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Massachusetts Drug Lab Review Getting Special Court Sessions

Court administrators in Massachusetts are scrambling to set up special court sessions to address the cases of more than a thousand people imprisoned after being convicted of drug crimes based on lab evidence submitted by Annie Dookhan, the now disgraced former state crime lab analyst. Dookhan herself was arrested last Friday for her fraudulent work at the lab, as the scandal continues to reverberate across the state's criminal justice system.

According to State Police reports obtained by the Boston Globe, Dookhan has admitted not performing proper lab tests on drug samples for "two or three years," forging colleagues' signatures, and improperly removing evidence from storage. Citing the same reports, the Boston Herald reported that Dookhan had admitted to "intentionally turning a negative sample into a positive a few times" and to "dry-labbing" samples, where she classified samples as drugs without actually testing them.

"I messed up bad, it's my fault," Dookhan told police, explaining that "she did what she did in order to get more work done."

Dookhan's misconduct, which first came to light in June 2011, has already shaken the Dept. of Public Health, whose commissioner, John Auerbach, has resigned, as have two other managers at the Hinton Laboratories facility in Jamaica Plain where the lab was located. The crime lab was consolidated earlier this year into the Dept. of Public Safety as part of a budgetary move.

The incident has also raised the question of systemic issues affecting the crime lab. In internal emails leaked to the Globe, laboratory staff went on record as far back as 2008 describing "the situation in the evidence office [as] past the breaking point." That was before some of the now former management at Hinton took those positions, though not before Dookhan. The Globe article describes "a staff drowning in work, instances of misplaced evidence in crime cases, and mounting frustrations over the Patrick administration’s seeming indifference."

Attorney General Martha Coakley and the State Police charge that Dookhan's mishandling of drug evidence is a crime under the state's broadly written witness intimidation law. She is also charged with falsifying academic credentials for claiming a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, a degree which the school said it never issued.

Dookhan tested some 60,000 drug samples in 34,000 criminal cases during her nine years at the now shuttered lab. Some 1,141 people are currently serving drug sentences in state prisons or county jails in cases where she had a hand in testing the drug evidence. It is not known how many of those cases have been tainted by Dookhan's actions.

Now, the state court system is beginning to deal with the fallout. Twenty defendants jailed pending trial have already been released, and hearings will begin in mid-October to hear motions to put the sentences of already-convicted inmates on hold and to request bail.

One defense attorney, Bernard Grossberg, who has already seen one client's sentence put on hold because Dookhan was involved in his case, told the Associated Press that judges hearing the cases in the special sessions would need to hear little more than that Dookhan was involved in the testing.

"My feeling is as soon as they call the case, if Dookhan's name is on the drug certificate, nothing further needs to be asked and the sentence should be put on hold immediately," Grossberg said. "Later on, you can figure out motions to withdraw guilty pleas or upset convictions."

The cases of the people currently serving time after conviction where Dookhan was involved are only the beginning. Gov. Patrick Deval (D) has said he wants to deal with them first, then the cases of people who have already done their time and those currently awaiting trial.

Boston, MA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Last issue, we reported that the DEA had taken the week off. Well, they're back, and so is the push-back. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, the Women's CannaBusiness Network held a press conference in Washington, DC, to call on President Obama to cease enforcement actions against medical cannabis providers while the administration reviews its policies to determine whether they are in the public interest. The group is a project of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

On Monday, Americans for Safe Access called for Thursday demonstrations at Obama campaign headquarters across the country "in an effort to draw attention to the Obama Administration's aggressive efforts to shut down legal medical marijuana dispensaries and obstruct the passage of laws that would regulate such activity." Demos are set for Washington, DC, as well as in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.

California

Last Wednesday, the DEA raided Green Heart Collective facilities in Anderson and Redding. "They broke all the windows, vandalized the inside of the building and took all of the medicine," owner Gina Munday said. "We were so surprised." No arrests have been made so far.

Also last Wednesday, the Encinitas city council approved a dispensary initiative for the 2014 ballot. Initiative backers the Patient Care Association had signatures verified by the registrar of voters on August 8, two days before the state deadline for the 2012 ballot, but the council would have had to have called a special meeting to place it on the ballot. It failed to do so.

Last Thursday, Harborside Health Center asked a federal judge to stop its landlord from trying to shut it down. Harborside and its landlords have been hit with threat letters from federal prosecutors, and its San Jose landlord had moved to force it out. But Harborside is fighting everything to do with the federal threats.

Last Friday, Vallejo police raided Nature's Love Collective for the second time. They arrested the operator, just as they did four months ago, the last time they raided it. Vallejo police have raided  nine dispensaries this year despite the city voting to tax and regulate them.

On Monday, an initiative to overturn the LA dispensary ban qualified for the ballot.  City Clerk June Lagmay said activists needed 27,425 valid signatures for their measure to qualify and that a statistical sampling of the signatures showed they had turned in 110% of the amount needed. The city council can now repeal its "gentle ban" ordinance, call a special election, or put the measure on the March 5 city election ballot. In the meantime, the ban is on hold, although LAPD has said it intends to continue busting dispensaries.

Oregon

On Tuesday, the DEA raided the High Hopes Farm grow operation outside Jacksonville. James Bowman, a longtime activist, owns the farm and went public about his activities last spring with a spread in the Oregonian newspaper. Bowman could be the single largest medical marijuana producer in the state. He wasn't arrested, but agents plowed under his crop.

Vermont

As of Sunday, the Vermont Department of Safety has granted conditional approval to two dispensary applicants. One applicant, the Champlain Valley Dispensary, has been approved for Burlington and hopes to be open and serving patients within six months. A second applicant, Patients First Inc., has been approved for Waterbury. The department received five applications this year, but three of them did not meet minimum standards. Under a 2011 law, the state can have four dispensaries and will accept more applications next year if that number isn't reached this year.

Chronicle Film Review: Lynching Charlie Lynch

Lynching Charlie LynchA Film by Rick Ray (2012, Rick Rays Films, 1:40, $29.95 DVD)

Of all the various fronts of the war on drugs, the assault on medical marijuana patients and providers may not be the stupidest -- that distinction probably belongs to the ban on hemp farming -- but it is arguably the cruelest. No fair-minded observer can doubt that marijuana soothes many maladies, and there is an ever-increasing mountain of peer-reviewed scientific and medical research to back that up.

And no one can listen to the testimonials of patients suffering serious ailments about the relief they've found with marijuana without empathizing with their all-too-real suffering. My personal experience is only anecdotal, but I've been meeting bona fide patients for years now, people with multiple sclerosis, people undergoing chemotherapy, people debilitated by agonizing migraine headaches -- all of whom swear by the weed.

Sure, California's medical marijuana allows virtually anyone with $75 and the ability to say "chronic pain" to get a medical recommendation, and many people who arguably suffer no real infirmity take advantage of that, but the fact that some people are using medical marijuana recommendations as a "get out of jail free" card certainly does not negate the reality of marijuana's therapeutic value--it's just one more hypocritical artifact of prohibition.

But it's been nearly 16 years since voters in California passed Proposition 215, starting a social and political phenomenon that has now spread across the country, and the federal government remains intransigent. At times aided and abetted by recalcitrant local sheriffs, prosecutors, and other elected officials, the Justice Department right now is busily putting the screws to California's dispensaries. They've managed to run more than 400 of them out of business in the past year by the exercise of federal muscle: DEA raids, threats of federal criminal prosecution -- sometimes carried out -- and threats of asset forfeiture directed at dispensary landlords.

It seems so dry when you just type the words out on the page, but what we are talking about is the destroying of people's lives by their own government, a war waged against citizens by the people who are supposed to be serving them. Imagine what a DEA SWAT team raid is like, as a nonviolent dispensary operator who's targeted -- and that can be just the beginning. Then they take all your possessions, your computers, your bank accounts, leaving you penniless, probably car-less, possibly homeless -- if you're lucky. If you're not, you're then staring into the maw of the federal criminal prosecution machine, a particularly Kafkaesque prospect when it comes to federal medical marijuana prosecutions, where dispensary operators become "drug dealers" in trials where the words "medical marijuana" are not to be spoken.

Charlie Lynch's sad saga begins a few years earlier, back when George W. Bush was still president, but his tale is all too familiar by now. In his powerfully rendered Lynching Charlie Lynch, award-winning filmmaker, writer, and producer Rick Ray manages to illuminate the human reality (and the inhuman idiocy) of the war on medical marijuana distributors. As many Chronicle readers no doubt recall, Lynch operated the Central Coast Compassion Center in Morro Bay, California, until he was raided, arrested, and convicted on federal marijuana trafficking charges in federal court.

Through interviews with Lynch, his neighbors, his landlord, and local attorneys and politicians, interspersed with TV news accounts and surveillance videos, Ray portrays a socially awkward straight arrow of a man, whose most serious offense before his run-in with Uncle Sam was a speeding ticket (which his mother explains he got expunged by taking a defensive driving course). Lynch found his way to medical marijuana not out of any affinity for the weed or because he hung in stoner milieus (he didn't), but because he heard it might help with his excruciating migraine headaches (it did).

Lynch subsequently tired of driving miles to the nearest dispensary and decided he was interested in opening one in San Luis Obispo County, where he lived. The fastidious Lynch researched the laws, even asking the DEA what its policy on medical marijuana dispensaries was -- it was up to state and local law enforcement, they told him. He filled out his forms, got his business license, rented a property, and had a ribbon-cutting with the Chamber of Commerce in attendance. He had the support of the mayor and other town officials. He was operating within the mandates of state law. He thought he was doing everything right.

None of that mattered to Sheriff Pat Hedges, who like too many in law enforcement who cannot accept laws they don't believe in, and tried fruitlessly for a year to find some way to bring Lynch down. His deputies surveilled the premises, they followed workers and patients from the dispensary, they tried unsuccessfully to set up undercover buys, but they couldn't come up with enough evidence of any violation of state law to get a judge to sign a search warrant.

Then, in a betrayal of his community and out of a sense of frustration that he was unable to nail Lynch, Hedges sicced the feds on him. Hedges' deputies joined forces with DEA agents to raid the Compassion Center and Lynch's residence, where he was shoved to the floor naked with a rifle pointed to his head.

Lynching Charlie Lynch tells the story of his transformation from respected local businessman to convicted federal drug dealer, the sleazy legal machinations of the federal prosecutors turning his prosecution and trial into a sordid charade, a mockery of justice. But his story is bigger than one man. It is also a story about a healing plant and about a nation that can't seem to come to grips with it, a nation that somehow thinks it's justifiable or even sane to persecute people for growing plants for others.

Along the way, Rick Ray takes a few side-trips that only add to the documentary. He talks to University of California at San Francisco researcher Dr. Donald Abrams about how he recommends marijuana for a wide variety of ailments and he talks to Professor Lyle Craker, the Massachusetts plant scientist who has sought -- so far unsuccessfully -- permission from the DEA to grow marijuana for the purpose of conducting clinical trials of its medical efficacy. The stolid, white-haired researcher offers up a powerful indictment of a corrupted federal research process.

Ray also talks to some representatives of the other side, and I want to thank him for giving folks like California anti-drug activist Paul Chabot, anti-marijuana fanatic Dr. Eric Voth and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America's David Evans the opportunity to display their character with their own words. When confronted with Lynch's fate, the smarmy, sanctimonious Chabot, a self-described "Christian" who says there are no legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries, said that he would pray for him "and maybe he will come to terms with what he did and join our side some day."

Similarly, Evans does his best to appear to be a thoughtful, rational human being, but gives himself away when he goes on a rant about the dangers of growing pot."They endanger others by setting up these facilities when there is no proof there," the former prosecutor muttered darkly. "He could have harmed people, killed people, caused cancer, caused birth defects. If someone chooses to put other people at risk, they should be prepared to take the consequences."

Uh, we're talking about growing a plant here.

Charlie Lynch's story isn't over yet, although he's already lost most everything. One of the last scenes of the film shows him putting his remaining belongings into storage after his house went into foreclosure in the wake of his prosecution. And he is still waiting to find out if he will have to go to federal prison. He's already been sentenced, but is appealing.

Lynch may be appealing, but what happened to him at the hands of his own government is appalling. Rick Ray deserves major credit for bringing his compelling story to the screen with grace, tenderness, and just the right touch of righteous indignation.

California Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Bill Signed Into Law

California Gov. Jerry Brown Monday signed into law Assembly Bill 472, the "911 Good Samaritan Bill," aimed at reducing fatal drug overdoses by removing the threat of criminal prosecution for people who seek assistance for people suffering from them. California becomes the 10th state to enact such a law since New Mexico led the way back in 2007.

fatal drug overdose (wikimedia.org)
Sponsored by Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), the bill received bipartisan support in the legislature and was cosponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU of California, and the Health Officers Association of California.

"This is a great victory for parents. None of us want our kids overdosing on drugs, but as I told the legislature, I'd rather have my kid around to yell at than attend a funeral," said Ammiano. "The young friends of those who overdose shouldn’t hesitate to seek help because they fear arrest. With the Governor's signature, they won't have to."

"This is an incredibly special day for the thousands of California family members who worked so hard and for so long to pass this life-saving bill," said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager of the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is just a small first step in reducing the number of fatal overdoses in California, but it's a deeply important one."

Drug overdose deaths are the number one cause of accidental death in California, as in many other states. The new law encourages people to seek emergency health services when they witness an overdose by providing limited protections from charge and prosecution for low-level drug law violations, including possession of small amounts of drugs. Those who sell drugs are not protected under the new law.

"I never go a day without thinking of my son Jeff and I never will," said Denise Cullen, cofounder of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing). "Losing a child to a drug overdose is a tragedy in ways I can't explain, but fighting so hard for him and for all the parents just like me, to get this law passed is really the best possible way I can honor him."

"After forty years of the war on drugs, California is finally righting its priorities by putting saving lives ahead of making petty arrests. The message is loud and clear: call for help in case of an overdose. This is an important step toward better drug and public health policies and it will save lives," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, senior policy advocate for the ACLU of California.

"The physician Health Officers who provide leadership for public health programs in every county are grateful to Governor Brown for partnering with us on this common sense, no-cost approach to saving lives," said Bruce Pomer, executive director of Health Officers Association of California. "It's urgently needed."

Now the task is to get the word out to those populations where it will do the most good. Advocates from dozens of state and local organizations will be working to do just that, both before the new law goes into effect on January 1, and throughout the following year.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Mass. Crime Lab Scandal Threatens 34,000 Drug Cases

Some 34,000 eastern Massachusetts drug cases could go up in smoke in the wake of a still unfolding scandal around a state laboratory analyst who resigned under fire earlier this year. State Police have notified prosecutors that some 64,000 drug samples involving the cases may be tainted because of alleged misconduct by former analyst Annie Dookhan in conducting tests on substances submitted to her by them.

Dookhan worked at the Hinton crime lab in Jamaica Plain from 2003 until she resigned in June. According to the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which was briefed on the scandal by the Deval Patrick administration last week, the meeting revealed why State Police are now questioning the reliability of the drug evidence Dookhan worked on.

"The lab analyst in question had unsupervised access to the drug safe and evidence room, and tampered with evidence bags, altered the actual weight of the drugs, did not calibrate machines correctly, and altered samples so that they would test as drugs when they were not," the association wrote in a letter to its members.

Executive Office of Public Safety and Security spokesman Terrel Harris confirmed to the Boston Globe that Dookhan had "unsupervised access to the evidence lockup," but declined to address the other allegations in the association's letter, saying they were the focus of an ongoing investigation.

Dookhan's misconduct came to light after her coworkers at the Department of Public Health lab told State Police last year they would not testify under oath about the results of drug tests she performed. But there were signs going back years that something funny was going on.

In 2004, for instance, Dookhan whipped through some 9,239 samples while her colleagues averaged only one-third that number of drug tests. Last year, the Department of Public Health discovered misconduct by Dookhan, but downplayed it, telling law enforcement mistakes had occurred on only one day and had only affected 90 cases. The department also waited six months before alerting police and prosecutors to the problem.

The Dookhan scandal has left heads rolling in its wake. Last Thursday, state officials announced that the lab director, Dr. Linda Han, had resigned and the director of analytical chemistry, Julie Nassif, had been fired. Dookhan's direct supervisor now faces disciplinary hearings, too.

[Update: Now, more heads have rolled. On Monday, Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach fell on his sword, resigning with a public statement. It was clear there was "insufficient quality monitoring, reporting and investigating on the part of supervisors and managers" at the lab, which his department had overseen before it was transferred to state police as part of a budgetary realignment. "What happened at the drug lab was unacceptable and the impact on people across the state may be devastating, particularly for some within the criminal justice system." Auerbach said in the statement. "We owe it to ourselves and the public to make sure we understand exactly how and why this happened."]

Dookhan's fiddling with the drug evidence is so damaging because prosecutors have to prove that substances seized by police are scientifically proven to be illegal drugs and that they have not been tampered with between arrest and trial.

While the state has set up an ongoing conference of prosecutors, defense lawyers, court officers, and others to review the cases that might be affected, defense attorneys are already beginning to file motions for dismissal in pending cases and prosecutors in three counties -- Plymouth, Norfolk, and Suffolk -- have begun asking judges to reduce or eliminate bail requirements in cases where they have confirmed that Dookhan was involved in the drug testing. But prosecutors also vowed to try to convict if there is credible evidence.

"If someone is held or convicted on tainted evidence, we won't hesitate to take every appropriate step to bring the case to light and correct the record,’’ Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said in a statement last Thursday. "But if there are credible facts and evidence to support the legitimacy of an implicated case, we'll work just as hard to ensure that the defendant is held accountable."

Jamaica Plain, MA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The battle of Los Angeles continues, Arizona prosecutors don't like their medical marijuana law, and a bill is pre-filed in Kentucky. There's also lots more going on. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, state and county prosecutors challenged the medical marijuana program in court. Attorney General Tom Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery asked a court hearing a dispensary application case to rule that the voter-approved law is illegal because it conflicts with federal drug laws. The Republican prosecutors are specifically targeting the dispensary provisions of the law, but argued in court that all aspects of the state law violate federal drug laws. In the case at hand, a would-be Maricopa County dispensary is suing the county because officials wouldn't provide zoning clearances required under the law. The officials had been advised by Montgomery that county employees could face prosecution for aiding and abetting drug crimes.

Arkansas

As predicted last week, Arkansas state officials announced that a medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the ballot. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act would allow patients suffering from specified diseases or medical conditions to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. It envisions a system of state-licensed nonprofit dispensaries, and would allow patients or their caregivers to grow their own only if they are not within five miles of a dispensary. In that case, patients could grow up to six flowering plants. Patients could possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana.

California

Last Wednesday, Los Angeles asked the DEA to help it shut down dispensaries. The request came from Councilman Bernard Parks, who filed a successful motion with the council. Parks is a former LA police chief. The council recently voted to close down all dispensaries in the city, although that is likely not the end of the affair (see below).

Also last Wednesday, a judge in Riverside ruled that the city can't ban a dispensary. Riverside County Superior Court Judge John Vineyard dissolved an injunction to shut down a dispensary in the city, agreeing that current law makes local government closures of the clinics unconstitutional. The decision affects The Closet Patient Care dispensary on Elizabeth Street in Riverside, but could be a precedent for other cases in the city. The city immediately said it would appeal the ruling.

Also last Wednesday, a Costa Mesa collective filed suit against the city over its ban on dispensaries. The Green Health Association argues that the city cannot legally ban nonprofit collectives and says it is operating with the state attorney general's guidelines. 

Also last Wednesday, the city of Chowchilla banned public medical marijuana use. It passed an ordinance limiting smoking or any other type of medical marijuana consumption to inside a private residence and requiring all cultivation to take place in an enclosed, locked area.

Also last Wednesday, the California Supreme Court dismissed Pack vs. Long Beach, a case that could have decided whether cities can lawfully regulate medical marijuana. The court held the case was moot after the attorney for the petitioners abandoned his original argument that Long Beach's short-lived rules to allow and regulate medical marijuana violated federal law. The state Supreme Court is still considering several other cases that will determine the power of cities to ban collectives or dispensaries.

On Tuesday, word spread that the Berkeley Patients Group would reopen in a new location. The iconic dispensary had been forced to close in May after federal prosecutors threatened its landlord with seizure of his property. The new location is just four blocks from its original location on San Pablo Avenue. No opening date has been set at the new site and officials from Berkeley Patients Group refused to go on record about their plans.

Also on Tuesday, Butte County's effort to ban outdoor grows hit a bump in the road. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey surprised supervisors by announcing the ordinance was unconstitutional as written. The ordinance envisioned charging violators with a misdemeanor, but the prosecutor said that was the domain of state law, not county ordinances. Now, it's back to the drawing board for the supervisors.

Also on Tuesday, the Wheatland city council banned dispensaries within the city limits. It passed two ordinances, one banning dispensaries and the other barring outdoor grows within the city limits and setting conditions on indoor ones.

On Wednesday, activists in Los Angeles turned in more than 50,000 signatures on petitions seeking a referendum to overturn the city council's recently-passed ban on dispensaries. The city now has 30 days to either rescind the ban or to call a special election to let the voters decide. That could come in March or May.

Kentucky


On Monday, state Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) pre-filed a medical marijuana bill for the 2013 session. He said he wanted to get a head start on building support in the legislature.

Montana

On Tuesday, the co-founder of Montana Cannabis agreed to plead guilty to a federal drug charge related to 2011 raids on dispensaries across the state. Chris Lindsay faces up to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to operate a drug-involved premises. Lindsay said he copped to the plea agreement to avoid other pending charges and because earlier court rulings made it clear he would not be able to testify about his belief that Montana Cannabis was in compliance with the state’s law. Lindsay is also the public face of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which has filed a lawsuit to block portions of the law rewritten by the Republican legislature and which is backing a referendum asking voters to repeal the law. That referendum will be on the November ballot.

Oregon

On Sunday, activists said they would try to get PTSD added to the medical marijuana list of qualifying conditions. Two previous efforts have failed. This time, the push is being led by veteran's groups. Oregon is home to some 300,000 veterans.

Washington

Last Thursday, the DEA sent threat letters to 23 dispensaries operating near schools. In the letters to the dispensaries, DEA Special Agent-In-Charge Matthew Barnes contended the dispensaries could face the seizure and forfeiture of assets, as well as criminal prosecution. The letter informs dispensary operators and property owners to cease the sale and distribution of marijuana within 30 days.

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds strike again in California, this time in Orange County, and meanwhile, the battle over the LA dispensary ban heats up. There's plenty more news, too. Let's get to it:

California

Since mid-August, signature gatherers have been hitting the streets in Los Angeles in an effort to collect 27,400 voter signatures to put on the ballot a referendum to repeal the recent ban on dispensaries. They have about 10 more days to go, and if they succeed, the referendum would go before voters in March. The more immediate effect would be a temporary suspension of the ordinance. Dispensaries in the city have until September 6 until they are supposed to shut down.

Last Wednesday, San Francisco Mission District property owners asked the feds to shut down a dispensary that hasn't even opened yet. Those owners of "white linen" restaurants and family-oriented businesses have asked the Justice Department to close down the Morado Collective, even though the Planning Commission approved the dispensary's permit at a hearing the same day. The Mission Miracle Mile Business Improvement District had its president, local realtor James Nunemacher, write a letter to US Attorney Melinda Haag urging her to shut it down because it "is incompatible with the family shopping that predominates the immediate area in the daytime and the dining/entertainment venues that are active in the evening." The gentrifiers have spoken.

Last Thursday, patients and supporters filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the LA ban. The Patient Care Association and 11 individual patients are seeking an injunction to block the city from implementing the ban. They argue that California law preempts the city's ban, that it violates dispensary owners' rights to due process, and that it violates their right to freely assemble and associate to cultivate medical marijuana.

Also last Thursday, Butte County staff released a draft of the proposed new medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. It would ban outdoor cultivation and set limits on the amounts that could be grown indoors based on the size of the parcel. On lots of an acre or less, the grow area could not exceed 50 square-feet. On lots one to five acres, the allowable grow area is 150 square-feet. There is no size limit on lots five acres or larger, but a maximum of 99 plants could be grown. The ordinance includes limits on how powerful indoor grow lights can be and requires a ventilation and filtering system that doesn't allow the smell of the pot outside the building. It also bans growing within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, child care centers, and other youth-oriented facilities.

Last Friday, a Lake County judge granted a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the county's recently adopted interim cultivation ordinance. The injunction is good until January 1. It allows all qualified people and collectives growing marijuana in conformity with state law at the time the county adopted its interim medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. Four people sued the county after the Board of Supervisors adopted the ordinance on July 9. It limited the number of marijuana plants allowed for outdoor cultivation and banned commercial growing as well as growing on vacant lands. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to extend the interim ordinance for another 45 days anyway.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors targeted more than 60 dispensaries in Orange County for closure by filing three asset forfeiture lawsuits and sending threat letters to the dispensaries. That brings the number of dispensaries targeted for closure in the Central District of California to more than 300. In all, 66 warning letters were sent to marijuana dispensaries in Anaheim and La Habra. Some have closed recently, but federal authorities said 38 remain open. As part of the offensive, DEA agents raided two Anaheim dispensaries.

Colorado

Last Friday, a state court held that federal law trumps the state's medical marijuana law. The ruling came in a case pitting a grower against a dispensary. The grower sought payment for marijuana that had already been delivered, but Arapahoe County District Judge Charles Pratt ruled for the dispensary. In his opinion, he held that since all marijuana sales are illegal under federal law, the contract between the grower and the dispensary was null and void. Later in the same ruling, Pratt wrote that "any state authorization to engage in the manufacture, distribution or possession of marijuana creates an obstacle to full execution of federal law. Therefore, Colorado's marijuana laws are preempted by federal marijuana law." Because the ruling is by a district court judge, it is not binding, but it has the medical marijuana community concerned.

On Monday, the Denver City Council approved a ban on all outdoor advertising for dispensaries. The vote came after a public hearing last week where medical marijuana advocates were split over the issue and council members voiced strong support for it. The council killed an alternate, more limited plan that would have blocked outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of schools, day care facilities, and parks. Dispensaries can still advertise on their buildings and can still place ads in newspapers, magazines, or online, and they can display their logos at charity events they sponsor. The city had been inundated with dispensary flyers and young men twirling large cardboard arrows advertising "Eighths for $25" and the like.

Maine

Last Monday, state officials held a public hearing on proposed new cultivation rules. The rules will impose restrictions on where and under what conditions patients or caregivers can grow their own medicine. Patients, dispensary operators, growers, and advocates objected to various portions of the proposed rules. The last day for public comment was Wednesday.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the agency overseeing the state's medical marijuana program said it could be up and running by this fall. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said its review panel for adding new qualifying medical conditions is just about set, but patient advocates are skeptical, saying the agency is at least two years behind on making recommendations on requests to add new conditions.

Washington

Last Friday, the state Department of Revenue began doing audits of dispensaries, escalating a battle over whether they should be collecting tax revenues for the state. The department has told dispensaries since 2010 that they must remit sale taxes on their transactions, and 50 dispensaries have registered with the department to do so. But the department believes there are other dispensaries out there that haven't registered, and now it's going after them. Some dispensary operators and defense attorneys argue that by paying state taxes, dispensaries are incriminating themselves in the federal crime of marijuana sales.

Over the weekend, medical marijuana advocates may have skirted state election laws at Hempfest by handing out fliers against the I-502 legalization initiative. Dozens of medical marijuana businesses used Hempfest to lobby against I-502, but one of them may have violated election laws by handing out anti-I-502 posters that failed to say who had paid for them.

On Tuesday, the owners of two dispensaries pleaded guilty to federal marijuana trafficking charges. Brionne Keith Corbray, owner and operator of three GAME Collectives in White Center, Northeast Seattle, and West Seattle, copped to conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Craig Dieffenbach and Jing Jing Mu, owners of the Seattle Cannabis Cooperative, copped to conspiracy to distribute and money-laundering charges. All admitted in their plea agreements to selling marijuana to people who were not patients. Conspiracy to distribute marijuana is punishable by up to 40 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Conspiracy to launder money is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

New Jersey Good Samaritan Overdose Bill Passes

A bill designed to reduce drug overdose deaths by providing some legal protection to people who witness them and summon medical assistance has been approved by the state legislature and now awaits the signature of Gov. Chris Christie (R). The bill passed the Senate Monday on a 21-10 vote; it had cleared the Assembly back in May.

fatal drug overdose (wikimedia.org)
The bill, Assembly Bill 578, also known as the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act, would provide limited legal protection against drug possession charges for people who witness an overdose and call 911. It is aimed at reducing drug overdose deaths by reducing the fear of arrest for those might call for assistance.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death, replacing automobile accidents. More than 27,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2007, most of them from prescription opiates, either by themselves or in combination with other drugs, including alcohol.

Many drug overdose deaths occur in the presence of others and take hours to occur, meaning that there is time and opportunity to call for help. But strict enforcement of drug possession laws against would-be Samaritans discourages some from making that call.

Advocates are applauding the passage of the life-saving bill.

"Calling 911 should never be a crime. Our current policies focus on punishment and drive people into the shadows and away from help," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Saving lives should always take priority over punishing behavior.  A Good Samaritan law will encourage people to get help."

"When a life is on the line we can ill afford to waste time weighing the consequences of calling 911 or deciding whether or not to be truthful about what substance was used to overdose," said Senate bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex). "By narrowly eliminating the criminal consequences one might face after calling 911 to report an overdose, I hope to diminish any hesitation one might have about doing the right thing."

"I and my family are so grateful to the senate for passing this life-saving legislation," said Patty DiRenzo, whose son Salvatore died of an overdose at age 27. "We, and the other families who have lost loved ones to overdose, will be advocating with Gov. Christie to urge him to sign this bill. It's extremely important that we prevent future overdose deaths and spare other families the grief that mine has endured."

If Gov. Christie signs the bill into law, New Jersey will become the ninth state to enact a Good Samaritan law. The others are Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington. Similar legislation is pending in several other states.

Trenton, NJ
United States

No Warrant Needed for Illinois Drug Audio Recordings [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

No warrant needed for listening in on drug suspects (wikimedia.org)
In Illinois, the war on drugs has delivered yet another blow to citizens' privacy rights. In the Land of Lincoln, it is illegal for citizens to record or videotape Illinois police in public, yet the Illinois legislature last month gave police the right to engage in those very same activities -- without a warrant -- during drug investigations.

On July 24, citing police safety and the need for quicker drug arrests, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed into law House Bill 4081, which exempts police doing drug investigations from the provisions of the state's eavesdropping law. It also allows them to audio or videotape drug suspects without having to get a warrant.

Under the bill, sponsored by state Reps. Jehan Gordon (D-Peoria) and William Haine (D-Alton), the normal requirement of a warrant based on probable cause is replaced by the lower and constitutionally-suspect requirement of only reasonable cause. In a further victory for the imperatives of the drug law enforcement, police will be able to bypass judicial scrutiny of their need to record someone and instead will merely have to obtain prior approval from a prosecutor to listen in on suspected drug conversations.

"The world of illicit drugs moves very quickly," explained Terry Lemming, an Illinois State Police commander, during a May hearing on the bill. "It's very difficult to find a judge in the middle of the night. I didn't see the sense in spending all these hours drafting a court order when I could have already gone out and arrested a guy selling on the corner -- and that's the feeling of many narcotic officers."

Riverside, Illinois, Police Chief Tom Weitzel told the Chronicle the new law was desperately needed. Weitzel is a member of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, who, along with his comrades, fought for 14 years to get the law passed.

"The law is critical to undercover narcotic officers for several reasons," he wrote in an email. "First, it's an officer safety issue because many times backup teams are blocks away when drug transactions either take place in cars, within homes or apartments, or just on the streets."

Weitzel even went as far as to say the law would benefit defendants, too.

"The legislation will help secure better evidence for prosecutors and protect suspects from police misconduct, including the fact the same audio recordings made by police can be used by defendants who claim entrapment," he argued.

But while the bill is now law, not everyone is happy about it. Rumblings of discontent have been heard from civil rights advocates, legal experts, and opposing lawmakers.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) argued during hearings on the bill that if judicial responsiveness is a problem for police, then the fix would be to make judges more available for warrant requests -- not to take them out of the loop.

"I'm struggling with taking away where you'd go to get a judge's approval to have a wiretap," he said.

Under the new law, judges are not completely frozen out of the process, but their role is limited to determining whether evidence gained from a wiretap can be admitted at trial.

"I understand the desire to enhance law enforcement tools to deal with crime, and I am certainly on the side of law enforcement, but it's a very slippery slope we go down when we start removing safeguards that has historically exist to make sure certain tools not be used inappropriately," state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) told the Chicago Tribune.

State Sen. Michael Nolan (D-Elgin) also weighed in on the matter. Nolan's dissatisfaction with the bill is the fact the new law deals with reasonable cause as the standard for having private conversations recorded, as opposed to probable cause, which is the standard bearer for the integrity of the law.

"This legislation does not base that determination of admissibility on 'probable cause,'" he said. "This is basically upending the Fourth Amendment."

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/ed-yohnka-200px.jpg
ACLU of Illinois' Ed Yohnka
The ACLU of Illinois had a similar reading. Its spokesman, director of communications and public policy Ed Yohnka, told the Chronicle the new law was not only constitutionally suspect but also unnecessary.

"In all the years that Illinois law enforcement worked for this change, they never been able to point to a particular need for this new power. In many years, we have seen drug related arrests in Illinois rise over a yearly period without this new authority -- which begs the question: is this power really necessary?" he asked.

"The legislature should have left things alone because judges act as a neutral third party and they can already act fast enough," Yohnka continued. "Our personal conversations are the most intimate we have and government should make certain it is necessary to intrude before engaging in eavesdropping."

For Yohnka, the new law doesn't pass the smell test. He noted that current law already allows police to wiretap or do audio recording in an emergency and suggested the real intent is to allow police to more easily listen in on targets not directly involved with drug trafficking, targets merely associated with a prime suspect.

"The current law permits an officer to conduct warrantless wiretapping or audio-recording if police or citizens were in imminent danger," Yohnka said. "The creation of this new authority suggests this is not about protecting police officers."

What makes the new law all the more galling to some is that police, who can now wiretap drug suspects without a warrant, have a habit of arresting members of the public who do the same thing to them. Under current Illinois eavesdropping law, citizens have the right to video a police officer making a public arrest, but a person cannot record an audio of police without permission.

That law is now under review by the state's appellate courts in a case arising from the 2009 arrest of self-employed artist Christopher Drew. When police arrested him for selling art on the street without a proper permit, they discovered him recording the encounter. They then charged him with felony eavesdropping for recording them without their permission.

Drew went public and fought to have the law declared illegal and earlier this year he won a partial victory when Circuit Court Judge Stanley Sacks declared it unconstitutional. Sacks ruled that the law criminalized innocent conduct and violated due process. But state prosecutors appealed the ruling and vowed to keep it on the books.

One standard for police, another for citizens. Police can record private conversations without a warrant, but citizens face years in prison if they record police in the line of duty -- at least until the Illinois courts definitively rule that portion of the eavesdropping law unconstitutional. Meanwhile, look for legal challenges to the new law allowing police to bypass judges and the warrant process in their never-ending war on drugs.

IL
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The end of dispensaries in LA looms, more federal threat letters in Colorado, and a medical marijuana initiative in North Dakota!? That's just some of the news. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and eight initial cosponsors introduced HR 6335, the States' Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act, in an attempt to stop the seizure of property from landlords of state law-compliant medical marijuana businesses. The bill would prohibit the federal government from using the civil asset forfeiture statue to go after real property owners if their tenants are in compliance with state medical marijuana law. The bill is a response to the use of threat of asset forfeiture by US Attorneys in California in their campaign to shut down dispensaries, including the state's largest dispensary, Harborside, last month.

Arizona

On Monday, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said the state should not authorize dispensaries because they could violate federal law. His advice came in the form of an official opinion crafted by lawyers in Horne's office, following requests for the opinion by law enforcement officials. He also wrote that he expected the courts to settle the matter and that he would not seek to block Tuesday's lottery for dispensary applicants.

On Tuesday, state officials conducted the lottery, awarding applicants in 68 dispensary districts preliminary approval to move forward with the permitting process. More than 400 applications had come in for those districts. In another 29 districts, there was only one applicant. State officials say some dispensaries could open within weeks if they are already well along in their planning processes.

California

Last Wednesday, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed the ordinance banning dispensaries. The measure, approved by the City Council a week earlier on a 14-0 vote, will take effect within 30 days. The so-called "gentle ban" will still allow patients and caregivers to grow their own, but is designed to eliminate the estimated 500 dispensaries in the city. Organizers from the UFCW Local 77 were already discussing plans for a referendum asking voters to allow some dispensaries.

Also last Wednesday, LAPD raided a Woodland Hills dispensary and an associated private residence, seizing 50 pounds of marijuana and arresting one person. The dispensary was West Valley Caregivers on Ventura Boulevard. Police said to report that they were working their way east on Ventura "so hopefully some of these will shut down without us having to do all this work."

Last Thursday, Lake County officials are using nuisance abatement procedures adopted a month ago under an interim urgency ordinance to shut down large grows in the county. As of last Thursday, 19 grows had been shut down, 2,000 plants removed, and seven people arrested. The enforcement actions come as a local judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping them from being inflicted on the four plaintiffs in the case, but only them.

Last Friday, a Riverside County judge ruled that the county cannot ban dispensaries in unincorporated areas. Judge Ronald L. Taylor said the county's outright ban on dispensaries leaves no room for dispensaries to operate legally under state law. A county attorney vowed to appeal.

Also last Friday, the Tax Court ruled a dispensary operator could not deduct business expenses. The ruling came after the IRS went after Martin Olive, owner of the Vapor Room Herbal Center in San Francisco, which was forced out of business at the end of July after its landlord received letters threatening asset forfeiture from US Attorney Melinda Haag. The federal tax code precludes a deduction of any amount for a trade or business where the "trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances… which is prohibited by federal law." Olive argued unsuccessfully that the provision did not apply because his business was not the illegal trafficking of a controlled substance, but was operating legally under state law.

Colorado

Last Friday, US Attorney John Walsh sent threat letters to 10 more dispensaries. This is the third batch of letters containing threats of prosecution or asset forfeiture directed at dispensaries. The first two rounds led to the closing of 47 of them. The letter said all of the targeted dispensaries were within 1,000 feet of schools. They have 45 days to shut down or face asset forfeiture actions.

Also last Friday, the DEA claimed medical marijuana is being diverted into illegal trafficking. It cited some 70 cases of Colorado medical marijuana ending up in 23 different states. Medical marijuana defenders responded that 70 cases wasn't that many, that the state's industry is tightly-regulated, and that there was marijuana in those states before Colorado had a medical marijuana program.

New Jersey

Patients in the Garden State will be able to register for medical marijuana cards beginning Thursday of this week, according to NBC New York. "It's the first time the department will be interacting directly with potential patients and their caregivers," state Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd told the Associated Press. Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair has begun to grow marijuana and will open its doors to patients in the fall.

North Dakota

On Monday, proponents of a statewide medical marijuana initiative handed in signatures. They need 13,500 valid signatures to make the November ballot. They handed in 20,000. State officials have about a month to validate signatures and see if the initiative made it.

Washington

On Tuesday, the state Health Department charged two naturopaths with unprofessional conduct for running "an assembly line" for medical marijuana approvals at last year's Hempfest. The pair, who were featured in a Seattle Times story last August, saw 216 potential patients and approved 214 of them after cursory exams. The charges are believed to be the first against any medical professional in the state over medical marijuana recommendations.

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