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Obama DOJ Ratchets Up War Against Medical Marijuana [FEATURE]

Signaling an intensification of federal government targeting of medical marijuana providers, the four US Attorneys in California last Friday announced a campaign of "coordinated enforcement actions targeting the illegal operations of the commercial marijuana industry in California." The announcement came at a Sacramento news conference.

The federal prosecutors said their enforcement actions would rely on pursuing civil forfeiture lawsuits against properties where dispensaries are located, sending threatening letters to dispensary landlords, and criminal prosecutions. The prosecutors said recent dispensary busts in Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego were part of the enforcement campaign.

The feds said that enforcement actions would vary across regions of the state and that they would be working with federal law enforcement and local officials to crack down. The Department of Justice in Washington made clear that this was not an instance of prosecutors going off the reservation.

"The actions taken today in California by our US Attorneys and their law enforcement partners are consistent with the Department's commitment to enforcing existing federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), in all states," said Deputy Attorney General James Cole. "The department has maintained that we will not focus our investigative and prosecutorial resources on individual patients with serious illnesses like cancer or their immediate caregivers. However, US Attorneys continue to have the authority to prosecute significant violations of the CSA, and related federal laws."

Medical marijuana supporters were quick to charge the Obama administration with waging a renewed war on them and reneging on its promises to not interfere in states where medical marijuana is legal.

"Aggressive tactics like these are a completely inappropriate use of prosecutorial discretion by the Obama administration," said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "President Obama must answer for his contradictory policy on medical marijuana." On the campaign trail and in the White House, President Obama pledged that he was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state [medical marijuana] laws."

"It is unconscionable that the federal government would override local and state laws to enforce its will over the will of the people," said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. "States must be allowed to enforce their own laws without harmful interference from the Obama administration."

"The Obama administration's latest moves strongly suggest that their medical marijuana policies are now being driven by overzealous prosecutors and the anti-marijuana ideologues who dominated policymaking in past administrations," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Barack Obama is betraying promises made when he ran for president and turning his back on the sensible policies announced during his first year in office. Instead of encouraging state and local authorities to regulate medical marijuana distribution in the interests of public safety and health, his administration seems determined to recriminalize as much as possible. It all adds up to bad policy, bad politics and bad faith."

Large medical marijuana dispensary operations are not health care providers but criminal organizations hiding behind patients, the prosecutors claimed Friday.

"Large commercial operations cloak their moneymaking activities in the guise of helping sick people when in fact they are helping themselves," said Benjamin Wagner, US Attorney for the Eastern District of California. "Our interest is in enforcing federal criminal law, not prosecuting seriously sick people and those who are caring for them. We are making these announcements together today so that the message is absolutely clear that commercial marijuana operations are illegal under federal law, and that we will enforce federal law."

"The California marijuana industry is not about providing medicine to the sick," claimed Laura Duffy, US Attorney for the Southern District of California. "It's a pervasive for-profit industry that violates federal law. In addition to damaging our environment, this industry is creating significant negative consequences, in California and throughout the nation. As the number one marijuana producing state in the country, California is exporting not just marijuana but all the serious repercussions that come with it, including significant public safety issues and perhaps irreparable harm to our youth."

The prosecutors said they had sent out "dozens" of threat letters to dispensary and grow-op landlords in the past few days. In the Southern and Eastern districts, they targeted building owners, while in the Central district they sent letters to landlords "in selected cities where officials have requested federal assistance." In the Northern district, they targeted their threat letters to landlords of dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools or parks, but warned "we will almost certainly be taking action against others."

The prosecutors also said they had already filed seven civil forfeiture complaints against properties where landlords allow dispensaries to operate. One complaint alleged that an Orange County strip mall had eight dispensaries and that recalcitrant city officials had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to shut them down.

One letter targeted the landlord for the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM) in Fairfax, which has been operating with the support of the city and without complaint since 1996. In a letter to MAMM's landlord, the US Attorney for Northern California warned that the dispensary was operating within a "prohibited distance of a park." The letter threatened MAMM's landlord with up to 40 years in federal prison, seizure of his property, and forfeiture of all rental proceeds for the last 15 years if he doesn't evict MAMM.

Similar letters have gone out to other dispensary landlords warning them of pending federal action because their tenants are too close to schools. The dispensaries are operating in accord with California law, which treats them like liquor stores and bars them from operating within 600 feet of a school, but federal law imposes additional penalties for the distribution of controlled substances with 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, and public parks.

"This is nuts," said Greg Anton, attorney for the Marin Alliance and its director, Lynnette Shaw. "There's a dispensary near where I live that sells guns, narcotics, alcohol and tobacco and it's full of children.  It's called Walmart, and it's safe. So is Lynnette's place. She's proven that over 15 years."

"This is an outrageous abuse of law enforcement resources for the DOJ to use property forfeiture to enforce meddlesome, nanny-state regulations," said California NORML director Dale Gieringer. "The federal government has no business dictating local zoning decisions. No one has any problems with the Marin Alliance except the bureaucrats in Washington."

The DEA is also along for the ride. "The DEA and our partners are committed to attacking large-scale drug trafficking organizations, including those that attempt to use state or local law to shield their illicit activities from federal law enforcement and prosecution," said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. "Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that its distribution and sale is a serious crime. It also provides a significant source of revenue for violent gangs and drug organizations. The DEA will not look the other way while these criminal organizations conduct their illicit schemes under the false pretense of legitimate business."

And so is the IRS. "IRS Criminal Investigation is proud to work with our law enforcement partners and lend its financial expertise to this effort," said IRS chief of criminal enforcement Victor Song. "We will continue to use the federal asset forfeiture laws to take the profits from criminal enterprises."

Friday's announcement of a federal crackdown is just the latest in a series of moves against medical marijuana providers by the Obama administration. The Department of the Treasury has been busily scaring banks into shutting down the accounts of providers in California and Colorado, the Department of Justice is aggressively prosecuting dispensary operators in Montana and elsewhere, and the IRS is attempting to drive dispensaries out of business by denying them standard business expense deductions -- Oakland's Harborside Health center was just this week hit with a $2.5 million tax bill after the IRS disallowed its standard business deductions.

Meanwhile, the administration has continued to block federal approval of medical marijuana, with the DEA recently rejecting a nine-year-old petition to reschedule pot, saying it would only accept large-scale, controlled FDA trials. But at the same time, the DEA has acted to block such trials by refusing to allow a private production facility to supply marijuana for medical research. The only existing source for marijuana for research purposes is the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, but it recently blocked a request for marijuana to study its effects on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, saying it has no intention of allowing studies that would develop marijuana for medicinal purposes.

"How can the Obama administration say that it's fine for sick people to use this proven medicine, and yet tell them they can't have any legal place to get it?" asked Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Medical marijuana isn't going away. Over 70% of Americans support making medical marijuana legal, and 16 states allow it."

But not the federal government. Not under George Bush and, it is increasingly clear, not under Barack Obama. With Obama facing no challengers in the Democratic primary and with reform-friendly Republicans unlikely to win the Republican nomination, it appears that medical marijuana is going to be condemned to wander through the political wilderness for the foreseeable future.

The question now becomes whether any sort of response can stem the federal onslaught, and just what that response might be. Or does the dispensary scene just wither away and die?

Chronicle Book Review: Drugs and Drug Policy

Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Mark Kleiman, Jonathan Caulkins, and Angela Hawken (2011, Oxford University Press, 234 pp., $16.95 PB)

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/drugs_and_drug_policy.jpg
Mark Kleiman isn't real popular among the drug reform set. The UCLA professor of public policy is no legalizer, and even though he's too much of an evidence-minded academic to be a wild-eyed drug warrior, he still seems to have an unbecoming fondness for the coercive power of the state. Kleiman, who gets top-billing over coauthors Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon and Angela Hawken at Pepperdine, also ruffles reformers' feathers with unnecessary snideness and snark.

But I watched Kleiman address Students for Sensible Drug Policy conventions a couple of times, and I thought it was a good thing, a very useful jolt to the group-think that can grip any gathering of congregants committed to a cause. I thought having the students have to hear the arguments of a leading academic thinker on drug policy who, while not "the enemy," was not especially saying what the average SSDPer wanted to hear, was salubrious for their critical thinking skills. I still think so.

In Drugs and Drug Policy, Kleiman and his coauthors continue with the occasional jibes aimed at the drug reform movement, at times reach conclusions at odds with my own, but also serve up a surprisingly chewy work of drug policy wonkery in delicious bite-size chunks. The innovative format, something like a series of FAQs organized within broader chapters -- "Why Have Drug Laws?" "How Does Drug Law Enforcement Work?" "What Treats Drug Abuse?" "Can Problem Drugs Be Dealt With at the Source?" -- allows us to unpack that all-encompassing monster called "drug policy" one subset at a time, and for that achievement alone, is worthy of praise. That it manages to cover so much ground in a paltry 234 pages is all the more laudable.

Overall, Drugs and Drug Policy is smart, reasonable, and thoughtful. It wants policies based on evidence and it advocates for some intelligent alternatives to current policies. It recognizes the utility of needle exchanges, safe injection sites, and opiate maintenance, even as it complains that "harm reduction" has been hijacked by legalizers. It explains that most people who use drugs -- even those diagnosable as suffering from substance abuse disorders -- will quit using drugs themselves without recourse to treatment. And it even allows that drug use can have beneficial effects, even if it doesn't do so until the seventh chapter.

But Kleiman et. al dismiss decriminalization as unlikely to have a big impact on the social fiscal burden of drug law enforcement because, even though it doesn't appear to have much impact on consumption, drug consumers are not, for the most part, filling our prisons -- drug dealers are. While they do concede that not criminalizing otherwise law-abiding citizens could have "significant benefits," they seem to underplay the negative, life-long impact of a criminal drug record on one's life prospects.

In fact, they seem all too comfortable with maintaining the pernicious role of the criminal justice system in drug policy even as they recognize that enforcing the drug laws is "unavoidably an ugly process," with its reliance on snitches, surveillance, and other "intrusive methods" of enforcement. To give them credit, they want smarter drug law enforcement -- concentrating police repression on violent drug dealers while turning a blind eye to discreet dealing, triaging coerced drug treatment spots so they are reserved for the people who could most benefit from them, giving up on interdiction and source country eradication as ineffective -- that might actually reduce the social and fiscal costs of both drug abuse and enforcement, and since drug prohibition isn't going away anytime soon, at least wasting less money on drug war tactics that don't work well should be on the table.

And they reject drug legalization as too scary to experiment with, but seem to imagine it as possible only within a corporate-controlled, heavily-advertised, low-priced scenario similar to that which has accreted around the alcohol industry. Yes, it's probably true that selling cocaine like Coors, would lead (at least initially) to a significant increase in use and problem use, but why does that have to be the only model? A government monopoly similar to the state liquor store model, with reasonable taxes and no corporate pressure to advertise could conceivably allow legalization without the increases in consumption that the authors predict, even though they concede they don't know how large they might be.

Still, when you get to what it is Kleiman et al. would do if they had their druthers, all but the most purist of legalization advocates will find a lot to like. They create three separate lists of recommendations -- a "consensus list" of reforms they think are politically doable now or in the near future, a "pragmatic list" of reforms that would appeal to dispassionate observers but could raise the hackles of moralists, and a "political bridge too far list" of reforms too radical for mainstream politicians to embrace.

The "consensus list" includes expanding opiate maintenance therapy, encouraging evidence-based treatment, early intervention by the health care system, encouraging people to quit on their own (as opposed to being "powerless"), relying less on interdiction, ending the charade that alternative development is drug control, and concentrating drug enforcement on reducing violence and disorder, as well as smarter, more effective coerced treatment in the legal system. If we saw the drug czar's office produce a National Drug Control Strategy with these recommendations, we would consider that a great victory. It ain't legalization, but its headed in a more intelligent, more humane direction.

The "pragmatic list" includes recommendations to lower the number of drug dealers behind bars, not reject harm reduction even if it's been "hijacked," stop punishing former dealers and addicts, reduce barriers to medical research on illegal substances, and be open-minded about less harmful forms of tobacco use.

The authors don't neglect alcohol and tobacco -- the two most widely-used drugs -- and that is really evident in their "political bridge too far" recommendations. The first three items there are aimed squarely at reducing alcohol consumption and its ill effects. They also argue for the legalization of individual or collective marijuana cultivation, a sort of legalization without the market, increased study of the non-medical benefits of drugs, and increasing cigarette taxes in low tax states.

I think Drugs and Drug Policy needs to be read by anyone seriously interested in drug policy reform. It hits almost all the bases, and it's well-informed, provocative, and challenging of dogmatic positions. You don't like the authors' conclusions? Refute them. It'll be good for you.

Feds vs. Deadheads in Missouri "Schwagstock" Forfeiture Battle [FEATURE]

Since 2004, when veteran musician Jimmy Tebeau brought the 350-acre rural property in central Missouri and turned it a camping and concert venue, Camp Zoe has been Deadhead central in the Show Me State. A member of the Grateful Dead tribute band The Schwag, Tebeau has hosted numerous Schwagstock and Spookstock festivals, as well as other concerts and events, drawing nationally known acts and thousands of fans for weekends of outdoor fun in the sun.

Jimmy Tebeau (image via campzoe.com)
But the DEA and the Missouri Highway Patrol harshed Camp Zoe's mellow vibe last November, when they rolled into the venue early in the morning and searched the site. A week later, they announced that they were initiating federal civil asset forfeiture proceedings against the property because of alleged rampant drug use and Tebeau's failure to put a halt to it.

According to a complaint filed November 8 in the Eastern Missouri US District Court, the feds alleged that "over the past several years law enforcement agents have specifically observed the open sales of cocaine, marijuana, LSD (acid), ecstasy, psilocybin mushrooms, opium and marijuana-laced food products by individuals attending the music festival and made multiple undercover purchases of illegal drugs."

Tebeau and other Camp Zoe staff members "were in the immediate area" when drug deals were going down and "took no immediate action to prevent the activity," the complaint continued. It added that "undercover purchases have been made as recently as September 2010," when Schwagstock 45 was held, but noted that the investigation stretched back to 2006 and included evidence from "surveillance, undercover operations, source information, bank records, and interviews."

Most critically, the complaint alleges that Camp Zoe was "knowingly opened, rented, leased, used, or maintained for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing or using controlled substances." In other words, the feds are arguing that the purpose of Camp Zoe was not to be a concert venue, but a drug den, and it could thus be lawfully seized, along with nearly $200,000 in cash they seized from the site and various bank accounts.

good clean fun at Camp Zoe (image from campzoe.com)
The case pitting a local counterculture icon and his property against the power of the federal government has stirred considerable interest in Missouri, as well as among members of the peripatetic Deadhead set. (In fact, I had a conversation about the case with a dreadlocked young woman at a Northern California music festival last weekend.) It has also excited the attention of asset forfeiture reformers and critics of overweening governmental power.

But wait, it's even worse. The feds upped the ante further just a couple of weeks ago. After stalling the asset forfeiture proceedings for seven months -- leaving Camp Zoe silent and vacant and Tebeau without his primary source of income -- and seeing that Tebeau was not about to roll over for them, federal prosecutors last week sought and got a criminal indictment charging that Tebeau "knowingly and intentionally profited from and made available for use, with or without compensation, said place for the purpose of unlawfully storing, distributing, or using controlled substances."

"This is the sort of things Soviet thugs did and that continues to happen in Russia under Vladimir Putin," said Eapen Thampy, executive director of the Kansas City-based Americans for Forfeiture Reform. "They take a businessman, take his money, and take him to jail. I see this as an attempt by rich and powerful law enforcement agencies to acquire property or money they can turn into salaries or equipment."

fun and camping at Camp Zoe (image from campzoe.com)
"The Camp Zoe situation is really interesting," said Dave Roland, a St. Louis-based attorney who is director of litigation for the libertarian-leaning Missouri Freedom Center. "The federal government has recently come back and said they will charge him with maintaining the property for the purpose of facilitating drug transactions, but that seems like an after the fact justification for their attempt to seize the property. The more likely explanation is that the government was embarrassed by the fact people kept saying how can you take this property without alleging he's doing something illegal in the first place," he ventured.

"There was no one engaging in violence at Camp Zoe, there were no allegations of harm or injury," Roland continued. "That the government is concentrating on these sorts of victimless crimes demonstrates misplaced priorities. Especially in light of the financial crunch, we ought to be reallocating resources to deal with real threats to the health and safety of the community and not these drug witch hunts."

But there's the rub. Missouri law enforcement agencies profit handsomely from asset forfeiture, especially when they do an end run around state asset forfeiture law and partner with the feds. Under a 2004 asset forfeiture reform law, funds seized by state and local law enforcement agencies are supposed to go to the state education fund, but that's not what happened.

The state auditor's reports on asset forfeiture activity show a quick learning curve by state and local law enforcement. While, after the 1994 reforms, schools got 27% of seized funds in 1996 and 1997, in 1998, that figure fell by half to 14%. There was no audit done in 1999, but in 2000 and every year since, schools have gotten 2%, with that figure dropping to 1% in 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile the Justice Department and state and local cops have raked in millions of dollars, gobbling up the vast majority of funds that were supposed to go to Missouri's schools.

"Asset forfeiture abuse is rampant all over the country," said Roland. "Here in Missouri, the state made an effort to improve its statutes a decade ago, but the problem is that law enforcement agencies find alternative ways to accomplish the same end. Now, you see state and local law enforcement handing cases over to federal agencies because they get a kickback from the asset forfeitures. There is an actual financial incentive to assist federal agencies in the unconstitutional use of asset forfeiture laws."

"Missouri has laws that say how asset forfeiture should be conducted and where the money should go, but they aren't being followed," said Thampy. "When you put this into that context, these abuses are way more serious," he said, adding that he believed 90% of Missouri counties were not in compliance with the law.

Neither Roland nor Thampy were impressed with the criminal charges now being brought against Tebeau. Nor were they aware of other cases of "maintaining a drug premise" being brought against other concert venues. That law is widely known as the "crack house" law.

"The government has a pretty steep hill to climb to prove that Tebeau was operating this camp so that people could buy illegal drugs," said Roland. "I'm very skeptical that the government is going to be able to carry its burden of proof."

"That charge is complete bullshit," Thampy responded bluntly. "If they wanted to charge him with drug trafficking or drug possession, those would be appropriate charges if they could prove them. But charging him with running a drug premise says that he got this land for the sole purpose of conducting drug transactions. It would be putting it mildly to say this is an abuse of prosecutorial power."

"To the best of my understanding, this is not a commonly used statute," said Roland. "I don't recall ever seeing it used in the context of a concert venue owner. They're alleging that the property is being used for the purpose of facilitating drug transactions simply because Tebeau didn't take some unspecified affirmative action."

Now facing criminal charges as well as the seizure of Camp Zoe, Tebeau is still refusing to roll over and cut a deal. With his income-producing property shut down and his bank accounts seized, Tebeau is at a real disadvantage, but thanks to his fans and followers and continuing gigs as a musician, he has so far been able to raise the funds to defend himself.

"A just outcome would be dropping the charges and dropping the attempted asset forfeiture," said Roland. "If we're not going to legalize drugs, the government needs to at least focus on the people and activities they're really worried about. Jimmy hasn't been charged with actually being involved, and it's unjust to target him for a criminal action because someone else was doing something illegal. That's manifestly unjust."

Camp Zoe
MO
United States

Poland Approves Drug Decriminalization -- Sort Of [FEATURE]

With President Bronislaw Komorwski signing into law late last month an amendment to the country's harsh, decade-old drug laws, Poland has taken a step in the direction of the decriminalization of drug possession. But how much of a difference the new law will make is unclear at this point, and it won't go into effect for another six months. The new law also increases sentences for some drug distribution offenses.

21st Century Warsaw. Now, if Poland can just move its drug laws into the 21st Century. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Under the old law, possession of even the smallest quantity of illegal drugs could lead to a three-year prison sentence. Under the amended drug law, people would still be arrested, but prosecutors will have the option of not charging people for personal drug possession if the quantity involved is small, if it is a first offense, or if the person is drug dependent.

It is one thing to have the law on the books, but whether prosecutors will take advantage of it remains to be seen. The experience in other European countries that have enacted similar laws suggests that they will have to be prodded.

Also unclear at this point is just what will constitute a "small" amount of drugs for personal use. That is an issue that is now being contested. In a sign of how volatile the issue is, demonstrators demanding a 30 gram figure for marijuana, the ability to grow at home, and amnesty for pot prisoners, clashed last weekend with police in Warsaw just days after the president signed the new law. Nearly 30 people were arrested on drug charges, and police were attacked with eggs and empty beer bottles.

The protest was called by the Free Hemp Initiative, and police estimated some 6,000 people attended. Demonstrators shouted slogans and waved banners with exhortations such as "Plant It, Smoke It, Legalize It!" on them. Organizers managed to cool down the crowd after the violence broke out by reminding people of their nonviolent stance.

Activists are planning to both push prosecutors to use the new law and to try to open up discussion around the personal use threshold in a bit to push further in the direction of real decriminalization.

Polish and international experts cautioned about making too much of the reform. "While this is only a small change, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction," said the International Drug Policy Consortium.

The reform "seems quite modest and even marginal," Dr Mateusz Klinowski, Chair of Legal Theory at the Jagiellonian University's Department of Law and Administration, told the Krakow Post. "Though the amendment doesn't seem to be a major breakthrough, at least it creates hope of future reforms," he added. "The first step has been taken and now it is public opinion and non-governmental organizations which have to advocate rational solutions and efficient law that will be aimed primarily at prevention and treatment, rather than at penalizing possession."

In  commenting on the new law, Justice Minister Krysztof Kwiatkowski demonstrated that the old mentality or at least the old politics is still strong in the halls of power. While he confirmed that prosecutors must now investigate each drug possession case to see if it qualifies for dismissal, his rhetoric was that of prohibition.

"We have increased the criminal responsibility for those who sell death, in order to provide for more effective prosecution," he said. "Police should concentrate on the pursuit of drug dealers and not drug addicts. We should focus on providing treatment for such people."

Even this limited progress on reforming Poland's drug laws came only after years of delay. A team of experts appointed by the former justice minister had drawn up the amendments more than two years ago.

Polish politicians were also the object of a concerted civil society campaign to liberalize the drug laws. Celebrity chef Robert Maklowicz created a Facebook video, Cook Our Children a Better Future, arguing for reform, while at the same time, 71 Polish artists sent an open letter to the Sejm seeking a review of Polish drug policy.

Former Polish president Aleksander Kwaśniewski, sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, and renowned international human rights expert Wiktor Osiatyński also joined the fray, signing a January open letter coordinated by Krytyka Polityczna, an influential group of liberal thinkers. Over 100 organizations from Poland and worldwide recently signed a petition coordinated by the Polish Drug Policy Network. A video by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union was viewed by nearly 50,000 people.

While for many advocates the reforms don't go far enough, they are at least a step in the right direction. Now it will be up to activists and civil society to continue prodding politicians to keep moving toward more civilized drug policies.

Warsaw
Poland

Medical Marijuana Providers Dr. Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer Prepare for Prison [FEATURE]

Special to the Chronicle by Sharon Letts

After more than six years of litigation, and three years of appeals for manufacturing and conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cannabis, Dr. Marion "Mollie" Fry and her husband of 25 years, civil attorney Dale Schafer, attended a hearing at the US courthouse in Sacramento Monday week, in which their bonds were revoked and they were given a the date of May 2 to surrender to serve five-year federal prison terms.

Dr. Marion Fry with longtime partner, attorney, Dale Schafer at their home near Sacramento. (Photo by Sharon Letts)
Fry and Schafer's prior home located in the hills just north of Sacramento was raided in 2001, with 34 plants confiscated - what they believed to be well below the 99 plant limit set forth by local ordinances.

According to Schafer, the couple had never grown more than 44 plants in a given year.  A little known fact, he explained, is that under federal law more than 100 plants grown in a five year period, accumulatively, is cause for the mandatory five-year sentence, overriding state laws.

Dr. Fry, who had gone through a radical mastectomy just three years prior, had made the decision to grow her own medicine, medicating through her illness, surgery and continued to medicate from myriad complications from chemotherapy until the arrest. Schafer suffers from hemophilia and failed back syndrome, is under constant care, and had also medicated with cannabis legally.

According to Fry and Schafer, prior to the arrest they had conferred numerous times with local officials, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, and El Dorado County Sheriff's Detectives Timothy McNulty and Robert Ashworth, regarding the legality of their cannabis production for their own use and for Fry’s patients.

"We weren't selling the medical cannabis to my patients," Fry said. "We had staff and were charging $10 for delivery only, and that's a common practice today."

Ultimately it was staff, Schafer said, who broke rules, and ultimately they were responsible for all actions.

"We fired anyone who wasn't following the code of the law," Schafer said. "One week before we were raided, two undercover federal agents attended a workshop for 215 cardholders we were holding at the local Grange Hall. The chef teaching the class allowed patients to go home with some of the edibles made, including the agents."

Fry said comments were made during the class that may have been misunderstood by the agents, saying it was a comedy of errors with a not so amusing ending.

"The judge wouldn’t allow any medical evidence. They wouldn't let us tell the jury I was sick, or that I was a doctor," Fry said. "They wouldn’t allow that I was helping sick patients. Ironically, two years before the raid, local authorities asked me to tell them who of my patients were 'really' sick, and who wasn't." I told them it wasn't my job to police my patients, and that everyone who came to me had legitimate health issues. They have treated us like criminals."

Dr. Marion Fry believes that cannabis is good medicine, and that God will save her. (Photo by Sharon Letts)
Fry's lineage includes seven generations of doctors. Family notables include her grandfather, Dr. Francis Marion Pottenger, celebrated for being at the forefront of curing tuberculosis in the early 1900s, and founding the field of internal medicine in the process.

Her grandmother studied under Carl Jung in the 1950s, founding a Jungian institute in Houston in the 1960s, while her mother also became a physician in the 1950s.

"When I was young my mother told me I could do whatever I choose to do with my life. She told me the United States of America is a free country," Fry explained. "But, I was outspoken on this topic."

Lack of education on the topic of medicinal cannabis, Fry and Schafer agree, is the true culprit in their court case, and the couple chose activism to further the cause, something that may have contributed to their demise.

"When I was in the thick of helping people, I knew it was the right thing to do," she said. "Cannabis helped me immensely when I was going through cancer."

After ten years of defending themselves the couple has more questions than answers.

"Cannabis is proven medicine. Why would the state of California create laws based on what the people want, and then allow the federal Government to override them?" Fry asks. "I had cancer, we were growing medicine. I was helping people."

Dr. Fry's license to practice has been revoked for some time now, as has her husband's license to practice law. The couple's grown children with grandkids have moved back home to help with financs and save the family home. A Pay Pal account has been set up for donations. It can be accessed here. "Cool Madness," a book written about the trial by author Vanessa Williams is available online through StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this web site), Amazon.com or other online booksellers, or directly at the "Cool Madness" web site.  Donations and correspondence of support can also be sent to the family, P.O. Box 634, Cool, CA 95614.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Montana Marijuana Prosecution Runs into Jury Pool "Mutiny"

No way would they convict someone of possessing a 16th of an ounce of marijuana, member after member of a Missoula County jury pool told a stunned judge and prosecutor last week. As a result, the Missoulian newspaper reported, the judge in the case ordered a recess, and a plea bargain was reached in a drug trafficking case against Touray Cornell.

not business as usual at the courthouse in Missoula (image courtesy Wikimedia)
Potential jurors repeatedly told the court they would not convict for a couple of buds found during a raid on Cornell's home in April. One juror wondered out loud why the county was wasting time and money prosecuting the case at all, especially in a locale that approved a 2004 initiative making marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority.

After that juror questioned the prosecution, District Judge Dusty Deschamps polled the jury pool and found at least five others who agreed. That was in addition to two others who had already been excused because of their philosophical objections to pot prosecutions.

"I thought, 'Geez, I don't know if we can seat a jury,'" Deschamps said, explaining why he called a recess.

Instead, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Paul and defense attorney Martin Ellison worked out a plea agreement on the more serious drug trafficking charge. Cornell entered an Alford plea, in which he did not admit guilt. He was then sentenced to 20 years in prison with 19 suspended. Since Cornell has already served 200 days awaiting trial, he should be out in a matter of months.

"Public opinion, as revealed by the reaction of a substantial portion of the members of the jury called to try the charges on Dec. 16, 2010, is not supportive of the state's marijuana law and appeared to prevent any conviction from being obtained simply because an unbiased jury did not appear available under any circumstances," according to the plea memorandum filed by his attorney.

It was "a mutiny" by the jury pool, said Paul.

"I think it's going to become increasingly difficult to seat a jury in marijuana cases, at least the ones involving a small amount," Deschamps said.

Noting changing attitudes toward marijuana, as evidenced by the Missoula initiative and voters' approval of the state's medical marijuana law, Deschamps wondered if it were fair to insist on impaneling a jury that consisted only of "hardliners" who object to all drug use. "I think that poses a real challenge in proceeding," he said. "Are we really seating a jury of their peers if we just leave people on who are militant on the subject?"

"I think that's outstanding," John Masterson, who heads Montana NORML, said when told of the incident. "The American populace over the last 10 years or so has begun to believe in a majority that assigning criminal penalties for the personal possession of marijuana is an unjust and a stupid use of government resources."

Deputy DA Paul said that normally a case involving such a small amount of pot wouldn’t have gone that far through the court system, but for the felony charge involved. But the response of the jury pool "is going to be something we're going to have to consider" in future cases, he said.

Missoula, MT
United States

Traffickers Use Terminally Ill Foreigners to Smuggle Drugs

Location: 
India
Drug traffickers are moving drugs into India via terminally ill patients -- mostly women from foreign countries. Most of them go scot free on humanitarian grounds.
Publication/Source: 
Hindustan Times (India)
URL: 
http://www.hindustantimes.com/Terminally-ill-foreigners-smuggle-drug-HC-fumes/Article1-624182.aspx

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Crookedness in the Wayne County, Michigan, court system; endemic corruption in Camden; a tweaker cop in Iowa; and another pair of jail guards go bad. Let's get to it:

evidence room
In Detroit, a retired Wayne County judge, a retired Wayne County drug prosecutor, and two former Inkster police officers were ordered last week to stand trial on felony charges related to a perjury-tainted 2005 cocaine trial. Retired Judge Mary Waterstone, former Wayne County drug prosecutor Karen Plants, and former Inkster police officers Robert McArthur and Scott Rechtzigel are accused of conspiring to hide the role of a secret paid informant in a 47-kilo cocaine bust. Waterstone faces four felony counts of official misconduct, Plants is charged with conspiracy, McArthur is charged with conspiracy, perjury, and misconduct in office, and Rechtzigel is charged with perjury and conspiracy. Waterstone is accused of privately agreeing with prosecutors to hide the identity of the informant and allowing the informant and the two police officers to lie on the stand about the nature of their relationship.

In Camden, New Jersey, two Camden police officers were charged October 13 with falsifying evidence in drug cases in an ongoing scandal that has caused prosecutors to drop more than 200 criminal cases. Officers Antonio Figueroa, 34, and Robert Bayard, 32, were members of a special operations unit assigned to crack down on open-air drug markets, but five unit members became drug traffickers themselves. They are accused of stealing from some suspects, planting drugs on others, threatening to plant drugs to coerce cooperation, paying informants with drugs, keeping drugs for their own use, conducting illegal searches, giving false testimony and filing false reports between 2007 and last year. Three other officers have already been charged in the year-long investigation. Figueroa and Bayard had been on suspension for the past year. Figueroa faces eight charges and Bayard five. For both, the most serious is conspiracy to violate the civil rights of a citizen, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

In Des Moines, Iowa, a former Pleasant Hill police officer was sentenced last Friday to three years' probation for stealing methamphetamine from the department evidence room and crashing his police SUV while tweaking. Former officer Dan Edwards had pleaded guilty to DUI, illegal drug possession, and third-degree burglary. Edwards went down after the April crash, when a state trooper reported finding meth on him. Edwards' attorney said he suffered post traumatic stress disorder after tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and this his wife and infant son had been killed in a car crash years earlier.

In Pensacola, Florida, a former Escambia County Road Prison corrections officer was found guilty last Thursday of providing Xanax to a prisoner in exchange for oral sex. Lawrence Vieitez was convicted on charges of delivery of a controlled substance, introducing contraband into a county detention facility and solicitation to commit prostitution. He went down after an inmate complained about his advances. The inmate was then wired, and a deputy was able to listen in as Vieitez offered to procure Xanax in exchange for oral sex. Vieitez then left to obtain the Xanax and was arrested when he gave it to the inmate. He's looking at up to 20 years in prison.

In Paterson, New Jersey, a former Passaic County corrections officer was sentenced last Friday to five years in state prison for smuggling heroin and homemade weapons into the Passaic County Jail. Former guard Marvin Thompson, 41, has no chance at early parole. During trial, prosecutors argued that Thompson smuggled the contraband into the jail with the intention of "discovering" it so he would look like a hero. He was then a provisional employee and hoped to win a permanent post. But an inmate working with Thompson snitched him out, and when he reported finding 10 packets of heroin, he was arrested. He was convicted of second degree official misconduct, possession of heroin, and filing false police reports.

Legal Medical Marijuana Distributor Convicted of... Marijuana Distribution?!? [FEATURE]

The second time was the charm for anti-medical marijuana San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Last year, she failed to convict San Diego medical marijuana dispensary operator Jovan Jackson on distribution charges. But on Tuesday, after Dumanis convinced the trial judge to not allow Jackson to mention medical marijuana in his defense, a state court jury found him guilty of three counts of marijuana possession and distribution.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/jovan-jackson.jpg
Jovan Jackson
Jackson's attorney announced Wednesday that he will appeal the decision. It is about time for a state appellate court to clear up some of the confusion around the state's medical marijuana Compassionate Use Act, said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML.

"The verdict doesn't surprise me since they rigged the trial," said Gieringer. "It will be appealed, and it's probably a good appellate case. I think it's time for an appellate court decision on all this, or a new law to clarify the legality of marijuana distribution. Until we change the law, we have to rely on the courts."

"By refusing him a defense, the district attorney and the court have railroaded Jackson and ensured his conviction," said Americans for Safe Access (ASA) chief counsel Joe Elford, who submitted an amicus brief in support of Jackson prior to his trial. "Jackson was denied a fair trial," Elford continued. "His conviction and the basis on which the court relied in refusing him a defense -- that sales are illegal under state law -- should absolutely be appealed."

Jackson was the operator of the Answerdam Alternative Care Collective, a San Diego medical marijuana dispensary. He was arrested in 2008 in one of Dumanis' anti-medical marijuana raids, but was acquitted last December. He was arrested again during a series of raids in September 2009, and this time, Dumanis was able to convince Judge Howard Shore to not allow Jackson to mention medical marijuana in his defense.

"After the embarrassment of losing the first trial against Jovan Jackson, District Attorney Dumanis was desperate for a conviction," said Eugene Davidovich, head of the San Diego ASA chapter, and another dispensary operator whom Dumanis prosecuted but failed to convict. "Jackson should not have been denied a defense and should not be used as a scapegoat for the district attorney's misguided position that medical marijuana sales are illegal."

"We believe the basis on which the judge refused to allow the medical marijuana defense is flawed," said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes. "It had to do with an interpretation of the medical marijuana program act that is based on the collective and cooperative cultivation statute only allowing distribution, not sales. If anyone had half a brain, they would see that it exempts collectives and co-ops from prosecution for a variety of charges, including sales. That was the basis of our amicus brief filed before the trial, but apparently never considered by Judge Shore."

"The DA down there is on a crusade to somehow convict people of medical marijuana," said Gieringer. "She's hoping she can score a victory in court on this. The law is certainly vague, and that has given her lots of opportunities, but until now, she had struck out on her jury trials, although she did get a bunch of defendants to plead guilty on minor charges."

"To be fair, as aggressive and mean-spirited as Dumanis has been, she is part of a culture in San Diego that has a sordid history of hostility around these issues," said Hermes.

The pattern of hostility can be seen in the county Board of Supervisors' failed 2006 lawsuit to avoid having to implement the state medical marijuana ID card program, and in continued aggressive action against dispensaries in the area. In 2007 and 2008, during the Bush administration, there were more than 50 raids against dispensaries. Most recently, Dumanis worked with the Obama administration to conduct 20 raids on dispensaries in San Diego on September 9, 2009, which resulted in the failed prosecution of Davidovich and the successful second prosecution of Jackson.

But as hostile as San Diego has been to medical marijuana, things are changing. Both the San Diego City Council and the county Board of Supervisors are now developing medical marijuana distribution ordinances that would regulate the very activity for which Jackson was convicted. In June, a San Diego grand jury issued recommendations calling on local governments to implement the state medical marijuana law. In particular, the grand jury called for the city and county to develop a "program for the licensing, regulation and periodic inspection of authorized collectives and cooperatives distributing medical marijuana."

The second time may have been the charm for Dumanis in the Jovan Jackson case, but if local governments act to implement the state's medical marijuana law, it may well be the last hurrah for her anti-medical marijuana crusade.

San Diego, CA
United States

Jailed Swiss Marijuana Advocate Renews Hunger Strike

Swiss cannabis pioneer Bernard Rappaz has renewed his hunger strike after being returned to prison on the failure of his appeal to the country's Federal Tribunal. Rappaz is serving a 68 month sentence for cannabis distribution after running afoul of conservative pot laws in the canton of Valais, where he lives.

Free Bernard Rappaz campaign poster
Rappaz had been on a 50-day hunger strike while imprisoned earlier this year and was hospitalized in Bern while Valais authorities dithered over whether to force-feed him against his written wishes. Instead, they released him to house arrest last month pending his appeal.

The appeal was turned down last week and Rappaz was returned to prison. He restarted his hunger strike on Monday.

Rappaz, a long-time cannabis and hemp activist, has long been a burr under the saddle of authorities in the conservative canton. They responded first with his original prosecution and sentencing (a partner was sentenced only to parole), then again by bringing a series of new charges against him shortly after he was released on house arrest last month. The new charges, for offenses that allegedly took place between 2002 and 2006, include document falsification, money laundering, violation of drug laws, and social benefits fraud.

There is an international campaign to free the Swiss activist, who is sometimes referred to as "the Gandhi of hemp." There is a French language Support Bernard Rappaz Facebook page and Solidarity with Bernard Rappaz web site. For English speakers, the European Coalition for a Just and Effective Drug Policy (ENCOD) has a Bernard Rappaz web page.

Switzerland

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