Monday, November 20, 2017
Politics

How would medical marijuana be sold — and controlled?

RECOMMENDED READING


Four years ago in Colorado, pot trounced latte in a head-to-head storefront count. Starbucks had 209 franchises in the state. Denver alone had 390 medical marijuana dispensaries operating with no regulations.

Los Angeles once had about 1,000 storefront dispensaries unrecognized by state law. A loose system allowed people to stroll in, tell a doctor they couldn't sleep, and stroll out with bud.

It's little wonder that dispensaries gained a bad name.

In five months, Floridians will vote on a medical marijuana system built around controlled dispensaries. Under a proposed constitutional amendment, no one could grow his own. Smokable pot, infused food and liquids could come only from licensed dispensaries.

This strategy follows the premise that licensed dispensaries are easier to monitor than thousands of backyard plots and that problems with early dispensaries stemmed largely from their operation outside the law.

"We wanted a tightly controlled and regulated system,'' said Ben Pollara, director of United for Care, the amendment's sponsor. "Systems where patients are allowed to grow their own, while something that some patients want and may make it cheaper, ultimately is something you cannot get as good a regulatory hold on.''

Dispensary-based systems are the hot trend. The last 10 states to legalize medical marijuana use them, and states like Oregon and Nevada recently added dispensary regulation.

Many of these systems are not yet up and running, and their track record is thin.

Opponents of Florida's Amendment 2 say the proposed law offers too little information about how the system would work, leaving details up to state regulators and judges who would rule on any constitutional challenges.

For example, the amendment does not specify how many dispensaries would be allowed in Florida or how close they could locate to schools.

Such details should have been included in the amendment so voters would know what they would be getting, said Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for the Drug Free Florida Campaign.

"Their job is to vote Yes or No on the words presented to them in the ballot box," she said.

Pollara counters by saying that medical marijuana systems require pages and pages of regulations, too many to put on a ballot.

"I trust that Florida officials will do the right thing," he said.

First dispensaries

Early medical marijuana states allowed patients or designated caregivers to grow their supply. In some states, this offered quasi legal cover for unofficial storefront dispensaries. A customer could designate someone as a caregiver, and caregivers are allowed to possess, grow and supply.

With weather, insects and disease making cultivation unpredictable, possession amounts could be generous. Oregon patients and caregivers, for example, could possess six mature plants and up to 2 pounds of dried pot.

That meant a dispensary, as caregiver, could grow six plants the size of Christmas trees for each patient, producing much more pot than those patients would ever use. A patient could carry off his 2-pound allotment of dried pot one day and the dispensary could bring in another 2 pounds the next.

At best, these "compassionate care centers'' offered various useful strains and reliable supplies for sick people who could not farm on their own.

At worst, they provided cover for large movements of pot and incentive for black market diversion. Even running a reputable dispensary risked federal trafficking charges, so the operator had to be willing to skirt the law.

Things changed about 2009, when the Justice Department began signaling it would ease off dispensaries if they followed state law.

"The federal government realized it is not in anyone's interest to create a messy program,'' said Karen O'Keefe, Marijuana Policy Project state policy director.

Before dispensaries could follow state law, states had to create them. Regulators began seeing dispensaries as not only manageable, but preferable to backyard cultivation.

State regulation

Even if Florida passes Amendment 2, state officials have until next summer to implement regulations. Here is a rundown of common restrictions.

• Dispensary numbers: Many states set a limit — like 23 in New Mexico. Massachusetts allows 35 and no more than five per county. Arizona allows one dispensary for each 10 pharmacies.

• Location: Dispensaries are kept away from schools, and in some cases, churches and day care centers. The 1,000 foot from a school rule in Illinois may require tinkering because it left almost no place for a dispensary in Chicago. Nevada and Massachusetts limit cultivation to locked indoor facilities.

• Owners and workers: States often ban people with felony drug convictions or histories of violent crime from owning or working in a dispensary.

• Inventory control: Massachusetts requires ID numbers for each plant and an electronic monitoring system that can track it from seed to sale.

• Product testing: Nevada requires every batch to be tested for chemical content, pesticides and mold. Maine fined a dispensary $18,000 last year for using an unapproved pesticide.

• Enhanced prosecution: Several states have criminal penalties for possession and sale if someone with a dispensary license engages in trafficking.

Regulations often create surprises and change over time. Arizona's system has been operating for about 18 months and already a Phoenix lawsuit revealed that at least one licensed dispensary owner turned over operations to a third party that regulators knew nothing about, said Maricopa County attorney Bill Montgomery.

"There are a number of sham license holders,'' said Montgomery. "These are supposed to be nonprofit ventures, but by selling management contracts, somebody is making a profit.''

Any parts of Florida's system found in the amendment would be lodged in the Constitution and could not be changed without a new amendment.

Regulatory details could be changed by the Legislature. Citizen could try to challenge them in court, but because Amendment 2 foresees "reasonable" regulations, challengers would have to show that the regulations were unreasonable or somehow violated Florida's Constitution.

Comments
2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A second woman has accused Minnesota Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching.Lindsay Menz tells CNN that Franken placed his hand on her bottom as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, two years into Fran...
Published: 11/20/17
Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott’s tourism chiefs at Visit Florida spend a lot of public money taking trips to exotic places to promote Florida as a top worldwide destination.Four former top-level staff members at the state’s tourism promotion and its c...
Published: 11/20/17
Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

TAMPA — A week ahead of the expected vote on a controversial tax reform bill, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., visited Tampa to deliver a message to small businesses: This bill will hurt you."Small businesses are the economic engine of F...
Updated: 4 hours ago
As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Sunday that the White House is willing to remove a contentious provision taking aim at the Affordable Care Act from the GOP tax overhaul plan if politically necessary, a move ...
Published: 11/19/17

Many Christian conservatives are backing Alabama’s Roy Moore

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama’s Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn’t fit the evangelical mold. ...
Published: 11/19/17
Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

WASHINGTON — It’s been nearly six years since the Senate Ethics Committee conducted a major investigation of a sitting senator. Next year, the panel could be working nonstop, deciding the fate of up to three lawmakers, including two facing allegation...
Published: 11/18/17
In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

UTICA, N.Y.Pat Marino pulled into the shop on a cold, wet Thursday and stood close as a young mechanic with gelled-up hair and earrings lifted the truck and ducked underneath."You need a little bit more oil," the mechanic said."Five quarts wasn’t eno...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners recently decided to go after the pocketbooks of several residents who filed unsuccessful ethics complaints against one of their colleagues.If history is any indicator, the maneuver is more likely to cost taxp...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/19/17
As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

WASHINGTON — "You can do anything," Donald Trump once boasted, speaking of groping and kissing unsuspecting women. Maybe he could, but not everyone can. The man who openly bragged about grabbing women’s private parts — but denied he really did so — w...
Published: 11/17/17
Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Standing on the white marble steps of Alabama’s Capitol, Kayla Moore surrounded herself with two dozen other women Friday to defend husband Roy Moore against accusations of sexual misconduct that are dividing Republicans, and women...
Published: 11/17/17