Tag Archives: medical marijuana

Arizona joins four other states voting on recreational marijuana in November

A voter initiative to legalize recreational marijuana will be on the November ballot in Arizona. The state’s Supreme Court last week rejected a final legal challenge to the measure.

A lower court judge had thrown out the challenge, saying the group called Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy didn’t have a right to sue.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry’s ruling went on to reject all of the reasons opponents laid out for keeping the initiative off the ballot.

The opponents said initiative backers used illegal and unconstitutional “bait-and-switch tactics” and that the initiative violates Arizona’s statutes in three ways. They include a misleading 100-word summary that leaves out important provisions, an “incoherent” text and title that obscures the extent of its impact on other laws, and a failure to provide a legal funding mechanism.

The high court sidestepped the right-to-sue argument, with Chief Justice Scott Bales calling Gentry’s reliance on a 2015 rewrite of a law “murky at best, and rather than wade into those waters, we turn to the merits.”

Bales went on to affirm Gentry’s ruling rejecting the merits of the opponents’ lawsuit, saying the summary substantially complied with the law’s requirements for initiatives.

The ruling means that Proposition 205 is on November’s general election ballot.

Four other states will also have recreational marijuana initiatives on their ballots, including California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada.

Voters in Florida, Montana, North Dakota and Arkansas will vote on medical marijuana.

Under the measure, adults 21 and older could carry up to one ounce of marijuana and consume it privately. Adults could also cultivate up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed space and possess the marijuana produced by the plants. No more than a dozen plants would be allowed in a single residence.

The system would regulate pot in a way proponents say is similar to alcohol, with a 15 percent tax on all retail marijuana sales. Most of the new state revenue would go to Arizona public schools and education programs.

Barrett Marson, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said it was “a good day for voters who want to end marijuana prohibition in Arizona.”

“Voters will get the opportunity that they requested — more than 258,000 people signed a petition to put this before the voters,” Marson said. “The Supreme Court agreed voters should have the final say on whether adults should have the right to legally purchase marijuana.

The Secretary of State confirmed that about 177,000 of those signatures were valid, more than the approximately 151,000 need to qualify for the ballot.

Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which includes two prominent county attorneys and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, said they will now turn to urging voters to reject the measure.

“Our goal now is to make sure that every Arizonan enters the voting booth in November with a full understanding of both the intended and the unintended impacts of the 20 pages of new laws in Prop 205,” Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said in a statement. “We hope all citizens will read the lengthy legalese before voting and will learn how devastating Proposition 205 would be to our state if passed.”

Opponents say backers have not told voters about changes to DUI laws, child custody issues, employment law and many other laws.

In another development, a Maricopa County judge ordered one change to the ballot description voters will see but rejected other revisions sought by the backers.

Judge James Blomo agreed with the measure’s backers that the description crafted by Secretary of State Michele Reagan wrongly said marijuana will be legal for people over 21, when it should be 21 and older, and ordered it changed.

Blomo rejected efforts to insert language showing that a 15 percent marijuana tax would mainly funds schools and enforcement efforts and another minor change. Blomo said omitting the descriptions aren’t misleading and Reagan has the discretion to leave them off.


Patients, physicians lobby for federal medical marijuana bill 

Patients and their physicians lobbied Congress in late March, pressing for a vote on legislation aimed at removing marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs, which are defined as having no medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana and four states allow recreational use of marijuana. However, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, creating complications in the states that have legalized use and erecting barriers to reform in other states, such as Wisconsin.

A bipartisan group in Congress is advocating passage of the Compassionate Access, Research, Expansion and Respect States Act.

Citizens who lobbied for the measure on March 22 included medical marijuana patients, academics, pot advocates and physicians.

At a news conference, they heard from U.S. Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton, a Democrat from the District of Columbia. “If marijuana is a gateway drug, then virtually every college student is on her way to heroin or worse,” she said. “The Congress of the United States keeps us from moving ahead on understanding medical marijuana, what are its values, its true benefits.”

Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, a sponsor of the CARERS Act, added, “Republicans and Democrats agree: federal law on medical marijuana is outdated, out of touch and needs to change. … Keeping marijuana on Schedule I, which is a category for drugs with no medical use, is ludicrous. Ailing patients deserve compassion, not prosecution, especially when they live in states that have legalized medical marijuana.”

Medical marijuana edibles debut in Illinois

Edible medical marijuana made its Illinois debut Saturday, ending a wait for patients who prefer eating to inhaling. To some, cannabis-infused foods seem milder than smoke or vapor, but the products carry their own risks.

It takes longer to feel the effects when marijuana is eaten, so it’s easy to eat too much with unpleasant — or even dangerous — results.

“As exciting as bringing edibles to market is, we want to make sure that every patient takes small portions, and wait at least an hour before taking more, until you understand and get comfortable with consuming medical cannabis in its edible forms,” said Ross Morreale, owner of Ataraxia, an Illinois company with marijuana chocolates hitting the market.

Under the state’s pilot program, edible products must be manufactured by licensed cultivation centers, the same businesses growing cannabis in locked indoor facilities. Ataraxia shipped marijuana chocolates to two dispensaries, which will start selling them Saturday, Morreale said.

The square-inch chocolates contain 10 milligrams of THC, marijuana’s leading active ingredient, and come in three flavors: milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate-raspberry. They’ll be priced at $7 to $9 per square.

“We taste it blank so it has a good flavor foundation,” Ataraxia chef Joseph Pierro said. “We have not tasted it with the (cannabis) oil, but we’re confident flavor will be there strong and true.”

Regulated pot sales began Nov. 9 in Illinois, but companies didn’t have edibles ready until now. Other cultivation centers reached by The Associated Press said they will ship edibles starting in January or February.

Dispensaries are required to provide information about the various forms and methods of cannabis administration, and possible side effects.

The Illinois Department of Public Health is drafting guidance for patients regarding edible forms of cannabis and will distribute shortly, state officials said. The state already requires warnings on the products, meant to distinguish them from regular candy and food.

In Colorado, the state responded to the 2014 death of a college student who jumped from a hotel balcony after eating a potent marijuana cookie by reducing the amount of THC allowed in a serving. Dispensaries and advocates there have spread cautionary messages including “Start Low, Go Slow.”

Sarah Wright, 61, of Rock Falls, uses medical marijuana for fibromyalgia and looks forward to edibles.

“I worry about the mailman coming and smelling it,” Wright said. “You smoke it and smell it all through the house. That gets old.”


Illinois medical marijuana sales start Monday

More than 3,000 patients with Illinois-issued ID cards will be able to buy medical marijuana legally for the first time on Nov. 9, according to the state official overseeing the pilot program.

Eight licensed dispensaries are authorized to start selling cannabis on that day, program director Joseph Wright told The Associated Press. The number will grow to a dozen dispensaries by the end of the month and up to 25 by the end of the year, Wright said.

More than two years after Illinois enacted its medical cannabis law, growers began shipping their products to dispensaries around the state, following instructions sent to them by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. A statewide digital tracking system has been launched to prevent any diversion of marijuana to the black market.

“It’s a safe industry with a strong infrastructure here in Illinois,” said Ben Kovler, CEO of Green Thumb Industries, which has started shipping marijuana from its Rock Island cultivation facility to its dispensary in Mundelein and other retail shops. “We’re all in touch with local police. There will be no surprises.”

Kovler cautioned patients that they must have their ID card and have designated a dispensary with the Illinois Department of Public Health before they can make a purchase. “I’d hate for somebody to drive and learn that at the end of the drive,” Kovler said.

Transportation from cultivation center to retail shop will be governed by official instructions sent to growers. They can transport marijuana only between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Vehicles carrying it must be staffed by at least two cultivation center employees.

Growers must enter unique product ID numbers into the system before they can ship. Florida-based BioTrack THC, which has the Illinois contract for tracking medical marijuana from seed to sale, has similar state contracts in Washington, New Mexico and New York, said CEO Patrick Vo.

In Illinois, BioTrack will be paid $230,000 to get the system running, with annual hosting and maintenance costs of $37,000, Wright said.

The tracking system allows state officials to monitor in real time the location of seedlings, sale products and even plant waste scheduled for destruction. “In the system, any change in quantity requires some type of action or description,” Vo said.

The system also is designed to catch violators who might add black-market marijuana to the legitimate system, Vo said. Tracking each product protects patients with weakened immune systems from marijuana that hasn’t been tested for harmful microbes, poisons from fungus, pesticides and solvents.

“I’m certain there are a lot of people on the fence” about Illinois’ pilot program “and people who are staunchly prohibitionist,” Vo said. “Accountability, transparency and safety are things both sides can get behind.”

Illinois has 3,300 patients approved for the program. The Illinois Department of Public Health started mailing patients their official program ID cards last week.

The eight licensed dispensaries are located in Marion, Mundelein, Canton, Quincy, Addison, North Aurora, Schaumburg and Ottawa.

Illinois is among 23 states with medical marijuana programs.

“We’re thrilled,” said Bradley Vallerius, spokesman for Revolution Cannabis-Delavan, a cultivation center in central Illinois, which plans to ship products to dispensaries this weekend.

South Dakota campaign drives for medical marijuana

New Approach South Dakota is collecting signatures for a proposal to make medical marijuana legal.

The initiative would appear on the 2016 ballot if supporters can collect enough signatures by Nov. 9.

If the proposal appears on the 2016 ballot and is approved by the voters, it would:

• Legalize the medical use of marijuana for patients with a medical practitioner’s certification and one of several listed conditions, including cancer, AIDS/HIV, seizure disorders, PTSD, and severe pain.

• Allow patients and their caregivers to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis and grow six plants.

• Create a licensing system to provide patients with safe access to medical cannabis, allow businesses to process, dispense and test medical cannabis products.

• Prohibit public smoking and driving under the influence of marijuana.

Illinois governor severely restricts medical uses of marijuana

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration issued a broad rejection Thursday of expanding the list of diseases that can be treated with medical marijuana in Illinois, refusing to add osteoarthritis, migraine, post-traumatic stress disorder and eight other health problems.

Separately, the governor vetoed a bill that would have added PTSD via a legislative route.

The moves were a stern rebuke of recommendations from an expert advisory board appointed by Rauner’s predecessor, Democrat Pat Quinn.

Adding conditions would have expanded the potential base of patients. So far, only 3,000 Illinois patients have been approved to use marijuana for conditions listed in the original law such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.

In a veto message, Rauner said adding PTSD to the eligibility list would “prematurely expand” the program before the state has had the chance to evaluate it.

“The pilot program is moving forward, but remains in its early stage. Cultivation centers are just beginning to grow their crops, and the first dispensary was licensed at the end of August,” Rauner said. “It is therefore premature to expand the pilot program _ before any patient has been served and before we have had the chance to evaluate it.”

Supporters of adding PTSD noted the decision came a day ahead of Sept. 11, a difficult anniversary for many veterans.

“In my opinion this is a direct disrespect and disregard to all those who have fought for this country,” said Sandy Champion, whose husband, Jim Champion, is an Illinois veteran who has multiple sclerosis and is a member of the medical cannabis advisory board. “It is because of 9/11 that many of our veterans and civilians are suffering from PTSD. They gave their lives, health and freedom to serve us and today our governor, who is the head of our state, let them down.”

The next step for patients may be court. Illinois law says such decisions are subject to judicial review. Last month, PTSD patients in Colorado filed a lawsuit challenging a July decision by that state’s health board against adding PTSD to the medical marijuana eligibility list.

In Illinois, the advisory board is made up of physicians, nurses and patients. It had reviewed medical evidence and listened to patient testimony before recommending 11 conditions to the Illinois Department of Public Health in May. Thursday’s announcement came from the health department’s director, Dr. Nirav Shah, a Rauner appointee.

Last month, Rauner vetoed an extension to the four-year pilot program, saying he would approve it continuing only through April 2018 until it could be evaluated. The first-term Republican’s support of medical marijuana has been tentative at best.

“I’m disappointed after how hard we worked as a board to review the medical evidence and hear patient testimony,” said Leslie Mendoza Temple, a suburban Chicago physician and the advisory board’s chair. “I’m disappointed most of all for my patients. To get news like this is frankly upsetting. It leaves us with fewer options to control their pain and suffering.”

The advisory board wasn’t a rubber stamp for automatically approving conditions. In May, the board rejected three other health conditions because of a lack of scientific evidence or, in the case of diabetes, because of concern that marijuana would stimulate appetite in patients who need to watch their diets.

The board meets again Oct. 7 to hear public testimony in favor of adding new health conditions. Members also will spend additional time reviewing some of the same conditions recommended in May.

Patients must get a signed certification from a doctor as part of the application process to use medical marijuana in Illinois.

The conditions recommended by the advisory board that were rejected Thursday are: anorexia nervosa, chronic post-operative pain, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, Neuro-Behcet’s autoimmune disease, neuropathy, osteoarthritis, polycystic kidney disease, PTSD and superior canal dehiscence syndrome.

In Minnesota, medical marijuana is now legal but not easy to get for some

It’s a 400-mile, seven-hour, $100 or more journey from Maria Botker’s home in tiny Clinton, Minnesota, to the nearest clinic where she can buy medical marijuana — the only drug that does the trick for her daughter’s rare and aggressive seizure disorder.

In addition to the medicine’s high cost, the short list of qualifying conditions and the difficulty in getting a doctor’s approval to sign up, there’s one more thing making the program difficult for Minnesota patients. Some have to come an awfully long way to get it, with only two of eight dispensaries opening since the July 1 launch.

The law doesn’t require all eight to be open until July 2016. A third location is slated to open Thursday in Rochester. A Bemidji clinic for the northeast corner of the state likely won’t be running until sometime next year.

And even after all eight facilities open, Botker and others from southwestern Minnesota will still face five-hour trips or longer.

“The southwest part of the state is completely neglected,” she said. “I fear that there’s patients out there that could qualify but can’t make the trip. Those are huge burdens on people with chronic illnesses.”

Shaving two hours off their monthly trip for medicine when a Moorhead clinic opens later this summer sounds like “a treat,” Botker said. But after moving to Colorado to get her daughter, Greta, the medicine she needs, then back to Minnesota to see through a new law that disappointed many advocates, Botker doesn’t mince words about the long list of improvements needed to Minnesota’s medical marijuana program.

Adding more dispensaries is at or near the top of the wish list.

“There’s a long way to go until this system is perfect, or better,” Botker said.

Minnesota’s medical marijuana law passed in the waning days of its 2014 legislative session after some last-minute wrangling to get skeptical law enforcement agencies on board. Sen. Scott Dibble called the tight restrictions, including the limited number of dispensaries, a response to law enforcement’s “artificial concerns.”

After giving the state some time to digest its new medical marijuana program, Dibble said he’ll look to revive that debate in the name of adding more distribution centers.

“I’m very interested in lowering the barriers to people who are sick and are in need,” the Minneapolis Democrat said.

Until then, parents like Dawn Baker will have to spend hours in the car.

Baker and her fiancΘ are eyeing medical marijuana as a last recourse to treat her 4-year-old son Brayden’s epilepsy before brain surgery, but she estimates the six-hour drive to the nearest clinic in Minneapolis will cost at least $100.

Add in childcare for Brayden and their four other kids or a night at a hotel, and it’s likely $250 or more _ all before paying for the medicine itself, a bill that could easily surpass $1,000 a month that insurance won’t cover.

“We have no idea how we’re going to come up with it,” Baker said.

Minnesota’s two medical marijuana manufacturers have little role in expanding clinic access as they focus on growing and cultivating the medicine and opening the eight locations the state allows. For the time being, parents are making the drive, Minnesota Medical Solutions CEO Kyle Kingsley said.

The travel expense is a pittance compared to the $1,400 Botker pays each month for Greta’s seizure medication. Still, Botker looks on the bright side: Compared to the split life their family endured when she and Greta lived in Colorado, it’s worth the cost, she said.

“Is it frustrating getting over the growing pains? A little bit,” she said. “But ultimately, I’m so thankful that we’re getting it here in Minnesota.”

U.S. senators urge easier regs for medical marijuana research

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey are urging federal regulators to make it easier for researchers to investigate the medicinal use of marijuana.

The two joined six fellow Democratic senators in asking the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Drug Enforcement Administration to craft what they called “a sensible research and public health strategy” to study medical marijuana use in the 23 states and District of Columbia where it is allowed.

The senators said in a letter to the agencies this week that the increasing access to marijuana for medicinal use creates an “ongoing natural experiment” to help better understand how the drug works and what should be the appropriate use and dosage.

Rand Paul becomes first presidential candidate ever to court donors from the marijuana industry

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul courted donors from the new marijuana industry today, making the Kentucky senator the first major-party presidential candidate to publicly seek support from the legal weed business.

Paul’s fundraiser at the Cannabis Business Summit — tickets started at $2,700, the maximum donation allowed for the primary contest — came as the marijuana industry approached its first presidential campaign as a legal enterprise.

The candidate entered the closed-door fundraiser through a private hallway, instead of visiting the convention floor or meeting pot business owners who weren’t donating to him.

But many of the 40 or so people who attended the fundraiser called his appearance at the summit a milestone. The campaign did not release fundraising totals.

“This is a historical moment, that our industry is now working together with a presidential candidate,” said Tripp Keber, owner of Denver-based Dixie Elixirs, which makes cannabis-infused sodas and sweets.

Another fundraiser attendee, Mitzi Vaughn of Seattle, managing attorney for a law firm that caters to pot businesses, said Paul criticized drug war-era policies but didn’t specifically say what would change if he were elected.

“Most of us, despite what others think, are in this to end the drug war,” Vaughn said.

Though legal weed business owners have been active political donors for years, presidential candidates have so far shied away from holding fundraisers made up entirely of marijuana-related entrepreneurs.

Former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson held a fundraiser with the Drug Policy Alliance in 2012 before leaving the GOP and running as a third-party candidate. But that event came before recreational pot was legal in any state.

“It really speaks to how important this issue is and how far it’s come,” said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a major sponsor of legalization campaigns in Colorado, Washington and other states.

“We’re seeing officials at the local, state and now federal level recognize this is now a legitimate industry, just like any other legal industry in many facets,” Tvert said.

Paul has embraced state marijuana experiments, while other candidates have either taken a wait-and-see approach or expressly vowed to challenge state legalization efforts.

Paul has joined Democrats in the Senate to sponsor a bill to end the federal prohibition on the use of medical marijuana. He also backs an overhaul of federal drug-sentencing guidelines, along with a measure to allow marijuana businesses to access banking services.

Asked last year whether marijuana should be legal, Paul said, “I haven’t really taken a stand on that, but I’m against the federal government telling (states) they can’t.”

San Francisco uses medical marijuana proceeds for gun buybacks

San Francisco police say 91 weapons were taken off the street in a gun buyback event in which guns were bought with cash from medical marijuana dispensaries.

Police Officer Grace Gatpandan said the haul included three assault rifles, including an AR¡15 military style rifle worth thousands of dollars that was bought back for $200.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports police, pot clubs and community groups formed an unusual partnership to organize the event. 

Three of the city’s two dozen medical marijuana dispensaries donated $50,000 to underwrite the buyback. 

Any money not spent on the weapons would go toward funding after-school jobs and helping the families of violent crime victims.