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Some States Move on Sentencing Reform

With state budgets devastated by the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent slow economic growth, the impulse to incarcerate is being blunted by fiscal realities. This year, a number of states have passed legislation designed to ease the financial burden of mass incarceration.

The slight trend away from mass incarceration by the states has been evident for the past couple of years, as for the first time in decades, the number of prisoners being held by the states has declined. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at the end of 2010, the last year for which numbers are available, the number of combined state and federal prisoners declined for the first time since 1972. The decline was driven by the states, with state prison populations down 0.5%, while the federal prison population grew by 0.8%.

A number of states, including California and Texas, have in the past decade begun reforming their sentencing practices, accounting for the decline. Recently passed sentencing reforms in several states could help see those numbers drop even further. These include:

Hawaii

Last month, Gov. Neal Abercrombie (D) signed into law two bills, House Bill 2515 and Senate Bill 2776. They will, among other things, allow judges to impose probation for first- and second-time drug possession charges. The bills also expand the use of pre-trial and parole hearing risk assessment to identify and release low-risk offenders and prisoners. And they provide funds for community-based drug treatment programs.

Illinois

Late last month, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed into law Senate Bill 2621, which restores good time credits to non-violent offenders who complete drug treatment, job training, or other rehabilitation programs. Quinn had suspended the good time credits after a 2010 scandal in which it was revealed that many prisoners had won early release after serving only weeks in prison. The new new law requires prisoners to serve at least 60 days before they could be released for good time credit, and prisoners can earn no more than 180 days of good time credit.

Missouri

Last week, a bill that reduces the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine began law without the signature of Gov. Jay Nixon (D). The bill was approved by the Republican-led legislature on the last day of the session and reduces the state's 75-to-1 ratio in sentencing for the two different types of cocaine to a ratio of about 18-to-1.

New Jersey

Late last month, the legislature passed Senate Bill 881, under which non-violent, drug-dependent offenders will receive treatment rather than prison. The bill also removes prosecutorial objections to sending someone to drug court and expands eligibility for the state's drug court program. Gov. Chris Christie (R) is expected to sign the bill.

Ohio

Late last month, Gov. John Kasich (R) signed into law Senate Bill 337, which allows people to seal the records on one felony and one misdemeanor or two misdemeanor convictions. The idea is to make it easier for former prisoners to find work. The law also creates a certificate of qualification that will give ex-offenders the ability to get some occupational licenses they were previously barred from obtaining.

Pennsylvania

Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) signed into law Senate Bill 100, which incorporates many of the recommendations of his Justice Reinvestment Working Group and passed both houses of the legislature unanimously. It expands eligibility for alternative sentencing programs, allows for intermediate sanctions so that fewer technical parole violators are sent to prison, and diverts some low-level defendants from prison. But it's not all good: The bill also eliminates the pre-release program that allows qualifying prisoners to be paroled to halfway houses before their minimum dates.

Tennessee

In May, Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed into law Senate Bill 3520, which allows some former prisoners to expunge certain felonies and misdemeanors from their criminal records. It only applies to those with a single conviction, but legislative fiscal analysts projected it would increase expungement requests by 60,000 a year.

The states are not undertaking a radical rethinking of the rote resort to incarceration, but they are nibbling at the edges, particularly when it comes to drug offenders. Every little bit helps.

Marijuana Initiative Sues Oregon over Signature Counts

There could yet be not one, but two marijuana initiatives on the Oregon ballot in November. The Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative (OMPI) filed a lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court last week against Secretary of State Kate Brown over her office's invalidation of tens of thousands of signatures on petitions for Initiative Petition 24 (IP-24), which would legalize personal possession and cultivation of marijuana for adults via a constitutional amendment.

The other Oregon legalization initiative, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), officially qualified on Friday. It will be known as Measure 80 on the ballot. OCTA needed only 84,000 signatures to make the ballot, but because the OMPI is a constitutional amendment it faces a higher hurdle.

The OMPI has handed in more than 175,000 signatures, far in excess of the 116,000 needed to qualify for the ballot, but the effort was hit hard when Brown's office invalidated nearly 48% of the 122,000 signatures handed in on May 25. That means almost 100% of the 53,000 signatures handed in after May 25 must be found valid if the measure is to make the ballot.

The lawsuit challenges a range of specific methods and reasons used by Brown's office to disqualify individual voter signatures and entire sheets of up to 10 voter signatures each in a sampling process conducted in June, before the final deadline for signatures on petitions on July 6. That sampling process invalidated resulted in a historically low validity rate and damaged the initiative's chance to make the ballot. Other measures submitted at the same time are suffering similarly low validation rates.

"Under the policies of Kate Brown, the Oregon Elections Division works hard to remove every possible signature from initiative petitions and for reasons that make no sense," said OMPI proponent Robert Wolfe. "Instead, they should be working to include as many signatures as possible, thus preserving citizen access to the ballot through the initiative system, as demanded by the Oregon Constitution."

The OMPI lawsuit seeks to reopen the state's validation work on IP-24 so that the measure can legitimately qualify the November ballot based a fair count of valid signatures from Oregon voters.

"The recently developed policies of the state and of Kate Brown reduce access to the initiative process and make it the province of only the wealthiest special interests," Wolfe said. "A win for IP-24 would help restore ballot access to all petition sponsors. It is time to shine a bright light on the undemocratic policies and actions of Oregon's Secretary of State."

Salem, OR
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Last week's middle of the week holiday made things fairly quiet on the medical marijuana front--at least until Wednesday--but it looks like Massachusetts voters will have a chance to join the ranks of the medical marijuana states in November, and other efforts are underway in some surprising places. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested possible post-election action on medical marijuana."I've been very clear on the subject of medical marijuana over time, in committee and on the floor as leader," Pelosi said to a roundtable of bloggers, Raw Story reported. "I think that it would be really important to do that," she said. "It would be hard for anyone to agree with the fact that someone who has HIV/AIDS or has cancer and they find relief from pain in medicinal marijuana that should be something that should be a priority to raid on the part of the Justice Department. Going along with that, we need to address some of the penalties for any non-violent crimes that are out there." Pelosi has previously attacked the Obama administration for the Justice Department's campaign of raids and threats against California medical marijuana providers, but this is her strongest statement yet on the topic.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, petitioners handed in signatures for a medical marijuana initiative. The group Arkansans for Compassionate Care needs 62,507 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. They handed in 67,885 last Thursday. State election officials will do a "rough count" of the signatures to ensure that proponents have handed in at least the minimum number necessary to qualify for the ballot. While officials validate the signatures, proponents can continue to collect new signatures up to a 30 day deadline. They say they hope to gather another 40,000 or so just to be on the safe side.

California

Last Monday, petitioners for a Solana Beach dispensary initiative handed in signatures. The group Citizens for Patients' Rights handed in 1,600 signatures, almost ensuring the measure will qualify for the ballot. They only need 807 valid signatures. Once the measure is qualified, the city council will vote on whether to enact it directly or put it to a vote of the people. The council must act by August 10 for the measure to make the November ballot. Proponents have formally requested a special election if that deadline is not met. The proposal would allow nonprofit dispensaries in the municipality of Solana Beach, providing they are in full compliance with the zoning, licensing and operating standards included in the initiative.

Last Thursday, an effort to recall Redding City Council members failed. Medical marijuana advocate Rob McDonald undertook the effort in response to the city's ban on dispensaries, but came up far short of the 9,000 signatures needed to force a recall. Still, he said he was sending a message to politicians that their actions can have repercussions.

Last Saturday, Kern County's Measure G restricting dispensaries went into effect. The voter-approved measure will regulate how and when dispensaries can operate. It will even limit what a pot shop can sell. Dispensaries in unincorporated parts of the county will have to be located in a heavy or light industrial area and can't be within a mile of another dispensary, a church, school, or park. They can only be open from 10:00am to 8:00pm, and they can't sell edibles, pipes, or other marijuana-related products. The measure will affect 26 dispensaries, but it's not clear yet just how.

On Monday, Harborside Health Center announced it had been targeted for closure by federal prosecutors. Harborside is probably the largest dispensary on the planet and is well-respected locally, but had already been the target of the feds via an Internal Revenue Service investigation. This time, US Attorney Melinda Haag has threatened to seize the Harborside home base in Oakland as well as its sister store in San Jose. Employees found complaints taped to the front doors of the two locations Monday.

Also on Monday, Lake County supervisors adopted a compromise medical marijuana ordinance after a contentious day-long hearing before a crowd of hundreds. The ordinance is an interim measure while the county hammers out long-term rules. Growers responded in force to an earlier proposal for restrictive pot limits, developed in response to a spike in marijuana cultivation and complaints from non-growing residents about the stench from the plants, scary guard dogs and armed growers. The board compromised and loosened the restrictions. As adopted, the temporary ordinance allows up to six mature plants on parcels smaller than a half acre. The amount increases with the acreage and is capped at 48 plants for cooperatives with access to more than 40 acres.

On Tuesday, Yuba County supervisors suspended an ad hoc committee formed to discuss issues with medical marijuana growers. The move came after growers last week filed a lawsuit challenging the ordinance approved by supervisors earlier this year. Plaintiffs filed a civil complaint asking the ordinance to be thrown out, claiming, among other things, a lack of clarity on collective and cooperative grows could deny some users their prescriptions. The plaintiffs have also said they plan to file for a temporary injunction today in Yuba County Superior Court to prevent the ordinance from being enforced. Supervisors announced they had voted 5-0 during their closed session to refer the suit to outside counsel. Under the ordinance, medical marijuana cardholders are limited in how many plants they can grow by the size of the parcel on which they live, with additional requirements to shield the plants from public view.

Also on Tuesday, Americans for Safe Access filed a friend of the court brief in the Charlie Lynch case. Lynch ran the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers dispensary in Morro Bay that had support from local officials, but was raided by the DEA in 2007. He was convicted in federal court of marijuana trafficking and sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison in 2009. His appeal should get a hearing later this year.

Colorado

Last week, two Colorado Springs dispensary operators filed a lawsuit against the state charging that the Department of Revenue has failed to clarify a key rule about when dispensaries can begin growing for patients. In the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Michael Kopta and Alvida Hillery, the plaintiffs ask that the department be ordered to clarify when in a patient's state approval process designated caregivers can begin growing for them. Kopta and Hillery were arrested on marijuana cultivation charges earlier this year, but said they thought they were acting in accordance with the law.

Delaware

Last Thursday, the Department of Health and Social Services began accepting applications for medical marijuana ID cards. The move came after the department finally finalized regulations for the program. While the regulations do not contain specific rules for dispensaries, there is space for them to be drafted in the future. Gov. Jack Markell (D) suspended implementation of the dispensary program after getting a threat letter from the US Attorney for Delaware, Charles Oberly III.

Kentucky

Last Thursday, a state senator said he would reintroduce a medical marijuana bill and name it in honor of longtime Kentucky hemp and marijuana activist Gatewood Galbraith, who died in January. Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) had introduced a similar bill last year. It went nowhere then, and Clark said he doesn't expect much different next year.

Massachusetts

Last Tuesday, a spokesman for the secretary of state said a medical marijuana initiative had qualified for the ballot. Advocates had earlier gathered 80,000 signatures, putting the issue before the legislature. When the legislature failed to act, advocates needed to gather an additional 11,000 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot. Sponsored by the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, the initiative allows patients with specified medical conditions "and other conditions" to possess up to a 60-day supply of marijuana. Patients or their caregivers would have to obtain their medicine from one of up to 35 non-profit dispensaries or "medical marijuana treatment centers" and would not be able to grow their own unless they qualified under a hardship provision. Patients, caregivers, and dispensaries would be registered with the state.

Montana

As of the end of June, medical marijuana patient numbers were stabilizing. The number of cardholders was at 8,681, down only slightly from 8,734 at the end of May. The numbers had been in a free-fall after peaking at 30,036 in June 2011. That month, the legislature essentially gutted the medical marijuana program, making it much more difficult to buy and sell it. Federal raids also played a role. The number of caregivers also declined slightly from 400 in May to 390 in June. That's less than 10% of the number of caregivers in March 2011, when the figure stood at 4,848.

Nevada

As of the end of June, the number of medical marijuana patients was increasing dramatically. The state Health Division reported that 3,430 held medical marijuana cards, up by nearly a third over last year. That number could go even higher if the legislature next year passes a bill to allow dispensaries to operate in the state.

Narc Scandal Front and Center in Florida Sheriff Race [FEATURE]

Scandal has been brewing in the Pinellas County, Florida, Sheriff's Office over the possibly criminal misbehavior of some of its narcotics detectives, and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, a Republican, has been trying to keep it from spinning out of control. But with his job on the line in November, his challengers, Republicans and Democrats alike, are making the scandal -- and the department's emphasis on busting marijuana grows -- issues with which to wound him in the campaign.

Narcotics deputies went above and beyond in their efforts to bust indoor marijuana grows (wikimedia.org)
Pinellas County sits on Florida's Gulf Coast and includes the city of St. Petersburg. For the last few years, it has been an epicenter of the state's prescription opioid epidemic, but despite the county leading the state in Oxycontin overdose deaths, some Pinellas County narcs were more interested in pot growers than pill mill merchants.[Editor's Note: At least one candidate for sheriff is challenging the conventional law enforcement narrative regarding opioid pain medications; see Scott Swope's comments on the topic at the end of this article.]

It all began when narcotics detectives with the sheriff's office hit on the bright idea of spying on a legal business -- a Largo hydroponics grow shop -- and taking down the license plate numbers of customers, and then snooping around to see what they could find. At least four detectives were involved in surveillance that apparently crossed the line into illegality by trespassing on private property without a warrant, by disguising themselves as utility company workers, and by subsequently falsifying search warrant affidavits (they would claim to have smelled marijuana from the street, when they had actually trespassed to find evidence).

They would have gotten away with it if not for tenacious defense attorneys. But things began to unravel last year, when the attorney for Allen Underwood, who had been arrested in a grow-op bust, filed a complaint saying that Underwood's surveillance cameras had recorded one of the detectives hopping over his fence. The detective ordered the surveillance video deleted, and the sheriff's office found no evidence of wrongdoing by its man.

Next, Largo defense attorney John Trevena charged in a case that one of the detectives had donned a Progress Energy shirt and cap to gain warrantless access to a private property. The detective first denied it under oath, then admitted it. At the time, Gualtieri attributed the deception to "over-exuberance" by a young detective.

Then, in February, Tarpon Springs attorney Newt Hudson questioned one of the detectives under oath about whether he ever saw his dope squad colleagues trespass. Under questioning, the detective admitted that he and one of the other detectives had once broken down a fence to enter a yard of interest.

"That was the game changer," Sheriff Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times last month as he announced he was launching a criminal investigation of the four detectives. "Misconduct will not be tolerated and we will hold accountable any member of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office who acts contrary to the law," Gualtieri said. "The ends never justify the means."

Embattled Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (bobforsheriff.com)
Three of the detectives have resigned, and Gualtieri fired the fourth, but it might be too late to undo the damage to local law enforcement and to Gualtieri's own political prospects. At least 18 pending marijuana grow prosecutions have been halted, and Gualtieri and Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said they also will review charges against about two dozen other defendants who previously pleaded guilty, were convicted or accepted plea bargains.

And Gualtieri has been repeatedly pummeled by challengers over the scandal. Not only the sole Democrat in the race, Palm Harbor attorney Scott Swope, but Gualtieri's Republican challengers, most notably former Sheriff Everett Rice, have criticized his handling of the affair. The Republican primary, which Gualtieri hopes to survive, is set for August 14.

"They shouldn't have been investigating the store to begin with," Swope told the Chronicle. "As far as criminal activity is concerned, we have bigger fish to fry than trying to catch people who are purchasing grow lamps. It was absolutely ridiculous."

Especially given that the sheriff's office had had to cut $100 million from its budget and eliminate 600 positions, including the cold case unit and sexual predator tracking, Swope said, alluding to the severe financial straits in which the department and the county found themselves.

"When I'm at a campaign presentation and tell people that they had detectives for surveilling this business selling legal equipment, but not for human trafficking or cold cases, everyone hears that and goes 'wow,'" Swope said. "It's an argument that has some traction."

Swope also criticized the leisurely pace of Gualtieri's internal investigation.

"The internal investigation took way too long," said Swope. "When you have an assertion that one of your detectives is trespassing to obtain evidence, falsifying ID to obtain evidence, falsifying affidavits, then destroying evidence, that needs to take precedence over every other internal investigation, and it didn't. When Gualtieri first went on the record, he said he didn't believe it; he just dismissed it, at least initially."

For Rice, who served as sheriff for 16 years until 2004, the pot grow scandal was an indication of misplaced priorities in Gualtieri's department.

"How is it that Pinellas and Pasco County became the pill-mill capital of the world in the last three or four years," Rice asked at a candidates' forum this spring, "and meanwhile we're spying on people who have hydroponic materials?"

Rice was still on the attack last month, telling the Tampa Bay Times that problems in the department are not limited to the pot grow scandal, but also include reports of slipshod internal investigations, narcotics sergeants claiming pay while monitoring detectives from home, and possible thefts.

"The question is,'' said Rice, "how did that culture come about in the first place? I think people realize that a Sheriff Rice wouldn't put up with such things,'' Rice said.

Except that he did. During his time in office, one of Rice's narcotics detectives gathered evidence of a pot grow illegally and lied about it under oath. He also fabricated evidence for a search warrant by calling in his own "anonymous tip." In another case, deputies used an informant to get a search warrant without revealing that the informant's wife was having an affair with the suspect. Pinellas judges tossed a number of pot grow cases over police misconduct during Rice's reign, and one detective was prosecuted for perjury.

One of the cases tossed was against Randy Heine, a Pinellas Park smoke shop owner. In that 1997 bust, deputies raided Heine's home and seized two pounds of pot, but a judge threw out the case, finding that deputies had resorted to "gross, material misrepresentation of the facts'' in their search warrant application.

Heine, a perennial gadfly on the local scene, has also become a harsh critic of Pinellas-style drug law enforcement. He was briefly a candidate in the sheriff's face before dropping out after failing to pay a filing fee. That leaves Swope, Gualtieri, and Rice.

Democratic challenger Scott Swope (swopeforsheriff.com)
For Swope, Gualtieri and Rice are birds of a feather -- traditional lawmen who don't think twice about the futility and expense of continuing to fight the war on marijuana. He offers a different vision, one that includes marijuana decriminalization and, eventually, legalization and regulation.

"Florida should go the way of more than a dozen other states and decriminalize," he said. "Then the sheriff's office wouldn’t have to expend limited resources trying to catch people in possession of small amounts. That would make it so those young people don't have a criminal record, they're still eligible for student loans, they can get jobs. It's a bit of a shocker for some of my audiences, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense to save tax dollars by not investigating and prosecuting possession of small amounts."

A marijuana bust of 20 grams or less is a misdemeanor in Florida, but it means a trip to jail, booking, and waiting to get bonded out. It also uses up law enforcement man-hours during arrest, booking, detention, and prosecution. Florida should and will decriminalize eventually, Swope said, but he wouldn't wait for the legislature to act if elected.

"As sheriff, I can't tell the legislature what to do, but I would have some influence over the county commission. I could lobby them to enact an ordinance making possession of less than 20 grams an ordinance violation," he explained. "That way, instead of deputies having to arrest people and put them in the criminal justice system, they could just issue an ordinance violation ticket, and the fines would go to Pinellas County.

Swope was philosophically open to legal, regulated marijuana sales, but wasn't pushing it as a campaign position. First things first, he said.

"From the perspective of this campaign, the majority of the population believes medical marijuana should be legal, and I do, too," he explained. "Decriminalization and regulation similar to alcohol and cigarettes, well, that's a bit more of a progressive position. I think it's going to be a two-step process: Make medical marijuana legal, and after enough time, and people realize these folks aren't committing crimes, then it's time for step two."

Swope also had an interesting perspective on the pain pill and pill mill issue.

"Pinellas County had a very serious problem with pain pills, we led the state four straight years in Oxycontin deaths, and it's still a serious problem, but unfortunately, when they really ramp up the pain pill mill enforcement, the pendulum can swing too far the other way," he noted. "There is a potentially serious negative impact on doctors and pharmacies trying to help people who need the help. If Florida were a little more progressive and had a medical marijuana law, perhaps many could treat themselves with that instead of narcotics."

The one-time deputy's drug war positions are winning him support outside of traditional Democratic constituencies, including Libertarian Party figures ranging from county stalwarts to presidential nominee Gary Johnson.

"I have the endorsement of the Libertarian Party here, and that has some of the Democrats scratching their heads. I just explain that I'm a lawyer familiar with the Constitution, I'm progressive-thinking and understand and appreciate the value of personal liberty and what the Constitution means and I will make damned sure the sheriff's office abides by the Constitution."

Pinellas County has 3,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, but most county offices, including the sheriff's, have been in Republican hands for decades. A victory for Democratic challenger Scott Swope in November would not only break the GOP's stranglehold on elected office in Pinellas, it could also bring a fresh new perspective to Florida law enforcement.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Gualtieri has just unleashed an offensive against "fake pot."

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

St. Petersburg, FL
United States

Georgia Governor Puts Welfare Drug Testing on Hold

Georgia's new welfare drug testing law was supposed to go into effect July 1, but that didn't happen. According to a spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal (R), the governor still supports the law, but will hold off on implementation until a legal challenge against a similar bill next door in Florida is resolved.

The Florida law took effect last July, but was blocked by a federal judge in October. That case is expected to go before the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Civil rights and civil liberties groups in Georgia said when the law was passed they would challenge it as soon as it is implemented. But they may not have to if the court, which has jurisdiction in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, strikes down the Florida law.

The federal courts have generally taken a dim view of random, suspicionless drug testing. They consider drug testing a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and have carved out only limited exceptions to the general prohibition against warrantless drug testing. Those exceptions include public safety-sensitive positions (airline pilots, truck drivers), law enforcement personnel engaged in anti-drug work, and high school students involved in athletics or extracurricular activities.

"The governor feels confident that the law in Florida, and therefore in Georgia, will be upheld," spokesman Brian Robinson told the Associated Press. "We plan to move forward on this as soon as we can, but we're willing to wait a little bit longer on the federal courts. There's just no need in us hopping in."

Under the Georgia law, the state Department of Human Services is mandated to create a drug testing program for welfare applicants at their own expense. Those who pass the test would be reimbursed, but those who don't would not only not be reimbursed, they would be ineligible to receive benefits for one month. A second positive test would result in a three-month ban, while a third positive test would result in one year of ineligibility.

Any applicant who fails a drug test must first pass another drug test before benefits would be reinstated. The department would have to provide people who fail the drug test with a list of drug treatment providers, but the state would not pay for drug treatment for them.

Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) told the AP Deal should have voiced his concerns about the law when it was being debated.

"During the debate, we talked about the viability of the law based on the Florida case," said Fort, who opposed the measure and was among the parties vowing legal action against the law. "It would've been appropriate for him at that time to have injected that point, but he's waiting until after he signed it, until it's about to be implemented. He chose not to say anything about it."

Ford said that if the law is upheld, it would set a dangerous precedent.

"The question is, if you're poor and need assistance, do you forfeit your constitutional rights or not?" he said. "I think that's dangerous. If it's poor people today, it could be other people tomorrow."

Atlanta, GA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

California continues to have conniptions over medical marijuana, a scientific review finds marijuana's Schedule I status "untenable," and much, much more:

National

On Monday, the Open Neurology Journal published a review of several recent clinical trials assessing the safety of medical marijuana that found marijuana's current placement as a Schedule I controlled substance with no medical value in not scientifically justified. "Based on evidence currently available, the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that marijuana has no medical use, or that information on safety is lacking," the authors wrote. The lead author is Dr. Igor Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. The review and its conclusions directly contradict the stance of the DEA and FDA.

California

Last Wednesday, the state Supreme Court declined to review a lower court decision that okayed the city of Los Angeles shutting down a Culver City dispensary. The city had used nuisance abatement measures to shut down the Organica dispensary, and the store had appealed, arguing that it was protected by state law allowing collectives.  LA city attorneys lauded the decision as vindicating their stance "dispensing and selling marijuana…remains illegal." Medical marijuana advocates beg to differ, and all are waiting on the Supreme Court to settle the issue when it decides another dispensary case later this year.

Last Thursday, Fresno banned outdoor grows within the city limits. The city council voted unanimously for the ban, which was recommended by Police Chief Jerry Dyer, who said outgrows promote violence in the city. A temporary ban had been in place since January. Under the new rule, cultivating the drug in an enclosed and secure structure, and in compliance with state marijuana law, is permitted.

Also last Thursday, a Santa Fe Springs councilman pleaded guilty in federal court to soliciting a bribe from a would-be medical marijuana dispensary operator. Councilman Joseph Serrano copped to the offense, then resigned his seat later that same day.

Last Friday, Rancho Mirage ordered a dispensary to close after city officials became aware of it when "residents in the area complained of smelling marijuana." The city is already being sued by two other dispensaries that have been forced out of business by the city's moratorium on dispensaries.

Also last Friday, a Sacramento ballot initiative signature-gathering effort came up short. Sponsored by the Committee for Safe Patient Access to Regulated Cannabis (CSPARC), the initiative sought to provide safe, regulated access for patients in the county. They needed 42,300 signatures by Monday and only had 25,000. While the measure will now not qualify for the November ballot, it could still qualify for a later election if it gets the necessary signatures by July 23.

On Monday, a state appeals court ruled that LA County's ban on dispensaries is illegal. "[… T]he County's complete ban on all 'medical marijuana dispensaries,' including collectives and cooperatives authorized under Health and Safety Code section 11362.775, conflicts with, and is thus preempted by, California's medical marijuana laws," wrote Judge P.J. Mallano in the unanimous decision handed down by the California Court of Appeals (2nd District) . The case is County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective, et al. The ruling is being seen as a major blow to arguments made in defense of the legality of dispensary bans.

Also on Monday, medical marijuana growers sued Yuba County over its new nuisance ordinance for marijuana cultivation. The lawsuit charges that the ordinance adopted by supervisors in May is overly restrictive and runs afoul of state law. Next week, the growers will file a request for a temporary restraining order to stop the ordinance from being enforced. The county's ordinance placed limits on the number of plants, the amount of ground the plants could be grown on, and the types of parcels where they could be grown. But the complaint states the ordinance doesn't address collectives, where one person might grow several plants on behalf of others, beyond the six-mature-plant limit stipulated in the ordinance.

Also on Monday, San Leandro put its plan to ban dispensaries on hold in the wake of the state appeals court ruling County of Los Angeles vs. Alternative Medical Cannabis Collective earlier the same day. That ruling invalidated LA County's ban on dispensaries. San Leandro has a temporary moratorium in place and had planned to make it permanent. That moratorium expires September 30.

On Wednesday, activists reported that a raid was underway at a Sacramento dispensary. The action, apparently undertaken by the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office was aimed at the First Amendment dispensary inside the Farmer's Market.

Colorado

Last Friday, a jury found medical marijuana patient Bob Crouse not guilty of possession with intent to distribute. Crouse, a leukemia sufferer argued that he needed large numbers of plants to ensure a steady supply of "phoenix tears," a slushy oil derives from marijuana plants. It takes a pound of marijuana to make an ounce of the oil. While state law limits patients to cultivating three plants, it also allows patients to possess as much as medically necessary. Crouse mounted an affirmative defense, and the jury agreed with him.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, a poll showed strong support for medical marijuana. The Public Policy Polling survey found that 57% of those polled said they would be okay with allowing patients to have access to medicinal pot, whereas 33% of voters were against it. The poll had a margin of error of +/- 3.3%.

On Monday, backers of a medical marijuana initiative said they had submitted enough signatures to make the November ballot. The Committee for Compassionate Medicine said it had more than the 11,000 additional signatures needed by Tuesday's deadline. The initiative would legalize marijuana for the treatment of certain illnesses and set up a dispensary system.

Michigan

Last Wednesday, an appeals court ruled patients can be arrested for marijuana possession if they don't have their state-issued paperwork or registry card. An appeals panel had earlier ruled that James Nicholson of Ottawa County could be immune from prosecution by producing his medical marijuana paperwork in court, but the full court disagreed, holding that medical marijuana registry cards and applications must be "reasonably accessible at the location" of an arrest for an individual to be immune from arrest.

Montana

Last Wednesday, medical marijuana entrepreneur Jason Christ filed a lawsuit against the Missoula Police Department, Missoula County Attorney’s Office, Missoula County 911, and other parties in US District Court. He is seeking $50 million in punitive damages, among other demands, for the defendants' "willful and malicious actions" that have caused him "emotional distress." Christ claims he is so harassed that it has "affected his bodily functions" and forced him to camp "down a vast network of unimproved dirt roads." The controversial Christ gained notoriety in 2009 and 2010 by helping thousands of people obtain physician recommendations for medical marijuana with his traveling one-day clinics, a move other medical marijuana advocates have criticized as providing fodder to foes, who successfully gutted the state law last year.

Nevada

On Monday, a legislator said he will introduce a medical marijuana bill next year that would allow registered patients a legal way to obtain their marijuana. Assemblyman Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) said Monday he requested the bill because the legislature has failed in its duty to create an appropriate way for legal users to acquire marijuana. Segerblom wants to establish certified marijuana dispensaries, licensed farms where marijuana may be grown and to allow patients to buy from California dispensaries. His bill also calls for this medical marijuana to be taxed, although a rate has not yet been established. Another medical marijuana bill is being introduced by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Details were not available.

New Jersey


Last Wednesday, a would-be dispensary operator sued the city of Camden over its rejection of his dispensary and cultivation application. Ilan Zaken, the owner of two vacant clothing stores, filed the lawsuit against the city, its zoning officer and its Zoning Board of Adjustments, alleging that they illegally rejected his application to use the buildings for the production of medical marijuana. Since New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act went into effect more than two years ago and since Gov. Chris Christie (R) cleared the way earlier this year, only two of the six nonprofits approved by the state to sell marijuana have won the necessary local permits.

Nevada Drug Dog Troopers Allege Official Misconduct

A group of Nevada Highway Patrol troopers and a retired police sergeant have filed a lawsuit against the Patrol and the Las Vegas Metro Police charging them with racketeering and corruption. The charges center on the department's training and use of drug-sniffing dogs.

Drug sniffing dogs can be trained to alert on cue. (US Navy)
The troopers' complaint opens a most unflattering window on personal bickering, bureaucratic infighting, and unethical behavior among state law enforcement officials, as well as alleging unconstitutional policing practices, including unlawful searches and seizures and training drug dogs to learn "cues" about when to signal they have found drugs.

The complaint centers on what the troopers say was the intentional effort of Nevada Highway Patrol Commander Chris Perry to undermine the drug dog program after it was approved by then Gov. Jim Gibbons and retaliation against drug dog-handling troopers by Perry and his underlings.

But it reveals patterns of racial profiling, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and enforcement driven by hopes of asset forfeiture (which, incidentally, funded the entire drug dog program). The suing troopers allege that other troopers and Las Vegas Metro Police narcotics officers would illegally poke and open packages at a Fedex processing center to make it easier for drug dogs to hit on them.

Equally seriously, the complaint alleges that some drug dogs were intentionally trained to provide false alerts that they had detected drugs by responding to cues from their handlers. Using a false drug dog alert as the basis for initiating a search is illegal.

The complaint accuses Perry and his underlings of violating the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizaion (RICO) act by conspiring to use the improperly trained drug dogs to systematically conduct illegal searches and seizures for financial benefit.

None of the individuals or law enforcement organizations named in the lawsuit have yet publicly responded.

Las Vegas, NV
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds continue to play hardball in California and local elected officials across the state are grappling with the issues. Meanwhile, Vermont moves ahead on dispensaries while New Hampshire's medical marijuana bill can't overcome a gubernatorial veto, and that's not all. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Monday, an applicant for a dispensary and grow site sued Maricopa County, accusing the county of purposefully stalling action on its application to prevent it from seeking a state operating license. The lawsuit by White Mountain Health Center Inc. charges the county would not certify or reject its registration certificate, one of the Arizona Department of Health Services' first requirements for obtaining a dispensary license. Maricopa County last year decided to not allow employees to accept, process, or issue permits for dispensaries or grows until marijuana becomes a federally approved drug, but that puts the county at odds with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which only allows local jurisdictions to impose "reasonable" zoning restrictions for dispensaries, and requires local zoning approval before a permit is processed by the state.

California

Last Tuesday, the Del Mar City Council opted to hear a report on a ballot initiative that seeks to improve access to medical marijuana in the city. The move came after activists handed in almost double the number of signatures required to place the initiative on the November ballot. The council could have adopted the initiative as written, put the issue on the ballot, or ordered a report, and it chose the latter. The proposed ordinance would allow dispensaries in the city and tax and regulate them. The council will have 10 days after receiving the report to either adopt the ordinance or order an election. The report is due by July 13.

Also last Tuesday, the Roseville City Council voted to ban outdoor grows. The council voted 4-1 to ban the grows after some residents complained about odors. The ordinance will take effect November 1, at the end of the outdoor growing season. The ordinance also limits indoor grows to fewer than 50 square feet in the grower's primary residence. Opponents of the ordinance argued to no avail that because Roseville doesn't allow dispensaries, patients must grow their own, and that indoor grows will cost patients money for equipment and operating costs.

Also last Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council held a contentious meeting as it considered whether to completely ban dispensaries later this summer. No votes were taken, but discussion was heated at times as the council revisited its ban on dispensaries and the temporary exemptions for 18 of them, which are slated to terminate on August 12.

Last Wednesday, Malibu's only two dispensaries announced they were closing, saying they had been hit with letters from federal prosecutors threatening prosecution and forfeiture. The letters to the Malibu dispensaries were among 34 sent to what the feds called "illegal marijuana operations" in Los Angeles County. The warning letters targeted all known dispensaries in the communities of Santa Fe Springs, Whittier, South El Monte, La Mirada, Diamond Bar, Artesia, Paramount, South Gate, City of Commerce, Agoura Hills and Malibu.

Last Thursday, Imperial Beach officials approved an initiative to repeal the city's ban on dispensaries and replace it with reasonable regulations. The county registrar said petitioners from Americans for Safe Access and the LGBT nonprofit Canvass for a Cause turned in enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The city could vitiate the need for a special election on the issue by approving the initiative at the City Council, which will be discussing the matter at its July 18 meeting.

Also last Thursday, Fresno made permanent its ban on outdoor marijuana grows. The city council in January approved a temporary ban, and last week decided to join the rest of Kern County in banning outdoor grows. Police said indoor grows were less likely to attract criminals, but medical marijuana advocates countered that instead of thieves jumping fences to steal plants, there will now be home invasion robberies. Advocates also complained that indoor grows require expensive equipment and waste energy.

Last Friday, Lake County's Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Committee met to hear an update about an urgency measure to adopt an interim law for marijuana growth but was precluded from directly discussing the merits of the proposal on Friday. The committee chair charged with making recommendations said it would be improper for the panel to discuss the ordinance at that meeting. The proposed temporary law would ban commercial medical marijuana cultivation as well as all growing on vacant properties and ban any grows within 600 feet of a school. It would also limit outdoor cultivation to three mature female or six immature marijuana plants on parcels smaller than half an acre, and six mature female or 12 immature plants on lands half an acre or larger, accessory to an approved residential use. Collective or cooperative organizations consisting of qualified patients and primary caregivers could grow as many as 36 mature female plants on parcels of at least five acres. Those groups would have to adhere to several rules, including that their site must contain a permitted residence and that their growing area must be screened from public view with a wooden fence.

Also last Friday, Vallejo police raided the Better Health Group Collective for the third time in the last three months. Better Health is one of at least five Vallejo dispensaries targeted in recent raids. Local prosecutors have charged six operators with felony drug charges, but dismissed charges against one.

Also last Friday, the mayor of Cudahy and two other city officials were arrested on federal charges they took bribes to support the opening of a dispensary in the city. Mayor David Silva and two city council members are accused of accepting $15,000 in cash from an informant working with the FBI. They're looking at up to 10 years in prison each. The city has a temporary moratorium on dispensaries, which will probably be renewed later this year.

On Monday, a bill to regulate and tax medical marijuana statewide died in Sacramento. Sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Assembly Bill 2312, would have created a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement to license and regulate industry enterprises. But the bill ran into opposition from some legislators over its provision requiring localities to allow dispensaries unless they are voted down in a referendum. When Ammiano amended the bill to allow local officials to ban dispensaries, the bill began to lose favor among some medical marijuana advocates. Ammiano said he didn't have the votes to get it out of committee, but that a committee will study the bill this summer and he will reintroduce it next year.

On Tuesday, Yuba County supervisors approved the introduction of amendments to the county's public nuisance ordinance for medical marijuana. But while the county is still fine-tuning its ordinance, local growers said it is ignoring critical issues, such as a collective grows and are threatening legal action if the county doesn't move faster. The amendments are supposed to be voted on at the board's July 10 meeting, but that may not happen after one supervisor said more work was needed.

Also on Tuesday, hundreds of unhappy medical marijuana advocates piled into the Lake County supervisors' meeting to protest a pending medical marijuana ordinance. The multitude created a log-jam at the Lakeport courthouse security station, causing the hearing to be delayed until July. The crowd cheered when they learned the hearing was rescheduled for a larger venue. The hearing will be held July 9 in the fairgrounds' theater in Lakeport.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Fort Collins officials announced that an initiative to repeal a ban on dispensaries had qualified for the November ballot. Organizers needed 4,214 valid voter signatures, and election officials stopped counting at 4,302 with 743 more signatures unchecked. They had turned in more than 9,000 signatures last week. The city attorney's office will now draft language for the initiative at the next meeting of the city council on July 17. Last year, voters in the city approved the ban; this year, they will now have a chance to change their minds.

Montana

Last Friday, Montana Republicans approved a resolution calling for regulated medical marijuana. Republicans in the state legislature were responsible for gutting the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law last year, but the new position is that state Republicans would "support action by the next legislature to create a workable and realistic regulatory structure." Montana Democrats a week earlier approved a change in their platform saying they supported access for those who need medical marijuana.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, the state Senate fell short in a bid to override a veto of the medical marijuana bill passed earlier by the legislature. As he did in 2009, Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed it, and as in 2009, proponents were unable to get enough votes to override.

Vermont

Last Friday, state officials received four applications from potential dispensary operators. State officials are not revealing who the applicants are and where they want to operate, saying they consider that information confidential. The first dispensaries could be operating by the end of the year, but their locations and identities would be revealed when they seek local approvals.

Washington

On Tuesday, the Tacoma City Council heard testimony about a proposal to allow dispensaries and collective grows to operate in the city. Nearly 11 months after the council issued a moratorium on business licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries, Tuesday's hearing gave the public a chance to weigh in on a zoning framework that since has been formulated to allow such businesses, but regulate them. About a dozen people spoke, most in favor of the proposal. The proposal would allow collective gardens in the city's industrial zones and in certain downtown and mixed-use zones. That essentially would concentrate such operations in Tacoma’s port area and along South Tacoma Way. Dispensaries would be allowed in city zoning districts where commercial uses now are allowed.

Chicago Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

The Chicago City Council voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana -- a little more than a half ounce. The measure, which had the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, passed on a lopsided 42-3 vote.

The winds of change are blowing in the Windy City (wikimedia.org)
The city now joins more than 90 other Illinois localities that have decriminalized pot possession, including several in suburban Cook County. Fifteen states have also reduced penalties for pot possession, either by removing the possibility of jail time for misdemeanor possession, or by outright decriminalizing it by making it a civil infraction, or, in the case of Alaska, not making possession at home an offense at all.

Under the measure, adults caught in possession of 15 grams or less would not be arrested, but would be cited and would face fines of $200 to $500 and up to 10 hours of community service. Under the existing ordinance, possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

Police could, however, still arrest those cannot present identification or who present a threat to public safety. Also, people caught smoking marijuana or possessing it on school grounds or in parks would still be arrested, as would minors.

Chicago police arrested more than 18,000 people on small-time (less than 10 grams) marijuana possession charges last year. Each arrest involves about four officers -- two to arrest and two to transport -- said a statement from the mayor's office last week.

"These arrests tied up more than 45,000 police hours," Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in the statement. "The new ordinance nearly cuts that time in half, which equals an approximate $1 million in savings, while freeing up cops to address more serious crime."

And Chicago has serious crime to worry about. Homicides are up 38% over last year.

"The change in enforcement policy is a smart one," said Dan Riffle, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Because of the ordinance passed today, a lot of young people in Chicago will have college educations, fulfilling careers, and bright futures to look forward to instead of the job-killing scar of a criminal record. All the while, Chicago police can stay on the beat protecting communities from violent criminals and real threats to public safety."

Chicago, IL
United States

New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Veto Stands

New Hampshire residents will remain without legal access to medical marijuana after an attempt to override a gubernatorial veto failed narrowly in the state Senate Wednesday. The Senate needed 16 votes to override Gov. John Lynch's (D) veto, but came up three short.

Since the Senate failed to get the necessary votes for an override, no vote was taken in the House. Two Democrats who had voted for the bill, Senate Bill 409, changed course and voted to uphold Lynch's veto, but even if they hadn't, the Senate would still have been one vote short because another "yes" voter, Sen. Andy Sanborn, had resigned so he could run for the Senate in another district.

This is the second medical marijuana veto for Gov. Lynch. He killed similar legislation back in 2009 and appears immune to efforts by legislators to find a medical marijuana bill he can live with.

"Gov. Lynch has chosen to bury his head in the sand on this issue, and once again he was able to get enough lawmakers to join him and deprive the people of New Hampshire of much-needed relief," said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, which has been deeply involved in the effort. "We will continue working with lawmakers to allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana free from the fear of arrest. We are hopeful that the new governor will be more reasonable."

Concord, NH
United States

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