MMJ Program

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Who will DOJ target with new marijuana posture?

by Chris Goldstein

State employees tasked with regulating cannabis are just criminal conspirators in vast enterprises involving federally illegal drugs. That sounds absurd, but it’s technically true.

 Now,  U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has changed the position of the Department of Justice regarding state marijuana legalization laws. By rescinding several memos that served as policy directives for federal prosecutors the existential legal possibilities of the past could come into sharper focus.

So, what happens next? To get a forecast on the upcoming weed storm, it’s important to understand why Sessions and his associates care about the Obama-era position at all.

 In 2011 the first Cole memo was released in answer to N.J. Gov. Chris Christie stubbornly peppering the DOJ for “clarification” on medical marijuana (and I got the scoop for my blog).

A former U.S. Attorney in the early 2000s who was appointed by President George W. Bush for being a champion GOP fundraiser, Gov. Christie used his legal expertise to play the weed conflict like a Texas Hold’em champ. At the time, Christie bluffed about being wracked with worry that DEA agents could swoop in to arrest his N.J. Department of Health workers.

The “concerned about state employees” was a common angle used by some prohibitionist Republicans to vote against or even veto compassionate use laws. That’s what led David Ogden and James Cole – two Deputy U.S. Attorneys General under Eric Holder — to write the three memos between 2009 and 2013 addressing the idea of federal authorities trying to, physically, get in the way.

The Ogden and Cole memos crafted a clear diplomatic policy on marijuana between the federal government and the States, almost along the lines of an international agreement. It was refined and summarized as “non-interference.”

That was enough cover for state legislatures to pass safe access laws and state employees to implement full legalization ballot initiatives. The cash-flush marijuana industry crawled under the umbrella too, even if uninvited.

But, President Obama and his administration failed to make a permanent policy. By the time Donald Trump came into office federal marijuana laws hadn’t actually changed one millimeter.

Non-interference is also at the core of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, a federal budget rider that eliminates funding from any DOJ action that could interrupt state marijuana laws. In place since 2014, Rohrabacher-Blumenauer is set to expire on January 19 and Sessions has already asked Congress not to renew it.

In removing all these perceived barriers, the Trump administration is grooming a position from which to actively meddle. Speculation has focused on possible enforcement against those permitted to grow or sell the plant, but that seems unlikely.

On Jan. 4, 2018, the day Sessions rescinded the memos, David Freed, a US Attorney in Pennsylvania (and a Republican) immediately reassured the public that he won’t be shutting down any of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis facilities that are just sprouting seeds.

Freed’s sentiment was echoed across the country, and without the support of federal prosecutors, the DOJ is very limited indeed. A cornered Sessions may be forced to go further out on a legal limb, turning the old drug warriors’ concerns about health employees into a direct threat.

Chris Christie has also repeatedly used the phrase “blood money” to describe Colorado’s prolific cannabis tax revenue.  If the federal government begins to seriously view those taxes as illegal gains then perhaps Sessions’ other favorite and highly dubious criminal justice tactic will come into play: civil asset forfeiture.

Thankfully, the new DOJ posture towards America’s favorite flower brought instant condemnation from the public and all levels of elected officials, in both parties.

Cory Booker of New Jersey went to the floor of U.S. Senate to express the strong core of social justice that is driving the nation away from prohibition:

“The unequal application of marijuana laws has created a system where an outcome is more dependent on race and class than dependent on guilt or innocence.”

Senator Bob Casey was inspired to make his first major statement on cannabis policy, ever, while Gov. Tom Wolf showed his well-practiced resolve to the Trump administration. A cadre of state politicians in the region also chimed in. It was a moment of political maturity for marijuana legalization.

 

Read the full article HERE

Pennsylvania Gives Approval To First Medical Marijuana Dispensary

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania officials on Thursday announced the first all-clear for a medical marijuana dispensary in the state to begin providing the drug once it becomes available from a licensed grower.

The Keystone Canna Remedies dispensary in Bethlehem received the state authorization, a major milestone in Pennsylvania’s new medical marijuana program.

“It means there’s going to be safe and effective access to a new medicine that can help (patients) in a wide variety of ways,” said Victor Guadagnino, the company’s co-founder and chief of business development. He said the company sees the drug as a way patients can take a more active role in their own health care.

 

Nine entities have been approved to grow and process medical marijuana, and their products are expected to be available to patients in the coming four months.

Gov. Tom Wolf said the approval is good news for patients and their caregivers.

“We are one step closer to providing medical marijuana to patients with serious medical conditions who desperately need this medication,” the Democratic governor said.

Guadagnino, who lives in New York City, said the dispensary in Bethlehem will open this month for educational workshops and registration assistance, but he does not expect to have the product available until mid-February.

The Bethlehem dispensary, which Guadagnino said is part of their multimillion-dollar medical marijuana investment in the region, will start with four or five employees and grow based on patient demand. The company also plans to eventually open two other dispensaries in the Lehigh Valley.

Acting Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said officials expect more dispensaries to open in the coming weeks.

The announcement of the first dispensary came as the U.S. Justice Department said federal prosecutors are being given more latitude to pursue criminal charges involving marijuana. In response, Wolf vowed to do whatever he can “to protect Pennsylvania patients.”

A 2016 state law legalized medical marijuana for people suffering from one of 17 qualifying conditions, including AIDS, autism, cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and Crohn’s disease.

 

Read the full article HERE.

Bethlehem company gets green light to dispense medical marijuana

A Bethlehem facility has been given the full green light to start dispensing medical marijuana to qualifying patients as soon as the drug is available in coming months, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday.

GuadCo LLC’s dispensary, Keystone Canna Remedies, at 1309 Stefko Blvd. is the Lehigh Valley’s first medical marijuana operation to secure final approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“It means there’s going to be safe and effective access to a new medicine that can help (patients) in a wide variety of ways,” Victor Guadagnino, the company’s co-founder and chief of business development, told The Associated Press. “We really do look at medical marijuana as a new platform to reintegrate the patient back into their own health care.”

It may take about four months for licensed growers to get the medicine to Keystone Canna, which then could treat patients with state-issued medical marijuana identification cards, health officials said.

Read the full article HERE

While feds say states can’t legalize marijuana anymore, Pa. will leave medical pot alone

January 4th began as a milestone day for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program,  but it quickly took a turn that left some wondering if that might be the last one.

Hours after Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the all-clear was given for the state’s first dispensary to open, an official announcement came down from President Donald Trump’s U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he was changing direction in how the federal law with regard to marijuana is enforced.

In it, Sessions, who has said he believes marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to addiction, gave the green light to federal prosecutors to enforce the 48-year-old federal law prohibiting marijuana cultivation, distribution, and possession as they see fit.

That immediately put a number of the medical marijuana supporters across Pennsylvania on edge.

Patients with 17 qualifying medical conditions have been waiting for years to be able to legally buy home-grown medical marijuana products in Pennsylvania. Now they are only four months away from being able to do that, and then this happens.

Gov. Tom Wolf didn’t waste time in sending out a warning shot that he will do everything in his power to protect the state’s medical marijuana program from what he calls a federal overreach.

 

Read the full article HERE

Budtender training to be offered in Philly in 2018

BY ANDREW PARENT 

Interested in learning how to be a budtender? You could have your chance next month.

Hempstaff, a medical marijuana recruitment firm that bills itself as a nationwide leader in dispensary training, is set to hold two separate training and certification sessions on Jan. 20 in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on Island Avenue, near Philadelphia International Airport.

The classes start at 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m

Led by a trainer from Colorado, the classes cover laws pertaining to the medical marijuana industry and what to expect as a budtender, along with a slew of other topics. The training and certification are designed to give aspiring dispensary agents a resume boost, the Florida-based company writes in a lengthy description of its training.

A Facebook page for the training states that the classes are fast-paced and take four hours to complete. Those who pass a test with at least 75 percent will receive the company’s budtender certification.

The company also offers a resume review for passing students.

“There is no state-approved certification for Dispensary Training in ANY state yet, as it is still Federally Illegal, so this will be the best certification you can get!” the company states.

But admission to the course is limited and won’t come cheap. Tickets on Eventbrite are going for $249 a pop, and there were only 40 open slots remaining between the two sessions as of Friday afternoon.

If available, tickets at the door will cost $300 apiece, the company said.

 

Read the full article HERE.

Pa. gun owners take notice: You could lose your guns if you use legal medical marijuana

Feds say guns and marijuana don’t mix. No similar bans for alcohol or mental health problems

Love your guns? Looking forward to the legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania in 2018? A major conflict looms.

While legal for medical use in 29 states, the federal government still classifies marijuana in any form as a controlled substance on par with heroin.

So, before you apply for that medical marijuana card consider this: Federal law also bans gun ownership for medical marijuana patients. And, it has since 2011.

On Wednesday, The Philadelphia Inquirer explored the risks and realities of changes in the law that stand to create significant conflict for some.

Read the full article HERE