Medical Pot Trips Up Cities

By KingMe · May 27, 2010 · Updated May 30, 2010 · ·
  1. KingMe
    Medical Pot Trips Up Cities
    Montana Towns Fight to Rein In Industry Amid Store Boom, Spate of Violence

    BILLINGS, Mont.—Cities across this state are rushing to contain a pot-store boom and an uptick in related violence that underscore the struggles of local governments nationwide to manage the growing medical-marijuana industry.
    This month, the Billings City Council approved a temporary moratorium on the opening of new marijuana storefronts, shortly after firebombs were tossed at two such businesses and "Not in Our Town" was spray painted on both buildings.
    Kalispell recently banned any new medical-marijuana stores in the city following the bludgeoning death of a patient that authorities believe was related to the theft of medical-marijuana plants. Next month, the Great Falls City Commission will consider whether to extend an existing moratorium on medical-marijuana businesses or ban them altogether after the town saw the patient count mushroom "completely out of hand," according to Great Falls Mayor Michael Winters.
    "It's an absolute nightmare," Billings Mayor Tom Hanel said from his downtown office. "My prediction is it's only going to get worse if we continue to allow it." Still, medical-marijuana advocates are urging restraint, concerned about the impact of changes on the sick and pain-stricken.

    Associated Press Authorities earlier this month investigate the firebombing of Montana Theraputics, a medical-marijuana business in Billings.


    Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia have passed laws intended to give certain ill people legal access to medical marijuana. But, in many instances, municipalities are left to figure out how to implement state laws that are often vague when it comes to the day-to-day operations of the medical-pot business. Those laws have led to confusion in communities and pushed states including Colorado and Maine to clarify what is legal for the industry.
    And Los Angeles, which didn't cap the number of dispensaries in the city for more than a decade after the state legalized medical marijuana, has just launched a get-tough policy designed to control hundreds of medical-marijuana dispensaries.
    In 2004, Montanans voted overwhelmingly in favor of a law allowing "patients" and "caregivers" to legally possess some marijuana plants and usable marijuana. Patients must first obtain a state-issued medical-marijuana card after a physician certifies that they have a "debilitating medical condition," such as cancer or severe nausea. Patients can either grow marijuana plants themselves or select a caregiver to provide it.
    Several states are considering easing marijuana laws to decriminalize possession as well as profit from its sale. WSJ's Ashby Jones details what's behind the movement in a February interview with Kelsey Hubbard on the News Hub

    Like some other states, Montana saw the industry expand rapidly after the U.S. Justice Department in October told federal prosecutors nationwide to refrain from going after medical-marijuana users and distributors who were in compliance with state law. Since September, the number of people registered as medical-marijuana patients in the state has more than tripled to nearly 14,000, according to Montana's Department of Public Health and Human Services.
    Some Montanans argue the law is resulting in too-easy access to the plant for those who want to smoke it recreationally under the guise of being ill. Under particular scrutiny are traveling medical-marijuana clinics where caregivers set up in hotels and display products while prospective patients wait in line to receive a recommendation from a physician, usually for a fee.
    "Before the doors even open, the parking lot has 300 kids throwing Frisbees and playing Hacky-Sack," said Mark Long, narcotics chief for the Montana Department of Justice.
    Montana state legislators recently convened a committee to study ways to more effectively regulate the medical-marijuana business. The legislature plans to take up the issue in January.
    "The stakes are high for a lot of these patients," said Tom Daubert, a lobbyist who orchestrated the 2004 ballot initiative that created the medical-marijuana business in Montana. Mr. Daubert also helps operate one of the state's biggest marijuana grow operations at Montana Cannabis outside Helena.
    Montana law is unclear on several issues, such as whether a person can be arrested for possessing marijuana if they have applied for—but haven't received—a medical marijuana card. "Nobody knows what's legal and what isn't in a lot of situations," said Mr. Long.
    In Billings, population 104,000, the number of medical-marijuana businesses has risen to about 80 from a handful in October, city officials said. The city said Thursday that it would close 25 stores it says aren't registered properly with the state.
    "This is a legitimate business," said Kathy Adler, manager of Billings-based New Frontier Patient Care, which isn't among those being closed. "It should be treated no differently than any other business."
    Last week, Mr. Daubert sat in a Montana Cannabis office in Billings near a hardy marijuana plant and a desk scattered with marijuana leaflets and marijuana-laced crisped-rice treats.
    Kati Wetch, a 20-year old medical-marijuana patient with a painful genetic disorder that affects her brain stem, came in to pick up her regular supply. "I feel like a whole new person," she said. "My neurosurgeon told me to keep smoking."
    Mr. Daubert said his main concern is keeping the drug accessible to patients like Ms. Wetch. He said he is working with law enforcement and lawmakers to help craft better rules. "I'm not surprised that there's some backlash," he said. But "it would be a serious mistake to drive all of this underground."

    The Wall Street Journal
    May 26, 2010

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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Drug overdose: Medical marijuana facing a backlash

    HELENA, Mont. — The vandals struck in the middle of the night, hurling Molotov cocktails through the windows of two medical marijuana businesses and spray-painting "NOT IN OUR TOWN" just before the Billings City Council was supposed to take up a ban on any new pot shops.

    Montana and other states that have legalized medical marijuana are seeing a backlash, with public anger rising and politicians passing laws to slow the proliferation of pot shops and bring order to what has become a wide-open, Wild West sort of industry.

    They are looking to avoid what happened in California, which allowed the pot industry to grow so out of control that at one point Los Angeles had more medical marijuana shops than Starbucks — about 1,000 by one count.

    "Yeah, it's out of control — and it needs control, if not extinction," Montana Sen. Jim Shockley said Friday. "There's no control over distribution. There's no control over who's growing it. There's no control in dosage."

    Fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana, beginning with California in 1996, and the District of Columbia followed suit this month. The laws allow chronically ill people to buy marijuana with permission from a doctor.

    But many of these states passed their laws without working out the details.
    And they weren't ready for the boom in pot shops that occurred this past year after the Obama administration announced it wouldn't prosecute medical marijuana users.

    In some places, law enforcement officials and civic leaders are complaining that there are too many marijuana dispensaries, that buyers and sellers are falling victim to robberies and break-ins, that driving-under-the-influence arrests are on the rise, and that the pot is being sold indiscriminately and winding up on the black market.

    Some state and local governments are now rushing to put regulations in place.

    Colorado lawmakers passed sweeping rules this month for pot growers and the estimated 1,100 shops selling marijuana, creating a new state bureaucracy led by auditors and criminal investigators who would monitor the industry to make sure, for example, that the drug is being sold only to patients who have a doctor's recommendation.

    Regulators expect only about half of the state's dispensaries to continue operating under the stricter rules.

    The Billings City Council approved a six-month moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses in May after the violence against pot businesses the previous two nights. On Thursday, the city of about 90,000 people ordered 25 of Billings' 81 pot businesses to shut down after discovering they were not properly registered with the state.

    "I was hoping this would be a more civil discussion," City Councilman Denis Pitman said after the firebombings. "I wish it wouldn't have gotten to this level."

    Los Angeles officials recently took steps to shut down hundreds of dispensaries and ensure that the remaining ones meet stringent new guidelines. Owners must undergo a background check, their stores must be 1,000 feet from schools, parks and other gathering sites, and their pot must be tested at an independent laboratory.

    Montana's medical board is considering curbing mass screenings and teleconferences that make it easy for people to get a marijuana card. Montana in recent days has seen "cannabis caravans," mobile operations that pass through town, charging people $100 to $150 for a doctor's recommendation to smoke pot.

    The push for tighter regulation has infuriated medical marijuana users.
    "They are creating ordinances and moratoriums that are blatantly against the law," said Jason Christ, founder of the Montana Caregivers Network, the group that organizes the cannabis caravans. "They do not serve to protect the welfare of our citizens, and they do no good."

    In Colorado earlier this month, veterans in wheelchairs, college students and dispensary owners packed legislative hearings to speak out against the regulations. The hearings lasted eight hours and reached a fever pitch when several people had to be removed for shouting at lawmakers.

    Medical marijuana has been around for more than five years in Montana, but the boom came this past year. The number of registered users in Montana, a state with a population of just under 1 million, has gone from 2,923 last June to about 15,000 today. The number of registered suppliers has increased from 919 to about 5,000.

    DUI arrests involving marijuana have skyrocketed, as have traffic fatalities where marijuana was found in the system of one of the drivers, Montana narcotics chief Mark Long told a legislative committee last month.

    Also, Montana confidentiality laws prevent law enforcement from knowing where most medical marijuana businesses are, and civic leaders complain they don't know whether the shops are up to city and fire codes or close to churches, schools or parks.

    During Colorado's legislative debate, state Sen. Chris Romer quoted the Grateful Dead as he contemplated the spectacle of lawmakers actually passing regulations for the legal sale of marijuana: "What a long, strange trip it's been."

    Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.
    By MATT VOLZ (AP) – May 21, 2010

    oirginally posted by Kingme- split from original post ~TF~
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