Judge to hear DEA request to obtain state medical-marijuana records
GRAND RAPIDS – A hearing is set next week in the federal government's request for access to certain state medical-marijuana records.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents is seeking the records related to a Lansing-area investigation of seven people.
In June, the DEA served a subpoena on the state's Department of Community Health, but the state would not provide the records citing confidentiality laws.
The Department of Community Health told investigators that they faced potential civil and criminal sanctions if they released the information.
A hearing is Jan. 12 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh Brenneman, court records said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bruha filed a motion to enforce the petition. He said in court filings that state officials were “reluctant” to release the records without a judge's order.
The DEA is seeking "copies of any and all documents, records, applications, payment method of any application for Medical Marijuana Patient Cards and Medical Marijuana Caregiver cards and copies of front and back of any cards located for the seven named individuals."
The names of those under investigation are redacted from records.
Under the law, Community Health maintains a confidential list of those who have obtained registry identification cards. Disclosure of the information is a misdemeanor.
Illegal marijuana businesses may abound in Boulder
Officials in Boulder believe there could be dozens of businesses that grow or sell medical marijuana illegally in the city, and they are now taking steps to locate and shutter them.
But the biggest stumbling block is that no one is sure just how widespread the problem is.
Tuesday night, the Boulder City Council will hear a progress report on efforts to enforce a set of new laws the leaders approved last May to regulate the blossoming medical marijuana industry.
According to a memo sent to the council in advance of the meeting, city staffers estimate there could be about 85 dispensaries and growing operations that are operating illegally. The number, which city spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said is a "rough estimate," is based on the number of marijuana-based businesses that pulled sales-tax licenses but never submitted paperwork for a medical marijuana business license.
The city required all dispensaries and growing operations to apply for a newly created business license by Nov. 1. The city received 117 applications by the deadline, leaving an estimated 85 businesses that had sales-tax licenses to sell the plant but never applied for a business license.
"We don't know whether all those locations opened up shop," she said. "The number may actually be less than that. There could also be other illegal businesses we might not be aware of at all."
Now, the city is trying to figure out how many of those companies never opened up, which ones have closed and whether any of them are still doing business.
Toward that end, the city's Environmental and Zoning Enforcement Office has mailed 62 "cease and desist" orders to the last known addresses of suspect shops, Huntley said.
The city also recently mailed notices to four businesses ordering them to immediately close because they are located in residential areas. Officials have since confirmed three of the locations are closed or never opened, and they haven't heard back from one.
Huntley said the city is still figuring out the best ways to enforce the new rules, an effort that began in early November.
"We are trying to assess at this point what kind of resources we need," she said. "This is still a very new area for us."
Sean Fey, one of the owners of The Green Room, a dispensary at 1738 Pearl St., said he and others in the industry suspect there are some companies operating illegally.
"We're assuming there are people that aren't following all the regulations," he said. "If they're operating outside of the rules, then they're taking away business from the people who are legitimately trying to comply with all of the regulations."
The best way for legitimate businesses to compete with the illegal ones, he said, is to do everything by the book.
"It's our hope that we're doing everything we can to do our part," he said, including obtaining a sales-tax license early on and applying for state and local business licenses. "We're here to try and help legitimize the business."
When the council takes up the issue Tuesday night, it will also consider making some changes to the city's medical marijuana ordinance. Most of the proposed tweaks are technical in nature or bring the city's rules in line with the more restrictive state laws that govern medical marijuana commerce.
But one of the most substantive changes would prohibit medical marijuana businesses from opening shop in a building if it contains a residential unit -- regardless of whether the building is zoned to allow for medical marijuana businesses.
That proposal would affect people like Brad Melshenker, who owns The Greenest Green dispensary at 2034 Pearl St. in Boulder.
Melshenker's company is in a building that also has two condos. He and others in that situation would likely be grandfathered in under the old rules if the council approves the change.
But Melshenker said he recognizes the conflict, and he has already agreed to leave the building if a potential buyer of one of the condos put it in writing that he or she wouldn't purchase it unless the dispensary moves. So far, Melshenker said, no potential buyers have complained.
The council also will be asked to decide whether to exempt two dispensaries from zoning rules that would otherwise force them to shut down.
New Options Wellness, 2885 East Aurora Ave., and the Flower of Life Healing Arts Center, 3970 Broadway, both sit in areas that are zoned for residential use. Residential zones are strictly off limits to dispensaries, but the council could make an exception because the two shops in question are in planned urban development zones and aren't near any residential units.
The council seemed warm to the idea a few weeks ago, when the owners of the dispensaries asked for reprieve from the zoning conflict.
Maine Medical Marijuana Patients Rush to Register with State
A new law was recently passed that states that medical marijuana patients must register with the state in order to continue using medical marijuana, This has led to hundreds of applications which must be processed by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services. The law went into effect January 1, and the state has already received more than 400 applications and they are continuing to expect to give out over 1,000 registration cards by this spring alone. Medical marijuana is not new to Maine as voters approved the use of medical marijuana in the late 1990’s, however patients that obtained medical marijuana with a simple doctor’s prescription now have to apply for and receive a state registration card, This card will cost the patients roughly $100 per year.
There are concerns about the flood of applications leading to delays in patients receiving their cards. The State Attorney General is advising police to check with the Department of Health if a patient does not have their card, as their application may still be pending. Other patients are wary of registering with the state and hope the legislature will overturn the rule in 2011. There is a downside to this new law though; the new law states that patients must obtain their medical marijuana from one of eight medical marijuana dispensaries that will open where as previously patients could either grow their own or obtain it from a designated caregiver. The dispensaries will provide a third option for patients and could lead to an increase in applications. However, the opening of the voter-approved dispensaries has been delayed and officials don’t expect the first to open until March or April 2011.
Smokin Token Mileys Bong Not Police Evidence, Up for Sale
Marijuana Concealed in Tomato Shipment
Local authorities have uncovered nearly 5,000 pounds of Cannabis hidden in a tomato shipment, their last major seizure of the year. Customs and Border Protection officials in Nogales say the load was being smuggled across the Mexican border in a tractor trailer on Thursday evening.
During a standard X-ray inspection of the cargo officers found anomalies and called for a narcotics detection dog. The dog alerted to drugs as the tomato pallets were being unloaded for inspection. 210 bales of marijuana, worth an estimated street value of $4.2 million were seized. The driver, a 48 year old man from Mexico was arrested and turned over to ICE where he shall be processed and await his day in court.
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