NEARLY TWO years after Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana, nine distribution centers are to open next year in places like Brookline, Lowell, Salem, and Quincy. The state licensing process for these dispensaries has been convoluted. And yet that path seems easy to navigate compared with the latest obstacle: the banking system. Because the drug remains illegal under federal law, marijuana-related businesses nationwide have struggled to find banks that will accept their deposits. This is creating a bizarre and dangerous cash management situation for businesses that Massachusetts and other states treat as legal. Federal lawmakers and regulators should acknowledge this and allow marijuana dispensaries to use the banking system safely.
Nationwide, legal marijuana sales are expected to reach about $2.6 billion this year. In February, the Obama administration announced new guidelines for banks to legally do business with state-regulated marijuana merchants. But the action doesn’t prevent federal authorities from prosecuting or otherwise penalizing those banks. Not surprisingly, banks are still leery of serving the on-the-books marijuana industry. Recently, it was reported that only 105 banks and credit unions — 1 percent of the total nationwide — provide banking services to marijuana dispensaries, according to a top federal official.
The issue is most acute in Washington and Colorado, the only states to allow sales of recreational marijuana. But three-quarters of Americans now live in states with marijuana laws more lenient than the federal government’s. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia allow some form of medical marijuana. In November, Alaska and Oregon voters will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana.
In light of a shift in public sentiment, it’s worrisome to hear of marijuana business operators having to hide tens of thousands of dollars in cash in offices and carry it around in paper bags because banks refuse to take their money.
The cash stockpiling has created unintended consequences: New security businesses have sprung up to protect the cash that marijuana merchants are forced to transport. A Seattle marijuana businessman told The New York Times: “We have to play this never-ending shell game of different cars, different routes, different dates, and different times.” Meanwhile, owners of marijuana stores have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in state taxes using cash. Even more puzzling: Legal marijuana businesses without bank accounts are charged a 10 percent penalty by the IRS for paying payroll taxes in cash.
Congress seems to be doing something about the problem. This summer, the US House approved a bipartisan amendment that allows banks to accept deposits from marijuana stores and dispensaries. The bill prevents the Treasury Department from penalizing financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses that are legal under state law. The Senate should quickly pass it so that marijuana businesses can at least begin to apply for the banking services they need.
By Scott Gacek
The Department of Public Health will issue between 7 and 35 medical marijuana dispensary licences out of over 100 applications that were received last year.
Under the language of Question 3, the initiative approved by 63% of the state’s voters in 2012, at least one medical marijuana dispensary must be approved to open in each of Massachusetts’ seven counties.
There is a limit of five dispensaries per county, capping the maximum number of dispensaries statewide at 35.
While the Department of Public Health has been criticized for it’s handling of implementing the medical marijuana program in Massachusetts, including their July 2013 decision to stop allowing patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana until dispensaries are open, some patient advocates applaud the progress the DPH has made.
“I’ve been impressed with the steps that DPH has taken to execute a transparent process and develop regulations that address concerns from an array of stakeholders,” said Matthew J. Allen, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA). “Given the number of applicants and the thoughtful approach the agency has taken so far, I’m confident that the final pool of licensees will represent those best qualified to meet patient needs.”
About 140 individual non-profit organizations submitted applications to operate dispensaries in Massachusetts, with some groups hoping to operate multiple dispensaries in the Bay State.
A total of 181 applications for individual dispensaries were submitted in the first phase of the application process, with 158 of those applications advancing to the second phase.
Of those 158 approved to advance, about 100 applicants paid the $30,000 application fee to advance to phase two of the application process. The final dispensaries selected must also pay an annual $50,000 registration fee.
Phase 2 applicants must demonstrate local community support for their proposed location during the application review process, and must show that they can comply with all municipal rules, regulations, ordinances and bylaws.
Regulations for registered marijuana dispensaries require them to follow strict security plans, require seed to sale monitoring, restrict signage, and prohibit of on site medical marijuana use.
Only patients with a doctor’s recommendation and an identification card issued by the state will be permitted to enter dispensaries.
Throughout the application process, the Department of Public Health has come under fire from medical marijuana patients and activists, who say the guidelines created by the Department are catered towards profits for the select few who are able to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the state, and do not protect patients.
Advocates fear that the high costs of fees associated with opening a dispensary, combined with the elimination of home cultivation and limiting caregivers to only one patient, will lead to limited access of medical marijuana for patients, with high dispensary prices forcing patients to continue purchasing medical marijuana on the black market.
Dispensaries are expected to finally open later this year. Meanwhile, a drive is already underway to place an initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuanaon the November 2016 ballot.
Local police and elected officials say law enforcement agencies in Bristol County do not target minorities for marijuana possession as suggested by a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union.By Brian Fraga
Local police and elected officials say law enforcement agencies in Bristol County do not target minorities for marijuana possession as suggested by a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Absolutely not. I haven’t seen any evidence of it,” Somerset Police Chief Joseph Ferreira said.
“Our arrests are based on the facts of the case. We don’t make arrests or issue citations based upon the minority status of anyone,” Swansea Police Lt. Greg Ryan said.
The ACLU released its report — entitled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted in Racially-biased Arrest” — last month indicating that black people nationwide are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.
The statistical analysis was based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, for which local, county and state law enforcement departments across the nation provide statistics on the numbers of crimes and arrests reported in a given year.
In 2010, black people in Bristol County were 3.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the ACLU analysis, which indicated that Barnstable County — where blacks were reportedly 11 times more likely to be arrested — ranked 14th in the nation for that disparity. In Plymouth County, blacks were 10.5 times more likely to be arrested, the ACLU said.
However, law enforcement officials said the statistics do not show a complete picture in that they do not take account factors such as whether marijuana arrests occurred during “high-energy” patrols in certain neighborhood “hot spots.” Marijuana possession, officials said, is also often a secondary offense in a criminal case where a defendant is charged with more serious crimes.
“You’d have to see what the population for police encounters is and then see if a particular grouping was more likely to get arrested in a similar situation,” said Taunton Police Chief Edward Walsh, who added that, “anecdotally,” he has not seen any disparities between whites and minorities being arrested.
“Generally, at the local level, unless something else is going on, marijuana possession is under the radar,” Walsh said, adding that officers often do not encounter marijuana unless there is an “ancillary situation” such as domestic violence or other violent crimes.
New Bedford Police Chief David Provencher said the statistics might be skewed by a high number of arrests happening at one time in certain neighborhood “hot spots.” But over the course of a year, Provencher said, the ACLU’s conclusion “is a strong statement based on an assertion without taking into account a whole bunch of other variables.”
Marijuana possession arrests in Massachusetts have also plummeted since minor possession — defined by state law as one ounce or less — was decriminalized after a 2008 state ballot measure,
The ACLU analysis says marijuana possession arrests in Massachusetts fell from 8,502 in 2008 to 1,240 in 2009 — an 85 percent decrease — and dropped again in 2010 to 1,181.
The number of black people arrested for marijuana possession also dropped by 85 percent, but they are still arrested at a higher rate, the ACLU said.
About 61 out of 100,000 black people continued to be arrested for marijuana possession while only 16 out of 100,000 white people were arrested for the same offense, according to the ACLU analysis.
“The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project and one of the report’s primary authors, said in prepared remarks.
“State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against Black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost,” Edwards said.
The ACLU report says that enforcing the marijuana laws wastes about $3.61 billion of taxpayer dollars every year — about $9.32 million in Massachusetts — and strains law enforcement resources. The ACLU favors legalizing marijuana for people over 21 in a regulated and taxed licensing scheme.
“The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work,” Edwards said, adding that marijuana arrests “have a significant detrimental impact on people’s lives, as well as on the communities in which they live.”
The United States Conference of Mayors passed a resolution on June 24 urging the federal government to let states craft their own policies for handling marijuana. The resolution said the “costly and ineffective prohibition” of marijuana drained public resources, and that those costs are often absorbed at the local level.
Fall River Mayor William Flanagan said he had not seen the resolution or the ACLU report, but he said that in general, he does not support liberalizing access to marijuana.
“As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen first-hand the damage that drug use can cause to an individual, as well as that individual’s family and community,” Flanagan said, adding that he believes the Fall River Police Department does not treat individuals differently based on their race or socioeconomic background.
“They’re trained to investigate criminal activity, to use reasonable suspicion when warranted and make arrests based on probable cause,” Flanagan said.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said it was “outrageous” to suggest that police officers target people of color.
“It doesn’t jive with what my experience has been in law enforcement,” Hodgson said, adding that police officers and members of his department’s drug investigative team focus mainly on where drugs are coming from and who the major players are in those operations.
“We don’t care if they’re yellow, red, black or green,” Hodgson said. “We’re more interested in the outcomes."
Proposed MA DPH regulations regarding medical-marijuana patients and caregivers
Posted by MikeCann via MikeCann.net
To: Massachusetts Department of Public Health
From: Andy Gaus
Re: Proposed regulations regarding medical-marijuana patients and caregivers
Thank you for providing this forum to comment on the proposed DPH regulations on medical marijuana.
Two provisions in particular appear to make it virtually impossible for caregivers to provide the marijuana patients need while dispensaries are slowly organizing themselves:
1) Each caregiver must provide marijuana for only one patient.
2) The caregiver is not supposed to receive any compensation whatever from the patient for providing the marijuana.
Put these two provisions together, and very few people can practically step forward and become caregivers.
Bear in mind that growing marijuana indoors requires investing several hundred dollars in equipment to get started, paying high electrical bills in the ensuing months as well as ongoing costs for soil and fertilizer, and putting in hours of very real physical labor. If a patient grows for herself, these costs are repaid by the marijuana harvested and the relief it brings. But if a patient cannot grow for herself, the very considerable costs and burdens of producing the marijuana fall totally on the caregiver, with all compensation prohibited. This isn't just unfair: it has the practical effect of making it virtually impossible to be a caregiver, which means no one can help the person who cannot grow for herself. If you wish to limit the ability of a caregiver to profit from their cottage industry, you could set a maximum number of patients (but not a maximum of one), or a maximum price per ouince, or both. A limit of, say, 20 patients per caregiver and $100 per ounce would keep caregivers and their homes from turning into for-profit dispensaries but would not leave patients with no one to turn to during a long period when cities and towns are enacting moratoriums and potential dispensary operators are clearing numerous legal hurdles.
The provision that a patient must have no more than two total sources of marijuana is also unnecessarily onerous. If all providers are supposed to use a common state database, any user of the database should be able to verify that the same patient isn't filling the same prescription multiple times at different locations. If a further check is needed, patients could be issued something like a ration book.
One senses in all these regulations the underlying assumption that a set of air-tight regulations is both necessary and sufficient to prevent medical marijuana from being diverted to healthy recreational users, and that without such air-tight regulations, large-scale diversion is inevitable, with disastrous social consequences, particularly the increased availability to minors.
Let's be realistic: recreational users, including minors, already have total access to marijuana if they want it. Kids themselves, when surveyed, report that marijuana is easier to get than alcohol. Those who get their dope from dealers needn't fear being rejected as too young, and most of them get it, not from dealers, but from each other, in a vast informal network where everyone is both a user and a distributor. Likewise, almost all Massachusetts adults who wish to consume marijuana recreationally have found or could find a connection: marijuana prices have actually come down in recent years due to market saturation.
As officials responsible for public health, your first priority must be to make sure that patients who need marijuana for relief of painful and debilitating conditions can get it.
Minimizing diversion cannot be the main goal: it will never be effective for its stated purpose and is certain to cause unnecessary stress and pain for patients who need relief now and for the caregivers who would like to provide it .
THE GRASS ON THE OTHER SIDE
Releaf Magazine June 2012
Just as young children look to their parents for their rules and guidelines, we have been brainwashed as adults into thinking our government must provide us with the same type of authority. Instead of telling the government how we want to live our lives and the rules they must follow, we look to them to decide if our actions are right or wrong. This is apparent as our Bill of Rights and the Constitution continue to wither away in front of our eyes. It is also blatant in the prohibition of cannabis. 17 states have enacted a medical marijuana program, 15 states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis, while over 50% of the country supports legalization of cannabis. While these numbers seem encouraging and may show progression in the cannabis movement, it also shows the power we give up by letting the government decide how cannabis should be regulated. It places Americans in a position where they must settle for less than they deserve and still fall victim to the mercy of a cannabis monopoly. In dry states, the DEA has and will continue to control the monopoly. The free enterprise of the California medical system has been viewed by some as the ‘wild west,’ leading to tighter regulation in other states that implement medical marijuana programs. The leniency of the California program allowed for many California residents to realize large financial gains by starting new businesses and engaging in cannabis related commerce. Wait….Americans making a living for themselves off of the land, growing plants that can heal and provide for self sufficiency? In today’s society it seems too good to be true, and unfortunately it will be for many states moving forward. That’s not what we are lead to believe though, just look at the picture that is being painted. Most states considering medical legislation immediately see opposition from those referencing the “flaws” in the California system. This has lead to private interest groups finding a backdoor into the driver’s seat of a cannabis monopoly. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Massachusetts which has multiple bills calling for medical marijuana being legal for its citizens. The bills that have no support are the bills that give patients the rights to provide for themselves, or appoint their own caregiver to provide for them. The bill that has support from the “for profit” patient’s organization is backed by a corporate giant with interest in keeping growing rights away from patients and put directly into the hands of corporations. I will say this as clearly and as blunt as I can: when you grow your own medicine for yourself, no one makes money from it. Sure, you may be better off as an individual, but as stated earlier, the government tells us how, what and when we can chew, rather than we pick out our own piece to chew on. So, to those living in a state without a medical marijuana program ready to support any bill that offers legalization, I will offer the following advice: the grass might look greener on the other side, but check to see if its fertilized with bullshit.
The Urban Alchemist
Two arrested after marijuana is found in taxi
3am burnin' one in a taxi with 13.5 lbs? Way to blend in guys..........the defective illumination will getcha everytime.......smh....-UA
By Jenna Duncan, Globe Correspondent
Two men traveling in a taxi on Route 3 south in Hingham early this morning were arrested after police found a suitcase in the trunk containing 13½ pounds of marijuana, officials said.
At 3:11 a.m., troopers pulled over a taxi driver for defective illumination on the taxi's rear license plate and changing lanes without signal, State Police said in a statement. When two troopers approached the car, they smelled the odor of burning marijuana coming from inside.
Christopher M. Barnes, 23, of Falmouth, and Charles E. Timbers, 27, of Watertown, were passengers in the taxi. They said they were traveling from South Station to Plymouth but appeared nervous, police said.
One of the troopers had his K9 partner Zander with him. After Zander alerted to the trunk of the car, the officers found a large suitcase “containing green vegetable matter believed to be marijuana.”
Barnes and Timbers are to be arraigned today in Hingham District Court, police said.