DEA

RSS Feed for this category

DEA to Pay $4.1 Million to Man Forgotten in Cell

The DEA has agreed to pay $4.1 million to San Diego college student Daniel Chong after rounding him up in a drug sweep last year and then forgetting him in a holding cell for five days without food or water.

UC San Diego student Daniel Chong
Chong attorney Eugene Iredale announced Tuesday that he reached a settlement with the Justice Department. He didn't even have to file a lawsuit.

Chong's not-so-excellent adventure began on the night of April 20, 2012, when the engineering student went to a friend's house in University City to celebrate the pot-smokers' holiday. He was unaware that the house had been under surveillance by a federal drug task force, and had slept over when DEA agents raided the place early the next morning.

Agents found 18,000 ecstasy tablets, as well as marijuana and several weapons in the home. They also found Chong sleeping on the living room couch. DEA agents transported Chong and six other people in the house to the DEA's San Diego office for follow-up questioning.

After questioning, DEA agents decided against charging him and said they would release him. But instead, he was returned to a temporary holding cell -- and forgotten. Chong spent the next four days in the cell without food or water. He said he resorted to drinking his own urine, became delirious, and broke his glasses, using shards from them to cut the message "Sorry, mom" in his own forearm.

Chong said that despite repeatedly pounding on the cell door and calling for help, no DEA personnel came to his assistance. The DEA later admitted that its agents "accidentally" left Chong in the cell and publicly apologized for the oversight.

Neither DEA headquarters in suburban Washington nor the San Diego office has commented on the settlement. The incident was investigated by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General, but the results of that investigation have not been released.

San Diego, CA
United States

Chronicle Book Review: Too High to Fail

Doug Fine, Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution (2012, Gotham Books, 319 pp., $28.00 HB)

[Ed: This review was based on the hardcover edition of "Too High to Fail." The paperback edition of Too High Fail has now been published as well. According to the author it includes a a postscript that reflects "more unbelievable happenings in Mendocino County and worldwide through the beginning of this year."]

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/toohightofail-200px.jpg
Marijuana and marijuana policy are big news these days -- they are exciting times, indeed! -- and that's reflected in what has now become a deluge of books on the topic. We've probably reviewed a dozen or more pot books in the last year alone, and here's another one. While, given the torrent of titles, it becomes increasingly difficult to stand out in the crowd, New York Times bestselling author Doug Fine's Too High to Fail is exceptional.

Fine writes with verve and passion, making it clear from the outset that he views marijuana prohibition as not only useless, but harmful -- not only to any sense of justice and morality, not only to the millions of people arrested and punished in myriad ways for the crime of possessing or trading in a hugely useful and versatile plant, but also to the country's efforts to claw its way back from the precipice of the Great Recession.

With that out of the way, in early 2011, Fine heads off for Mendocino County, California, ground zero in the new marijuana economy. A couple of hours north of San Francisco on US 101, Mendocino is part of the state's famous marijuana-growing Emerald Triangle, and is, to a mind-blogging extent, dependent on the pot economy. In fact, if not for pot, Mendocino would probably wither up and blow away. The logging industry is history, and the legal agricultural economy is a fraction of the size of the pot economy. (The county's largest legitimate ag crop, wine grapes, pulled in about $75 million in one recent year, at the same time the pot harvest was estimated at $8.1 billion, or about a hundred times as much).

The pot economy is normalized in Mendocino County. Marijuana dollars pay for everything from the new pickup trucks flying off dealers' lots every fall to the capital necessary to open boutique businesses that dot one-horse towns like Willits and Ukiah to the salaries of Mendocino County sheriff's deputies (at least for a couple of years; see below). County officials know what the local economy runs on, and so does the sheriff, which is why the county instituted its zip-tie program for growers willing to register as medical marijuana providers. Farmers paid thousands of dollars into county coffers for those zip-ties, which would let state and local law enforcement know that these were legal grows, not outlaw ones.

If California, where medical marijuana is legal is Fine's "bubble," Mendocino County, with its casual acceptance of the pot economy is the bubble squared, and growers operating within the guidelines of the zip-tie program, complete with inspections by law enforcement are inside the bubble cubed. This is where Fine situates himself, as he uses the journey of a single plant from cloning to delivery to a patient as the hook for his narrative of his hazy Mendo days.

Fine's sympathetic portraits of the folks involved, from Sheriff Tom Allman, who told him he wouldn't get "up off my ass" to arrest a guy with a pound of pot in the sheriff's parking lot and who created the zip-tie program, to Deputy Randy Johnson, who performed the unique job of zip-tie program compliance sergeant, to novice Mendo outdoor (but experienced East Bay indoor) grower Tom Balogh, who grew the clone Fine tracked, to Northstone Organics head Matt Cohen, who was determined to run a farmer-to-patient collective in scrupulous compliance with state laws, help put a human face on Mendocino's marijuana culture and some of its intricacies.

Fine also shines at explicating the various currents and tensions that run through the community, whether it's the veteran "Redneck Hippies" unhappy with the new generation of young, bling-slinging profiteers or county commissioners not exactly happy with Mendo's free-wheeling grow scene, but who recognize that it can't be wished away and should instead be regulated for the benefit of the county and its citizens. Or the travails of newcomer Balogh, who must contend with skeptical neighbors and prove to the community that he's not just another hit-and-run wannabe "sensimillionaire."

But while Fine spent a season deep inside the bubble, he also found that it could be punctured. He details his own experience being pulled over by sheriff's deputies in neighboring Sonoma County to the south who profiled him for his facial hair and muddied, big-tired pick-up, as well as the misadventures of two Northstone Organics deliverymen also pulled over and busted by Sonoma narcs and, gallingly, prosecuted by Sonoma County district attorneys. The drive from Mendo south through Sonoma and on to the Bay Area was called "running the gauntlet," as law enforcers on the hunt for busts and assets to seize preyed on the US 101 traffic less like highway patrolmen than highwaymen.

(As a resident of medical marijuana-friendly Sonoma County, such behavior by my elected officials and their minions offends my sensibilities. I'll be attending a Summer Solstice event this coming week to celebrate the formation of a political action committee whose goal is help enlighten our public servants, or replace them if they appear too thick-headed to get it.)

But Fine, Northstone Organics, and the entire Mendocino County effort to craft a tightly-regulated, county-benefiting medical marijuana program encountered an even more dramatic bursting of the bubble when federal prosecutors renewed their war on medical marijuana in the fall of 2011. Mendonesians had largely ignored the raids on dispensaries going on elsewhere in the state as the war ramped up, but they couldn't ignore the crew of DEA agents who rousted Cohen at gunpoint and chopped down Northstone's 99 plants, depriving more than 1,700 patients of their medicine, and effectively putting an end to the innovative zip-tie program.

With Too High to Fail, Fine show us how marijuana can be regulated and integrated into the community. And he dares to dream of a future where the cannabis plant, with all its manifold uses, can be integrated into, and indeed, become a boon for, the American economy. He also shows us the obstacles in the way.

The story of Mendocino's (and America's) marijuana adventure didn't stop in the fall of 2011. Since then, even as the first two states legalized marijuana outright at the ballot box, the federal offensive against medical marijuana in California has continued. Mendocino County had to fend off an overreaching federal subpoena of all records related to its medical marijuana program, Northstone has been knocked out of business, and an innovative program that served the interests of the community and the local economy has been stopped in its tracks.

In the new paperback edition, Fine returns to Mendocino and adds a 6,000 postscript on all the exciting developments since 2011, including legalization in Colorado and Washington, the seismic shifts in public opinion in favor of legalization, and the continuing trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the county's growers and the public officials attempting to come to grips with it all.

Although Fine looks bravely and boldly toward a cannabized future, we aren't there yet. But Too High to Fail chronicles what it could look like based on the Mendo experience, and provides a valuable and entertaining read along the way.

Advocates Seek Supreme Court Review of Marijuana Scheduling

The people behind a decade-long effort to reschedule marijuana out of the Controlled Substance Act's (CSA) Schedule I have now complied with a vow they made when the DEA's decision to reject the effort was upheld by a federal appeals court in Washington. On Monday, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a writ of certiorari asking the US Supreme Court to review the case.

Filing the writ does not mean the Supreme Court will decide to take up the case. The high court receives thousands of such appeals each session, but actually decides to hear only a tiny percentage of them. This writ, however, has two things going for it: It is on the paid certiorari docket (most are not) and it argues that the Supreme Court needs to resolve conflicts between federal appellate courts.

With the appeal, petitioners are challenging what they call an unreasonable and unprecedented standard for proof of medical efficacy of marijuana set by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the DEA's denial of the petition.

"To deny that sufficient evidence is lacking on the medical efficacy of marijuana is to ignore a mountain of well-documented studies that conclude otherwise," said ASA chief counsel Joe Elford, who argued the appeal before the DC Circuit in October of last year. "The Court has unreasonably raised the bar for what qualifies as an 'adequate and well-controlled' study, thereby continuing the government's game of 'Gotcha.'"

In 2002, the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, made up of several individuals and organizations including ASA, filed a petition to reclassify marijuana for medical use. That petition was denied by the DEA in July 2011. The appeal to the DC Circuit was the first time in nearly 20 years that a federal court has reviewed the issue of whether adequate scientific evidence exists to reclassify marijuana. Before the January ruling, the DC Circuit had never granted plaintiffs the right to sue when seeking reclassification of marijuana.

But while the DC Circuit granted plaintiffs standing, it denied their appeal on the merits in a 2-1 ruling, by setting a new, virtually-impossible to meet standard for assessing medical efficacy. Although ASA cited more than 200 peer-reviewed studies in its appeal, the DC Circuit held that plaintiffs must produce evidence from Phase II and Phase III clinical trials -- usually reserved for companies trying to bring a new drug to market -- in order to show marijuana's medical efficacy.

"The Obama Administration's legal efforts are keeping marijuana out of reach for millions of qualified patients who would benefit from its use," continued Elford. "It's long past time for the federal government to change our country's harmful policy on medical marijuana, and if it must be compelled to do so by the courts then so be it."

Since the rescheduling petition was filed in 2002, an even greater number of scientific studies have been conducted showing the medical efficacy of marijuana, and national polls have consistently ranked popular support for medical marijuana at around 80%. Medical marijuana continues to be approved either by voters or legislators in more states each year.

ASA argues that the medical efficacy standard set by the DC Circuit conflicts with a 1987 ruling in the First Circuit in Grinspoon v. DEA, 828 F.2d 881 (1st Cir. 1987), which held the DEA cannot treat a lack of FDA marketing approval as conclusive evidence that a substance has no "currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." The Grinspoon decision also held that for some drugs (like smoked marijuana) "there is no economic or other incentive to seek interstate marketing approval... because [they] cannot be patented and exploited commercially."

Repeated efforts to redress the unwarranted scheduling of marijuana as Schedule I have been underway since 1972. The DEA stonewalled the first petition in a regulatory process that lasted more than 20 years (and which included the Griswold case); it took six years to reject a second petition; and it took a decade before finally rejecting this third rescheduling petition.

A fourth rescheduling petition was filed by the governors of Colorado, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington in 2011. The DEA has yet to act on that, but ASA warns that the stringent standard for proving medical efficacy set out by the DC Circuit in conflict with Griswold means that this latest petition could also face an uphill battle.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Washington, DC
United States

SWAT Team Kills Armed Homeowner in Dawn Drug Raid

An armed West Virginia homeowner who confronted dawn police raiders with a rifle was shot and killed by State Police officers Wednesday. Richard Dale Kohler, 66, becomes the 18th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and the third in less than a week.

According to the West Virginia Gazette, State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said officers from the State Police special response team and DEA agents knocked on the door of Kohler's home at 6:05am. to serve a federal warrant. The newspaper described the special response team as "akin to a SWAT team."

Officers knocked on the door, Baylous said, but no one answered, so police "had to break down the door or forcefully open it somehow." Baylous gave no indication of the amount of time that elapsed between the initial knock on the door and police breaking it open.

When police break down the door, they saw Kohler pointing a rifle at them, Baylous said. The troopers opened fire, shooting multiple rounds and killing Kohler. Baylous said he did not think Kohler had fired his weapon, but it was still unclear.

Baylous said the warrant police were executing was part of a larger, ongoing drug investigation with multiple suspects. He would not comment further on the nature of the investigation, except to say that the DEA division involved was one that focused primarily on prescription drugs.

A neighbor told WSAZ TV that she had seen unusual amounts of traffic going to and from Kohler's home, but that she was surprised to hear he even had a gun.

"I mean, I can't see him just open fire like that, but you know when all that comes after you, you never know what somebody's going to do," Christina Murdock said.

Clay , WV
United States

CA Medical Marijuana Dispensary Numbers Shrink in Two-Pronged War of Attrition [FEATURE]

California medical marijuana dispensaries -- and their patients -- are under a sustained, two-pronged attack, and that is having a dramatic impact on patient access across the state. Under pressure from the federal government on one hand and newly-emboldened local officials on the other, dispensary numbers are shrinking and ever larger swathes of the state that legalized medical marijuana nearly 17 years ago are without anywhere to get medical marijuana.

Anyone who is following the situation in the Golden State at all closely has seen a numbing litany of reports of dispensaries forced out of business, including from some of the most venerable, respected, and law-abiding operations in the state. What had been the occasional raid or prosecution by the DEA or federal prosecutors during the early years of the Obama administration has turned into a heightened onslaught since the issuance of the notorious Cole memo, written by Assistant Attorney General James Cole, two years ago next week and the announcement by California's four US Attorneys that fall that they were declaring open season on dispensaries.

And while recalcitrant city and county law enforcement and elected officials had managed to make access to medical marijuana a patchwork affair across the state through moratoria and bans, pressure from local officials has only escalated since the state Supreme Court's decision in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center early last month. In that case, the court ruled unanimously that localities could indeed use their zoning powers to ban dispensaries, not just regulate them. Since that ruling, localities that had hesitated to impose or enforce existing bans have responded with alacrity.

Reading the writing on the wall, Inland Empire closed its doors the day after the ruling. In other places, officials weren't waiting for dispensaries to shut down -- they were ordering them to. In May, Stockton took its first steps toward a dispensary ban, San Bernardino bragged that it had shut down 18 dispensaries and was working to close the remaining 15, Palm Springs was working to shut down five, a Thousand Palms dispensary closed its doors with the owner saying he didn't want Riverside County deputies to do it for him, Garden Grove ordered all 62 dispensaries there to shut down or face prosecution (and reported days later that they had), Los Angeles voted to shrink its number of dispensaries from 500 or more to 135, and Anaheim ordered its last 11 dispensaries (down from 143 in 2007) to close.

The big chill continued this month, with Bakersfield moving to ban dispensaries, Riverside County threatening to arrest the owner of one of its three remaining dispensaries (down from 77 in 2009) until he closed his doors, and Santa Ana reporting it had shut down 42 dispensaries (bringing the total closed there to 109) and was siccing the DEA on the remaining 17.

"We think the Inland Empire decision just maintains the status quo -- more than 200 local governments had banned distribution outright in their jurisdictions -- but now, you're seeing local government wielding a bigger stick to shut down dispensaries operating in defiance of existing bans," said Kris Hermes, communications director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA)."Anaheim, San Bernardino, Long Beach, Riverside, mostly in Southern California, where dispensaries were flouting those bans, they are now being forced to shut down."

"Cities that weren't moving forward are now," said Lanny Swerdlow, founder of Inland Empire and member of the Patient Advocacy Network. "A number of cities in Riverside have been closing collectives real fast, with San Bernardino being the most aggressive at the present time. Palm Springs is the only city in the Inland Empire that actually has zoning for collectives, and they have three operating there. The county is moving more slowly -- most collectives have not even been served notices yet -- but it's just a matter of time," he predicted.

Steve DeAngelo and his Harborside Health Center are still open for business, but under federal assault (ssdp.org)
Meanwhile, according to ASA, federal prosecutors have sent out more than 600 "threat letters" since their offensive began, including 103 sent to Los Angeles dispensaries earlier this month. The letters warn either dispensary operators or landlords or both with asset forfeiture and/or criminal prosecution, with the threat of lengthy federal prison sentences hanging over their heads. Not surprisingly, they have been quite effective.

"Before the 103 letters sent out this month, we estimated that about 500 letters had been sent out and about as many closures had occurred as a result of the US Attorneys' efforts to threaten dispensary operators and landlords, said Hermes. "With the combined momentum of the federal attacks and the state Supreme Court decision, I think we've seen more than 700 dispensaries shut down over the past couple of years."

Some of the iconic operations that helped define the dispensary movement are gone, such as the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, scared out of business by federal threats, or Richard Lee's Coffee Shop Blue Sky, shuttered by DEA raiders. Others like San Francisco's Shambala are under attack, while it seems that only the biggest players, such as the Berkeley Patients Group and Harborside Health Care Centers in Oakland and San Jose, have the wherewithal to fight the feds in court. Those latter dispensaries are both contesting federal asset forfeiture actions right now.

Sometimes it's the federal government; sometimes it is recalcitrant local officials. Sometimes, the two work hand in hand.

"The city of Riverside sent letters to the Justice Department requesting they come in and close collectives down, and they've gone to a couple in San Bernardino and closed them down, too," said Swerdlow.

Many dispensaries remain open for business -- ASA's Hermes estimated their number at a thousand or more -- some because local authorities have embraced them instead of trying to run them out on a rail, others because the US Attorneys simply don't have the resources to devote all their time to shutting them down. But the unquestioned reduction in dispensaries numbers, perhaps a decline of as much as 40% over the past couple of years, means that patients are having a more difficult time getting access to their medicine.

"We've been hearing from patients about access problems," said Ellen Komp, deputy director for California NORML, who added that it's not just dispensaries. "More and more places are passing cultivation ordinances, people are having their gardens torn up or being visited by code enforcement. We're reeling from it," she said.

"Patients should not have to drive hundreds of miles to get their medicine, and the tragedy of it is that there are still dozens of localities that have regulatory ordinances that are functioning quite well," said Hermes. "Those facilities are not going away unless they are shut down by the federal government, which has usually stayed away from those places. There is a community of dispensaries across the state, but the access is haphazard."

And there are broad areas of the state with no effective access.

Sorry, Riverside patients. This menu is now null and void. (norml.org)
"It is unacceptable that dispensaries are located only where local governments are tolerant enough to allow them," said Hermes. "The entire county of San Diego has been rid of dispensaries because of intolerance at the local and federal level. The entire Central Valley is virtually devoid of dispensaries, so is almost all the San Francisco peninsula from San Mateo down. Sacramento County is devoid of dispensaries thanks to the federal crackdown."

"What's going on now is absolutely horrid," said Swerdlow. "The only people benefiting from this are the criminals and the police. Patients are having to drive hundreds of miles to cities with collectives, or get their medicine the old-fashioned way, on the black market."

To change the situation is going to require battling at the state, local, and federal level. One immediate response has been an explosion of medical marijuana delivery services, but one immediate reaction has been to move to ban them, too, as Riverside County is considering.

"We've been getting lots of inquiries about starting delivery services," said CANORML's Komp.

Another, ongoing, response is to attempt to pass statewide legislation to regulate dispensaries. That effort in Sacramento is dead for this year, but could be revived next year.

Another possible response is a statewide initiative that would regulate and emphatically legalize dispensaries, but no one is ready to go on the record about that yet.

Ultimately, it's about getting the federal government off California's back. While bills have been filed in Congress, no one is holding their breath on that score. And the Obama administration appears content to maintain its status quo war of attrition.

If the California dispensary industry wants to survive and thrive, it might want to look in the mirror -- part of the problem for California dispensaries, said Swerdlow, was the industry's failure to organize effectively.

"If the DEA sent out letters to gun stores saying they were going to shut them down, there would be a couple of thousand people demonstrating," he argued. "We've done a piss poor job of doing the things that need to be done to protect our rights. Money-grubbing collective owners never formed any useful or meaningful trade associations to protect their rights. Those jerks got what was coming to them," he said bitterly.

If dispensary operators were short-sighted, Swerdlow said, patients have not been much better, despite the efforts of groups like ASA and CANORML to organize them.

"Most patients don't do anything," he said. "They just want to get the marijuana."

Protecting patients and collectives requires effective political action at the local level, Swerdlow said. He has pioneered -- for the medical marijuana movement, at least -- the creation of groups within the Democratic Party to press the party at the local level, known as Brownie Mary Clubs.

"We were the first medical marijuana affinity group ever chartered here, and we've made progress here. We're working for political candidates, and I was a delegate to the state Democratic convention. That's the kind of thing that can make a difference," he said.

But medical marijuana advocates need to understand that this isn't everybody's issue, even if others are sympathetic.

"Everyone is sympathetic, most Democrats get it, at least all the ones I meet," he explained, "but this isn't their issue. They're about health care or the environment or schools. They will support us, but we have to be there to get that support."

There is work to be done to protect patient access to medical marijuana in California. There are various options. It is up to medical marijuana patients and dispensary operators, as well as those ancillary businesses profiting from them, to more effectively take up the cudgel.

But it is ultimately a fight for federal recognition of medical marijuana, or at least, of states' rights to experiment with marijuana policy. That's not just up to California patients and dispensary operators, but all of us.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

CA
United States

Good, Bad Drug Measures Die Along with Farm Bill

The Farm Bill (House Bill 1947) died in the House Thursday morning as Democrats rebelled against deep cuts to food stamps. The vote to kill it came after the House had approved separate amendments that would have allowed for limited hemp production, but also would have allowed states to require drug tests for food stamp applicants.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) saw his hemp amendment pass the House, only to die along with the farm bill. (wikimedia.org)
In an historic first, the House passed an amendment offered by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Thomas Massie (R-KY) that would allow hemp to be grown for research purposes. The amendment passed 225-200, despite a last-minute lobbying blitz against it from the DEA, complete with a DEA talking points memo obtained by the Huffington Post.

Still, despite the DEA's concerns that allowing limited hemp production for research would make law enforcement's job more difficult, a majority of lawmakers weren't buying, and amendment sponsors and hemp advocates pronounced themselves well-pleased.

"Industrial hemp is an important agricultural commodity, not a drug," said Rep. Polis. "My bipartisan, common-sense amendment would allow colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes in states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal. Many states, including Colorado, have demonstrated that they are fully capable of regulating industrial hemp. The federal government should clarify that states should have the ability to regulate academic and agriculture research of industrial hemp without fear of federal interference. Hemp is not marijuana, and at the very least, we should allow our universities -- the greatest in the world -- to research the potential benefits and downsides of this important agricultural commodity."

"Industrial hemp is used for hundreds of products including paper, clothing, rope, and can be converted into renewable bio-fuels more efficiently than corn or switch grass," said Rep. Massie. "It's our goal that the research this amendment enables would further broadcast the economic benefits of the sustainable and job-creating crop." 

"Because of outdated federal drug laws, our farmers can't grow industrial hemp and take advantage of a more than $300 million dollar market. We rely solely on imports to sustain consumer demand. It makes no sense," said Blumenauer. "Our fear of industrial hemp is misplaced -- it is not a drug. By allowing colleges and universities to cultivate hemp for research, Congress sends a signal that we are ready to examine hemp in a different and more appropriate context."

Nineteen states have passed pro-industrial hemp legislation. The following nine states have removed barriers to its production: Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

 "Vote Hemp applauds this new bipartisan amendment and we are mobilizing all the support we can. This brilliant initiative would allow colleges and universities the opportunity to grow and cultivate hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp. "It would only apply to states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal in order for those states to showcase just how much industrial hemp could benefit the environment and economy in those regions," continues Steenstra.

"Federal law has denied American farmers the opportunity to cultivate industrial hemp and reap the economic rewards from this versatile crop for far too long," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congress should lift the prohibition on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp as soon as possible. Allowing academic research is an important first step towards returning industrial hemp cultivation to American farms."

Drug reformers' and hemp advocates' elation over passage of the hemp amendment was short-lived however, as the Farm Bill went down to defeat for reasons not having anything to do with hemp. But the upside to the bill's defeat was that it also killed a successful Republican-backed amendment that would have allowed states to drug test people applying for food stamps, now known officially as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

"If adopted, this amendment would join a list of good-government reforms contained in the farm bill to save taxpayer money and ensure integrity and accountability within our nutrition system," said its sponsor, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), who added that it would ensure that food stamps go only to needy families and children.

But House Democrats were infuriated by the amendment. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), said there was no evidence people on food stamps were any more likely to use drugs than anyone else and that the measure was meant only to embarrass and humiliate people on food stamps.

 "It costs a lot of public money just to humiliate people," she said. "It'll cost $75 for one of these drug tests, and for what purpose? Just to criminalize and humiliate poor people."

"This is about demeaning poor people," added Rep. James McGovern (D-MA). "And we've been doing this time and time again on this House floor."

The food stamp drug testing amendment was just part of an overall House Republican assault on the food stamp program that would have cut it by more than $20 billion. It was that attack on food stamps that led Democrats to walk away from the bill. [Ed: Perhaps not just over the cuts -- a National Journal article reports the drug testing amendment cost it votes too.]

Washington, DC
United States

Marc Emery in Solitary Confinement in US Prison

Canadian marijuana seed magnate and political dissident Marc Emery, who is about four years into a five-year US prison sentence for selling pot seeds over the Internet, has been sent to solitary confinement at the Mississippi federal prison where he's doing his time. According to the magazine he founded, Cannabis Culture, he is being punished over false charges.

Rockin' the joint at Yazoo City FCI. That's Emery on bass on the left. (cannabisculture.com)
Emery, along with other prisoners at the Yazoo City Federal Correctional Institution, formed a band some months ago. Photos of the band were taken by prison staff, then developed and sent to his wife, Jodie Emery, in Vancouver, and were posted on his blog in April. According to Emery, permission for the photos was granted by three separate administrators, including one at the prison's Special Investigative Services department.

But now, prison officials have placed Emery and his bandmates in solitary confinement while they say they are investigating the possibility the photos had been taken with a prohibited smart phone. Prisoners in solitary, or, as it is euphemistically known, the Special Housing Unit (SHU), are locked in their cells 23 hours a day and denied normal prison amenities.

"Got to see Marc for 1.5 hours," Jodie Emery posted in an online statement Friday, shortly after a trip to visit him. "Prison has him in solitary confinement to 'investigate' the photos of his band that the prison itself approved! The investigation (could take months) is to see if Marc had a cell phone to take the band photos -- despite proof the prison camera was used! The warden, guards, music/recreation admins -- everyone -- knows Marc got official permission for those photos. Yet they put him in solitary?!"

Cannabis Culture reported that prison authorities were unavailable to comment until after the weekend.

As an entrepreneur and activist, the Vancouver-based Emery was a burr under the saddle of US drug warriors, who managed to indict him for his seed-selling business. Canadian authorities declined to help him, although they had allowed his business to operate untrammeled for years.

He was eventually sentenced to five years in federal prison in a plea deal designed to spare his codefendants from facing the wrath of US prosecutors. In a press release the day of his arrest, the DEA issued a press release crowing that taking him down was "a significant blow… to the marijuana legalization movement… Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Emery's illicit profits are known to have been channeled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada. Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on."

With little more than a year to go on his sentence, Emery is seeking a transfer to a Canadian prison. Interested parties can support his bid by sending a letter to the Justice Department's transfer division.

Yazoo City, MS
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The medical marijuana scene is hectic! Bill passing, raids happening, local officials pondering, and California dispensaries dwindling. Let's get to it:

California

On May 21, the Lakeport city council gave first approval to a cultivation ordinance that would require grows be conducted within detached structures on residential properties. The council will hold the second reading of the ordinance at its June 18 meeting. The document before the council on Tuesday night also prohibits outdoor cultivation and requires grows to be contained in accessory outdoor structures. However, it also puts the emphasis on complaint-driven enforcement.

On May 22, the Earth Choice Collective in Fresno closed its doors after a local TV station blew the whistle on the below-the-radar dispensary. Undercover narcotics officers served Earth Choice Collective with a notice to vacate several weeks ago, but it had remained open until the TV station aired its report.

On May 25, Anaheim authorities reported that 10 of 11 dispensaries had complied with orders to close their doors. Anaheim ordered all dispensaries to close in the wake of the California Supreme Court ruling upholding the ability of localities to ban them. One remained open and was facing fines of up to a $1,000 a day.

Last Wednesday, San Bernardino police shut down another dispensary. They, too, were acting in response to the California Supreme Court ruling. More than 100 mason jars filled with marijuana were seized at the SBPC dispensary, and several workers and customers were detained temporarily.

Last Thursday, DEA agents and San Bernardino County deputies raided two dispensaries and five homes associated with them. Targeted were the Green Oasis Collective dispensaries in Yucaipa and San Bernardino. Five people were arrested on a variety of charges, including possession of pyrotechnic explosive devices, possession of meth, and various marijuana offenses.

Last Friday, police in Garden Grove began fining medical marijuana delivery services. The move came after the services sprang up in the wake of the city's ban on dispensaries last month. They are fining the delivery businesses $1,000 a day. One dispensary, OrganaCann Wellness Centers, switched to delivery mode after the ban and reported receiving $3,000 in fines, but is vowing to vigorously defend itself.

Also last Friday, Stockton dispensary operator Matthew Davies pleaded guilty to federal marijuana charges. He had argued that his store in Stockton operated in accordance with California laws, after working extensively with accountants and lawyers before opening the business. He faces a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence.

Also last Friday, a statewide dispensary regulation bill failed to advance, but its sponsor, Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said the bill lives and he is talks with members of the Senate to advance it.

On Monday, the Healdsburg city council voted to form a task force to study cultivation issues. The task force will consider whether outdoor grows will be allowed, or whether they should be confined indoors. Police Chief Kevin Burke had proposed guidelines in response to neighborhood complaints about backyard grows, and the Planning Commission had recommended allowing patients to grow up to 12 mature plants and 24 immature ones, but limited grows to indoors and not within 300 feet of schools, churches, hospitals, child care and youth centers. But after the guidelines were publicized, they met harsh criticism, thus, the task force.

District of Columbia

As of Monday, DC medical marijuana patients were still waiting to get their medicine. Two dispensaries and three grow operations have been approved by District officials, but the District Department of Health has yet to give doctors the authority to recommend marijuana to their patients. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said marijuana dispensaries would likely open in the middle of June.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, medical marijuana supporters held a press conference in Detroit to publicize the imminent imprisonment of several Michigan patients and caregivers. One, Jerry Duval, a kidney-pancreas transplant patient with coronary artery disease, has been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and must report next week. Three other Michigan cultivators, Dennis Forsberg, 59, his son Lance Forsberg, 32, and Ryan Basore, 36, who were sentenced to 3-4 years in prison surrendered last Thursday. They were all convicted in federal court without being able to present evidence that they were complying with state law.

Montana

Last Wednesday, federal prosecutors appealed the sentence of a medical marijuana provider because they thought it was not stiff enough. They appealed the two-year prison sentence given to former University of Montana quarterback Jason Washington, who was convicted on federal charges for his role in a dispensary operation legal under state law. Prosecutors have also appealed the sentences of three other medical marijuana defendants out of 33 convicted in the wake of the 2011 federal crackdown in the state.

Nevada

On Monday, a medical marijuana dispensary bill passed the state legislature. The Assembly approved it the previous week, and the Senate approved it Monday. It now goes to the governor. If he signs it, up to 66 dispensaries will be allowed in the state, with up to 40 in Las Vegas and 10 in Reno.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, the Senate approved a medical marijuana bill, but with amendments designed to placate Gov. Margaret Hassan (D) that advocates say will make the bill unworkable. The Assembly had already passed the bill; now a conference committee must try to reconcile the two versions.

New York

Last Thursday, more than 600 New York physicians came out for pending medical marijuana legislation. They signed a statement affirming that doctors should not be punished for recommending the use of marijuana for seriously ill people, and that seriously ill people should not be subject to criminal sanctions for using marijuana if the patients' physicians have told them such use may be beneficial. The bill also has the support of the state’s leading medical organizations, including the New York State Nurses Association, The Hospice and Palliative Care Association, Pharmacist Society of the State of New York, among others.

Last Friday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg trashed medical marijuana, calling it "one of the greatest hoaxes of all time." The former pot-smoker's comments came as the legislature is considering the medical marijuana bill.

On Monday, the medical marijuana bill passed the Assembly. It now goes to the Senate, where three previous medical marijuana bills approved by the Assembly in recent years have died. But the pressure is on.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, the sponsor of a medical marijuana bill testified on its behalf, but acknowledged that it is going nowhere in the Republican-controlled legislature. Instead, Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) is urging support for a constitutional amendment on the issue.

Oregon

Last Thursday, DEA agents and local law enforcement raided four southern Oregon dispensaries. Raiders hit the Greener Side in Eugene and three Medford dispensaries. Several people were arrested.

Also last Thursday, the state legislature approved adding PTSD to the list of ailments for which medical marijuana can be used. The Oregon House passed Senate Bill 281 36-21, following a 19-11 vote in the Senate.  The bill awaits Gov. Kitzhaber's signature.

South Carolina

On May 23, an attempt to legalize medical marijuana in the state failed in the House. Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) tried to amend a bill dealing with controlled substances to add marijuana to the list of drugs that doctors could prescribe, but his amendment was ruled out of order.

Washington

On Monday, it was revealed that the DEA has sent threatening letters to 41 Seattle-area dispensaries that have effectively closed some of them. At least one Spokane dispensary has also received a threat letter, but from the US Attorney, not the DEA.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Medical Marijuana Update

Marijuana rescheduling is headed for the US Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court upheld local dispensary bans, the feds strike again in Berkeley and Washington state, and there is action in state legislatures, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last week, Americans for Safe Access announced it was appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the DC Court of Appeals' ruling upholding the DEA's refusal to reclassify marijuana out of Schedule I. ASA's appeal to the Supreme Court asks that the DEA be required to apply the same standard to evaluating cannabis that it uses for other substances. The DEA claims there are no "adequate and well-controlled studies" that show cannabis has medical use, despite the many clinical trials and peer-reviewed scientific studies that show cannabis to be a safe and effective medicine for treating a wide variety of conditions.

Last Wednesday, a Fox News poll had support for medical marijuana at 85% nationwide. The figure included 80% of Republicans and is the highest level of support for medical marijuana ever in the Fox News poll.

Arizona

On Tuesday, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill that will allow medical marijuana research on university campuses. Brewer had last year supported successful legislation that banned even medical marijuana on state college and university campuses, but the ban aimed primarily at students had the unintended consequence of blocking serious academic research being undertaken on medical marijuana and PTSD by University of Arizona psychiatrist Sue Sisley. The new law allows medical marijuana on campus for carefully controlled and approved studies.

California

Last Wednesday, prosecutors in Tuolumne County dropped marijuana trafficking charges against the owners of a local medical marijuana collective. Charges were dropped in the case of the Today's Health Collective, which had been raided in May 2011. Prosecutors complained that "inconsistencies in opinions from different courts have required a shift in the focus of law enforcement and jury instruction" and "the cumulative effect of evidence collected in 2011 has been weakened by this development."

On Monday, the state Supreme Court upheld the right of localities to ban dispensaries. Some 200 California towns and counties have already done so, but others had held off because of uncertainty over the legality of bans. The ruling means that patients' access to medical marijuana will depend in part on where in the state they live.

On Tuesday, the dispensary operator in the Monday Supreme Court case said he had closed his shop. Operator and medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow said he would comply with the high court ruling and shut down Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center.

Also on Tuesday, federal prosecutors filed an asset forfeiture lawsuit against the landlord for the Berkeley Patients Group, one of the most well-respected dispensaries in the state. The feds already forced BPG to move last year, saying it was too close to a school. The dispensary relocated to a site even further from schools, but US Attorney Melinda Haag filed the forfeiture suit without warning anyway.

Also on Tuesday, the Yuba City city council adopted a marijuana cultivation ordinance requiring people growing medical marijuana at home to register with the city and trim their plants out of public view. They also have to install security fences and carbon filtration systems to reduce odor. The ordinance had been in place on a temporary basis since March 2012, but became permanent with Tuesday's 3-2 vote.

Illinois

On Wednesday, a hearing on a medical marijuana bill was underway in the Senate Executive Committee. The bill would allow residents with serious illnesses, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, to access and use medical marijuana if their physicians recommend it. If approved, the measure will be considered by the full Senate. It received approval from the full House of Representatives on April 17.

Maryland

Last Thursday, Gov. O'Malley signed a medical marijuana bill into law. The measure, House Bill 1101, will allow patients to qualify for protections from arrest and prosecution if they are enrolled in a program administered by one of Maryland’s teaching hospitals. The law takes effect October 1. But it's not clear how many of the state's teaching hospitals will participate.

Massachusetts

On Wednesday, the Public Health Council approved medical marijuana regulations. The regulations include requiring doctors to complete a full clinical checkup before issuing a recommendations, recommendations will expire after one year, and patients will not be allowed to use medical marijuana at dispensaries. The regulations approved today will go into effect on May 25. They allow the department to establish a competitive application process for non-profits seeking certifications that will permit them to operate. DPH is required to certify at least 14, but no more than 35, medical marijuana treatment centers to open by January, 2014.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters outlined their bill, but conceded that no action on it is likely until next year. The measure dictates the amount of marijuana someone can possess, the types of health conditions that would permit use and the rules medical professionals must follow when issuing prescriptions. It would continue to bar smoking of marijuana on school buses and school grounds, on public transportation, in the presence of a child and while operating vehicles, boats or other transportation equipment.

New Hampshire

On Monday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Human Services approved a medical marijuana bill, but not before removing PTSD as a qualifying condition and removing a home cultivation provision at the insistence of Gov. Maggie Hassan. Other changes to the bill reduced the number of authorized dispensaries allowed statewide from five to four, added a requirement that patients get written permission from a property owner before using medical marijuana on privately owned land, and eliminated protections for out of state medical marijuana patients traveling with marijuana in  New Hampshire. The measure had already overwhelmingly passed the House. Medical marijuana advocates are continuing to fight for a better version of the bill.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd said two more dispensaries will likely open soon. Years after medical marijuana was legalized in the state, only one dispensary is open. The first dispensary opened in Montclair, Essex County, in December, but is limiting its clientele to North Jersey residents. A second dispensary operator is renovating a former warehouse in Egg Harbor, Atlantic County, and plans an opening in September. A third dispensary operator is renovating its location in Woodbridge, O'Dowd said.

Washington

Last Wednesday, news broke that the DEA had sent cease-and-desist letters to 11 dispensaries. The agency complained in the April 29 letters they were within 1,000 feet of schools. The DEA told recipients of the letters to stop distributing marijuana within 30 days or face property seizure and forfeiture.

Mexico to Rein In US Agencies in Drug War

In a sharp break with the policies of his predecessor, recently installed Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is moving to restrict the open relationships US law enforcement, intelligence, and security agencies have developed with their Mexican counterparts as the two countries attempt to repress violent and powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels.

The US-Mexico border (wikipedia.org)
The move was hinted at broadly in the Washington Post Sunday and confirmed by the Associated Press Monday. The AP cited deputy foreign secretary for North American affairs Sergio Alcocer as saying that all US law enforcement contacts with Mexican agencies will go through "a single window," the Mexican Interior Ministry.

Mexico has had a historically prickly relationship with US drug law enforcers, but under former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose term ended in December, US law enforcement and security cooperation with Mexican agencies expanded dramatically. The DEA, as well as the FBI, CIA, and Border Patrol, had agents working directly with units of the Mexican Federal Police, the army, and the navy.

US law enforcement and security agencies worked closely with their Mexican counterparts on a strategy that aimed at arresting or killing top cartel figures, and managed to eliminate dozens of them, but at the same time, prohibition-related violence only mounted, with the death toll somewhere above 70,000 during Calderon's six-year term. The incoming Pena Nieto administration has previously signaled that it wants to shift away from high-profile target strategy to one centered on crime prevention.

The Pena Nieto administration also represents a reversion to governance by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had famously ruled Mexico as "the perfect dictatorship" for most of the 20th Century before falling to conservative National Action Party (PAN) presidential candidate Vicente Fox in 2000. Like Fox, Calderon ran under the PAN banner and cultivated closer relations with the US, especially on drug enforcement, than the PRI ever had. The PRI's relationships with US drug enforcers could be characterized as one of mutual suspicion and distrust, with occasional bouts of cooperation.

As the Washington Post reported, high-ranking incoming PRI officials who met with US DEA, CIA, FBI, and other security representatives in December were stunned and "remained stone-faced as they learned for the first time just how entwined the two countries had become during the battle against narco-traffickers, and how, in the process, the United States had been given near-complete entree to Mexico's territory and the secrets of its citizens."

Now, the Pena Nieto government is moving to get a better grip on the assistance it gets from its neighbor to the north. It was in the interest of Mexico to do so, Alcocer said. "The issue before is that there was a lack of coordination because there was not a single entity in the Mexican government that was coordinating all the efforts," he told the AP. "Nobody knew what was going on."

The DEA and other agencies declined comment, leaving it the State Department, which said it looks forward to "continued close cooperation" with Mexico. President Obama flies to Mexico City Thursday for a meeting with Pena Nieto, whose administration says it wants to expand its bilateral agenda with the US beyond drugs and immigration, as well as shift from dramatic law enforcement actions to crime prevention and public safety.

"For us the security theme is one of our top priorities, but it's not the only one," Alcocer said. "The relationship has issues such as the economy and trade, advanced manufacturing, infrastructure, energy."

Mexico City
Mexico

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School