that it may be connected to illegal activity. This requirement has been an impediment to marijuana businesses securing and maintaining bank accounts.
A September Senate Judiciary Committee hearing reinforced the growing consensus among federal and state officials that the lack of access to banking services is now the most pressing obstacle to ensuring governments can control marijuana sales in the states where it is legal for medical or adult use and federal enforcement priorities can be upheld. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was particularly aggressive in his push for a solution to the problem, urging U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole to fix the problem before we have a “shoot out somewhere and have innocent people or law enforcement endangered by that.”
“We need to address the [banking situation] and we are working on it,” stated Cole, who indicated the Department of Justice is conferring with FinCEN to resolve the issue.
Statement from Aaron Smith, NCIA Executive Director:
“Without access to basic banking services, many legitimate cannabis businesses are forced to manage sales, payroll, and even tax bills entirely in cash. That puts their customers, employees, and fellow community members at completely unnecessary risk. Everyone agrees that the situation is untenable; the Treasury Department and the Department of Justice must act and act quickly. The tide of public opinion is turning ever more quickly in support of regulated marijuana markets and, in 2014, at least six states will be implementing new regulations for these markets. It is long past time for the federal government to stop putting citizens in harm’s way by denying legally recognized businesses access to secure banking services .”
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is the largest cannabis trade association in the U.S. and the only organization representing cannabis-related businesses at the national level. NCIA promotes the growth of a responsible and legitimate cannabis industry and works toward a favorable social, economic, and legal environment for that industry in the United States.
Original article: http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2013/dec/08/dpa_california_initiative_filed?utm_campaign=DD12/12&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_content=full%20story