News Nuggets

THE STATE

Hundreds of dispensaries threatened under new L.A. ordinance

After years of wrangling, the Los Angeles City Council passed a medical-marijuana ordinance Jan. 26 effectively outlawing hundreds of cannabis dispensaries.

The new regulations, passed by a 9-3 vote, allow only the dispensaries in place before a 2007 moratorium to operate in the city. Several of those “original 187” dispensaries have since shut down, leaving the final number of legally allowed dispensaries in L.A at around 137, with the number to be decreased by attrition to 70. All other dispensaries that opened after the moratorium—estimated anywhere from 550 to over 800—will have to shut down under the new ordinance.

The long slate of new requirements also include a 1,000-site restriction from so-called “sensitive areas,” such as schools, parks and libraries, and a prohibition from operating next to or across the alley from a residential structure. Those site restrictions apply to the pre-moratorium dispensaries, the result being that most of them—perhaps as many as 130—will have to relocate or risk fines and prosecution by the city. Dispensary operators on Tuesday told news reporters that current and potential landlords have already begun to increase rents in anticipation of a relocation exodus.

The law will not take effect until the City Council approves a schedule of fees that dispensaries will be charged to enforce the provisions. It will also require dispensaries to regularly test their cannabis products for pesticides and other contaminants at “independent and certified laboratories.” That provision in particular provoked wide criticism from medical-marijuana proponents, who noted there are virtually no existing independent and certified cannabis testing laboratories in the state.

State Supreme Court strikes down medical-cannabis limits

California’s high court unanimously struck down a provision of the state’s Medical Marijuana Program setting maximum limits on cannabis that qualified patients and their caregivers are allowed to legally possess.

The Supreme Court ruled Jan. 11 that the state legislature exceeded its constitutional authority when it included a possession limit of 8 ounces of dried cannabis and 6 mature plants and 12 immature plants in Senate Bill 420. The 2003 law established guidelines around Proposition 215, the 1996 voter initiative that amended the California constitution to allow the medicinal use of cannabis. Only California voters have the authority to change initiative-mandated amendments to the constitution, the justices ruled.

The decision stemmed from the 2005 arrest and conviction of qualified medical-marijuana patient Patrick Kelly for possessing 12 ounces of cannabis and seven plants in his Lakewood home. A lower court tossed out Kelly’s conviction, a decision the Supreme Court upheld.

Medical-marijuana advocates are divided about the meaning of the Supreme Court ruling, with some saying the removal of maximum limits should reduce the number of police arrests of qualified patients, and others saying the absence of limits will give law enforcement a free hand to abuse their discretion.

New LAPD chief says cannabis clubs are not magnets for crime

Dispensaries and collectives are not the “great attractors” of crime their opponents frequently accuse of them being: So says new Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.

Beck, in a Jan. 16 interview with the Los Angeles Daily News, said he reached that conclusion after personally trying to verify “that mantra” that dispensaries attracted criminal activity such as robberies to neighborhoods. He said he asked staff to prepare a report comparing the number of 2009 bank robberies in the city with the number of reported robberies at dispensaries in the same year.

The report showed the LAPD received 71 bank robbery reports from among the city’s 350 banks in 2009, compared to 47 reported robberies from more than twice that number of L.A. dispensaries. Dispensary robberies were compared to bank robberies, he said, because both deal with large amounts of cash and have heightened security protection.

He added that some dispensaries may not report robberies, while banks are required by law to do so. However, the report factored in all known L.A. dispensaries, but did not include robberies at ATMs, in-store banks or in bank parking lots.

THE NATION

New Jersey becomes America’s 14th medical-marijuana state

New Jersey joined 13 other U.S. states Jan. 18 in allowing qualified patients to use marijuana for their conditions.

Gov. Jon Corzine, in one of his last official acts as the state’s chief executive, signed a bill that will let seriously ill patients buy up 2 ounces of cannabis a month at state-licensed facilities. New Jersey residents with “debilitating illnesses” such as cancer and glaucoma will be able to register for state ID cards to legally purchase marijuana.

The other states that allow the medicinal use of cannabis are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Washington, D.C. also has a compassionate-use program.

More than 129 million Americans now live in states that allow the use of medical marijuana.

More states consider medical cannabis, legalization measures 

Proposed laws that would allow medical-marijuana programs have cropped up in Missouri and South Dakota, while a Hawaiian state senator has introduced legislation that would decriminalize pot possession and legalize and tax dispensaries.

The Missouri bill would change state laws regarding marijuana’s classification as dangerous drug to permit its use by seriously ill patients. The proposed law was co-sponsored by Rob Schaaf, a physician and Republican member of the Missouri House of Representatives, and 15 other legislators in January after an earlier medical-marijuana bill proposed by a Democratic representative was killed.

Also in January, a voter initiative that would allow the compassionate use of cannabis in South Dakota qualified for the state’s November 2010 ballot. The measure, put forward by the nonprofit group South Dakota Coalition for Compassion—a nonprofit group of physicians, patients, received more than twice the required 13,224 signatures to put it before the voters. A previous effort to establish medical marijuana in the state was defeated in 2006 by a 5-percent margin.

The South Dakota initiative would allow qualified patients with medical-marijuana cards to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis.

Hawaiian state Sen. J. Kalani English has introduced bills that would decriminalize adult possession of cannabis and legalize and tax medical-marijuana dispensaries in the state. Qualified patients are already permitted to use medical marijuana in the 50th state, but dispensaries are presently banned. Kalani, a Democrat, told reporters the move would raise critical revenue for the cash-strapped state.

THE WORLD

New Zealand Pot cannabis club looks to go nationwide

Daktory, described as a “cannabis connoisseurs’ club” in New Zealand’s Auckland region, is moving forward on a drive to establish similar clubs across the island nation.

Daktory founder Dakta Green told newspapers in January that the club has received calls for cannabis establishments from “virtually every city in the country,” and that he expects see Daktories in every major New Zealand city in a year’s time.

Similar to Oakland-based Oaksterdam University, Daktory offers classes and degrees in various fields of cannabis cultivation, distribution and marketing.

Despite numerous legalization efforts, cannabis is strictly illegal in New Zealand, with possession of any amount punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. Nevertheless, Daktory members say they have been “hassle-free” since the club opened in November 2008.

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