Medical Marijuana Fees to Aid Program in Arizona
The Arizona Department of Health Services will soon spend more than $1.2 million from medical marijuana fees to weed out physicians who improperly recommend marijuana to patients, help train marijuana-dispensary staff, hire private accountants or auditors to examine dispensary financial statements, and hire private attorneys to assist the department with legal issues arising from the program.
The Department will also continue to fund a $200,000 contract with the University of Arizona College of Public Health to, in part, review published research about the effectiveness of marijuana in treating medical conditions.
ADHS Director Will Humble said it will all help health officials keep the program as “medical” as possible.
“I’m trying to hit this from the financial angle, the medical angle, the certification angle to try to close as many gaps as I can that could result in bad outcomes for patients,” he said. “That means bringing in expertise that we don’t have in-house.”
Arizona has collected about $9.3 million in fees from cardholders and dispensary applicants since the program began last year. Officials have spent about $2.5 million on staff, its contract with the University of Arizona and technology. About $6 million remains in the medical-marijuana fee coffers.
But some think the fees should not be spent in this manner, like Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, who said she is unaware of any other states using fees in this manner.
She said patients, many of whom are poor, should not have to subsidize state programs to pay for their medicine. “They’re already in a financial hardship, they’re already suffering from some kind of ailment.”
Be that as it may, rest assured that state officials in Arizona will continue on as they are. It’s ironic that it will finally be tax and fee money that brings about legalization; governments can’t resist sucking up money like a Dyson, and will eventually get the $ they feel they deserve.
Boulder, Colorado Medical Marijuana Industry Decimated by New Regulations
Back in 2010 – when the city of Boulder, Colorado began setting up regulations for medical marijuana businesses – there were already about 200 businesses operating within the medical cannabis industry. In November of 2010, 119 businesses applied for licenses with the city.
Fast forward to today, where strict regulations within the city have left 26 dispensaries and 32 grow operations left functioning. In March there were 32 dispensaries in Boulder, which means closures continue.
Although regulations and background checks are meant to “weed out” bad operators, some say things are too strict and good operators are being squeezed out as well.
"It's like one strike and you're done," said Diane Czarkowski, one of the founders of Boulder Kind Care, the first Boulder dispensary to receive a business license from the city.
Tired of dealing with regulations, Czarkowski -- who describes herself as "more of a vision person" -- sold her shares and got out of the pot business in March, though she still works as a consultant and advocate.
Is it a good thing if successful businesspeople get so fed up that they get out of their chosen industry? Not in the least.
"I have never heard that or gotten the impression that that's what [city] council wanted," Senior Assistant City Attorney Kathy Haddock said of limiting the number of dispensaries. "I do think they want businesses that follow the rules and that's important."
But what happens if the rules are so strict that they destroy businesses and jobs? It’s unlikely that was the goal of the city council either.
But some, like Travis Howard, a business attorney who also owns a dispensary in Boulder, said Boulder's high standards have an upside, creating a model for others.
"I'm appreciative that Boulder has given us an opportunity," Howard said. "It's being executed professionally. I feel like I have a fair shake in Boulder, and not all of my colleagues around the state feel that way."
Who Is Funding the Medical Marijuana Ballot Measure in Arkansas?
Those who oppose marijuana for various reasons have usually have plenty of money from big corporations who would like to see marijuana prohibition continue. So those who favor marijuana law reform need a lot of cash as well.
Take the ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas this fall, for example.
"It's been a full on campaign for a little over a year now," says Chris Kell, spokesperson for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, a non-profit campaign instrumental in putting the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act on the ballot.
"We've raised a lot of money from Arkansans [and] from very generous support financially from Marijuana Policy Project," says Kell.
Over $250,000, to be more exact, is what MPP has spent on medical cannabis in Arkansas.
"We are entirely a member supported organization. We have over 50,000 dues paying members and basically when we go into these campaigns, we like to focus on whatever we can do to get the issue in front of the voters. In this case, paying for petition gatherers and public education," says Morgan Fox with MPP.
The measure, Kell says, will help thousands of sick Arkansans receive the compassionate care they need.
"This law is actually 8,000 words long for that very reason, so that this is not a gateway to recreational drugs. This is truly about compassionate care and people that could really benefit from this medicinal marijuana," says Kell.
If medical marijuana is going to finally some to the “Bible Belt,” one state is going to have to be the first to do it. Whether or not the first is Arkansas remains to be seen, and is dependent on advocates in the state and their effectiveness.
And of course it depends on the money available to combat the lies of medical marijuana opponents.
The Risks of Running a Medical Marijuana Business
The medical marijuana business is not an easy one to get into and to stay in, even though 17 states and Washington D.C. now have MMJ programs.
Attacks come from all angles; from state legislators who don’t like medical marijuana to groups that say MMJ attracts a bad crowd to the massive federal crackdown that utilizes several federal agencies like the DEA and the IRS.
Aaron Smith, the executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, says that there are over 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries in California, more than 500 in Colorado, and "an untold number" of businesses that benefit from the industry, including packagers, software businesses and accountants.
Many of these business owners, Smith said, are "driven by a sense of compassion and desire to help people in need. They could be doing other things that are far less risky frankly and more lucrative, but they choose to help patients."
Dale Sky Jones, the executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University, an Oakland, California-based school offering training for the cannabis industry, said getting into the medical marijuana business requires "guts or insanity." In April 2012, the university experienced the ultimate risk for medical marijuana businesses: a DEA raid. "A school teaching about a plant that has never killed anyone was raided by over 100 federal law enforcement officers," Jones said of the event.
"Regardless of individual state laws, as far as marijuana facilities, growing and distributing marijuana is illegal under federal law," said Michael Rothermund, a DEA spokesman. "If you're in a business and selling marijuana, you run the risk of being raided or investigated federally."
But Jones believes the raids are part of a bigger message. "They have specifically gone after the oldest and the best," Jones said. "There are a lot of illegal growers running around -- why are you cutting down reputable groups? Because we're the easy targets. If you go after the most respected players, not only are you undercutting the financial practices of the industry, you're also striking fear in the hearts of people who want to do it well. There's a psychological war in addition to a multi-front attack."
While the DEA raids tend to get the most spotlight, many more marijuana businesses have been shut down quietly. According to Smith, the federal government -- mostly through asset forfeiture threats to landlords -- closed over 400 medical marijuana facilities in California and 57 in Colorado in the last year.
And the risks don’t look like they will be lessening anytime soon.
Massachusetts Voters Firmly Support Medical Marijuana Legalization
The poll from Public Policy Polling surveyed 1,115 likely MA voters and found that 58% supported the medical marijuana measure, while only 27% oppose it.
Specifically, the poll question was: "Question 3 would eliminate state criminal and civil penalties for the medical use of marijuana by qualifying patients. If the election was today, would you vote yes or no on Question 3?"
A 31 –point spread is a pretty formidable gap, no matter what the issue is.
These new results show increasing support for the measure; according to earlier PPP polls, in June, 57% of respondents were in favor and 33% opposed; in March, 53 percent favored the measure and 35 percent were opposed.
If the measure is passed by voters, it would protect patients and healthcare providers from punishment for medical use of marijuana. Cannabis would be available to patients suffering from a list of qualifying conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, as long as they have a written recommendation from a doctor. The marijuana would be available at nonprofit dispensaries registered with and overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the law would allow up to 35 such dispensaries in the state, with at least one in each county and no more than five in any one county. The DPH could also allow individuals to register to grow pot for personal medical use if they show a hardship that prevents them from accessing a dispensary.
Unless something goes haywire, it looks like MA will join the list of states with legal protections for medical marijuana patients.
Arkansas Next Stop for Medical Marijuana Backers
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