Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

July 28, 2010
Sacramento cannabis kumbaya: Marijuana shops get reprieve

HA_marijuana6941.JPGAfter long tumultuous debate, with virtually no one happy with plans to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, Sacramento's 39 registered pot shops seemingly got new life in a remarkable kumbaya moment.

The Sacramento City Council voted Tuesday night to pursue the most liberal of three options for permitting and governing dispensaries.

It junked a plan to set a citywide cap of 12 cannabis clubs. And it bypassed an alternative to permit a higher concentration in Midtown - with another nine outlets scattered outside the urban district.

In the end, all 39 dispensaries that registered with the city by last summer have a chance to obtain special permits to stay in operation. The city is still yet to finalize the details, and many of the clubs still violate proposed standards for proximity to schools, neighborhoods or other defined "sensitive uses."

But there was a decidedly more welcoming aura in the Council chambers as members directed city staff to continue working on a plan with no defined cap on dispensaries.

Things were looking awfully good for the cannabis clubs when Council member Sandy Sheedy, who once advocated reducing their population, said she had gotten to know the people who run them. She announced: "Thirty-nine is not a big number."

"I think we're going to get along just fine," she told dispensary operators in the audience. "And the people who need what you have are going to be able to access it."

Council member and former county sheriff Robbie Waters said he was persuaded to support the dispensaries after extensive consultations with Ryan Landers, a leading local advocate for medical marijuana patients. "Quite frankly, I had the cop view" before, Waters conceded.

LS MED MARIJUANA 4.JPGOne audience member, who offered a sour note, argued that the city should have imposed a hard cap of five dispensaries, with one designated as a destination for disabled patients. He protested that the city's wider acceptance of cannabis outlets was "a great boon for recreational users and old hippie pot smokers."

Attorney James Anthony, who at past Council meetings was a fiery advocate for the local dispensary industry, said the city staff did an "exemplary job" in providing the chance for the establishments to continue.

Anthony suggested there may be a reward for the city to come.

Sacramento voters are to decide in November whether to impose a 2 to 4 percent gross receipts tax on medical dispensaries. Voters will also decide whether to impose a five to 10 percent tax on potential retail marijuana sales if California voters approve Proposition 19 - to legalize recreational pot use for adults over 21.

"Different cities will be competing for this activity," Anthony suggested. "I think you will be in good position to compete."

Pictured: Top - Joe Hough arranges the product at Canna Care dispensary. Hector Amezcua/hamezcua@sacbee.com. Medical buds at El Camino Wellness Center. Lezlie Sterling/lsterling@sacbee.com. Sacramento Bee files, 2009.

July 28, 2010
Down in one poll, California pot legalization leads in a new one

Polling on the California initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use continues to be as varied as the potent strains of Golden State weed.

On July 9, the California Field Poll offered a less-than promising outlook for Proposition 19. It showed the initiative losing by 48 to 44 percent with almost four months left for opponents to campaign for "no" votes -- generally easier to obtain on state ballot measures.

Now a new survey by a national firm, Public Policy Polling, shows the measure winning -- and comfortably so.

Public Policy Polling has Prop 19 up by 52 to 36 percent.

The results continue a trend from recent polling on the measure: People can pretty much shop for the result they'd like.

July 27, 2010
Raid on Mendo grower riles opponents of Obama DEA nominee

After Mendocino County passed a new ordinance to allow medical marijuana growers to cultivate up to 99 plants, Joy Greenfield was the first to sign-up.

According to the Ukiah Daily Journal, she purchased 25 zip ties from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department as part of a county program to regulate local medicinal cultivation by labeling pot plants to ensure residents don't exceed growing limits. She was in the process of purchasing 74 more ties.

But this month, federal drug agents swooped onto Greenfield's property, in the Chicken Ridge area of the Mendocino town of Covelo, seized her plants, a computer and cash.

Now marijuana advocates are rallying around the Mendo grower - and demanding that President Barack Obama yank his nomination of a high-ranking Drug Enforcement Administration official he tapped to head the agency.

The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) cited the Mendocino County raid as proof that current DEA Deputy Administrator Michele Leonhart is unfit to move up to the top agency job.

In a press release on behalf of multiple marijuana advocacy groups, NORML Executive director Allen St. Pierre charged that Leonhart was ignoring Obama administration pledges not to target medical marijuana in California and other 13 states where it is legal under state laws. Medical pot is illegal under federal law.

"Under Leonhart's leadership, the DEA has staged medical marijuana raids in apparent disregard of Attorney General Eric Holder's directive to respect state medical marijuana laws," St. Pierre said.

He said the agency "flouted a pioneering Mendocino County ordinance to regulate medical marijuana cultivation by raiding the first grower to register with the sheriff."

NORML said Greenfield was growing plants for a San Diego dispensary called Light The Way.

July 26, 2010
Sex toys retailer pumps $100,000 into California marijuana push

A new campaign committee supporting California's initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use is being backed by a wealthy entrepreneur in other forms of recreation - sex toys and porn.

Philip D. Harvey has donated $100,000 to the Drug Policy Action Committee to Tax and Regulate Marijuana. The committee is backing Proposition 19, the November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for adults over 21, allow small residential cultivation and permit local governments to tax and regulate pot sales.

Harvey, so far the only listed donor to the committee, is president of Adam & Eve, a North Carolina mail order and retail firm that has been billed as America's largest provider of sexual products and adult films.

Harvey is also a philanthropist involved in family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention. He is president of DKT International, which distributes condoms and contraceptives to poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Harvey's website features a 2004 profile by The Economist magazine. It describes him as a "famously libertarian" man who looks "more like an academic than a sex magnate" and who has "broadened his fight for free speech and individual choice" to "America's war on drugs."

July 22, 2010
Proposed 'One Love' dispensary gets none in City of Folsom

The City of Folsom has no love for a proposed One Love Wellness Center.

The suburban Sacramento city is aggressively pursuing a lawsuit to keep the marijuana dispensary out of town, even after backers of the cannabis club announced they have given up.

But Folsom City Attorney Bruce Cline said the city had cause for suspicion after three men applied for a city license to open up a "medical supplies" business.

In court papers, Fernando Robles of Sacramento said he and partners Salvador Molina and Tej Baath later directly approached Folsom officials and said they wanted to open a dispensary in town.

Informed that the city had an outright ban against pot shops, Robles said: "I did argue that the city was not following California law regarding medical marijuana, and I felt that under California law we could open our dispensary and challenge the city ordinance."

That was enough to send the city to court. A recent lawsuit, seeking a restraining order banning One Love from opening, said operation of a marijuana outlet in Folsom would be a public nuisance - "for which harm to the city and community is presumed."

"By defendant One Love's own admissions and action, the likelihood of a nuisance...occurring is real and substantial," the city suit charged. "Representatives (for the proposed dispensary) have told the city attorney that they have obtained a location for the operations...within the city, though refusing to disclose the location, and that they intend to open."

In court papers last week, Robles said: "After considering or options, we chose not to open a dispensary in the City of Folsom and took no further steps to do so or challenge the city."

But Folsom is pushing on with its suit to keep One Love out of town. A Sacramento Superior Court judge set a hearing on the matter for July 26.

Meanwhile, there is another One Love Wellness Center that is not at all happy with the Folsom controversy.

Lino Catabran, a board member for the dispensary on El Camino Avenue in Sacramento, said it has no tie to the attempted Folsom venture.

"I'm not trying to open a dispensary there. We've had a problem...with someone trying to infringe on our name."

July 21, 2010
Pot measure analysis: Employers retain authority, taxes hazy

An independent critique by the state Legislative Analyst's Office provides fodder for both supporters and opponents of Proposition 19, the measure to legalize recreational marijuana use for California adults 21 and over.

The LAO analysis seems to counter at least part of a major contention of initiative opponents who argue Prop 19 would supersede employer rules.

The analysis notes that no individual can be punished, fined or discriminated against for engaging in conduct permitted by the initiative. But it also says Prop 19 "does specify that employers would retain existing rights to address consumption of marijuana that impairs and employee's job performance."

Initiative opponents argue that legalized pot could potentially cost companies and public agencies billions of dollars in federal grants if they don't maintain drug free work environments.

But the LAO report said the measure could result in state savings that could amount to "several tens of millions of dollars annually" in reduced costs from locking up people for marijuana offenses.

But the LAO said potential tax revenues promised by initiative proponents aren't guaranteed as the measure is written. It said tax monies that will result from Prop 19 "are subject to significant uncertainty."

While the initiative would give local governments authority to tax and regulate marijuana sales, the LAO said, "It is uncertain to what extent the state and local governments would in fact undertake such actions.

"It is unknown how many local governments would choose to license establishments that would grow or sell marijuana or impose an excise tax on such sales," the report said.

However, the LAO said that the potential development of "a commercial marijuana industry" could enable state and local governments to "eventually collect hundreds of millions of dollars annually in additional revenues."

It also said legalized marijuana could actually promote a new revenue stream from pot tourism, saying, "To the extend that this business activity pulled in spending from persons in other states, the measure would result in a net increase in taxable economic activity to the state."

To read the report, click here.

July 20, 2010
Judge's denial of medical pot defense in San Diego stirs fury

Medical marijuana advocates are rallying to the cause of San Diego County defendant James Stacy, expressing hand-wringing outrage that the former dispensary operator is facing federal drug prosecution.

Stacy operated a medical pot shop, called "Movement in Action," in Vista. He was charged with federal counts of illegally manufacturing and distributing marijuana after a series of undercover buys by a San Diego County sheriff's detective and subsequent raids by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officers on his home and business.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz rejected Stacy's bid to throw out the charges on grounds that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder publicly signaled in comments last year that they wouldn't target medical marijuana operations in states where medical use is legal.

Moskowitz ruled July 12 that the Obama administration statements and policy directive on medical marijuana weren't a promise that "the DEA would never raid medical marijuana dispensaries claiming to operate in compliance with state law."

Moskowitz also agreed with prosecutors that Stacy couldn't present a "medical marijuana defense" based on California's Proposition 215 Compassionate Use Act that allowed medical pot use.

The ruling drew fierce protests from a marijuana patients' advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access.

"It is unconscionable for the federal government to continue prosecuting these cases and ruining people's lives," declared Caren Woodson, the organization's director of government affairs. Woodson also said Mosowitz's ruling "denied the accused a defense in federal court, all but guaranteeing a conviction in spite of the defendant's compliance with state law."

U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, a Democrat from Carmel, used the Stacy case to call for approval of legislation he is sponsoring to allow "defendants like Stacy" to offer evidence in federal court that their use of medical marijuana was legal under state laws. He said the legislation "would correct this aberration of justice and ensure than no one else will needlessly face years in prison."

Stacy, who due to stand trial August 30, is the latest high-profile defendant in long-running law enforcement efforts targeting medical pot distribution in San Diego County.

In an appearance before the San Diego City Council after his arrest, Stacy called for marijuana's legalization "so we do not have to suffer through publicity-seeking law enforcement and politicians that will re-interpret the law to suit their needs." He called medical marijuana "a gift from God" for patients, including the "sick and dying."

After executing search warrants on Stacy's home and business last September, authorities seized 96 marijuana plants, pot food products, business records and a loaded semi-automatic pistol.

Stacy responds, below, in a clip from his City Council appearance.

July 14, 2010
Pot legalization ballot statements offer starkly different realities

The ballot arguments submitted for and against legalizing marijuana in California present such starkly different views they seemed penned from different worlds.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and Mothers Against Drunk Driving president Laura Dean-Mooney signed the ballot argument against legalizing pot.

Retired San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, former Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray and retired Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Stephen Downing signed the argument in favor.

In statements for Proposition 19, scheduled to be published July 20, proponents claim marijuana "prohibition" has been a costly disaster that California can't afford and say pot should be legalized, taxed and regulated like alcohol.

In the opposing argument, furnished by the "no" on 19 campaign, Public Safety First, Feinstein and Dean-Mooney claim legalizing marijuana beyond current medical use would cost California schools $9.4 billion in federal funding. And they suggest that employers permitting workers to peddle candy bars at the office for charities may even have to accommodate "any employee with a 'license' to sell marijuana."

Here are more excerpts from the Feinstein and Dean-Mooney argument:

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) strongly opposes Proposition 19 because it will prevent bus and trucking companies from requiring their drivers to be drug-free. Companies won't be able to take action against a "stoned" driver until after he or she has a wreck, not before.

School districts may currently require school bus drivers to be drug-free, but if Proposition 19 passes, their hands will be tied - until after tragedy strikes..."

"The California Chamber of Commerce found that "if passed, this initiative could result in employers losing public contracts and grants because they no longer effectively enforce the drug-free workplace requirements outlined by the federal government..."

"Proposition 19 is simply a jumbled legal nightmare that will make our highways, our workplaces and our communities less safe."

Here are excerpts from the argument of McNamara, Gray and Downing, furnished by the "yes on 19 campaign, Control and Tax Cannabis 2010.

Prohibition has created a violent criminal market run by international drug cartels. Police waste millions of taxpayer dollars targeting non-violent marijuana consumers, while thousands of violent crimes go unsolved. And there is $14 billion in marijuana sales every year in California, but our debt-ridden state gets nothing from it. Marijuana prohibition has failed...

Proposition 19 was carefully written to get marijuana under control. Under Proposition 19, only adults 21 and over can possess up to one ounce of marijuana, to be consumed at home or licensed establishments. Medical marijuana patients' rights are preserved...

Proposition 19 maintains strict criminal penalties for driving under the influence, increases penalties for providing marijuana to minors, and bans smoking it in public, on school grounds, and around minors. Proposition 19 keeps workplaces safe by preserving the right of employers to maintain a drug-free workplace.

Two arguments, different universes.

Read and decide. For yes on 19, click here. For no, click here.

July 12, 2010
Map: Marijuana busts high on north coast, prevalent statewide

Mendocino and Humboldt counties, California's two most renowned pot-cultivation regions, are among the top counties in per capita arrests for marijuana.

And despite a softening of social attitudes towards marijuana, California law enforcement officials arrested 78,514 people statewide for pot offenses in 2008.

Those are some of the conclusions that can be reached from an analysis of 2008 arrest data from the California Department of Justice - and statewide interactive mapping by Philip Reese of The Sacramento Bee.

In 2008, the last full year for which figures are available, neighboring Mendocino and Humboldt combined for 972 marijuana arrests and ranked third and fourth in pot arrests per population. They trailed in per capita arrests behind rural Alpine County - which only had 7 pot busts - and Inyo County - which had 105 arrests.

Los Angeles had the state's highest number of marijuana arrests - 23,851 - but that ranked only 25th among the state's 58 counties when measured per population. Sacramento - with 2,430 pot busts - ranked 44th in rate of arrests.

All told, authorities in California arrested 61,388 adults and juveniles on marijuana misdemeanors and another 17,126 for pot felonies.

The interactive map of marijuana arrests can be viewed by clicking here.

July 8, 2010
Former skydiving lobbyist fights for neighborhood dispensary

joel.JPGBack in his truly sky high days, Joel "J.W." Marsall jumped out of planes in bonding exercises with business executives.

The West Coast lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce didn't know that his skydiving adventures - resulting in injury and chronic back pain from a less-than-perfect landing -- would ultimately parachute him into another line of work. "I bounced once," he says.

These days, Marsall is a medical marijuana patient and the director of Delta Health and Wellness Inc., a dispensary that shares a block of 17th Street in Sacramento with residential homes.

Located just off the Broadway Avenue business district and near a light rail station, Delta Wellness is one of numerous Midtown dispensaries that have stirred debate over their proximity to neighborhoods.

The city has been studying an ordinance that would cap the number of Sacramento dispensaries - 39 are currently registered -- at a dozen and ban them from operating near schools, churches and homes. It is also considering a ballot measure for a tax on gross receipts of marijuana businesses.

But Council members are also debating whether to allow a concentration of pot shops to remain in Midtown - where they can more readily be reached by medical marijuana patients who use mass transit.

Marsall says his dispensary offers more to the immediate community than just an availability of premium Purple Fuscia, Christmas Bud or Northern Lights medical pot.

He says his dispensary workers mow the weeds and lawns at nearby homes and argues that its added lighting and security that have made the neighborhood safer.

The ex-lobbyist says Delta Health and Wellness officials have also "knocked on every door" to let the neighbors know who is running the operation.

He says his push to win over local government officials continues.

"The challenge to having these stores around is totally different to the challenges that the (medical marijuana) industry faces," Marsall said. "The industry faces the education of the council members, of the board of supervisors, of everyone. They have to take it out of the mindset that it's pot, it's weed, it's something to get high on. It's medicine, and when people understand that, it changes their attitude."

One neighbor, Lydia Bacca, said she was surprised when the neighborhood dispensary opened just a few doors down from her house.

"None of us knew that marijuana place was coming," said Bacca, who complains about traffic the establishment generates.

But neighbor Jim Groth, a retired U.S. Postal Service letter-carrier, says he's generally pleased with the new business nearby. Though he doesn't care for the dispensary's sun-reflecting metal roof, he said, "I'm all for it. I'm for medical marijuana...I'm happy it's here."

Marsall said he is counting on the city agreeing over the long-term.

"We're not going silently into the night," he said.

Pictured: Joel "J.W." Marsall outside his Delta Health and Wellness dispensary. Andy Alfaro/alfaro@sacbee.com

July 7, 2010
RAND study: Legal pot will plummet prices, tax benefits hazy

Legalizing marijuana in California would dramatically drive down prices, dropping the cost of a joint to as little as $1.50, but state efforts to tax pot may create a whole new black market, according to RAND Corporation researchers.

The six-month study by the non-partisan, Santa Monica-based research institute said legalizing pot could generate revenues for California and state communities at far higher - or lower - rates than a much-publicized $1.4 billion marijuana tax estimate developed by the state Board of Equalization last year.

The authors of the study, released today, said California tax revenues could swing wildly depending on whether legalizing marijuana leads to a surge of Amsterdam-style pot tourism or even a lure for out-of-state drug traffickers wanting to buy cheap California weed to resell elsewhere.

"It may depend on whether dealers outside of California can access marijuana in California and bring it back to their states," said Jonathan Caulkins, a Carnegie Mellon University researcher and co-director of RAND's Drug Policy Research Center.

The study doesn't take a position on either the November ballot initiative - Proposition 19 - to legalize recreational marijuana use or proposed, separate state legislation to impose a $50-per-ounce pot tax.

But the authors of the report wrote that legalizing marijuana would bring "California law into direct conflict with federal law." They said that could result in federal lawsuits or action by Congress to cut state highway funds - similar to past federal moves used to pressure states to raise the drinking age to 21.

The study said legalizing marijuana would cause the price of marijuana to plummet by more than 80 percent.

Lead author Beau Kilmer, the other co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, said it could drop the cost to as little as $38 an ounce. He said that could mean "$1.50 a joint for high-quality marijuana."

Kilmer said the drug prices would drop dramatically because drug dealers in California "won't have to be compensated for their risks." And he said legalization will vastly expand indoor growing operations - which have proliferated under the current medical marijuana law -- to create a low cost, commercial networks.

The authors said legalization and resulting price drops will also also cause marijuana consumption to jump. But their estimates varied widely, from about 75 to 150 percent, over how much pot use will go up.

"We believe consumption is going to increase," Kilmer said. "But it is unclear how much. It (legalization) could change the stigma. There could be more promotion. There could be more advertising...There also will be a drop in the...price that can influence behavior."

Proposition 19 would legalize recreational marijuana use for California residents over 21, allow small residential cultivation and permit local governments to tax and regulate tax sales.

Meanwhile, Assembly Bill 2254, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, would impose a $50 per ounce tax on pot sales and would license private marijuana cultivators and wholesalers. Ammiano has delayed the bill until after the vote on Proposition 19.

The RAND report warns that taxing marijuana in California could create a new illicit marijuana market trafficking cheaper, non-taxed pot.

"One could hypothesize that people would be willing to pay that tax because it would be a lot cheaper to what they're paying in an illegal market," said Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, a senior economist for the RAND Corp. "But there is room for the black market to emerge."

For a summary of the RAND study and a link to the full report, click here.

July 6, 2010
Once doomed to die, AIDS patient finds renewal in pot shop job

RDB0238.JPGNearly three decades ago, Thomas Coy, a teenager diagnosed with AIDS, figured he was looking at a death sentence.

Over the ensuing years, he braved homelessness, despair and at least four occasions when severe illness had him thinking he was soon to gasp his last breath.

But for the past five years, Coy, 45, has been working as a paid employee and an AIDS/HIV counselor for the Capitol Wellness Center, a marijuana dispensary with two locations in Sacramento.

Five years ago, Coy also told the state of California to stop sending him $800 in monthly disability checks. He suddenly had a paid job, a life to live, and people to serve.

"It's a miracle I'm up and running. I should be, by all medical accounts, right in an AIDS hospice," Coy said.

He works for a dispensary that has long had a core of AIDS or HIV patients who use medical marijuana to ease nausea or boost their appetites.

Coy, who takes 22 medications for conditions due to AIDS, also treats himself by smoking marijuana and consuming pot tinctures or brownies.

He says marijuana eases shooting pains he gets every morning in his legs and his shoulders due to chronic neuropathy, a degenerative nerve condition. He says pot also stopped him from "throwing up every day" due to the side effects of his medications.

Each Thursday, at the Capitol Wellness dispensary on 29th street, Coy finds fellowship as a group counselor for 15 to 20 AIDS/HIV patients. The sessions cover everything from uses of marijuana to dealing with the grief of losing a loved one to AIDS.

Coy knows the latter well. He recently lost his life partner to the disease.

But he says working with fellow patients enriches his life.

"I found that helping other people helps me keep my health better," he says.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for AOC_MedMJ_119b.JPGCoy, who lives independently in West Sacramento, is a regular at regional meetings or demonstrations on behalf of AIDS/HIV patients or medical marijuana users. His activism has also ballooned to include an array of international economic and human rights issues.

He has protested the World Bank in demonstrations in Seattle and railed against the World Trade Organization in Washington D.C.

But the man who thought his death was imminent long ago said he found a sense of home working in a marijuana dispensary.

"I love my job," he says. "It gave me life again."

Pictured: Top - Coy reflects at Capitol Wellness. Jacqueline Baylon/jbaylon@sacbee.com.
Below - Coy at December, 2005, Sacramento federal court protest over federal raids on California dispensaries. Autumn Cruz/acruz@sacbee.com.

July 1, 2010
Advocate for pot businesses blasts 'strong-arm' raids in Butte

The lobbyist for a Chico medical marijuana patients group hoping to open a dispensary in the city is crying foul over Wednesday's law enforcement sweeps that targeted eight Butte County pot shops and 11 residences.

Max Del Real, whose California Capitol Solutions firm represents dispensaries and other marijuana-related business, took issue with the timing of the raids by 100 officers from a dozen law enforcement agencies.

The sweeps took place as the city of Chico is considering a local ordinance to allow marijuana dispensaries to legally operate in the college town, the home of Chico State University. The City Council began reviewing a proposed dispensary ordinance in May and the Chico planning commission is to take up the issue in August.

Del Real represents a local patients' group called Citizens Collective that is seeking to open a dispensary in Chico. He said the home of one of the group's organizers was targeted in Wednesday's raids.

"We have a sting operation that is wasting resources and chasing down crime that doesn't exist," Del Real said. "Butte County is muddying the waters for great cities like Chico that want to push forward a reasonable ordinance."

He added: "What we find are strong-arm tactics meant to spread fear throughout the north state, and I find that very unfortunate."

Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney said in an interview Wednesday that the raids were triggered by evidence that existing pot clubs in the county were doling out marijuana to people lacking proper medical recommendations.

He said officers were also responding to questions over "the legitimacy of these operations" and their "compliance with the law."

Officials in both Chico and the county say current zoning laws don't permit dispensaries.