Legal protections passed for medical marijuana caregivers
Bill headed to governor's desk
The General Assembly has passed a law that allows caregivers of patients who use medical marijuana to possess up to an ounce of pot without being convicted of a crime.
"We are expressing our belief that people who are sick should be able to access the drug without civil or criminal penalties," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat who introduced the bill.
Patients are protected under a 2011 law that allows them to use medical necessity as an "affirmative defense" in court if caught with marijuana and drug paraphernalia. On Monday, the House of Delegates voted 92-37 to approve a bill extending that defense for patients' caregivers. The Senate has passed the same bill.
The measure now goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley's desk. Spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said he has not decided whether to sign it.
Under the bill, caregivers — as well as patients — could still be charged with a crime for possessing the drug. But the legislation spells out how caregivers could prove themselves not guilty because they had the drug and paraphernalia to help a family member who takes it for medical reasons.
If defendants can prove an affirmative defense, they can admit to the circumstances of the crime but still be found not guilty. Self-defense is an example of another type of affirmative defense.
Raskin said current law provides that legal reprieve to patients with serious illnesses who, under a doctor's care, take marijuana to lessen symptoms. Without the bill approved this week, Raskin said, those patients are not able to get the drug without their caregivers facing jail time.
To use the affirmative defense, a caregiver must be 21 years old, a Maryland resident, an immediate family member of the patient and have been designated as the caregiver in writing before being arrested for possession. In addition, the caregiver can't have criminal convictions for drugs or violence and can only be a caregiver to one patient.
The bill is among several marijuana laws being considered in Annapolis this session.
The House, but not the Senate, has approved creating the state's first medical marijuana program, which would distribute the drug to patients through academic centers. The O'Malley administration supports that bill.
The Senate, but not the House, has approved a bill that makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana — roughly one-third of an ounce — a civil offense instead of a criminal one.
Another bill that would completely decriminalize marijuana, then regulate and tax it like alcohol, received a committee hearing in the House but has not been voted on. Lawmakers have until the General Assembly adjourns April 8 to pass legislation this year
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Matt Shotwell, Vallejo Dispensary Owner And Star Of 'Weed Country,' Has Charges Dismissed
Year-old criminal charges were dismissed Thursday against Matt Shotwell, a one-time operator of one of Vallejo's largest medical marijuana dispensaries.
Since February 2012, when the Vallejo Police Department's series of raids on medical marijuana dispensaries launched with Shotwell's arrest at Greenwell Cooperative dispensary, no operators have been convicted.
"Given the facts of this case ... the people feel they cannot prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt," Deputy District Attorney Jack Harris told Solano County Superior Court Judge Allan Carter. The judge's confirmation of the dismissal was met with applause from a small courtroom crowd of Shotwell supporters.
At least six dispensaries were raided and shut down, some several times, during the police stings last year. Cases relating to all six of those dispensaries have been dismissed since last summer. Similarly, a Fairfield dispensary case was dismissed this month, and a Vacaville dispensary operator was acquitted last April.
Shotwell, the 32-year-old star of the six-episode Discovery Channel reality show "Weed Country," was arrested and charged with three violations of state law concerning the transportation, distribution or possession of narcotics. He also was charged with two counts of marijuana cultivation, and one count each of possessing marijuana for sale and maintaining a site for marijuana distribution. His arrest came just weeks before a voter-approved Vallejo tax and fee on medical marijuana dispensary operators kicked in, on March 1, 2012.
Shotwell, with tears in his eyes Thursday, said he plans to take time to figure out his next steps, following his case's resolution. He later added that he is facing significant debt with his home mortgage, lawyer's bills and school loans.
In addition to the Greenwell Dispensary seizures, police also confiscated hundreds of marijuana plants, Shotwell's registered handgun, computers, $8,700 in cash, paraphernalia and edible products, among other items.
Shotwell said he had submitted asset forfeiture claims early on to have his possessions returned, but they were denied. With Thursday's case dismissal, he and his attorney will try again to recover whatever remains of the seized items, Shotwell said.
"I hope this gives people courage to stay in the business," Shotwell said of medical marijuana. "This is like the last nail in the coffin for the opponents of medical marijuana in Vallejo."
Vallejo police Capt. Ken Weaver disagreed with Shotwell's assessment, saying that the dismissed charges can be re-filed at a later time.
"If (Shotwell's) under the impression that we've stopped, then he's misinformed," Weaver said of medical marijuana dispensary investigations. "We will continue to investigate criminal activity that's out there. Their side has a difference of opinion (about medical marijuana laws), and eventually it's going to be decided in the California State Supreme Court."
The last known dispensary raid occurred in August. It is unclear how many dispensaries remain in operation around Vallejo, although some seven or eight dispensaries continued paying a city tax on marijuana sales last year after the raids slowed down, according to city officials.
Asked if his future plans include reopening a dispensary, Shotwell said he would not rule out the possibility.
Starring in a television show depicting the struggle between medical marijuana growers and law enforcement in northern California was a risk Shotwell said he was willing to take while his case was still in court. He did fear, however, that some would take the show as "poking" at them, and that he would be treated by the justice system as an example.
"I was hoping I'd get off, that was the trend," Shotwell said, referring to the previous dismissals. "(But) there were some variables that had me nervous."
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Stacking the vapors... ILLA
It’s hard to ignore the prevalence of medical marijuana dispensaries in California and elsewhere. They are on the corner and in the news. If you are a tax lawyer, it is even harder to ignore them, for there are big tax problems in this industry. See Voters Say Yes To Marijuana, IRS Says No. But when I said I thought the industry was going corporate—Is Medical Marijuana Going Corporate?—I didn’t realize how true it was.
Now I’m getting merger notices. Yes, marijuana M&A is here. In this case, it’s about the vapor machines that can obviate smoking and instead dispense the meds without even using a match (or a lighter for that matter).
Medbox, Inc. (OTC Markets: MDBX) announced the acquisition of 100% of Vaporfection International Inc., manufacturer of Vaporfection vaporizers. Medbox was featured on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Business Section: Wall Street sees opportunity in marijuana.
Vaporfection makes “herbal delivery systems.” The deal involved the issuance of 260,864 MDBX stock warrants. Medbox sells and services automated, biometrically controlled dispensing and storage systems for medicine and merchandise. And Vaporfection seems quite a catch.
Vaporfection claimed Best Vaporizer in Product of the Year at the Cannabis Cup Amsterdam 2011, and Best Vaporizer at the Kush Expo LA 2012. The company’s patented designs cause marijuana to release its medicinal ingredient into the vapor. The resulting vapor is pure, virtually odorless, and goes into the patient’s respiratory system.
Vaporfection was created by Amir Yomtov in 2006. In 2011, the company was purchased by entrepreneur Herb Postma. Mr. Postma continues to manage Vaporfection and notes that under Medbox, Vaporfection revenues are projected to exceed $4 million in 12 months. All this sound rosy, but not to the feds.
After all, legal dispensaries are still labeled as drug traffickers under federal law, and that creates big tax problems. Section 280E of the tax code denies tax deductions for any business trafficking in controlled substances. The IRS says it must enforce Section 280E. Yet the U.S. Tax Court has opened the door a crack by allowing dispensaries to deduct other expenses distinct from dispensing marijuana. See Californians Helping to Alleviate Medical Problems Inc. v. Commissioner.
If a dispensary sells marijuana and operates the separate business of care-giving, the care-giving expenses are deductible. Some expenses might relate to both. If only 10% of the premises are used to dispense marijuana, 90% of the rent is deductible. But good record-keeping is essential. See Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Persist Despite Tax Obstacles.
But even good records won’t make vaporizers or drug paraphernalia deductible. In Olive v. Commissioner, Martin Olive sold medical marijuana at the Vapor Room, where he used vaporizers so patients didn’t have to smoke. However, with only one business, Section 280E precluded Olive’s deductions.
Robert W. Wood practices law with Wood LLP, in San Francisco. The author of more than 30 books, including Taxation of Damage Awards & Settlement Payments (4th Ed. 2009 with 2012 Supplement, Tax Institute), he can be reached at Wood@WoodLLP.com. This discussion is not intended as legal advice, and cannot be relied upon for any purpose without the services of a qualified professional.
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Rand Paul: I don't promote marijuana
Won't confirm or deny his own personal use. Sounds like a candidate to me. -UA
Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday that President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush could have "conceivably been put in jail” for their drug use, ruining their lives and impacting their getting elected to office.
"Look, the last two presidents could have conceivably been put in jail for their drug use and I really think - look what would've happened, it would've ruined their lives. They got lucky. But a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don't get lucky and they don't have good attorneys and they go to jail for some of these things and I think it's a big mistake,” the Kentucky Republican said on Fox’s “Fox News Sunday.”
"Actually, I think it would be the last three presidents, but who's counting?" host Chris Wallace said with a laugh, referring to former President Bill Clinton.
"There you go," Paul said.
"But he didn't inhale," Wallace quipped.
Paul said that he doesn’t support people using marijuana but said he also doesn’t necessarily support putting them in jail for extended periods of time.
"There are people in jail for 37, 50, 45 years for nonviolent crimes and that's a huge mistake," Paul said. "Our prisons are full of non-violent criminals. I don't want to encourage people to do it. I think even marijuana is a bad thing to do. I think it takes away your incentive to work and show up and do the things that you should be doing. I don't think that it's a good idea."
“I don't want to promote that but I also don't want to put people in jail who make a mistake," he added. "There are a lot of young people who do this and then later on in their twenties they grow up and get married and they quit doing things like this. I don't want to put them in jail and ruin their lives."
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In Maryland, marijuana possession gets a more fitting penalty
THE MARYLAND Senate’s vote to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana would not, as some critics warn, make it okay to use the drug. Such use would still be illegal, but it would be a civil offense, punishable by fines rather than imprisonment. Not only would this save law enforcement valuable resources but also prevent the lives of many young people from being ruined. We hope the House of Delegates follows the Senate’s lead and that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signs this sensible measure into law.
The billpassed the Senate on a 30 to 16 vote Tuesday. People now caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana, about one-third of an ounce, may face up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $500; the Senate proposal would eliminate any jail time and provide for a fine up to $100. The reduction from a criminal misdemeanor is aimed at recreational users of marijuana, not those who traffic in illegal drug sales. The lopsided, bipartisan vote in favor of the change is a reflection of the changing attitudes about marijuana and the unintended costs of strict anti-pot laws. More than a dozen states have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana possession, and some have gone so far as to legalize the drug for various uses. Bills that would have Maryland join states such as Colorado and Washington in legalizing the drug for various uses are also pending in Annapolis, but they are unlikely to advance because of justifiable concerns about being at odds with federal law.
Decriminalization poses no such conflict and would, as its sponsor, Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), pointed out, eliminate “a tremendous waste of resources.” There were more than 24,000 arrests last year in Maryland for marijuana possession, according to Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project, who argued that the time spent processing those arrests could be better spent on other, more serious crimes. Equally significant is the fact that most of those arrested are young people, predominantly African Americans, who end up with the taint of a criminal charge that makes it harder for them to get a job, stay in school or resist getting involved in more serious crimes.
Opponents of decriminalization worry about the “message” that would be sent. Concerns about the risks associated with marijuana abuse cannot be discounted and — just as with liquor and cigarettes — young people should be discouraged from its use. But wasted resources and ruined lives are too high a price to pay for sending a message that can still be delivered with more appropriate and reasonable penalties.
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NYPD Spent 1 Million Hours Making 440,000 Marijuana Possession Arrests Over Last Decade
NEW YORK -- The NYPD spent 1 million hours making 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession charges between 2002 and 2012, according to a new report released Tuesday -- just as legislative leaders in Albany are deciding whether to pass a bill reforming drug laws.
The Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, pro-drug law reform groups that commissioned the report, said its findings show a "huge waste" of police resources.
"We cannot afford to continue arresting tens of thousands of youth every year for low-level marijuana possession,” Alfredo Carrasquillo, a civil rights organizer with the activist group VOCAL-NY, said in a release. “We can't afford it in terms of the negative effect it has on the future prospects of our youth and we can't afford in terms of police hours."
The drug reform proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in public view. Possessing 25 grams or less of marijuana kept out of sight is currently a violation, subject to a $100 penalty in New York state.
Thousands of New York City residents, a disproportionate number of them black or Latino, have been arrested for emptying their pockets on the order of police during stop-and-frisk encounters.
Cuomo has made reforming the marijuana law a top legislative priority this year. In June, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly made the surprise announcement that they, too, supported Cuomo's plan.
In 2012, according to the report, the NYPD made 39,218 low-level possession arrests. The report assumed police spent an average of 2.5 man-hours on such arrests, amounting to 98,045 hours in 2012.
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Police Issue ‘Scratch and Sniff’ Cards to Help Weed Out Marijuana Growers
Police in England are distributing “scratch and sniff” cards to help members of the public detect the telltale aroma of illicit cannabis farms.
The cards, which replicate the distinct smell of growing marijuana, will be mailed to homes in 13 areas throughout the country, in the hope that they will help people to identify cannabis factories in their communities.
“Many people don’t realize that the empty, run down house or flat on their street with people coming and going late at night may actually be a commercial cannabis farm. It’s not just the stereotype of the remote rural set or disused industrial estate unit,” said Andy Bliss, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, in a press release by Crimestoppers, the independent charitable organization which launched the campaign.
Crimestoppers offers a list of clues for spotting cannabis cultivation, including a “strong and sickly sweet smell; visitors at unsociable hours; strong and constant lighting day and night and lots of cables.”
The U.K. saw a 15% growth in cannabis production in 2011-12, according to Crimestoppers, which the group claimed has led to an increase in theft, violence and the use of firearms, as well as an increased risk of fire in residential areas where growers have tampered with electrical supplies. Supplying cannabis in the U.K. can lead to a 14-year prison sentence.
The Daily Mail notes that a scratch and sniff card scheme has been used in the Netherlands, where bulk cultivation of the plant remains illegal (although personal consumption is widely tolerated). A mail-out of more than 30,000 cards reportedly helped Dutch authorities track down hundreds of cannabis farms.
And although the cards smell of pot, Crimestoppers warns, don’t try to use them to get high. “There is absolutely no trace of Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the principal psychoactive element of the cannabis plant, on the scratch and sniff cards,” the group said.
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Assemblyman who voted against legalizing marijuana busted with pot
ALBANY (WABC) -- New York state police say they've charged a Hudson Valley assemblyman with marijuana possession following a traffic stop for speeding on the Thruway.
Troopers say 59-year-old Stephen Katz of Mohegan Lake was stopped about 10 a.m. Tuesday in Coeymans south of Albany for driving 80 mph on the highway with a 65 mph speed limit.
They say he had less than 25 grams of marijuana and was given an appearance ticket for the violation.
He's due in Coeymans Town Court on March 28.
Calls to the Assembly offices of the Republican and Conservative, a veterinarian first elected in 2010, were not initially returned Friday.
Katz voted against the legalization of medical marijuana during a vote last June. It passed 91-52, with most Republicans voting against it.
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More Danish cannabis users are beginning to grow their own plants at home, a new report has shown. The news comes via a recent survey conducted by Helle Dahl from the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research at Århus University. Dahl said in her report that at least 1,200 households in Denmark are now growing cannabis for private consumption, but she added that many are using the plants for medical reasons rather than just recreation.
She said, “There are a number of people who self-medicate against ADHD, as is the case with cancer and AIDS patients who also benefit from [cannabis],” The Copenhagen Post reports.
The report also said that the majority of home growers are only producing small amounts of cannabis – less than 50 plans – which contrasts substantially from the larger production facilities that have been the target of law enforcement in recent months.
Under Danish regulations, growing cannabis is unlawful, although the sale of cannabis seeds remains legal.
Vibeke Asmussen Frank, who co-authored the report, said in an interview with the Berlingske news agency, “Most of the people grow cannabis for their own use. But people generally grow more plants than they need because you don’t know how much you get from your production beforehand.”
“There are too many Danes who smoke cannabis for them to be part of a marginalised group, and we are not surprised over how widespread growing cannabis actually is,” he added.
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Pot Smoking Could Affect Driving For Weeks, Researchers Suggest
Does marijuana affect driving safety, and if so, how dangerous are pot-smoking drivers?
There’s definitely evidence to suggest recent use might, even at somewhat low levels, increase the chances of an accident. But with recreational use now legal in Colorado and Washington, and medical use now allowed in a number of other states, what are ‘safe’ driving levels of THC (the active ingredient), and for how long after smoking should one be considered impaired?
According to new research appearing in Clinical Chemistry (full study), the journal of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC), cannabis can be detected in the blood, at a level that might affect driving, for weeks after the last 'intake.'
“Our results demonstrate, for the first time as far as we are aware, that cannabinoids can be detected in blood of chronic daily cannabis smokers during a month of sustained abstinence,” said the paper’s conclusion statement. “This is consistent with the time course of persisting neurocognitive impairment reported in recent studies.”
This underlines a point, that while marijuana legalization has been moving rapidly, there’s been very little research done about the effects of daily smoking on driving safety--or on ways that law enforcement might expedite testing.
How much daily smoking can go with daily driving, if at all?
Part of the problem is that with regular consumption, the active ingredient in cannabis (THC), is present in the blood in variable concentrations that don’t necessarily decrease predictably like blood-alcohol.
Washington state set an official threshold of 5 nanograms of THC per millimeter of blood, although some have claimed that amount to be arbitrary. And 14 other states have set limits on plasma or serum THC concentration as indicating driving impairment.
Meanwhile, a recent informal (yet very amusing) test of pot-smoking drivers done by CNN found several subjects with levels well above those limits to be, anecdotally, more functional than drunk drivers would be at several times the legal limit, for sure.
According to a 2007 National Roadside Survey (NRS), which investigated the prevalence of drug-involved driving based on a real-world sampling, more drivers tested positive for drugs than alcohol—although that included illegal drugs as well as legal drugs that might influence driving safety, such as prescription painkillers, antidepressants, sleep aids, and ADHD medications.
The new research, based on a method in which THC-positive subjects were studied with daily blood samples for 30 days, finds that throughout a month of abstinence, cannabinoids can be detected in the blood of so-called 'chronic daily smokers.’
Yes, surprisingly, not even this had been done before, scientifically.
“Acute impairment is well documented for hours after cannabis intake, whereas the persistence of chronic impairment is less clear,” the authors state, also noting that cannabis is second only to alcohol for impaired driving and motor-vehicle accidents.
Safer relative to drunk, perhaps, but riskier than sober
To help keep it all in perspective, drunk drivers are ten times more likely to be the cause of fatal car accidents than stoned drivers. Yet results from a 2005 study in the journal Addiction found that regular cannabis smokers had about ten times the level of car-crash injuries when compared with those who abstained or used infrequently.
What this calls for—at least as a release accompanying the new results suggests—is a unified 'per se' drugged driving policy—meaning that any detectable amount of a controlled substance could potentially be grounds for finding the driver guilty of impaired driving.
Do you think that's fair—or for legal ‘users’ do you think it's worth sticking to a legal limit for impairment? Let us know in your comments below.
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