This is our second annual Medical Cannabis Round-Up. As time goes by since the passage of Prop. 215 by California voters in 1996, each year brings with it new challenges, successes, clarity and confusion.  I sometimes feel like we are taking two steps forward and at least one step back ~ 2011 was no different.  Nationally, 2011 welcomed Delaware as the 16th State to implement a Compassionate Use Act this May, and 6 other states now have pending medicinal legalization including large states like New York and Illinois.

You’ve probably heard the news and read the headlines. The model that we in California have chosen to dispense medical cannabis to the sick, has not impressed the federal government. With an ever increasing number of US states deciding to adopt medical Cannabis laws, California has acted as a trailblazer with regards to implementation. Growers were licensed and restricted to certain amounts of plants; collectives were established and taxed, and many cities collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue.  Even though the people of California seemed to be mostly happy with the progression of the movement, the Feds are (again) upholding a national ban on the substance, regulated or not.

Since October 7th when Melinda Haag and three other Federal prosecutors declared a crackdown on medical cannabis in California, many dispensaries have been raided or forced to close and others are on the way out of business as their proprietors receive letters, warning of reprisal from the DEA.  Considering the current economy, and the fact these are tax paying, job creating businesses, (never mind we are providing a non toxic, non chemical therapy to seriously ill patients) is this really the best time to perform more DEA raids?  While they may be a few unscrupulous owners and poorly run dispensaries, many of the closures were of long-running, licensed, reputable establishments that provided much needed medicine to patients in their respective areas. Other dispensaries are said to be too close to schools or are being taxed to death.  Back taxes, retroactive fees ~ these are the ugly, bureaucratic tactics currently being used to shut down collectives.

Globally the situation is mirrored. Formerly relaxed and decriminalized Holland has been feeling the squeeze of newly enforced cannabis control.  A 24 year running High Times Cannabis Cup was raided by Dutch police for the first time ever last month. Officers confiscated all cannabis, effectively shutting the Cup down.  In October, the Dutch Government also voted in measures that would ban the sale of cannabis that contained above 15% THC (like New Jersey who limits THC to 10%!). In addition, the southern portion of Holland, closest to the Belgium border, will begin enforcing a ban on foreign customers in the local coffeeshops as early as January 2012. One year later, the rest of the country is expected to follow.

On the other hand, Basque Country in Spain will approve a law in early 2012 which legalizes the cultivation, sale and consumption of cannabis and Czech Republic have implemented a very relaxed medical cannabis law this year. Sativex, the first real ~ not synthetic, cannabinoid-based spray developed by a major pharmaceutical company, continues it’s launch worldwide for the treatment of MS, specifically. Countries where Sativex is now being prescribed include include Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Australia.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a grower/provider, a patient, a dispensary employee or recreational smoker; what’s happening in California is foreshadowing a potential downturn in tolerance around the country. As quickly as the industry is able to build itself up, it’s torn down again by federal means.

Americans for Safe Access and other medical marijuana activists who represent dispensary workers, have proposed a 2012 ballot initiative that would create an appointed Board of Medical Marijuana Enforcement.  The Department of Consumer Affairs would oversee businesses and nonprofits that grow, distribute, sell and test cannabis. The initiative would also target local governments that have banned cannabis businesses by requiring counties and cities to authorize at least one dispensary for every 50,000 residents. In theory, this measure is supposed to show the Feds that the medical cannabis community is serious about regulation and taxation if it means that licensed establishments can finally operate without the threat of eviction or prosecution.

“We think that this initiative will create a level playing ground that law enforcement will embrace because it creates a sensible process,” said Dan Rush, national director of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ medical cannabis division. “The U.S. attorneys became hostile to medical marijuana in California and what we are doing is offering a responsible, dignified and sincere approach to the citizens of California.”

However, the measure is quite vague in what kind of regulation the Board could actually create.  Although this does sound like a sensible system, giving sole control of future decisions involving medical cannabis to a governmental board, who in the past have been known to make wild, unscientifically based, restrictive guidelines regarding cannabis (look at New Jersey again, 10% limit on THC levels!), and creating a lot of red tape in the process. We will have to wait and see how this plays out in 2012.

Here at PCC, we had a very productive year. We passed a major milestone this April, celebrating 10 years in business, serving Bay Area medical cannabis patients, from our location on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Ten years and counting, providing the level of quality we are known for, in this industry ~ is something we’re very proud of. We also really stepped up our online education and presence. We are very satisfied with what our website has become, and also really enjoy being able to directly communicate with our patients and supporters on FacebookTwitterWeedmaps and Yelp.

That feedback and the reviews that patients write of us, is an invaluable way to know we are doing a good job.  It’s also important to new patients, who have never been to PCC, get a sense of what we are all about ahead of their visit ~ Quality and Education. We participated with our very own booth at Oakland’s first ever Cannabis Expo, held this September – that was a lot of fun!  2011 is also the year we began lab testing our medicine with SC Laboratories.  You can now see in percentages, how much THC and CBD is contained in your favorite strains and have the peace of mind that your medicine is safe and completely contaminate free. The results are currently published on our Weedmaps menu page. Coming soon to shelf signs.

On a related but separate note, this year PCC managers created and developed a web based, coordination platform called CannCast. The website is intended specifically for medical cannabis providers and dispensaries. CannCast.com facilitates meetings be­tween providers and dispensaries based on specific strains. Dispensaries can list their requests. Providers post the available types and qualities. Simple search, activity feeds and featured articles allow easy discovery of particular medications and participants, allowing for appointments to be scheduled. Dispensaries get only what they want, providers build a new relationship and the end result is that qualified patients have better access to state-legal medicine.  Good job, guys!

Your continued support means a lot to us and it’s because of that support we are here today. We hope 2011 was a good and prosperous year for you, and that your 2012 is even better!  Do you have a PCC story from 2011? How about a personal story? We’d love to hear it ~ Comment here, or find us on any of our online platforms! Happy New Year to All!

A happy New Year! Grant that I
May bring no tear to any eye
When this New Year in time shall end
Let it be said I’ve played the friend,
Have lived and loved and labored here,
And made of it a happy year.

Edgar A. Guest