Phoenix seeks balance in governing medical marijuana
Medical marijuana collective opens Federal Way branch; owner welcomes state taxation
Green Piece Alternative Medicine and Education (GAME) Collective may be Federal Way's first storefront medical marijuana dispensary.
In a strip mall off South 333rd Street and Pacific Highway South, most storefronts bear Korean names except for one newbie. A sign on the plain glass door gives a phone number, hours of operation and a list of medicated edibles like cookies. Qualified clients can buy medical-grade cannabis inside the studio-like room, where mirrors line one wall, legal documents hang on another wall, a TV hums in the ceiling corner and lounge chairs sit on the floor. On a desk is a pipe shaped like a Seahawks helmet, with a short length of hose and a handwritten note granting permission to try it.
Brionne Corbray opened the third branch of his collective Oct. 1 in Federal Way. The collective, with two branches in Seattle, advertises openly online and in alternative publications.
In mid-December, the Washington State Department of Revenue announced plans to collect a sales tax from marijuana dispensaries. Corbray welcomes a sales tax because he can make more money. In fact, he would rather be a retail outlet store than a non-profit, he said.
"It's the new gold rush," said Corbray, 46, of Seattle. "We should be paying taxes. That means they're acknowledging we're legal businesses."
His clientele ranges in age from 19 to 87, he said, and all must have a verified recommendation from a qualified health care provider to do business. The collective often donates to low-income or gravely ill clients, he said.
"Collectives keep the crime rate down — keeps it off the street," he said. "I don't think it should be legal like cigarettes."
State laws for possession and gardening offer a defense for medical marijuana providers, and according to Corbray, there is no shortage of supplies.
"I make sure I stay within the guidelines of the law," he said.
Feds want Michigan records in medical-marijuana probe, challenging federal versus state laws
Federal agents want Michigan to turn over medical marijuana records as part of an investigation in the Lansing area, a sign that voter approval won't stop federal authorities from enforcing their drug laws.
Michigan voters agreed in 2008 to legalize the use of marijuana in treating some health problems.
But "the cultivation, possession and distribution of marijuana remains illegal under federal law," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bruha said in a court filing last week.
The U.S. attorney's office has asked a judge to order the Department of Community Health to comply with a subpoena for records of seven people with medical marijuana or marijuana caregiver cards. The state has been resisting turning over the information because of a privacy provision in Michigan law, Bruha said. No names or identifying information about the seven are included in court documents, nor are details about the Drug Enforcement Administration's investigation.
DEA spokesman Rich Isaacson in Detroit wouldn't comment about the case Monday but said agents generally are "not targeting people that are unambiguously following the state medical marijuana law."
"The DEA targets large scale drug trafficking organizations and does not expend its resources on individuals possessing 'user amount' quantities of illegal drugs," he said.
The federal government apparently hasn't been in a rush to get the information: The subpoena was given to the Department of Community Health in June.
More than 45,000 people in Michigan are registered to use marijuana to ease the symptoms of cancer and other health problems. They can have up to 2 1/2 ounces of ready-to-use pot and up to 12 plants kept in an enclosed, locked facility. They could also choose to have a registered caregiver grow the drug for them.
Law enforcement officials have panned the law as poorly written, and an appeals court judge has called it a "maze." The American Civil Liberties Union is suing cities over anti-marijuana policies.
Many Marijuana Dispensaries Reopen
Months after Los Angeles ran a majority of medical marijuana dispensaries out of town by passing strict regulations, the shops are cropping up again. A judge this month scratched key portions of the ordinance that city officials spent years putting together and noted that a large number of collectives could reopen.
David Welch, the lawyer who represents some of the shuttered clinics that sued the city, says nearly 60 have decided to open in recent months. About 180 collectives applied to remain open after hundreds were forced to close, but only about 40 met all the ordinance’s criteria. Which include being at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks and other gathering sites.
Woman fired over medical marijuana to get day in high court
Should an employee's use of medical marijuana - at home, with no side effects on the job - be exempt from workplace drug-use policies?
That's one of the questions judges and lawmakers will be wrestling with next month, when the state Supreme Court hears a case of a woman fired for using the drug, and the Legislature takes up a bill expanding protections in the state's medical marijuana law.
The case before the court involves a woman suing her former employer, after she failed a drug test and was fired from a customer-service job in Bremerton. The woman, using "Jane Roe" as a pseudonym in court records, was using marijuana prescribed by her doctor for debilitating migraines.
The woman is using the alias because medical marijuana use remains illegal under federal law.
The Court of Appeals ruled against the woman last year, saying the state's medical marijuana law protects patients only from criminal prosecutions, not in employment disputes.
But in petitioning the high court for review, the woman's attorney argued that the law -- passed by voters in 1998 as Initiative 682 -- allowed for broader protections. Michael Subit wrote that voters and lawmakers who enacted the Medical Use of Marijuana Act would be "flabbergasted if qualified patients could lose their jobs simply for using medical marijuana at home in accordance with the Act."
Subit's client had been hired in 2006 by Colorardo-based TeleTech Customer Care Management to do customer service via phone and emails at a Bremerton office. The company had a drug-test policy; the woman said she would fail it and offered to provide medical documentation for her marijuana use.
She took the test, started work, and was fired about a week later, because she tested positive for cannabis.
"She used marijuana in such small doses that it had no side effects," Subit wrote. "It did not negatively affect her ability to work or take care of her children." He said the woman never used it on the job, or in front of her kids, and was not impaired at work.
Subit also wrote that the woman had suffered from chronic pain, nausea, blurred vision and light sensitivity for years, and it wasn't until her doctor prescribed marijuana that her symptoms subsided.
What did voters want with medical marijuana law?
The issue hinges on the intent of the law, which says "humanitarian compassion" makes allowing medical marijuana necessary, and that patients with terminal or debilitating illnesses "shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege."
The Court of Appeals said the "average informed voter" would understand that the law addresses only one subject - that of criminal prosecutions. Subit said most people would think employment is considered a privilege.
He also said the law balances the rights of patients with interests of the workplace, by not requiring employers to allow on-site marijuana use.
On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a brief (PDF) in support of the woman, saying she should be treated the same way as any other worker who takes prescribed medication for a debilitating condition.
"Patients suffering from terminal and debilitating medical conditions shouldn't be forced to choose between a job and a therapy that helps them," said Alison Holcomb, ACLU's drug policy director.
The court is expected to hear oral arguments on Jan. 18.
Next month, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles is expected to introduce a bill (PDF)clarifying the state's medical marijuana law. The bill seeks to ban an employer from firing - or refusing to hire - a marijuana patient, solely because of off-site use of the drug. Exceptions would include if the workplace involves physically hazardous or public safety duties.
The bill would also provide protections in housing and parenting plans. It would prohibit medical marijuana use from being a factor in refusing housing or restricting parental rights.
Colo. Doctor in Hot Water After Prescribing Medical Marijuana to Pregnant Woman
A doctor in Denver, Colo. is in danger of losing his license after recommending medical this past January to a woman who was seven months pregnant.
Dr. Manuel De Jesus Aquino recommended the marijuana following a brief three-minute exam without appropriate review of the patient's medicalhistory or request for a follow-up appointment, according to a recent report in The Denver Post. When the 20-year-old mother gave birth in April, her infant tested positive for marijuana and reportedly suffered feeding difficulties.
The Colorado state attorney general's office filed a complaint last week on behalf of the Colorado Medical Board against Aquino, whose license is currently suspended pending the outcome of proceedings against him.
Dr. Lester Grinspoon, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a long-time proponent of the medical use of marijuana, told AOL Health Thursday morning that marijuana is actually safer than a lot of medications that are available over the counter, incuding anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, which cause thousands of deaths per year. "There has never been a death directly attributed to marijuana," Grinspoon says.
While he doesn't advocate the use of marijuana among pregnant women, he does not believe it's harmful to the mother or the fetus. He points out that in cases of pathological nausea in pregnant women, marijuana can actually be helpful by curing the nausea that prevents mothers-to-be from eating and digesting food. "You shouldn't use any kind of medicine when you're pregnant if you can avoid it," Grinspoon adds, "but there are some times when you don't have a choice."
Some in the medical community believe marijuana can be used to treat a variety of conditions and symptoms, including nausea,headaches, neuropathic pain, Chrohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma. "It's a remarkably untoxic substance," says Grinspoon, whose own son took advantage of medical marijuana to fight the nausea and vomiting he experienced while undergoing chemotheraphy for the treatment of leukemia.
Grinspoon believes it should have the same standing as over-the-counter medications like aspirin and ibuprofen.
As for the doctor in Colorado, he may still be in tough straits regardless of whether or not marijuana is dangerous to pregnant women because Colorado law requires that physicians have bona fide relationshipswith patients before prescribing the drug for medical use.
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