Pubdate: Wed, 15 Feb 2012 Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA) Copyright: 2012 Hearst Communications Inc. Contact: http://www.sfgate.com/chronicle/submissions/#1 Website: http://www.sfgate.com/chronicle/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/388 Author: Dan Freedman Note: Dan Freedman is national editor in the Hearst Newspapers Washington Bureau. FEDS' POT RESPONSE DIFFERS IN CALIFORNIA, COLORADO Forget about "Rocky Mountain High." In Colorado, the medical marijuana industry is a tightly regulated amalgam of businesses policed by gun-toting agents of the state's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. While medical marijuana providers in California are wary of stepped-up federal law enforcement, comparable businesses in Colorado are confident that despite growing pains, their industry - enshrined in the state's Constitution - will continue to thrive. "We are on an even keel and moving forward," said Jason Lauve, board member of the Association of Cannabis Trades for Colorado and publisher of Cannabis Health News magazine. Colorado and California are among the 16 states that, along with the District of Columbia, have laws permitting marijuana use for medicinal purposes. But while each of the laws conflicts with federal law, Colorado and California represent case studies in the varying degrees of U.S. law enforcement response. John Walsh, the U.S. attorney in Colorado, sent letters last month to 23 of the state's estimated 600 marijuana dispensaries and their landlords, ordering the businesses to close or relocate because they are within 1,000 feet of a school. "We're trying to focus our efforts on where we think there is the most public harm," Walsh told Colorado Public Radio. "And schools are our first focus." Level of state oversight But that's a light dusting compared with the enforcement actions directed by U.S. attorneys in California, which include letters to landlords threatening forfeiture, IRS letters seeking back taxes and telling medical marijuana businesses they can't deduct expenses, and DEA raids on dispensaries and marijuana "grows." The varying reactions of U.S. attorneys in the two states may be attributable to the level of state regulation of the medical marijuana industry - or lack of it. Colorado's regulations, which went into effect last summer, try to ensure that the medical marijuana industry caters only to patients with legitimate health-related needs. Marijuana dispensaries must grow 70 percent of the marijuana they sell. Counties and localities can ban marijuana dispensaries altogether if they choose. The state's 77 pages of regulations stipulate everything from background checks for employees to trash disposal. State auditors monitor all business transactions. In addition, the state created the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, a force of plainclothes officers who carry badges and guns. Their job is carry out scheduled and unscheduled on-site inspections, respond to complaints, and work with other law enforcement agencies to investigate any suspicious activity. "It's a closed system," said the division's spokeswoman, Julie Postlethwaite. "Medical marijuana is tracked from starter plant to sale to patient. The aim is to insure that there's no black-market use." Patchwork of rules By contrast, California's Department of Public Health issues medical marijuana ID cards to patients and caregivers. But beyond that, most regulation of the state's 1,200 or so dispensaries is up to counties and localities, which provide an uneven patchwork of rules and minimal enforcement. Federal law enforcement officials say California's medical marijuana industry is ripe for exploitation by the black market. "The California Compassionate Use Act (of 1996) was intended to help seriously ill people, but the law has been hijacked by profiteers who are motivated not by compassion but by money," U.S. attorney Melinda Haag in San Francisco said in October. George Mull, a Sacramento lawyer who is president of the California Cannabis Association, said he is pushing a ballot initiative that would create a state medical marijuana enforcement bureau similar to Colorado's. "We'd go a long way toward solving federal concerns if we can say with a straight face that we have a well-regulated system," Mull said. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.