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Medical Marijuana: Berkeley Declares Itself a Sanctuary City

The Berkeley City Council gave a collective raised middle finger to the DEA Tuesday night, unanimously approving a resolution declaring the city a sanctuary in the event the federal agency attempts to interfere with its medical marijuana dispensaries. Passage of the resolution was greeted with loud applause, according to the Daily Californian, the student newspaper at Cal Berkeley.

The resolution was opposed by the DEA, and softened last month to accommodate grumbling from Police Chief Douglas Hambleton and City Manager Phil Kamlarz, but it still puts the city on record as "opposing the attempts by the US Drug Enforcement Administration to close medical marijuana dispensaries, and declaring the City of Berkeley as a sanctuary for medicinal cannabis use, cultivation, and distribution that complies with State law and local ordinances in the event that" the DEA tried to raid one of the city's regulated dispensaries.

The resolution also reinforces a 2002 Berkeley policy directing police not to cooperate in federal medical marijuana investigations. City police were criticized last fall after arriving at the scene of a DEA action related to a raid on a Los Angeles dispensary. The resolution reemphasizes that the Berkeley police and the city attorney's office are not to cooperate with the DEA in "investigations of, raids upon, or threats against physicians, individual patients or their primary caregivers, and medical cannabis dispensaries and operators" operating within California law.

In addition, the resolution directs the city clerk to send letters to Alameda County, of which Berkeley is a part, to state Attorney General Jerry Brown, and to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging them to appropriately support medical marijuana.

The city of Berkeley has now committed itself to ensuring that its residents have access to medical marijuana, but it's not clear just yet exactly what that means. The resolution directs the police chief and the city manager to try to find ways to turn the resolution into reality. If the DEA shuts down Berkeley's dispensaries, will the city provide medical marijuana? Will it help new dispensaries set up? The answers are in the making.

Law Enforcement: Snitch Culture Gone Bad in Ohio -- 15 Prisoners to Go Free Because of Informant's Tainted Testimony

In a case that has been stinking up northeast Ohio for several years now, a federal judge in Cleveland Tuesday decided that 15 Mansfield men imprisoned on drug charges should be freed because their convictions were based on the testimony of a lying DEA informant. The men, convicted on crack cocaine dealing charges, have collectively served 30 years already.

The men were all convicted solely on the testimony of informant Jerrell Bray and his handler, DEA Special Agent Lee Lucas. But Bray has since admitted lying in the Mansfield drug cases and has since been sentenced to 15 years in prison on perjury and civil rights charges. He is now working with a US Justice Department task force investigating what went wrong in the cases.

"It's about time," said Danielle Young, the mother of Nolan Lovett, who was serving a five-year sentence but could be home by the end of the month. "This is long, long overdue. These boys will finally get justice, even if it is late," she told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

US District Judge John Adams told attorneys Tuesday he hopes to have the men returned to Northeast Ohio from federal prisons across the county. Then, federal prosecutors can formally ask Adams to drop the charges because there is no evidence to convict the men. That could have happened as early as this week.

Bray and Lucas originally collaborated on a massive drug investigation that resulted in 26 indictments for drug conspiracy. Three people were sentenced to probation, judges or juries tossed eight cases, and 15 men were sent to prison. But that was before Bray's lies were exposed.

The Plain Dealer noted that 14 of the 15 had pleaded guilty, a fact the paper naively said made the situation "unique," but then pointed out that they may have pleaded after seeing what had happened to Geneva France, a young mother with no criminal record who was indicted, but refused to plea bargain and steadfastly maintained her innocence. Convicted on the testimony of Bray and Lucas, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

France served 16 months before being freed after Bray's perjury came to light. In a heart-rending article this week, the Plain Dealer recounted France's sorry tale. Her real offense? Refusing to date the informant.

While the victims of Bray and Lucas are about to be freed, the case isn't over yet, and now, the hunter has become the hunted. According to the Plain Dealer, Lucas is the focus of the Justice Department investigation. But it is the snitch system itself that should really be on trial.

Editorial: A Matter of Basic Fairness in the Marc Emery Case

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
This week it was reported that Marc Emery, Canada's famed marijuana law reformer and one-time seed merchant, has tentatively reached a plea agreement with the US Dept. of Justice that will spare co-defendants Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams prosecution, and will spare him extradition to the US, but will place him behind bars in Canada for the next five years. The reports were premature -- the deal has yet to be accepted by both countries, either could reject it, according to Jodie Emery, posting on talk groups -- but that is the way things may go as they are looking at this point.

The Emery case highlights two issues of basic fairness where the US and Canadian governments both fell short. One is the root injustice of prohibition. As Emery pointed out to media, no one was harmed by his business. Therefore taking away his freedom -- putting him in prison -- is unjust. Even just shutting down his business was unjust, based on this idea, because the law is an unjust one. This is an unfairness applying to the vast majority of drug prohibition prosecutions.

The other fairness issue flows from the fact that Emery carried out his business completely in the open, with full knowledge of authorities on both sides of the border, for almost a decade. His office is literally in the center of downtown Vancouver, and the magazine headquarters and bookstore across the street have an open storefront. I've seen these places myself. Anyone searching the Internet could find out what he was up to -- if they didn't already know from him directly, at a rally or reading his quotes in the media.

Setting aside the wrongfulness of prohibition itself, one could argue that because prohibition is the law now, the government had the right to tell him to stop until the law one day gets changed. In this view, the fair approach would have been to inform Emery that things had changed, and that he had to stop selling seeds or risk US or Canadian ire moving forward. Unfortunately that's not what happened. Having done nothing to move against him for all of those years, and not having warned him, instead one day the DEA moved in, filed extradition papers, and announced that Emery and his friends were facing 20-to-life. And Canada -- having tolerated him for years and years, even having accepted $600,000 or so in taxes, according to reports, knowing that he gave most of it away -- cooperated fully.

This second fairness issue is one that is fairly specific to Marc Emery's case, more perhaps than to any other. But it also reflects on the character of the criminal justice system -- many of us refer to it as the (in)justice system -- that the people making the decisions on how they would proceed would choose this route instead of the other, and that the sentences Emery and Rainey and Williams could face are so obscenely long to begin with. We have many prisoners here in the so-called land of the free who will serve decades before seeing freedom, if they ever do. It's a dark sign of the times that in part what I feel about this outcome is relief that he may only serve five years.

But make no mistake, five years is a big chunk of a life, a very severe punishment and a very long time. Try to imagine if you were about to be incarcerated, only for one year, how you would feel. Even a year in prison is a very severe punishment, if we are going to be realistic about it. But the "tough-on-crime" hawks who have dominated policymaking as of late have forgotten this. Too bad for Marc that that has happened. But too bad for all of us too.

Law Enforcement: Snitches Gone Bad

Just last week, Drug War Chronicle reviewed Ethan Brown's "Snitch: Informants, Cooperators, and the Corruption of Justice," which tells the story of the corruption and misdeeds fostered by federal drugs laws that virtually impel people who've been arrested to find others to inform on in order to avoid prison time themselves. We don't know if it's synchronicity or what, but in the week since then, bad snitch stories seem to be popping up all over. Here are three we've spotted in the past few days:

In Twin Falls, Idaho, a man charged in a Twin Falls murder was working as an informant for the Blaine County Narcotics Enforcement Team. John Henry McElhiney of Hailey is charged with killing an 18-year-old Twin Falls man in September. In response to press inquiries, the Blaine County Sheriff's Office has confirmed that McElhiney worked drug cases for the drug squad. The office stopped short of calling him a "confidential informant," however, instead referring to him as a "cooperative individual." It is unclear from local press accounts whether McElhiney became a snitch for money, to avoid prison time himself, or for some other reason. It is also unclear whether his assistance actually led to any other arrests. He awaits trial on the murder charge.

In Seattle, a "cooperating witness" pleaded guilty last Friday to framing people for drug sales offenses. Snitch Tina Rivard, 40, had been arrested in May for forging prescriptions, but instead of charging her, agents with the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force offered her a deal: leniency in exchange for helping to build cases against prescription drug dealers. Rivard helped in one case, but in a second, she framed a 21-year-old man on Oxycontin dealing charges by undermining the task force's "controlled buy" system. Although agents would punch the suspect's phone number into Rivard's phone, she would then secretly hit speed-dial and instead call a friend posing as the suspect. He would then make incriminating statements and set up drug deals. Rivard also faked a drug buy from the suspect under the agents' noses, having her friend actually bring the drugs she claimed to have bought. The 21-year-old was indicted and faced up to 20 years in prison, but Rivard eventually admitted she had set him up. Now the indictment against him has been dropped, and she faces 20 years.

In Cleveland, Ohio, an informant for the DEA has been convicted of framing innocent people and getting them sent to prison. Informant Jerrell Bray staged drug deals with friends while investigators watched, but gave investigators the names of people not involved in the deals, then testified or gave sworn statements saying that the innocent people were the drug dealers. Bray managed to set up four people, including a woman who had refused to date him, while working under DEA agent Lee Lucas. It is unclear whether Lucas or other law enforcement personnel knew what Bray was up to, but a federal grand jury will meet next month to investigate obstruction of justice, perjury, and weapons charges against Bray "and others." Bray was sentenced to 15 years in prison on perjury and deprivation of civil rights charges, a sentence that will run concurrently with state time for shooting a man in a drug-related robbery.

Ironically, Bray can gain a sentence cut on the federal time if he "cooperates fully." When will they learn?

Federal Budget: Drug Czar's Ad Campaign Takes a Hit, DC Can Do Needle Exchange, But More Funding for Law Enforcement

The Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign took a major hit as Congress finalized the fiscal year 2008 budget this week, and the District of Columbia won the right to spend its own money on needle exchange programs, but when it comes to drug war law enforcement, Congress still doesn't know how to say no. Instead, it funded increases in some programs and restored Bush administration budget cuts in others.

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less of this next year
The media campaign, with its TV ads featuring teens smoking pot and then shooting their friends or driving over little girls on bicycles, among others, saw its budget slashed from $99 million this year to $60 million next year -- less than half the $130 million requested by the Bush administration.

"It's a mixed bag for sure," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "They cut the anti-marijuana commercials, but at the same time they gave a lot of money to law enforcement. There was some trimming around the edges, but Congress didn't do anything about fundamentally altering the course of the drug war."

The Justice Department budget was the source of much, but not all, of the federal anti-drug law enforcement funding, including:

  • $2.1 billion for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a $138 million increase over 2007, and $53 million more than the Bush administration asked for.
  • $2.7 billion in state and local law enforcement crime prevention grants, including the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, which fund the legion of local multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces. That's $179 million less than in 2007, but the Bush administration had asked for only about half that.
  • $587 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, $45.4 million more than last year. The Bush administration had proposed cutting the program to nearly zero.

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US Capitol, Senate side
But the appropriations bill that covers ONDCP also had some money for law enforcement, namely $230 million for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, $5.3 million more than this year and $10 million more than the Bush administration requested. That program, which coordinates federal, state, and local anti-drug law enforcement efforts continues to be funded despite criticism from taxpayer groups.

"It seemed all year that the Democrats would try to restore some of the cuts from previous years, and they did," said DPA's Piper. "On the one hand, the Democrats say they want to quit locking up so many people, but at the same time, they're passing out money like candy to law enforcement, and that only perpetuates the problem," he added, citing the Justice Policy Institute's recent report showing that the more money that goes to law enforcement, the more people get arrested for drug offenses, and the greater the proportion of black and brown people locked up for drug offenses.

The funding cut for ONDCP's widely ridiculed media campaign was a bright spot for DPA, which, along with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has been lobbying for the past three years to kill the program. The two groups were joined on the Hill this year by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and all of them hailed the at least partial victory on media campaign funding.

In repeated federal studies, the media campaign has been found to be ineffective -- and sometimes even perverse, in that some studies have found exposure to the campaign make teen drug use more, not less, likely. Among those are a series of reports by Westat commissioned by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse and a Government Accountability Office review of the Westat studies.

"It's $60 million more than the program should be getting, but it is a significant reduction, and we're really happy with it," said Tom Angell, SSDP government relations director. "The federally funded evaluation shows it actually causes teens to use more drugs, not less. In the most objective analysis, the program is simply not working. We shouldn't be spending a dime of taxpayer money on that," he said.

"That's a step in the right direction," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for MPP. "The drug czar's ad campaigns have been largely based on misinformation and exaggeration, and anything that reduces that is a good thing. Since the drug czar has shown he has no interest in doing appropriate and factual drug education, the ideal funding level would be zero, but we're getting closer," he said.

"At its height, the ad campaign was getting $200 million a year, and now we've got it down to $60 million," said DPA's Piper. "Thankfully, Rep. Serrano and the other Democrats had the courage to cut this stupid and ineffective campaign. We've been lobbying to kill it outright, but it's really hard just to cut a program, let alone kill it in one fell swoop. We have to do it in baby steps," he said.

Congressional concern over ONDCP media operations also manifested itself in another section of the appropriations bill that restricts it and other federal agencies from producing video news releases (designed as "prepackaged news stories" for local TV news programs) unless they are clearly labeled as being funded by that agency. In a GAO report examining ONDCP video news releases, the government watchdog agency qualified them as "covert propaganda."

Also as part of the omnibus appropriations bill, the District of Columbia has won the right to spend its own money on needle exchange programs, which it had been barred from doing by congressional conservatives. But Congress did not go so far as to undo the 1998 rider authored by then drug warrior Rep. Bob Barr that blocked the District from enacting a medical marijuana law approved by the voters.

All in all, as Piper said, "a mixed bag." Drug reformers win a handful of battles, but the drug war juggernaut continues full ahead and federal money rains down on drug war law enforcement like a never-ending shower. And those federal funds seed the state and local drug war machine where most of the action takes place.

"Congress needs to stop paying the states to do bad things," said Piper. "The drug war perpetuates itself because the states don't have to pay the full costs; the feds subsidize it, so the states have little incentive to reform. But the vast majority of drug arrests are by the states, and they should have to pay the full cost for police and prisons and all those expenses associated with the drug war. Until that happens, it's going to be hard to get reform at the state level; that's why it's so sad the Democrats are undoing some of those cuts that Bush made."

Medical Marijuana: DEA Threatens San Francisco Dispensary Landlords, Dispensaries Sue, Conyers to Hold Hearings

In a reprise of a tactic first used against Los Angeles and Sacramento area dispensaries, the DEA this week sent letters to dozens of owners of buildings leased to San Francisco dispensaries warning them that their buildings could be seized. Dispensary operators responded by filing suit in federal court to stop the agency, and a high-ranking congressman has promised to hold hearings on the matter.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, and currently, hundreds of dispensaries are operating in the state to provide marijuana to patients qualified under the state's admittedly loose law. DEA raids and federal prosecution have failed to blunt their growth, and the landlord letters are only the latest wrinkle in the agency's war on the will of California voters.

"By this notice, you have been made aware of the purposes for which the property is being used," said a copy of the letter sent to San Francisco landlords, signed by the special agent in charge of the DEA's San Francisco office, Javier Pena. "You are further advised that violations of federal laws relating to marijuana may result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines and forfeiture of assets."

The letter gave no deadlines.

San Francisco once had as many as 40 dispensaries, although only 28 have applied for licenses under a city regulatory process that began in July. But dispensaries may also be linked to other buildings where medical marijuana grows or storage take place.

"The feds do as they please... (and) they've done it before," San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told the San Francisco Chronicle, adding he would not be surprised at a crackdown. "I would only hope they would coordinate with local law enforcement and that they are aware of the new regulatory system we have in place, and are sensitive to it."

Dispensary operators, however, were not quite so sanguine. A previously little known industry grouping, the Union of Medical Marijuana Providers, last week joined the Los Angeles area Arts District Healing Center in filing a federal lawsuit charging the DEA with extorting landlords. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to bar the DEA from sending any more threatening letters.

Dispensary operators and their supporters are also looking forward to hearings on the issue in the House Judiciary Committee. In response to complaints from California, last Friday, committee chair Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) announced he would hold hearings on the issue.

"I am deeply concerned about recent reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration is threatening private landlords with asset forfeiture and possible imprisonment if they refuse to evict organizations legally dispensing medical marijuana to suffering patients," Conyers said in a statement. "The committee has already questioned the DEA about its efforts to undermine California state law on this subject, and we intend to sharply question this specific tactic as part of our oversight efforts."

"When I saw Representative Conyers statement regarding the DEA's abuse of their power in order to thwart California's law, I knew that our legal efforts were beginning to pay off," said James Shaw, executive director of the Union. "The DEA has alienated too many citizens with their heavy-handed 'above the law tactics' for too long. We welcome all the support we can find in our efforts to ensure our rights are protected."

Steven Schectman, the Union's chief counsel, said he has contacted Representative Conyers' office in order to provide his staff copies of the litigation that was filed in both state and federal Court. "I am hopeful we can support the Judiciary Committee in any way possible. As a result of our research and investigation of the DEA's threatening letter campaign, in preparation of our litigation, we have become the most knowledgeable group, outside the DEA, who best understands the scope and import of their tactics. We are here to help."

Why Doesn't the DEA Just Crack Down on Medical Marijuana?

Ever wonder why the federal government doesn't just go ahead and raid every medical marijuana dispensary in California? The DEA seems to conduct only enough raids to create the perception of risk, while completely failing to prevent widespread medical access. In an online chat, someone asked the Drug Czar about this, and you know what he said? Nothing. He may be afraid to answer, but I'm not.

First check out his lengthy response and note that it doesn't answer the main question:
Patrick, from San Francisco, CA writes:
Mr. Walters-- My son is a high school junior here in San Francisco, CA. A large percentage of high school students in San Francisco smoke pot on campus several times a day. Teachers and school administrators are powerless to stop it and simply look the other way, all due to state and local laws which make it almost impossible to control pot and thereby keep it out of the hands of kids. How serious is the federal government in its attempts to shut down the phony "medical marijuana" industry, which is really just an underhanded way to make it easy for people to use pot recreationally. Raiding pot clubs could be stepped up easily (with very few people), couldn't they? --Patrick

John Walters
I’m glad you raised this concern, Patrick. We’re hearing the same thing from many other communities dealing with the same issue.

We believe that if there are elements of marijuana that can be applied to modern medicine, they should undergo the same FDA-approval process any other medicine goes through to make sure it’s safe and effective. In absence of that approval, the Federal position is clear: the smoked form of medical marijuana is against Federal law and we will continue to enforce the law.

Last year, the FDA issued an advisory reinforcing the fact that no sound scientific studies have supported medical use of smoked marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data support the safety or efficacy of smoked marijuana for general medical use. This statement adds to the already substantial list of national public health organizations that have already spoken out on this issue, including the American Medical Association, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society – all of which do not support the smoked form of marijuana as medicine. So who’s pushing for the smoked form of medical marijuana then?

Funded by millions of dollars from those whose goal it is to legalize marijuana outright, marijuana lobbyists have been deployed to Capitol Hill and to States across the Nation to employ their favored tactic of using Americans' natural compassion for the sick to garner support for a far different agenda. These modern-day snake oil proponents cite testimonials—not science—that smoked marijuana helps patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, and other painful diseases “feel better.” While smoking marijuana may allow patients to temporarily feel better, the medical community makes an important distinction between inebriation and the controlled delivery of pure pharmaceutical medication. If you want to learn more about this, we have information available that shows how medical marijuana laws increase drug-related crime and protect drug dealers. Hopefully you can help us educate more of our citizens about this fraud.
So it's clear that the Drug Czar opposes medical marijuana, but what about the raids? Well, I can think of a few reasons why a full-blown attack on medical access in California would be highly problematic:
1. Simultaneously raiding California's several hundred dispensaries would provoke aggressive protests and widespread bad publicity. The ensuing press coverage would highlight marijuana's well-known medical applications.

2. DEA's tactic of suppressing evidence in court that the marijuana is for medical use wouldn’t work if they raided all the providers at once. Jurors would figure it out and vote to acquit, wasting federal law enforcement and prosecutorial resources.

3. Black market violence would erupt immediately as criminals rush in to meet demand. This would prove to everyone that the medical marijuana industry actually made California safer.

4. Anti-medical marijuana statements from Republican presidential hopefuls have already jeopardized their chance at winning California's 54 electoral votes. An aggressive DEA campaign at this time would ensure a democratic victory there. Bush's Drug Czar knows better than to help democrats win California.

I suppose it's not very surprising that the Drug Czar declined to elaborate on this. He certainly wouldn't want to put ideas in anyone's head.

The point here isn't that providing medical marijuana carries no legal risks. It clearly does. But it's important for everyone to understand how hollow most of the DEA's threats really are. DEA's ongoing efforts against medical marijuana providers in California are designed to create the appearance of chaos, which is then cited as evidence that the medical marijuana industry is inherently harmful. This is purely political.

The Drug Czar's failure to answer this simple and common question reveals a great deal about his own reluctance to interfere with the will of California voters.

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United States

ASA: Judiciary Committee Chairman Conyers Opposes DEA Tactics

[Courtesy of Americans for Safe Access] Judiciary Committee Chairman Conyers Opposes DEA Tactics Pledges to Question DEA During Oversight Hearings Dear Friend, As many of you know, DEA recently launched an entirely new tactic in their continued efforts to undermine the effective implementation of medical marijuana laws in California. They have sent hundreds of letters threatening prosecution and asset forfeiture against property owners who rent to legal medical cannabis collectives – a strategy that could have ramifications for medical marijuana programs nationwide. ASA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson has been talking to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers’ (D-MI) staff and other Democratic leadership to encourage them to oppose these tactics and stand up for patients in states where medical cannabis is legal. Today, Chairman Conyers issued at a statement saying: “I am deeply concerned about recent reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration is threatening private landlords with asset forfeiture and possible imprisonment if they refuse to evict organizations legally dispensing medical marijuana to suffering patients. The Committee has already questioned the DEA about its efforts to undermine California state law on this subject, and we intend to sharply question this specific tactic as part of our oversight efforts.” In conjunction with more than fifty raids at medical cannabis collectives in California this year, the asset forfeiture threats against property owners represent the most serious challenge to patients’ access in the United States today. Conyers’ support signals the first significant Congressional opposition to the DEA’s attempted end run around voters and state lawmakers. ASA welcomes this statement and we look forward to working with Chairman Conyers to finally end DEA interference in state medical marijuana laws. Congratulations to the hundreds of ASA members who helped put grassroots strength behind our work! Keep your eyes open for an Action Alert next week to put even more support behind Conyers’ initiative, and visit www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/Donate to make a contribution to support our effective advocacy today. Thank you, Steph Sherer Executive Director Americans for Safe Access -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Americans for Safe Access is the nation's largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Hemp: Court Rejects Bid By North Dakota Farmers to Get DEA Out of the Way

In Bismarck, US District Court Judge Daniel Hovland Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by two would-be North Dakota hemp farmers seeking to end the DEA's ban on commercial hemp farming in the United States. Controlling opinions in the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals find that the federal Controlled Substances Act includes industrial hemp within the definition of marijuana, thus leaving hemp under the jurisdiction of the drug agency, Hovland wrote in his 22-page decision.

Backed by a state law permitting industrial hemp production and a friendly state Department of Agriculture, farmers Wayne Hauge and David Monson, the latter also a Republican state legislator, applied for licenses from the DEA to grow hemp. When the DEA failed to act on their applications, they sued in federal court.

Attorneys for the farmers said they are considering whether to appeal the decision. Among possible grounds would be the court's finding, following the DEA, that hemp and marijuana are the same thing.

While recognizing that industrial hemp could be a valuable commercial crop for North Dakota and that the farmers are unlikely to ever get DEA approval of their applications, Hovland wrote that the issue is one best resolved by Congress.

"The policy arguments raised by the plaintiffs are best suited for Congress rather than a federal courtroom in North Dakota," wrote Hovland, noting that a bill -- the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007 -- had been introduced to address the issue. "Whether efforts to amend the law will prevail, and whether North Dakota farmers will be permitted to grow industrial hemp in the future, are issues that should ultimately rest in the hands of Congress rather than in the hands of a federal judge."

"Obviously we are disappointed with the decision," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a grassroots group working to bring industrial hemp farming back to the US. "The court's decision shows it understands that the established and growing market for industrial hemp would be beneficial for North Dakota farmers to supply. Yet the decision overlooks Congress's original intent -- and the fact that farmers continued to grow hemp in the US for twenty years after marijuana was banned. If the plaintiffs decide to appeal the case, we would wholeheartedly support that effort. We are not giving up and will take this decision to Washington, DC to prompt action by Congress on HR 1009, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007, which would clarify a state's right to grow the crop," added Steenstra.

While the farmers lost their case, it has apparently prompted the DEA to finally act on an eight-year-old application from North Dakota State University to conduct research on industrial hemp. During oral arguments in the case two weeks ago in Bismarck, the DEA's failure to act on the university's application came under discussion as the court weighed the likelihood of the agency ever responding to the farmers. Now, the DEA has sent a "Memorandum of Agreement" to the university which, if signed by the school, would clear the way for research to get underway.

"It seems our arguments about the DEA's delay in processing NDSU's application have resulted in the agency finally taking positive action to allow research," noted David Bronner, president of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, a manufacturer of soap and other body care products using hemp oil imported from Canada.

But that's small solace for hemp advocates and North Dakota farmers in the face of a federal court system that has so far been unable to apply common sense to the hemp question.

Feature: Would-Be North Dakota Hemp Farmers Have Another Day in Court

A pair of North Dakota farmers who are suing the federal government over the DEA's failure to act on their applications to grow hemp will know by month's end if their case will continue, a federal district court judge in Bismarck said Wednesday. That comment from Judge Dan Hovland came at the end of a hearing on a motion by the government to dismiss the case.

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Wayne Hauge, David Monson, ND attorney Tim Purdon
Drug War Chronicle was there, sitting in the back of the courtroom as the farmers, the state of North Dakota, and hemp industry advocates took on a stubborn and recalcitrant DEA and its Justice Department mouthpieces. Besides the plaintiffs and lawyers for both sides, only a handful of hemp advocates and local media reporters were present.

Judge Hovland said he will rule on the motion within two weeks. He also stayed other motions before the court pending his ruling on the motion to dismiss.

Hemp products may be imported to the US, but a DEA ban on domestic production prevents US farmers from growing it, meaning domestic hemp product makers must turn to suppliers in countries where it is legal to grow, including Canada, China, and most of Europe.

Hemp is a member of the cannabis family, but unlike the marijuana consumed by recreational and medical marijuana users, contains only tiny amounts of the psychoactive substance that gets marijuana users "high." But the DEA argues that hemp is marijuana and that the Controlled Substances Act gives it authority to ban it.

The farmers and their attorneys disagree, pointing out that the CSA contains language explicitly exempting hemp fiber, seed oil, and seed incapable of germination from the definition of "marihuana" and are thus not controlled substances under that law. That same language was used to allow the legal import of hemp into the US as a result of a 2004 federal court decision siding with the hemp industry against the DEA.

The lawsuit filed by farmers Wayne Hauge and Dave Monson (who is also a Republican state legislator) is only the latest chapter in a decade-long struggle by North Dakota farmers to grow hemp. The state first passed hemp legislation in 1997, but things really began moving when state Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, a strong hemp supporter, issued the first state permits to grow hemp to Hauge and Monson on February 6. One week later, Hauge and Monson sent a request to the DEA requesting licenses to grow their crops and noting that they needed a response by early April in order to get the crops in the ground this year.

The DEA failed to respond in a timely fashion. According to a March 27 DEA letter to Ag Commissioner Johnson, seven weeks was not enough time for the agency to arrive at a ruling on the request. That letter was the final straw for the North Dakotans, who then sued in federal court to get the DEA out of the way.

Just as the DEA appears determined to stall the hemp applications -- it has been sitting on one from North Dakota State University for eight years -- so the Justice Department seems much more interested in killing the case than arguing it. Wednesday's hearing in Bismarck saw Assistant US Attorney Wendy Ertmer try to make the case go away by arguing that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue the government because they had not been arrested or indicted and by arguing that district court was not the proper venue to hear it.

"The plaintiffs have suffered no injury," said Ertmer.

"Must they expose themselves to arrest to have standing?" asked an incredulous Judge Hovland.

"Generally, yes," Ertmer responded.

Hovland and Ertmer also tangled over the issue of jurisdiction, with Ertmer arguing that challenges to administrative rulings should be handled by federal appeals courts. Hovland seemed to differ, saying that district courts can indeed render declaratory judgements.

Judge Hovland also questioned Ertmer closely over the DEA's failure to act on either the NDSU application or Hauge and Monson's application. "There seems to be no realistic prospect that the DEA will grant the applications," he said.

"Why has it taken eight years and there is still no response to the NDSU application?" he asked. "Is exercising administrative remedies an exercise in futility? I see no prospect the plaintiffs will ever get a license," he said.

Throughout, Ertmer stuck to her guns and the government's official position that hemp is marijuana. She repeatedly referred to industrial hemp as "bulk marijuana" and derided North Dakota legislation that defines hemp as distinct from marijuana as meaningless. "It's still marijuana," she said.

Washington, DC, attorney Joe Sandler, who is representing the plaintiffs, provided a hint of arguments to come as he argued that neither the Supreme Court decision in the Raich case nor an 8th Circuit Court of Appeals case banning South Dakota Lakota Indian Alex White Plume from growing hemp on the Pine Ridge reservation should be controlling in the current case.

Hovland listened attentively, but then, noting that an industrial hemp bill had been introduced in Congress, wondered if a political solution were not the most appropriate. "Isn't the best remedy to amend the definition of industrial hemp under the (federal) Controlled Substances Act?" he asked. "To me, it seems like the easiest solution."

But Hauge, Monson, and their allies in the North Dakota state government and the hemp industry aren't waiting on Congress or the DEA. "If NDSU needed eight years and nothing was resolved, I think the DEA is trying to wait us out," Monson said. "It's a de facto denial of our license and that's part of our frustration."

Hauge and Monson said hemp could be a beneficial crop for North Dakota farmers. "We can start an entire industry with fiber, oil and meal," Monson said. "There are literally thousands of uses. This could be a huge economic benefit for North Dakota."

He is already getting requests for product from people who mistakenly think he's already growing a hemp crop, he said. "At least weekly, someone is calling asking to buy fiber or seed," Monson said. "There is certainly a market, especially on the West Coast and especially in the food industry. We can benefit here in North Dakota from the fiber."

Hauge, who farms a spread near the Canadian border in the western part of the state, said hemp is a potential money-maker, especially when grown in rotation with his durum, pea, and lentil crops. "You can make a profit, it's not just an alternative," Hauge said. "This is a rotation with a profit."

Hauge was hopeful following the hearing, saying he expected a ruling in the plaintiff's favor. "I'm positive about this," Hauge said. "The judge asked good questions and it shows his insight."

If Hovland denies the government motion to dismiss, it's back to court, where the plaintiffs will seek a summary declaration in their favor. But the federal courts move slowly, and planting season is only a few months away.

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