Buzz Killed

Buzz Killed
Posted by CN Staff on February 09, 2008 at 07:27:49 PT
By Deborah Crowe, LA Business Journal Staff
Source: Los Angeles Business Journal
California -- Los Angeles has become the unofficial capital of storefront shops that sell marijuana in recent years, and so many have sprouted that no one knows exactly how many exist. But those freewheeling times are skidding to a halt.The City Council has imposed a moratorium on any new pot shops and is moving to regulate the existing ones. Users are feeling a chill, too, from a recent court ruling that allows California employers to fire pot smokers – even if the marijuana is used at home and purchased under state law.
But even worse for marijuana shop owners, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which has conducted raids of medical marijuana dispensaries, recently began sending letters to some shop landlords telling them that their property could be confiscated because it is being used for illegal activity, at least under federal law. The DEA has never recognized California’s so-called compassionate use legislation and considers marijuana dispensaries as little more than drug dealers.“It’s tough for all of us who have been trying to run a reputable business that helped a lot of sick people get their medicine,” said Michael Leavitt, who shut his Canoga Park dispensary last summer.His landlord had received a letter from the DEA, pointing out that his property could be seized under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000.“For the price of a postage stamp, they closed me up,” said Leavitt, who had never been raided and is himself a patient who uses medical marijuana to alleviate symptoms of several chronic diseases.Leavitt’s former landlord, Miguel Fernandez, said he initially was leery of renting to a pot dispensary, but said Leavitt turned out to be a model tenant.“I still have not been able to rent his space to someone as good,” said Fernandez, adding that it was Leavitt’s decision to liquidate his business rather than call the DEA’s bluff.Los Angeles attorney William Kroger, who has seen a few of his roughly 20 dispensary clients similarly affected, said that in the current atmosphere, Leavitt probably made the right choice.While even the DEA doesn’t have an exact figure on how many operations were shut down due to the letter campaign, advocate groups know of several cases throughout the city, with some dispensaries raided even after they informed DEA agents that they were closing.“And what we’ve seen is that even when you fight back, you get raided anyway and lose everything,” said Kroger, who served on the advisory task force that drafted the interim ordinance now regulating the dispensaries. “You have to keep in mind, given the conflict between the federal and state law, and the inclination of the current (U.S.) administration, the DEA is just doing its job.”Indeed, the DEA was not apologetic. “It’s just like if a car was used in the commission of a crime – it can be subject for forfeiture under federal law,” said Jose Martinez, a spokesman for the DEA’s Los Angeles office.He also said it was unfair to imply that the DEA’s letters were a harassment campaign. “The whole goal of the letters to landlords was to educate the community.” Number Blossomed The initial 1996 law, Proposition 215, stated that marijuana should be made available in the state to people with medical problems, including nausea from cancer and AIDS treatments. Subsequent legislation and court rulings allowed patients and their caregivers to associate collectively to cultivate medical marijuana, which is why many dispensaries are called collectives. Subsequent court decisions expanded that protection to retail-style dispensaries. After that, the number of dispensaries blossomed, particularly in the last couple of years. No one knows exactly how many exist, but there are at least 230 in Los Angeles alone. The intent of lawmakers was that dispensaries be operated by the patient community more like a not-for-profit, but many became lucrative cash cows and at least some apparently sell pot improperly. The latter approach apparently is what got Larry Roger Kristich in trouble with the DEA. Kristich ran West Hollywood’s Yellow House and six other dispensaries around the state until they were raided by the DEA in 2005.He pleaded guilty on Feb. 1 to federal narcotics and money laundering charges, with two associates pleading to lesser charges a few days later. In the plea agreement, Kristich admitted that his facilities sold more than $95 million worth of marijuana over a three-year period, in some cases to minors, with an apparent $50 million profit.Some cities, such as Pasadena and Torrance, moved quickly to ban dispensaries outright. Los Angeles came under intense criticism for being slow to react as the number of dispensaries skyrocketed over the last few years. An estimated four facilities operating in the city just three years ago were largely in neighborhoods with large gay populations, since marijuana is considered an effective treatment of side effects from AIDS.“In the last few years, a lot of people got dollar signs in their eyes,” said Dr. Dean Weiss, a Venice physician who writes medical marijuana scripts, but has been troubled both by the lax local regulation and the aggressive federal law enforcement.“Three years ago you’d have to drive to West Hollywood to pick up your medication,” Weiss said. “Today we have like six or seven dispensaries just in Venice.” Moving To Regulate The City Council in July passed what’s called an interim control ordinance. It slaps a moratorium on new pot shops for one year and allows for two six-month extensions.Temporarily prohibiting new dispensaries is supposed to give city officials time to craft a process to root out bad operators, and add legitimacy to responsible purveyors who would be licensed and expected to pay taxes like any other business. The interim ordinance also called on the marijuana dispensaries to register with the city by Nov. 13. The Los Angeles city clerk’s office said that 230 dispensaries filed paperwork by the deadline. Of those, 183 complied with requirements to produce six documents, ranging from a state seller’s permit to a city tax registration certificate. Another 24 have filed for a hardship exemption, citing problems obtaining business insurance or the need to relocate due to the DEA’s landlord initiative. City officials haven’t decided when they’ll start cracking down on non-compliant operators. They also are taking their time crafting a final ordinance. It’s undetermined what provisions any final ordinance may have.Just as the City Council began debating the interim ordinance last summer, the DEA began a second round of raids that year, which riled Councilman Dennis Zine, a veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and the interim ordinance’s sponsor.“While we’re doing something positive to regulate the situation, the federal government was basically stepping on home rule, ignoring the will of the people of California,” Zine said. “Their arrogance is something. They show no respect for local law, yet when they want to do a raid they call on our police department to assist them.” The DEA’s Martinez said: “What we do (to these facilities) we do to anyone who violates federal law.” Vending Machines Despite the ongoing battle between federal and local officials, young entrepreneurs like Vincent Mehdizadeh still have hope that they can stay in business by employing innovations that answer some of law enforcement’s concerns. Mehdizadeh, who works in a Beverly Hills law office by day, also operates two Central L.A. dispensaries called Herbal Nutrition Center in which he is installing secure marijuana vending machines that he designed. Registered patients can use pre-paid smart cards to obtain a set amount of marijuana each week.Mehdizadeh, whose invention has scored national media attention, also is in the process of turning his facilities into more of a traditional pharmacy, enabling patients to obtain from the same vending machine popular prescription medications, such as Viagra and the hair loss treatment Propecia.“I’m not looking to pull the wool over the eyes of the DEA,” said Mehdizadeh. “I felt the industry serves a legitimate purpose but has a black eye that I’m working hard to correct.”But even as dispensaries face challenges, the environment for patients themselves also has clouded. The California Supreme Court last month ruled that employers may fire workers for using medical marijuana at home even if the drug does not impair work performance.Assembly member Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) has pledged to introduce clarifying legislation to strengthen employee rights by a Feb. 22 deadline for new bills in this session. Whether such a bill could pass and be signed by the governor in a presidential election year is uncertain.“The Court’s decision has had a chilling effect,” said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, which estimates that more than 200,000 Californians use medical marijuana. “It will deter people from being upfront with their employer. That’s not great.”Source: Los Angeles Business Journal (CA)Author: Deborah Crowe, Los Angeles Business Journal Staff Published: February 11, 2008Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Business Journal AssociatesWebsite: http://www.labusinessjournal.comContact: Articles & Web Site:Americans For Safe Access Dispensaries Closing Under Threat of Feds Tries New Push Against Medical Marijuana Moves To Pull Pot from Under San Francisco
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Comment #7 posted by Truth on February 09, 2008 at 14:26:06 PT
ms farm
What I never understood about their hemp farm is why they give out the worst of what they grow.Just what is their goal???(actually, I do understand)
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Comment #6 posted by FoM on February 09, 2008 at 11:04:13 PT
Picture Of The Mississippi Marijuana Farm
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Comment #5 posted by Sam Adams on February 09, 2008 at 10:55:09 PT
I never thought of it that way! The DEA needs to immediately bust that jerk in from University of Mississippi for his HUGE Grow-op! Having all those plants there is going to incite theft and crime! Those patients could be robbed, Univ. of Mississippi is contributing to CRIME and the downfall of western civilization and the end of God and Country.
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Comment #4 posted by fight_4_freedom on February 09, 2008 at 10:10:51 PT:
Storm Crow
It'd be awful interesting to hear what their public response would be to the fact that the government is already providing cannabis to patients every month. Which right there, proves that the government already knows it has medical benefits. I wish this would get mentioned more often whenever the prohibitionists spout their claim that it has no medical benefits at all.
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Comment #3 posted by Sam Adams on February 09, 2008 at 10:01:01 PT
"The City Council has imposed a moratorium on any new pot shops and is moving to regulate the existing ones. Users are feeling a chill, too, from a recent court ruling that allows California employers to fire pot smokers – even if the marijuana is used at home and purchased under state law."You know you're reading total BS with something like this. Users aren't feeling a chill, they've been using cannabis for decades and hoping to not get urine tested at work. They love the dispensaries and everything about them.For medical MJ patients, the judgement in favor of urine testing has nothing to do with dispensaries. Makes me wonder if the writer knows what he's talking about on other stuff.
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Comment #2 posted by Storm Crow on February 09, 2008 at 08:56:07 PT
Double standard?
"The DEA’s Martinez said: “What we do (to these facilities) we do to anyone who violates federal law.”"What about the United States' own GOVERNMENT RUN Medical Marijuana program? Is the DEA going to go after them? They deliver pre-rolled "marijuana cigarettes" to about a half dozen survivors of the program.  
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Comment #1 posted by ekim on February 09, 2008 at 07:40:33 PT
9th Annual Cannabis Convention 
9th Annual Cannabis Convention at UVIC
February 7th, 2008 
9th Annual Cannabis Convention
Sunday, February 10th 2008
David Lam Auditorium, McLaurin Building
1:00 to 4:00 pm
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