Pubdate: Sun, 30 May 2010
Source: Missoulian (MT)
Copyright: 2010 Missoulian
Note: Only prints letters from within its print circulation area
Author: Charles S. Johnson


HELENA - Montana is hardly alone among the states that have legalized 
medical marijuana and now are struggling with how to regulate a 
rapidly growing and increasingly contentious industry.

The most common regulatory effort, officials say, focuses on those 
who provide the drug to approved patients.

Moves are afoot in Oregon and Colorado to regulate marijuana 
"dispensaries," which are largely unregulated in Montana.

"Since the Obama administration changed federal policy, there's been 
a real drive in states with medical marijuana laws to actually 
regulate their industry at a state level, especially the providers of 
medical marijuana," said Mike Meno, spokesman for the Marijuana 
Policy Project in Washington, D.C., a group advocating for lesser 
state penalties for the medical and non-medical use of marijuana.


California blazed the medical marijuana trail in 1996, and 13 more 
states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, 
most of them through voter-passed initiatives that bypassed state legislatures.

A turning point in the industry occurred last October, when the Obama 
administration directed federal prosecutors to back off from pursuing 
cases against medical marijuana patients in states that had legalized it.

In an April report, the National Conference of State Legislatures 
said some states without dispensary regulations are seeing a boom in 
these businesses, perhaps to gain a foothold before stricter regulations occur.

Montana's law is silent on the issue of dispensaries or stores, said 
Tom Daubert of Helena, founder of Patients & Families United, a 
medical marijuana patients' support group. Daubert is also part of a 
statewide co-op of growers.

"But I think under ordinary business law and circumstances of life, 
it makes sense for a caregiver with patients to have a location where 
the patient can come in for their medicine," he said.

Stores cropping up now in Montana can supply it only to patients 
registered to obtain the drug from a caregiver, and aren't open to 
anyone, Daubert noted.

A Montana legislative committee is starting to examine whether new 
regulations are needed here.


In Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to sign two bills affecting 
doctors who recommend medical marijuana and tightening how the drug 
is regulated.

According to the Denver Post, the legislation would require all 
dispensaries to be licensed by state and local governments, with fees 
to cover costs. The annual fees set by the state are expected to cost 
thousands of dollars per dispensary; some have predicted they may 
reach $15,000 annually.

Dispensary owners will be required to have been Colorado residents 
for two years, with some exceptions. People with past drug felonies 
won't be allowed to operate dispensaries.

Local governments or voters could forbid dispensaries in their 
respective communities, but not caregivers serving five or fewer patients.

Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, said his 
medical marijuana advocacy group likely will sue over some 
provisions, including the residency requirements.

"We tried to convince the bill sponsors to focus on what's best for 
patients," Vicente said. "I think we came out with a heavy law 
enforcement focus, rather than a patient focus. Law enforcement, 
district attorneys and the governor, a former D.A., wanted to crack 
down and shut down a lot of these places, and I think they've 
probably accomplished it."

Vicente said he wouldn't be surprised if half of the existing 400 
dispensaries end up closing because of high licensing fees. At least 
30,000 Coloradans have medical marijuana cards.

Colorado state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said he voted for both 
bills, but had reservations about parts of the regulatory bill that 
he considered too "heavy-handed." Yet he said he felt it was 
important for the Legislature to "rein in what many in Colorado saw 
as an out-of-control situation."

"I also anticipate that many dispensaries will fail to survive in the 
emerging medical marijuana marketplace," he added. It "will certainly 
hasten the demise of some dispensaries, but many would have failed on 
their own once the market stabilized."


In Oregon, which also has approved medical marijuana, supporters of a 
new initiative to create state-licensed dispensaries have turned in 
112,000 signatures - or nearly 83,000 more than required to put their 
measure on the fall ballot, the Eugene Register-Guard reported recently.

The initiative would create a series of private, nonprofit, 
state-regulated dispensaries which would sell marijuana raised by 
licensed growers to the state's 36,000 medical marijuana cardholders. 
Both dispensaries and growers would face state regulation, background 
checks, inspections and audits, and be subject to health and zoning 
regulations, the newspaper said.

Oregon cardholders now have to grow their own pot supply, find a 
caregiver or grower to supply it for them, or buy it on the street, 
the Register-Guard said.

"We think our initiative is going to get on the ballot, will pass and 
will work well," John Sajo, executive director of Voter Power, a 
leading advocate of the initiative, said in a telephone interview.

The proposal also is expected to raise $1 billion over a decade for 
Oregon's health department by imposing 10 percent taxes on 
dispensaries and pot farmers and annual licensing fees, Sajo said.

"We've looked at a lot of different models on how to regulate this 
industry, from state farms to patients growing their own," he added. 
"We've concluded the best system is independent producers competing 
and selling to nonprofit dispensaries."

Under the initiative, any patient can go to any dispensary to buy 
medical marijuana, just like any patient can go to any pharmacy to 
fill a prescription, he said.

Then there is California, where voters in November will vote whether 
to legalize marijuana altogether. Supporters submitted nearly 700,000 
signatures, with about 523,000 deemed valid to qualify the measure 
for the ballot. A state study says the legalization might generate 
$1.3 billion in desperately needed state revenue for California.

As the Associated Press reported, "Full legalization could turn 
medical marijuana dispensaries into all-purpose pot stores, and the 
open sale of joints could become commonplace on mom-and-pop liquor 
store counters in liberal locales like Oakland and Santa Cruz."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart