Injecting some sanity into the debate over marijuana DUI, the Arizona Supreme Court yesterday said that just because you had used medical marijuana at some point during the week doesn’t mean you’re impaired when you’re driving.
The ruling contradicts prosecutors who warned medical marijuana users not to drive at all because certain metabolites of THC can remain in the blood stream for days.
The high court said prosecuting drivers not for direct signs of impairment but for having metabolites of THC in their blood “leads to absurd results.”
The ruling could cast doubt on some states’ efforts to establish a 5-nanograms-per-milliliter blood limit for certain metabolites. Some states, including California, are weighing how to deal with stoned drivers in the era of medical marijuana.
Arizona has a zero-tolerance limite for any metabolites of controlled substances in the blood streams of drivers.
But the justices agreed with medical advocates who say such a standard doesn’t correlate to impaired driving and would only serve to persecute medicinal users.
The case in question involved motorist Hrach Shilgevorkyan, who admitted to cops who had pulled him over that he used cannabis the night before. His blood turned up THC metabolites, and he was hit with two counts of DUI.
In particular, prosecutors focused on Carboxy-THC, which can remain in the blood stream not just for a few days, like Hydroxy-THC, but as long as a month.
The Supreme Court wasn’t buying it, concluding:
Drivers cannot be convicted of the offense based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana.
You hear that, California lawmakers?
Via The 420 Times
New Jersey constituents have pressed Christie to sign the bill, which would allow medical cannabis dispensaries to grow more than three strains of marijuana and provide edible forms of the drug. Digestible methods are better suited to children because the process maintains the medical properties while removing many of the ‘high-like’ aspects popular among recreational smokers.
Christie said on Friday that he would sign the bill into law only under the conditions that edible forms of marijuana are available only to qualified children, and that a psychiatrist and pediatrician must authorize the child’s prescription. Neither provision would preclude children from gaining access to medical cannabis, but refusing to allow adult patients access to edible marijuana may pose an unnecessary risk to those with respiratory illnesses.
Medical marijuana is currently legal in New Jersey, but the bill would permit growers to produce more strains of the drug, thereby treating a higher number of patients more accurately. Children currently need three doctors’ signatures in order to be prescribed cannabis. With the current bill proposing that only one signature be needed, Christie seems to be splitting the difference.
The state legislature has not yet revealed if it would consider the changes.
Cannabis can help relieve symptoms from cancer, muscular dystrophy, lupus, and over 30 other illnesses. The drug is known to combat insomnia, lack of appetite, general pain, movement disorders, glaucoma, and vomiting, among other maladies.
“As I have repeatedly noted, I believe that parents, not government regulators, are best suited to decide how to care for their children,” Christie said in a Friday press conference. “I am making commonsense recommendations to this legislation to ensure sick children receive the treatment their parents prefer, while maintaining appropriate safeguards. I am calling on the legislature to reconvene quickly and address these issues so that children in need can get the treatment they need.”
The governor made headlines earlier this week when Brian Wilson, the father of a two-year-old girl who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, approached him asking for help.
“Please don’t let my daughter die, Governor,” Wilson said as Christie walked through a New Jersey diner surrounded by cameras. “Don’t let my daughter die.”
“These are complicated issues,” Christie said, to which Wilson replied it should actually be quite an easy decision.
“I know you think it’s simple and it’s not,” Christie responded.
Wilson told reporters after the scrum that if Christie did not agree to sign the bill on Friday he would be forced to move his family to Colorado, where children with Dravet have been cured of overwhelming seizures by using cannabis.
No big mystery. Few people, including federal prosecutors, have any interest in preventing seriously ill people from using the drug when recommended by their doctors after other treatments have failed.
But would-be marijuana profiteers and their political allies – including the Tacoma City Council – weren’t content with the voters’ mandate for a nonprofit system. Perceiving a lax attitude in the Obama administration, they launched a marijuana trafficking industry that – for all the talk about suffering patients – was really about the money. (Ask the sick people being forced to pay as much as $400 an ounce for the drug.)
The Obama administration, it turns out, isn’t so lax after all. Lately, the Justice Department has been warning that sticking the “medical” label on cash-oriented operations won’t stop the feds from prosecuting, fining and confiscating the property of marijuana dealers – and the officials who abet them.
Gov. Chris Gregoire did precisely the right thing last month when she vetoed most of a bill that would have licensed for-profit marijuana dispensaries and grow operations.
Marijuana aficionados have accused her of caving to empty threats from this state’s two U.S. attorneys. In fact, the former attorney general was reading the legal landscape accurately.
The threats are originating in Washington, D.C. – not this state – and they are serious. Multiple states have been getting them, along with dozens of federal raids on marijuana dealers.
This new reality makes the official licensing of marijuana dispensaries a reckless action, for local governments as well as the state.
The Tacoma City Council, which has licensed roughly three dozen, has been waiting on legislative action to back up its local tolerance policy. But the Obama administration has made the Legislature irrelevant to any scheme for selling marijuana. Whatever happens in the special session, the City Council will be exposing landlords and city employees to serious legal risk if it doesn’t shut down anything that resembles a for-profit marijuana operation.
In Olympia, lawmakers would be wise to regroup, stop trying to extend faux legality to the industry and focus on passing a responsible budget this month.
There remains the problem of helping legitimate patients get access to therapeutic marijuana. Unfortunately, hack practitioners have passed out so many medical authorizations to common drug-seekers that it’s impossible to know how big a problem this is.
The industry has employed what amounts to a human shield strategy – hiding thousands of recreational users among the people who genuinely need the drug. It has every financial incentive to keep the numbers of “patients” as high as possible, and it takes only a handful of quacks and fly-by-night clinics to mass-produce the dubious authorizations needed to keep the industry swimming in cash.
The biggest favor the Legislature could do for the legitimate patients is enforce what the 1998 initiative envisioned: a strictly nonprofit system in which authorization happens in the context of established doctor-patient relationships. Then allow for a non-profit supply as needed.
Stop the gold rush. Weed out the drug-seekers. As night follows day, the Justice Department will lose interest in this state’s medical marijuana.
In an April 11 ruling, Justice Donald Taliano found that doctors across the country have “massively boycotted” the medical marijuana program and largely refuse to sign off on forms giving sick people access to necessary medication.
As a result, legitimately sick people cannot access medical marijuana through appropriate means and must resort to illegal actions.
Doctors’ “overwhelming refusal to participate in the medicinal marijuana program completely undermines the effectiveness of the program,” the judge wrote in his ruling.
“The effect of this blind delegation is that seriously ill people who need marijuana to treat their symptoms are branded criminals simply because they are unable to overcome the barriers to legal access put in place by the legislative scheme.”
Taliano declared the program to be invalid, as well as the criminal laws prohibiting possession and production of cannabis. He suspended his ruling for three months, giving Ottawa until mid-July to fix the program or face the prospect of effectively legalizing possession and production of cannabis.
The judge’s decision comes in a criminal case involving Matthew Mernagh, 37, of St. Catharines who suffers from fibromyalgia, scoliosis, seizures and depression.
Marijuana is the most effective treatment of Mernagh’s pain. But despite years of effort, he has been unable to find a doctor to support his application for a medical marijuana licence.
Mernagh resorted to growing his own cannabis and was charged with producing the drug.
Taliano found doctors essentially act as gatekeepers to the medical marijuana program but lack the necessary knowledge to adequately give advice or recommend the drug. He also found that Health Canada has made “no real attempt to deal with this lack of knowledge.”
Taliano said the issue is Canada-wide.
Twenty-one patients from across the country testified in the case, saying they were rejected by doctors a total of 113 times.
One Alberta patient was refused by 26 doctors; another in Vancouver approached 37 physicians without finding a single one to sign off on the form.
Patients also face lengthy delays — as long as nine months — in having their medical marijuana applications processed by Health Canada.
“The body of evidence from Mr. Mernagh and the other patient witnesses is troubling,” Taliano wrote. “The evidence of the patient witnesses, which I accept, showed that patients have to go to extraordinary lengths to acquire the marijuana they need.”
Lawyer Alan Young, a longtime advocate of marijuana legalization, said the ruling is a step in the right direction.
“It’s significant because it’s a Superior Court ruling which has binding effect across the province,” Young said.
“By enacting a dysfunctional medical program the government now has to pay the high cost of losing the constitutional authority to criminalize marijuana.”
He said the real test, however, will be whether the judgment stands up in the Ontario Court of Appeal.
“If the government is not successful on appeal, they are going to be caught between a rock and a hard place because they don’t have an alternative program in mind,” he said. “They don’t have a plan B. They’re in trouble.”
The medical profession has been wary of the medical marijuana program since it came into effect in August 2001.
On May 7, 2001, the Canadian Medical Association wrote a letter to the federal health minister expressing concerns with recommending a drug that has had little scientific evidence to support its medicinal benefits.
“Physicians must not be expected to act as gatekeepers to this therapy, yet this is precisely the role Health Canada had thrust upon them,” the letter stated.
- Seems like there is gonna be quite a bit of american tourist dollars pointing north in the next three months, and possibly indefinately if canada decriminalizes it as a whole.
Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — Last month, the Department of Health gave the go-ahead for the opening of three medical marijuana dispensaries that were authorized in large part to give patients a safer and more accessible way to obtain what the federal government still classifies as an illegal substance.
But the opening of the dispensaries may not necessarily make it easier for patients to get marijuana. Thanks to a law enacted by the General Assembly in the waning days of last year’s session, most information about the medical-marijuana program, including the names of doctors who certify patients for marijuana-use cards, is now secret.
As a result, patients who want to obtain medical-marijuana are depending on word of mouth to find a doctor in Rhode Island who’s willing to certify their need.
“They’re not going to be able to find them in the Yellow Pages, that’s for sure,” says Steven R. DeToy, spokesman for the Rhode Island Medical Society.
There are currently 465 doctors who have certified 3,351 patients for the five-year-old medical-marijuana program but, since the Health Department and the Medical Society are prohibited from making referrals, they’re telling patients to go to the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC), the support group for medical-marijuana patients.
But RIPAC doesn’t give out doctors’ names to people who come to the group.
“That would hurt us. Most doctors don’t want to be identified as marijuana docs,” says the organization’s executive director, Joanne Leppanen. “So it’s a very serious problem right now. We can’t give out a list of doctors without their permission.”
If a patient comes looking for a referral, “we tell them to ‘Go to the doctors who’ve managed your pain in the past.’ But many doctors are not comfortable with cannabis.”
The 2010 change in the law that now makes it illegal — punishable by up to 180 days in prison and a $1,000 fine — for any government official to disclose marijuana doctors’ names was supported by some of the state’s most passionate open-government advocates: Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence; Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence; and the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The original intent of the law [that took effect in 2006] was that physicians would receive the same degree of confidentiality as they would when prescribing any other kind of medicine for any other type of patients,” Perry explained in a recent interview.
But not every lawyer who read the law felt the confidentiality provisions were all that clear.
Early last spring, when a reporter for The Providence Journal asked the Health Department for the names of all physicians who’d certified patients for medical marijuana — and the number of patients each had certified — Bruce McIntyre, a veteran legal counsel for the department, decided that while the law clearly made patient and caregiver names confidential, it did not do the same for names of the doctors. So last March, the department released the names of the 355 doctors who’d at that point signed certifications. The reporter began calling some of the doctors. A front-page story was published. Listed in the story were the names of 21 doctors who’d certified at least 10 of their patients.
An uproar ensued. Doctors started calling the Medical Society, the Health Department and Perry to complain. The ACLU, the Medical Society, the Rhode Island State Nurses Association and RIPAC wrote a joint letter to Dr. David Gifford, then-director of the Health Department, excoriating the department’s release of the doctors’ names.
“Our organizations are writing to express our deep distress and concern over your department’s recent significant breach of confidentiality under the state’s medical-marijuana law,” the letter began. “There can be little question about the impropriety of the department’s actions … it is indisputable that the list of names the department released came directly from the ‘supporting information submitted by qualified patients,’ information that is designated ‘confidential’ in no uncertain terms.”
But in reply, McIntyre said the “protected list” only applied to patients and their caregivers. If there was an interest in protecting the confidentiality of physicians as well, the law needed to be amended and the Health Department would support the change, he wrote.
An amendment to the law was quickly drafted and in rapid-fire fashion passed both chambers and became law last June — without then-Gov. Donald Carcieri’s signature. It makes clear that any information about specific medical-marijuana patients, their doctors and caregivers were exempt from disclosure under the state’s public records act.
“It had a really chilling effect,” Perry said of publication of the physicians’ names.
One doctor whose name was published because he’d certified 100 patients isn’t approving anyone for the program anymore. He’s put up a large sign in his office announcing this to his patients.
Annemarie Beardsworth, spokeswoman for the Health Department, said some doctors were upset at the publication of their names “because they do not want to be viewed as ‘pot docs.’ I think some are also aware that there are some very opposing opinions about the medical-marijuana program. I think if you look at the entire patient population, there are probably some patients in your practice opposed to medical marijuana.” Doctors, Beardsworth said, don’t want to perhaps “risk losing those patients” who are opposed to medical marijuana.
Dr. Todd E. Handel, a Pawtucket physiatrist who specializes in pain intervention, says he’s been practicing for 12 years and that there is a stigma attached to certifying patients for medical marijuana. About 5 percent of the patients he sees ask him to approve them for the program but he says he signs off on only about 2 percent. He says he’s not “a pot doc” but a real doctor, and real doctors “don’t want to have a practice that involves just writing for medical marijuana. All of us fear we’re going to have the type of practice you see on TV where every 15 minutes, patients are coming in just to have a medical-marijuana certificate.”
Handel said there are other reasons physicians were upset over the publication of their names: fear that the federal government would take action against their licenses or their medical-malpractice insurance would be canceled if an insurer found out they were certifying patients to use marijuana. “It’s difficult to assess patient risk” for medical-marijuana because unlike other controlled substances, you don’t prescribe dosage or have any way of monitoring patient use or misuse of the drug, Handel said in an interview. He says he’s made it clear to RIPAC that he doesn’t want any referrals.
Rhode Island is among several states that make the doctors’ names secret. But in California, doctors who approve patients for medical marijuana are falling over each other advertising their services –– in storefronts, fliers and over the Internet.
Condition Number Pct.
Agitation related to Alzheimer’s disease 3 0%
Seizures, including epilepsy 31 1%
AIDS or treatment 37 1%
Glaucoma or treatment 39 1%
Positive status for HIV or treatment 97 2%
Cachexia or wasting syndrome 112 3%
Hepatitis C or treatment 210 5%
Cancer or treatment 218 5%
Severe nausea 262 7%
Severe and persistent muscle spasms 720 18%
Severe, debilitating, chronic pain 902 22%
Other 1,392 35%
Total conditions cited 4,023 100%
Note: Some conditions overlap
Source: RI Department of Health as of 3/18/2011
District Judge Daniel Kaup ruled today that the three medical marijuana dispensaries in Loveland suing the city and state because of a citywide ban have not proved they are entitled to an injunction allowing them to remain open.
Kaup said granting the injunction would be against the will of the voters and be a disservice to the public.
Attorneys representing the city of Loveland and state of Colorado presented closing arguments today, along with the plaintiffs' attorney, Rob Corry.
The defendants are Rocky Mountain Kind, Magic's Emporium and Colorado Canna Care, plus John and Jane Doe, medical marijuana patients. During Corry's closing argument, Kaup told him Amendment 20, which Colorado voters passed to legalize medical marijuana, does not apply to everyone.
Check back at LovelandConnection.com for more on this story.
Shouts of protest filled the streets of downtown Missoula on Saturday as medical marijuana advocates, angered by the raids of cannabis facilities across Montana last week, rallied in support of their right to use marijuana for medical purposes.
"DEA, go away!"
It was a line repeated over and over as more than a hundred people wielding signs that read "No Plant Left Behind," "We are not criminals" and "Feds Hands Off My Meds" marched from Caras Park to the Missoula County Courthouse and back. There were families, veterans, college students and medical marijuana caregivers. At times, a faint scent of marijuana drifted through the crowd.
Doug Chyatte, founder of Montanans for Responsible Legislation and one of the rally organizers, used a bullhorn to encourage people to "come out of the shadows and into the streets" - a message of standing up in support of medical marijuana.
The rally was in response to federal agents on Monday issuing 26 search warrants on medical marijuana shops and producers in a handful of cities across Montana, seizing cash and plants. The raids generated fear and anger in an industry that's under the microscope of state lawmakers working to regulate the industry.
Montana legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2004, and the number of cannabis patients and providers soared after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo in 2009 stating that the prosecution of medical marijuana programs in states where it's legal is not an effective use of the use of federal resources.
Dozens of medical marijuana caregivers destroyed their plants in a panic following last week's raids, said Chyatte, who called the raids a "political move" and a "scare tactic" - the most vocal medical cannabis distributors were the ones targeted, he said.
The rally aimed to send a message to state and federal officials that medical marijuana advocates are not backing down and they're not scared.
Drawing guns on people watering plants is wrong, said Katrina Farnum, of Garden Mother Herbs and an MRL member. "It's not a time to divide; it's a time to stand together," she said.
Chyatte referred to the raids as "a war that we didn't choose but a war that no doubt ended up at our front doors."
"I know many of you are angry," Chyatte said. "I'm angry, too. But today, we stand united ... Without embarrassment or shame, we will demand equal rights. This community has had enough of the hatred and bigotry."
Last week's raids coincided with state lawmakers in Helena taking executive action on House Speaker Mike Milburn's bill to repeal Montana's medical marijuana law passed as a referendum by voters in 2004. There are other bills circulating through the Legislature that would regulate the industry.
One of the places targeted last week was Montana Cannabis, which is where retiree Bob Wolf of the Plains area used to shop. Now, he has to search for another provider. That's one of the reasons he decided to join the rally on Saturday.
"Believe me, it's not dope," said Wolf, who says he suffers from spinal arthritis. "It's medicine."
Chyatte encouraged the crowd to come out about their medical marijuana use to family, friends and employers and register to vote. The rally generated a large number of honks from supporters driving by on Higgins and Broadway avenues.
MRL is calling for the resignation of Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir for testifying as a Missoula city representative in support of the bill to repeal Montana's medical marijuana law - a move that later drew criticism from Missoula City Council members. His testimony was "incredibly inappropriate," Chyatte said.
Subsequently, the City Council on Monday will vote on a resolution that would show the city's opposition to House Bill 161 to repeal the state's medical marijuana law. Currently the bill remains stuck in the Senate Judiciary committee on a tie vote.
Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are a ministry helping sick people,” said Johansson in a phone interview. “We were helping sick people. We were helping people in need in the community.”
The federal authorities have a different take on Johansson. They believe that he is a drug dealer who kept a shotgun in his church where he was allegedly growing more than 180 marijuana plants.
Last month, federal prosecutors charged Johansson and his girlfriend, Lydia Brindamour, with conspiring to manufacture more than 100 marijuana plants and manufacturing more than 100 marijuana plants. If convicted of the charges, Johansson and Brindamour face from 5 to 40 years in prison and $2 million in fines.
The criminal charges could put a serious damper in Johansson’s plans to open one of the state’s first marijuana dispensaries, also known as compassion centers. His proposal is one of 18 that the Health Department has accepted for review. At a public hearing this week, West Warwick’s legal counsel, Albert DiFiore, was highly critical of Johansson and his proposal. He said that it would be a “fiasco” for the state to grant a license to a man who is facing significant jail time and has yet to specify where he might run his marijuana dispensary.
In his application, Johansson suggested that he might open his business, Prospect Ministries Inc., near the Rhode Island Mall or off Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence.
Despite his recent problems, Johansson has no plans to withdraw his application to open a marijuana dispensary. The Health Department is expected to announce its selections next month.
“My hat is already in the ring,” he said. “It’s up to the [health] board right now, but I don’t think that we have any chance at all.”
On Sept. 14, a team of West Warwick narcotics police officers executed a warrant at 6 a.m. on Johansson’s church at 724 Providence St., in West Warwick, in search of marijuana, drug paraphernalia, documents, records and proceeds from the unlawful sale and possession of drugs.
During the search, the police allegedly found 183 marijuana plants of “varying sizes in pots and trays located in several first-level grow rooms.” They also seized over two pounds of marijuana, $565, an electronic scale and apparatus used to cultivate marijuana indoors, the police said.
The officers in the drug raid also found two cards indicating that Johansson was a licensed caregiver, or supplier, in the state medical-marijuana program. The card allows him to grow up to 24 mature marijuana plants for up to five patients registered with the program.
The police said Brindamour told them that the Health Department had approved two cards for her, but she had yet to receive them.
Johansson and Brindamour were arraigned on the felony drug charges in state court.
Three months later, Johansson submitted his application to operate a marijuana dispensary with the Health Department. In his cover letter, he freely spoke about the police raid and his arrest on drug charges.
“After being pushed face down naked on the floor and handcuffed, I tried to explain plant counts to them and describe the legality of our grow,” he wrote. “They decided to arrest and charge us with two felonies. While we were locked up for over 24 hours, they killed all our plants in violation of state law. The amount of medicine lost and its effects on our patients has been excruciating. The physical, psychological and emotional effects have been devastating to us.”
Johansson said that the shotgun, a .12-gauge, was not loaded. He said that he has used it for hunting and skeet shooting. He also said that he strictly provided the marijuana for patients, not street sales. He estimated that the drugs provided pain relief for “well over 100 people” in the West Warwick area.
“Basically, we assisted people and got them off pharmaceuticals,” he said. “We got them off medicine that was killing them. There was so much demand in the community.”
According to Johansson’s application, he received a certificate of ordination, in May 2009, from the World Christianship Ministries, based in Fresno, Calif. He had previously worked in construction and real estate.
Following the arrests, prosecutors in the office of U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha took a closer look at the case. As a rule, federal authorities are not interested in prosecuting cases involving fewer than 100 marijuana plants, but once the amount crosses that threshold, the government often weighs in.
Two months ago, Neronha’s office prosecuted a Providence man, Mark McNaught, caught with more than 100 plants in his apartment. He was sentenced to five years in prison. They also have a case against another man, Shayne R. Costa, who was arrested last fall for growing more than 100 plants on his property in Tiverton.
It’s the second time he has been prosecuted for the same crime.
On Jan. 26, a criminal complaint was filed against Johansson and Brindamour in U.S. District Court in Providence. They were released on unsecured bond and their cases will now be presented to a grand jury.
Johansson said that he is ready to fight the charges in federal court. He said that if it goes to trial, he will have about 15 of his patients take the stand and testify about how his marijuana gave them pain relief.
Under state law, a criminal conviction would not prohibit Johansson from operating a dispensary as long as the Health Department determined that the conviction was related to the medical use of marijuana.
“There is no way they are going to convict me,” he predicted. “[My patients’] lives have been saved. I don’t want to go to trial, I want to be left alone. This is a plant — God’s gift.”
By W. Zachary Malinowski
Journal Staff Writer