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Ohio Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Medical Marijuana

Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich on Wednesday signed a bill legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes under certain circumstances, his office said.

Over the last few years, state legislatures and voters in the United States have been much more receptive to making marijuana legal for medical purposes, and to a lesser extent, recreational use.

The Ohio legislature approved the measure in May.

Some 24 states and Washington D.C. currently allow some type of medical marijuana use, and just a handful of states allow its recreational use. It remains illegal on the federal level.

Kasich, who earlier this year dropped out of the U.S. presidential race, signed the bill but provided no statement on Wednesday.

The Ohio legislation only allows patients with specific medical conditions to use an oil, edible, tincture or vapor form of marijuana prescribed by a physician licensed in the state, starting in 2017.

Medical marijuana users would not be allowed to smoke or grow their own marijuana under the measure, which also would create a commission responsible for regulating and licensing of all operations of the drug.

The measure was fast-tracked to head off a possible less-restrictive medical marijuana ballot initiative in November. Ohioans for Medical Marijuana suspended their campaign for the ballot measure late last month, saying that while the lawmakers’ bill had its shortcomings, it was “a moderately good piece of legislation.”

Last November, Ohio voters soundly rejected a measure that would have made it the first U.S. Midwestern state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The proposal was criticized for allowing the main backers of the proposal cartel-like powers over the industry in the state for several years.


Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Kim Palmer in Destin, Fla.; Editing by Matthew Lewis

Photo: Marijuana plants are seen in an indoor cultivation in Montevideo December 6, 2013.  REUTERS/Andres Stapff

With Medical Marijuana Laws Murky, U.S. Prosecutors Pursue California Cases

By Evan Halper, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — When Congress in effect lifted the federal ban on medical marijuana just over a year ago, Californians drove the change, which was tucked into a spending package by a liberal congressman and a conservative colleague.

A year later, marijuana legalization advocates are conflicted over how big a victory the congressional vote, which was repeated last month, has turned out to be.

“The number of raids has dropped substantially, though not completely,” across the country, said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access, a medical-marijuana advocacy group. A federal court ruling this past fall, if it is upheld, would limit federal agents from targeting all but operations that are clearly flouting state law, he said.

But in California, in particular, federal prosecutors continue to pursue cases, in large part because of flaws in the existing state medical marijuana law, which all sides agree is long overdue for changes. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed three measures to clarify the state law, but they won’t take effect until 2018.

So for now, the state that was the birthplace for legal medical marijuana in the U.S. remains at the center of legal disputes as federal prosecutors navigate a murky landscape in which the line between healers and drug dealers is not always clear.

The two House members who championed the new approach say prosecutors are not following the intent of Congress.

“The will of the people is clear: The majority of the states have enacted medical marijuana laws, Congress has voted twice now to protect those patients, and a federal judge has upheld” the measure, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) wrote in an email. “How many times does the Justice Department need to be told to back off before it finally sinks in?”

Farr and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) teamed up in 2014 to write the measure that said anyone legally selling medical marijuana under a state law cannot be prosecuted.

Officials from the Justice Department declined to comment, citing litigation.

Congress has put the department in a pickle, however. Federal law still classifies marijuana in the most dangerous category of narcotics, alongside heroin and LSD, substances that the law declares lacking any accepted medical use. Congress has declined to change that even as it has approved the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, as the provision is known.

The city of Oakland is invoking that amendment in demanding federal prosecutors drop their bid to seize marijuana and other assets from Harborside Health Center, the nation’s largest dispensary, which has generated a tax windfall for the cash-strapped city.

Across San Francisco Bay, in Marin County, local officials praised a decision by a a federal judge, who ruled in October that the continued prosecution of a dispensary was an affront to the new law — only to learn last month that prosecutors plan to continue the fight through an appeal.

Complicating matters are the several states that permit the sale of marijuana for recreational use. The Obama administration has chosen to allow that experiment to continue unabated. So operations in California , like Harborside, that target patients seeking the drug to treat illnesses can still be prosecuted while shops in Denver that cater to college students operate freely.

Over the summer, Farr and Rohrabacher accused the Justice Department of illegally misappropriating federal money to continue those prosecutions, calling on for its inspector general to investigate. The department has yet to respond.

Federal officials have argued in court that their prosecutions don’t violate the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment because the occasional bust doesn’t impede the state from allowing the use of medical marijuana. After the judge in the Marin County case rejected that argument as “tortured,” prosecutors are left with the argument that the sales in question are not clearly in compliance with California law, which was written very broadly.

“The early medical marijuana laws were Trojan horses designed to allow effective legalization for anyone who could fake an ache,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “California is in that category.”

Even in the case of Harborside, which state and local officials often hold up as a gold standard for the medical-marijuana business, California’s loose rules about who is permitted to buy medical marijuana have left the operations a natural target for prosecutors, Caulkins said.

“Harborside is gigantic, and the Justice Department thinks it is not providing marijuana just for kids with epilepsy or people with cancer or people with HIV,” Caulkins said.

In states that have more recently adopted medical marijuana provisions, legitimate medical-marijuana businesses are not targeted because they serve a much narrower group of clients, he said.

But the Justice Department’s continued pursuit of Harborside angers officials in Oakland. The business pays the city about $1.4 million annually in taxes.

Advocates hope it is only be a matter of time before the prosecutions subside. California is among several states poised to decide this year whether to legalize marijuana for any adult who chooses to purchase it, whether to treat an illness or to just get high. If the state adopts rules to regulate a legalized market that satisfy the Justice Department — as Colorado and Washington state have done — prosecutors will probably move on to other business.

©2016 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Coaster420 via Wikimedia Commons


This Week In Health: Skinny Jeans May Cripple You

“This Week In Health” offers some highlights from the world of health news and wellness tips that you may have missed this week:

  • Medical marijuana that comes in edible form may be less potent and effective than believed, according to a study published Tuesday in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. It is difficult to control the dosage of active cannabinoid chemicals present in the edible products that make up one-fifth of nationwide sales of legal marijuana. These marijuana-infused edibles include baked goods, beverages, and candy, and while it can be an annoyance for recreational users to have inaccurate counts on the cannabis content — in medicinal use, the lack of accurate information about the dosage is problematic.
  • Curing the planet could be the surest route to curing ourselves. Climate change is set to spell the doom of our species within the century, according to a new study, but even right now, we are witnessing a public health crisis as a direct result of extreme temperatures and severe weather caused by global warming. A new study published in Lancet is encouraging policymakers to seek solutions to address climate change in order to protect the health and wellness of its citizens, saying that “tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”
  • First it was smoking, now it’s skinny jeans. Bottom line: If it looks cool, it’s probably bad for you. Skinny jeans may cause all kinds of health problems, like leg swelling and nerve and muscle damage. This is according to a new study published in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, which documents a woman who was hospitalized after losing all feeling in her legs, the result of squatting in skinny jeans for too long. It was four days before she could walk again. That’s the high cost of being fashionable.
  • Survivors, as well as family members of victims, are urging for widespread immunization against meningitis B, a bacterial infection that affects mostly teens and young adults. Last year, two new vaccines were approved to combat the disease, and advocates for its broad adoption and mandated use in young people addressed the Centers for Disease Control on Wednesday. About 10 percent of people infected with the bacteria die, and an additional 20 percent are left disfigured, disabled or deaf, the CDC notes.

Photo: LennyLemon via Flickr

Marijuana Is Legal In Colorado, But Court Rules Employees Can Be Fired For Smoking It

By Nigel Duara, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that businesses can fire employees who use marijuana during their time off, including those with a legal prescriptions for medical pot.

In a case that has been closely watched by employers in some states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, the Colorado court found that Dish Network lawfully fired a quadriplegic employee and medical marijuana user who failed a drug test. Customer service representative Brandon Coats, 35, used marijuana away from work to deal with painful muscle spasms.

The court ruled that the federal prohibition on marijuana makes the drug unlawful despite Colorado’s approval of its use for medicinal purposes. The ruling, while not binding on other states, adds to a series of court losses by medical marijuana patients who lost their jobs after using pot.

Coats sued after he was fired on June 7, 2010, alleging wrongful termination. He argued that marijuana was made “lawful” for the purposes of employment law when Colorado voters legalized it for medicinal use in 2000. Voters legalized it for recreational use in 2012.

A trial court dismissed Coats’ lawsuit, saying the state’s legalization of medical marijuana provides a defense only against criminal prosecution, and does not make the use of marijuana a “lawful activity” that is protected against employment discrimination.

When the case went to the Colorado Court of Appeals, justices differed with the trial court’s reasoning, but still found that Coats was rightfully terminated because marijuana is prohibited by federal law.

The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with that reasoning, voting 6-0 with one abstention.

“Nothing in the language of the (employment) statute limits the term ‘lawful’ to state law,” wrote Justice Allison H. Eid. “Instead, the term is used in its general, unrestricted sense, indicating that a ‘lawful’ activity is that which complies with applicable law, including state and federal law.”

Coats said in a statement that the decision is a setback for him personally, but advances the cause of medical marijuana patients in the workplace.

“If we’re making marijuana legal for medical purposes, we need to address issues that come along with it such as employment,” Coats said. “Hopefully views on medical marijuana _ like the ones in my specific case _ will change soon.”

Dish Network did not reply to phone inquiries.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, whose office filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of Dish Network, praised the decision because it gives employers complete control over drug use in the workplace.

“Not every business will opt for zero-tolerance,” Coffman said Monday, “but it is important that the latitude now exists to craft a policy that fits the individual workplace.”

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act is meant to protect employees from discrimination based on a medical condition. But the ADA doesn’t protect employees from losing their jobs after testing positive for marijuana because the drug is still listed next to heroin, LSD and Ecstasy on the federal government’s list of Schedule I drugs, its most dangerous category.

Despite the state’s relaxed view on pot, the Colorado Constitution states that employers don’t have to amend their policies to accommodate employees’ marijuana use.

In some other states, employment protection is built into marijuana laws. Such employment protection statutes often dissuade employers from taking action against medical marijuana patients, keeping the matter out of court, said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocate of legalization.

Patients in Rhode Island, for example, , may not be denied school enrollment, housing or employment because they are medical marijuana users.

“The issue has only been litigated in some medical marijuana states, so it’s not clear which ones might ultimately be found to protect patients from employment discrimination,” O’Keefe said.

Arizona, Delaware and Minnesota provide the strongest protection to medical marijuana patients, she said, adding that the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision could guide other states.

“For those states with similar language, it could have an impact,” she said.

Even in states where employment protections exist, there is no guarantee that employees fired for marijuana use will prevail in court.

Joseph Casias of Battle Creek, Mich., was using marijuana for the pain associated with an inoperable brain tumor. When he twisted his knee at his job at Wal-Mart, he was ordered to take a drug test. Casias promptly told his manager about his marijuana use, but was fired days later.

He sued, and lost, in court for the same reason Coats lost his job _ the federal ban on marijuana trumped state law.

“The case and many others like it highlight the gray areas and legal fixes needed in Colorado and other states that have reformed their marijuana laws,” the pro-marijuana Drug Policy Alliance said in a statement Monday. “Any rights bestowed upon civilians by state law fall far short of fully protecting medical marijuana patients and legal adult users of marijuana.”

In addition to Colorado, recreational marijuana use is legal in Washington state and Alaska and will be legal in Oregon on July 15.

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.