Medical Marijuana Legal Roundup: May 2012

AB 2312; Recent Supreme Court Activity and Federal Prosecutions

It's been a busy month for the medical marijuana legal landscape. In April, AB 2312 obtained enough votes to pass through the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety. If the legislation becomes law, it would create the first statewide regulatory framework for the medical marijuana industry in California. It now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee and if its passed, medical marijuana collective license applications could be available as soon as July 2013.

The AB 2312 bill is known as the "Medical Marijuana Regulation and Control Act", and was created for the purposes of "regulating and controlling medical marijuana activities". The bill would establish the "Board of Medical Marijuana Enforcement" in the Department of Consumer Affairs and would consist of a governing body of 9 members, appointed by the Governor, the Senate Committee on Rules, and the Speaker of the Assembly. The duties of the board would include, but not be limited to, issuing or denying registration applications, establishing fees for administering these provisions, adopting regulations in connection with these provisions, and issuing fines and penalties for the violation of these provisions.

AB 2312 would preempt local laws regarding the regulation and control of medical marijuana and would prohibit a medical marijuana facility from operating without state-approved registration. The bill would generally require a city or county to permit at least 1 collective for every 50,000 residents, although they could opt out of this requirement with a vote.

The bill would require the board to make available mandatory registration application forms no later than July 1, 2013, and to make a thorough investigation to determine whether the applicant meets specified criteria. The bill would require a registration application to be approved or denied no later than 180 days after the application is filed with the board, and, if the board fails to act within this time, would require that the application be deemed approved.

While we wait to see what the legislature will do, the Supreme Court of California is preparing to weigh in on these important medical marijuana legal issues as well. On May 16, 2012, the Supreme Court decided to review the recent decision in The City of Lake Forest v. Evergreen Holistic. The Lake Forest court ruled that cities and counties could not ban collectives. It also ruled that collectives had to grow on site. That case will be reviewed along with the City of Riverside and Pack v. Long Beach case. A ruling from the Supreme Court however is not expected for at least 1 to 2 years. Stay tuned.

Lastly, the Feds appear to have filed the first federal criminal charges against California medical marijuana collective operators. According to the reports, federal officials said investigators intercepted encrypted Blackberry messages of people connected with NoHo Caregivers detailing plans for the payment and distribution of marijuana that would result in the principals receiving more than $194,000 a month.

The actions taken against NoHo Caregivers and Green Camel by the feds were the only ones that took place in Los Angeles this week. Criminal actions were also filed against a facility in Orange County and stores in Dana Point, Laguna Hills, Lake Forest,, Rancho Santa Margarita and in Riverside County and the Inland Empire, according to the reports. Some of these operators are believed to have been making hundreds of thousands of dollars without paying any taxes or even shipping marijuana across state lines. It's those that are in clear violation of state law that appear to be the ones that are now being prosecuted. "It is important to note that for-profit, commercial marijuana operations are illegal not only under federal law, but also under California law," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said at a press conference Friday. Stay tuned for more as it should be an exciting rest of the year.

Attorney Damian Nassiri is the founding partner of the Cannabis Law Group, a law firm dedicated to the rights of patients, collectives and growers. His firm offers consultations and nonprofit incorporations to those who are interested in starting their own medical marijuana collective. You can reach Cannabis Law Group at 714-937-2050 or visit the law firm's website at www.cannabislawgroup.com

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