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Category: Medical marijuana

Proponents of L.A. medical marijuana ballot measure shift support

A coalition of medical marijuana activists that fought to put an ordinance regulating pot shops on the May ballot are abandoning their own initiative in favor of a city-backed ballot measure that seeks similar regulations.

Representatives for Americans for Safe Access, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Greater Los Angeles Collectives Alliance announced Monday that they plan to campaign on behalf of the city’s proposal, which the City Council is expected to vote this week to place on the ballot.

The city proposal is similar to the one originally supported by the groups in that it allows only pot dispensaries that opened before a 2007 moratorium to operate. Unlike the group's original ordinance, the city proposal will increase the tax levied on medical marijuana sales.

It's too late for the group to withdraw its ordinance, which means there will probably be three initiatives seeking to regulate pot shops on the May ballot. But the shift announced Monday means there will be political campaigns on behalf of only two of them.

The third ballot measure is backed mostly by a group of dispensaries that opened after the moratorium. It would allow all dispensaries to continue operating and let new ones open, so long as they meet certain restrictions. That measure would also raise the sales tax.

Members of the Greater Los Angeles Collectives Alliance, made up of pre-moratorium dispensaries, believe they have a better shot of passing an ordinance that would protect them if they join forces with the city, according to Yami Bolanos, the organization's director.

The city has struggled for years to regulate pot shops. After complaints from neighborhood activists, the council enacted a ban on storefront marijuana sales last July. But it retreated two months later, repealing the ban after a well-organized coalition of marijuana activists mounted an effort to overturn it at the ballot box.


L.A. repeals its ban on pot stores

L.A. voters could decide 3 pot measures on May ballot

L.A. City Council bans medical marijuana dispensaries

-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall


San Diego man who made millions selling pot gets 8 years in prison

Marijuana plant. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 A 31-year-old San Diego man who admitted making enough money in a marijuana trafficking operation to pay cash for a $2 million home in Rancho Santa Fe has been sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison.

Joshua John Hester, sentenced Thursday in federal court, pleaded guilty to eight drug and money-laundering charges. He admitted being the silent owner of two marijuana dispensaries: Downtown Kush Lounge and Green Kross Collective in Mission Beach.

"Joshua Hester is the poster boy for the types of marijuana dispensary operations that the federal government is criminally targeting," said U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy.

Hester "wasn't overseeing a nonprofit collective that served sick people" but rather was selling top-quality pot to "recreational users and exploiting state laws that were meant to help the seriously ill," Duffy said.

Since October 2011, the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego, along with the Drug Enforcement Administration, has sent "cease and desist" demands to 253 marijuana dispenaries in the area. Only a dozen remain open, Duffy said.

Hester was sentenced to 100 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $570,000 in assets, including cash, vehicles and jewelry. Among other purchases, Hester bought a 37-acre property on Palomar Mountain as a growing site, according to court documents.


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Photo: Marijuana plant. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Third medical pot measure moves toward L.A. ballot

 Pot bud at a Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensary  Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles City Council moved forward with its own medical marijuana ballot measure Wednesday, increasing the chances voters could face three pot initiatives on the May ballot.

On an 11-1 vote, the council instructed city lawyers to draw up language for a ballot measure that would restrict the number of marijuana dispensaries allowed in the city. Supporters of the measure, including Councilman Paul Koretz and Council President Herb Wesson, said it would raise taxes on medical marijuana sales and would permit only those dispensaries that opened before a city moratorium in 2007.

The proposal comes after two other initiatives qualified for the ballot this month. According to Wesson, “both of those measures have left us wanting.”

One would allow any pot shop that meets certain requirements to operate. It would also raise taxes on medical marijuana sales by 20% to pay for city enforcement.

The other measure, which is backed by a labor union that has organized dispensary workers as well as a prominent medical marijuana advocacy group, would, like the City Council proposal, allow only those shops that opened before the city moratorium. But according to Wesson and Koretz, the measure doesn’t require dispensaries to keep enough distance from one another and from churches, schools and parks.

“We have to have some kind of distance requirement because that’s what’s the making the neighborhoods crazy,” said Wesson. He said there's a stretch of Pico Boulevard in his central Los Angeles district that people call “the green mile” because there are sometimes multiple pot shops on a single block.

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Third medical marijuana measure proposed for L.A. ballot

Pedestrians pass a medical marijuana dispensary in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles in 2012. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press

Even in the eminently complicated world of pot politics, the prospect is mind-boggling: In the May municipal election, Los Angeles voters could face not one but three ballot measures geared toward regulating medical marijuana.

Each of the proposals would allow some pot shops to remain open. The differences between them are small and all in the details.

Two of the proposed measures, which qualified for the ballot last week, are backed by opposing groups in the medical marijuana industry. One would allow only those dispensaries that opened before a city moratorium in 2007. The other would allow all pot shops that meet certain requirements, such as keeping limited hours and maintaining a certain distance from schools and churches. The second ballot measure would also raise taxes on medical marijuana sales.

The third option was proposed by several City Council members who believe the industry-backed measures are too liberal and would allow pot shops to proliferate. The council-backed ballot measure would probably require dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet apart and would also include an increase of the medical marijuana tax.

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San Diego mayor orders end to legal action against pot dispensaries

At the order of newly elected Mayor Bob Filner, the city of San Diego is dropping legal action seeking to force a dozen marijuana dispensaries out of business.

In a memo Wednesday to the city official in charge of neighborhood code compliance, Filner ordered that "targeted code enforcement" against marijuana dispensaries be halted "immediately." The employee works for a department that reports to the mayor.

Filner's action means the city will no longer pursue a dozen cases against dispensaries filed on behalf of the code compliance staff and the Police Department, said City Atty. Jan Goldsmith. More than 100 dispensaries have been forced to close because of actions taken by the city attorney.

Filner appeared Tuesday night before a group favoring legalization of marijuana, referring to Goldsmith's actions as "persecution" and suggesting that the group may need to stage protests.

Goldsmith, hearing of the meeting, had a letter hand-delivered to Filner, agreeing to halt the remaining dozen cases and noting that his office filed the civil cases at the request of the code compliance staff and Police Department.

"Rather than pursue the drama last night and call for a demonstration, you could have achieved your goal in less than 30 seconds" with a phone call, Goldsmith wrote.

In a telephone interview, Goldsmith said, "Filner is a new mayor and he needs a period of adjustment."

Under city zoning regulations, there are no legal areas for marijuana dispensaries to operate in San Diego. The City Council adopted a marijuana zoning ordinance but dropped it in July 2011 in the face of opposition that said it was too restrictive.

Filner, speaking to the pro-marijuana group, suggested that the council should revisit the controversial issue of finding places where the pot businesses can operate. Filner, a Democrat, succeeded Jerry Sanders, a Republican, who endorsed closing down the dispensaries.

While Filner's action shuts down the city's legal action, U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy continues to order dispensaries to close, using the specter of federal criminal convictions and asset forfeiture.

Late Thursday, Filner issued a statement restating his support for making marijuana accessible for people "who legitimately need it for relief of pain." He said he will soon propose an ordinance allowing operation of dispensaries, although not near schools, playgrounds or anywhere that would harm neighborhoods.

"I believe that, in order to be a great city, we must also be a humane city and show compassion toward those who need help in dealing with chronic pain," he said.

--Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marijuana plant. Credit: Associated Press

Official at sheriff's youth charity involved in pot shop probe


The development director for the charity run by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been caught up in an investigation by federal authorities over her connection to a marijuana dispensary, a spokesman said Thursday.

Dawn Zamudio’s employment at the nonprofit -- the Sheriff’s Youth Foundation -- ended Wednesday night, though a sheriff's spokesman would not say whether she was fired. 

Spokesman Steve Whitmore called the discovery of the longtime employee's ties to the pot dispensary shocking given Baca's vocal criticism of such businesses.

"This is shocking to the sheriff and the entire department because she was such an outstanding employee.... This is something that was withheld from the department and the sheriff,” Whitmore said.  “We are cooperating fully with this investigation.”

The Times began making inquiries about the Zamudios last month. Public records connect her husband to a marijuana dispensary in Marina del Rey. Court records also show that he had been arrested and charged with two felonies for transportation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale, but the case was dismissed in 2009.

Dawn Zamudio had been working for the nonprofit organization, which raises money for youth programs across the county, for the last decade.

Whitmore described Dawn Zamudio as an assistant at the organization. But a 2011 filing listed her as the development director, making $103,700 that year and working 60 hours a week.

“She basically assisted a sergeant,” Whitmore said.

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After pot jabs, Jimmy Kimmel invited to be commencement speaker

Proving that academics at the highest level can have a sense of humor, campus leaders at Humboldt State have invited Jimmy Kimmel to speak at this year’s commencement after a monologue in which the comedian skewered a campus center devoted to studying marijuana.

During a "Jimmy Kimmel Live" episode that aired on Nov. 27,  Kimmel joked about the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research, saying that to get into the school “you have to fail a lot of very rigorous drug tests.”

The institute, Kimmel deadpans, plans lectures and research on how marijuana relates to economics, geography, politics, psychology and sociology, but “they’ll probably just end up playing Ultimate Frisbee.”

The three-minute segment also included a mock promotional video in which prospective students are invited to prepare themselves for a “low-pressure career in such exciting fields” as dog walking, snow board rental, pizza delivery, dressing up as Chewbacca, and “living in a van and selling friendship bracelets and patchouli oil.”

The broadcast created a buzz that went viral on YouTube and on social media sites.

Humboldt County is known for its marijuana farms that proliferate in the rural, densely-forested North Coast region.

Campus leaders took note, and not to be outdone, invited Kimmel to address students at commencement ceremonies scheduled for May 18, or if his schedule doesn’t permit, to visit the Arcata campus in the fall for a lecture or performance.

“We thought some of your lines were actually pretty funny, as did many on campus,” wrote college President Rollin C. Richmond and student government President Ellyn Henderson, in a Dec. 17 letter to Kimmel. “However, like many students and alumni we also felt you shortchanged Humboldt State University, portraying all of our students as pot-obsessed slackers. That is not fair and this invitation offers you a chance to grow a little and make up for it.”

“Besides,” the letter continues, “we figure you owe us. Humboldt State provided you with just over 3 minutes of pretty good material.”

The college has yet to receive a reply from the late night talk-show host, said spokesman Jarad Petroske.

“We figured we’d turn up the fire by putting it out there this week not only to the campus but to local media to see if could get viral action going on a response,” Petroske said.

Petroske acknowledged that despite topics such as regulatory reform, Dutch drug policies and the impact of marijuana toxicants on forest wildlife, reaction to the institute has been less than sober.
But the goal is rigorous scholarship and improving the dialogue of the public policy debate.

“The important thing is that the institute continues to do important work ... in all facets of ways marijuana is impacting society," he said. "It may provide low-hanging fruit for comedians but this is serious work that needs to be done.”

The institute, which began operation in April, doesn’t offer classes, training programs or advocacy but acts as an information clearinghouse for lawmakers, health professionals, business and media. It began a speaker’s series this fall and conducts research on such issues as the impact of marijuana production on the local economy and the long-term effects on fetuses in utero or children early in life who are exposed to marijuana.

Kimmel could not be reached for comment. A show spokeswoman said the comedian had just returned from hiatus and may not have seen the Humboldt State invite.

Kimmel has been outspoken in his views on marijuana, including remarks at a 2012 White House Correspondents Dinner at which he told President Obama that “marijuana is something that real people care about.”

He is featured on the latest cover of Rolling Stone under the headline,  “Here’s Jimmy! A Very Stoned Encounter With Late Night’s New Contender.”


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-- Carla Rivera

Landlord can’t shut down nation’s largest pot shop, judge says

 "Budtender" Adam Schwartz helps a client at the Harborside medical marijuana facility in Oakland in 2011. Credit: Dan Honda / Bay Area News Group

The nation's largest medical marijuana dispensary won a round in court Monday when a federal magistrate judge denied an effort by its landlords to immediately shutter its operations in Oakland and San Jose.

The landlords of Harborside Health Center have been under acute pressure since federal prosecutors last summer fled civil forfeiture actions against them, threatening to seize the properties due to marijuana sales at the facilities.

In her ruling in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, however, Chief Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James said "any argument about the urgency of stopping Harborside's activity rings hollow" since the landlords have known for years that it was a medical cannabis dispensary, and would face no irreparable harm by allowing operations to continue until a fuller legal airing of the issues takes place.

Furthermore, she concluded, the landlords had no legal standing to seek the immediate closure by contending violations of the federal Controlled Substances Act were occurring there. Only the government can do so.

Though the feds joined the recent motion, they did not seek an immediate stop to sales when they moved against the landlords last summer, "indicating that the Government was not focused on suspending Harborside's operations during the pendency of the forfeiture actions," James wrote.

Harborside will now have the opportunity to battle the federal civil forfeiture actions in court.

"We look forward to proving our case in front of a jury, and continue to believe we will prevail," Harborside's executive director, Steve DeAngelo, said in a statement Monday night.

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Pot grower sentenced to 10 years for distributing marijuana


A Rancho Cucamonga man was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison for distributing hundreds of pounds of marijuana through what prosecutors described as a commercial pot business.

Aaron Sandusky, 42, the former owner of G3 Holistics Inc. in the Inland Empire, was found guilty last fall of conspiracy and possession with the intent to distribute at least 1,000 marijuana plants, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement.

The criminal case against Sandusky came after he received warnings in October 2011 from prosecutors that G3’s marijuana stores were violating federal law.

Although he closed his stores in Colton and Moreno Valley, Sandusky kept the Upland store open even after federal authorities executed two separate search warrants at his location, filing an asset forfeiture lawsuit and a second assets forfeiture lawsuit against nearly $11,500 in cash seized by authorities in November 2011.

Sandusky “is an unrepentant manipulator who used the perceived ambiguity surrounding ‘medical’ marijuana to exploit a business opportunity for himself,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.

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Second measure to keep pot shops open qualifies for L.A. ballot

Budtender Loren Brazel

This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.

A second medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the Los Angeles ballot, increasing the chances that voters will get to choose whether to keep pot shops open in the city when they go to the polls in May.

The measure would allow any medical marijuana dispensary that meets certain requirements to remain open. The requirements include limited hours, background checks for dispensary staff and operating a specified distance from schools and parks. The measure would also raise taxes on medical marijuana sales by 20% to help pay for city regulation of the industry.

The City Council is required to put the second medical marijuana initiative on the ballot because it involves a change to a tax that was approved by voters. In 2011, voters approved a $50 business tax on every $1,000 of gross receipts for medical marijuana sales. Because the new measure would increase that tax, it must be put to voters, according to Holly Wolcott, in the city clerk’s office.

The initiative's backers, who said they were notified by the city clerk Friday that they had collected the required 41,138 valid signatures, represent a group of dispensaries that opened after a citywide moratorium on pot shops was enacted in 2007. A rival medical cannabis measure, which would allow only those dispensaries that opened before the moratorium, qualified for the ballot earlier this week.

The first medical marijuana initiative, which does not involve a tax increase, will be sent to the City Council, which must decide by the end of the month whether to enact the proposed ordinance, call a special election or place it before voters in the May 21 election.

The City Council will now decide whether to enact the proposed ordinances, call a special election or place it before voters in the May 21 election.

David Welch, an attorney for the group that qualified for the ballot on Friday, said supporters for the initiative had already raised $400,000 for the campaign and were working to raise $500,000 more.

[For the Record, 6:00 p.m. Jan. 4: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that the City Council would have to decide whether to adopt the second of two ordinances or place it on the ballot. Because that ordinance involves a tax increase, it will have to go to voters.]


L.A. City Council bans medical marijuana dispensaries

L.A. repeals its ban on pot stores

Initiative to keep some L.A. pot shops open qualifies for ballot

-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall


Photo: Budtender Loren Brazel waits for a patient to decide on what strain of medicinal marijuana would be best to treat his ailment in the dispensary area of the Avalon Wellness Center in Long Beach in March. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times


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