Court Rulings

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Chronicle AM: Christie Blames Obama for "Heroin Epidemic," CO Patients Sue Over PTSD, More (8/24/2015)

Pot isn't stinky enough for its odor to automatically qualify as disorderly conduct in Oregon, Colorado patients sue over the state's decision not to include PTSD in the medical marijuana program, Oklahomans will try again to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot, and more.

Chris Christie tries to make political hay off of opiate addiction. (
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Court Rules Pot Smell Not Inherently Offensive. The state Court of Appeals has thrown out the conviction of a man arrested on graffiti charges after police entered his home using the premise that he was committing disorderly conduct with the "physically offensive" odor of smoked marijuana. The court held that marijuana odors are not necessarily "physically offensive," writing that, "We are not prepared to declare that the odor of marijuana smoke is equivalent to the odor of garbage. Indeed, some people undoubtedly find the scent pleasing." The case is State v. Lang.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Patients Sue Over State's Refusal to Include PTSD as Qualifying Condition. Five PTSD patients filed suit against the state Board of Health last Thursday over its decision not to include PTSD on the state's medical marijuana eligibility list. The board and the Department of Public Health and Environment, which is also named in the complaint, now have 21 days to respond.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Coming. Medical marijuana advocates filed papers with the state last Friday indicating they are preparing another initiative petition drive to put the issue before the voters. Once the initiative is approved for circulation, proponents will have 90 days to gather 123,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. A similar effort fell short in 2014. This one is being run by a group called Green the Vote.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Campaign Ad Blames Heroin "Epidemic" on Obama. In a new campaign ad, the New Jersey governor and Republican presidential contender goes after "lawlessness in America and around the world under Barack Obama" and declares that "drugs are running rampant and destroying lives" as images of an apparent drug overdose and a hoodie-wearing addict shooting up show on the screen. Christie doubled down on the ad on MSNBC's Morning Joe this morning: "This president has set a standard in Washington of lawlessness," he said. "What I mean by that is this: If you don't like the law, don't enforce it. So if you don't like the immigration laws, don't enforce those and let there be sanctuary cities throughout the country and do nothing about it. If you don't like the marijuana laws, don't enforce the marijuana laws in certain states if they don't feel like enforcing them."

Ohio Bill Would End Automatic Drivers' License Suspension for Drug Offenses. Following an edict developed by the federal government in the 1990s, people convicted of drug offenses in Ohio face an automatic six-month suspension of their drivers' licenses, even if no vehicle was involved in their offense. The state told the federal government in December it wanted out of the program, and now a bill to do just that, Senate Bill 204, has been introduced. The bill would make the suspension discretionary instead of mandatory, and it has the support of state prosecutors. "It never made much sense to have a license suspension in connection with a drug offense unless there is a vehicle involved," said John Murphy of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.


May Shootout in Mexico Now Looks Like a Massacre By Police. The Mexican National Security Commission told the public that an incident that left 42 alleged cartel gunmen and one police officer dead was an hours-long shootout, but evidence developed since then suggest that it was instead a massacre or summary execution of suspects. Now, the Mexican Attorney General's Office and local prosecutors in Michoacan say crime scene evidence doesn't match what the commission and the police reported. That evidence suggests that only 12 of the 42 dead narcos were killed in action. Twenty-three others had wounds consistent not with a gunfight, but with an execution. Federal police said they seized 43 firearms, but only 12 had been fired, and photographs of the scene showed bodies with muddy hands lying next to clean weapons. One victim was shot nine times in the back; another was beaten to death. The Attorney General's Office says it will take over the investigation once local investigators are done.

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

Chronicle AM: First Las Vegas MedMJ Shop, Peru Restarting Drug Plane Shootdowns, More (8/21/2015)

A Wisconsin tribe moves toward legal marijuana, Oakland's effort to back the Harborside dispensary gets shot down in federal court, Peru wants to shoot down drug planes again, both major Kentucky governor candidates want to drug test welfare recipients, and more.

Peru claims a ton a day of cocaine is being flown out of the country. (
Marijuana Policy

California NAACP Files Legalization Initiative. The civil rights group has filed the Community Act to Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis, the latest addition to the growing list of legalization initiatives filed in the state. Reports are that the initiative is not designed to compete with the still long-awaited proposal from ReformCA, of which the California NAACP is a member, but to submit model language in support of the broader effort. The initiative would legalize up to an ounce and allow personal grows of up to 25 square feet, as well as allow marijuana commerce.

Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe Votes to Legalize Marijuana on Reservation. Tribal members overwhelmingly approved two advisory questions on whether the tribe should legalize marijuana on its reservation. Recreational marijuana was approved 677 to 499, while medical marijuana was approved 899 to 275. The matter now goes to the tribal legislature, which, given the vote, will likely approve ordinances allowing for marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Rejects City of Oakland Lawsuit Backing Harborside Dispensary. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling dismissing Oakland's lawsuit against the Justice Department and the Northern California US Attorney's office. The city had argued that closing the dispensary would deprive it of tax revenues and increase crime by creating a black market for marijuana. Then-US Attorney Melinda Haag moved in 2012 to seize Harborside, claiming it violated federal law by selling medical marijuana. The case continues even though the Justice Department has since said it generally wouldn't interfere with state marijuana laws.

First Las Vegas Dispensary Set to Open Monday. A spokesman for Euphoria Wellness said Thursday the dispensary had won final state and county approvals this week and would open for business Monday. It will be the first dispensary in Clark County. The first dispensary in the state opened last month in the Reno suburb of Sparks.

Drug Testing

Both Major Kentucky Gubernatorial Candidates Want to Do Welfare Drug Testing. Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway has joined Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin in calling for drug testing of some welfare recipients. "I don't want to see our tax dollars going to support drug addiction," Conway, the Democratic front-runner, said Thursday. But Conway called for suspicion-based drug testing, while Bevins called for random testing, and Conway rejects drug testing Medicare recipients, while Bevins is for it.


Peruvian Congress Approves Shooting Down Suspected Drug Planes. The Congress voted unanimously Thursday to allow military planes to shoot down suspected drug flights. Drug-fighting President Ollanta Humala is expected to sign the bill. Peru claims a ton of cocaine a day is flown to Bolivia. Peru used to shoot down drug planes, but stopped after one of its pilots in a CIA-run program shot down a small plane carrying US missionaries, killing US citizen Roni Bowers and her infant daughter, Charity.

Russia Threatens to Ban Wikipedia Over Drug "How To" Entry. Russia's online censor, Roskomnadzor, says it will ban the entire website from Russia unless it removes or blocks access to an article about how to make a marijuana preparation. The censor has also recently gone after Reddit and YouTube over similar postings. Click on the link for more.

Canada's NDP Would Decriminalize Marijuana "Right Away." New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair said Thursday that "the NDP's position is decriminalization the moment we form a government" and that "it's something we can do right away." The NDP is leading most polls in the elections set for October. The Liberals under Justin Trudeau have called for outright legalization, but they're polling third, behind the Conservatives, who have taken a hard line opposing any moves at drug liberalization.

Dusseldorf Moves Forward on Legal Marijuana Sales Plan. Councilors in the German city Wednesday approved a pilot project to sell marijuana to adults. The move was a joint effort by the three parties that form the city's governing coalition, the Social Democrats, the Free Democrats, and the Greens. A similar move is afoot in Berlin, Germany's largest city, where councilors in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district applied for a marijuana license in June.

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

Chronicle AM: OH Init Claims to Make Ballot, Clinton Talks Drug Abuse in NH, More (8/12/2015)

Legal marijuana states still have issues, an Ohio group says it has qualified a legalization initiative for the November ballot, a video game league institutes drug testing, Hillary Clinton talks drugs on the campaign trail, and more.

Hillary Clinton. The Democratic contender said people are telling her drug abuse is a big issue. (
Marijuana Policy

Under Proposed Rules, Colorado Edibles Would Be Marked With Stop Sign. A working group tasked with finalizing labeling requirements for marijuana edibles is calling for such products to be marked with the letters "THC" inside a stop sign -- not only on the package, but on the product itself. Some people in the industry think that could be problematic. The working group has until the end of the month to finalize the rules. Click on the link for more details.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Says It Has Qualified for Ballot. Ohio officials haven't confirmed it yet, but ResponsibleOhio, the group behind this year's controversial legalization initiative, says it has handed in enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group needed 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify. It handed in nearly 700,000 last month, but came up some 30,000 short. Under state law, it had another 10 days to make up the shortfall, and it handed in 95,000 raw signatures last week. The group has been tracking the counting in each county in the state and now says: "It is with the greatest sense of humility that we let each of you know that we have crossed the signature threshold based on what the boards have reported so far!"

No Adult Pot Lounge at Hempfest This Year -- It Would Be a Felony. Last year, in keeping with the spirit of marijuana legalization, Seattle's Hempfest set up "adult lounges" where the over-21 set could toke up. Not this year. That's because the omnibus legislation to regulate legal marijuana that went into effect last month makes providing a place for public pot use a Class-C felony.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Girl Can't Be Give Her Edibles at School, Judge Rules. An administrative law judge has ruled that allowing a junior high student to be provided medical marijuana edibles at school would violate the Drug Free School Zone Act. The girls' parents had sued for the right and are vowing to appeal, but they said they also plan to test a portion of the ruling that said that, as her caregivers, they have the right to possess medical marijuana even on school grounds. "We are going to try to go to school to give Genny her medicine," Roger Barbour said. "If they say no, Lora will come bearing the judge's decision and will insist on it."

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Panel Ponders Reforms Today. The legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee is meeting today to consider tightening the state's asset forfeiture laws. One proposed bill would limit asset forfeiture by first requiring a felony conviction; another would raise the legal standard from "probable cause" to "clear and convincing evidence" that a crime had been committed. Earlier this year, Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have eliminated civil forfeiture by first requiring a conviction.

Drug Policy

At New Hampshire Forum, Hillary Clinton Pledges to Elevate Issue of Drug Abuse. After hearing from a variety of stakeholders, the Democratic presidential contender said drug abuse has emerged as a consistent issue as she travels the country. "I have to confess -- I was surprised," she said. "I did not expect that I would hear about drug abuse and substance abuse and other such challenges everywhere I went." She said advisers are speaking with medical professionals as the campaign develops policy proposal later this year, and that substance abuse should be treated as a health issue.

Drug Testing

Video Game League Announces Drug Testing Specifics. The Electronic Sports League (ESL), the premier professional video gaming organization, has announced that it will subject players to the possibility of saliva tests to detect the presence of banned substances, including opioid pain relievers, stimulants, and marijuana. ESL says marijuana use will only be banned during tournaments. Drug testing for the league has come about after a scandal this spring over the use of the stimulant Adderall by some gamers.


Canada's Harper Campaigns on Hard Line on Drugs. Facing an October election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to reject marijuana legalization, saying that most Canadians agree with him even though a government opinion poll released a year ago had more than two-thirds supporting either legalization or decriminalization. Where marijuana is easily available and legal, "more people get addicted," he warned. "We just think that's the wrong direction for society and I don't think that's the way most Canadians want to deal with this particular problem." He also reiterated Tory opposition to safe injection sites.

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

Chronicle AM: AZ MJ Probable Cause Conundrum, CDC Warns on MedMJ Edibles, Peyote Protest, More (7/24/15)

Two Arizona appeals court panels have offered up clashing rulings this week on whether the smell of pot is still probable cause for a search, Michigan initiative fundraising reports tell an interesting story, changes in Washington state's medical marijuana program go into effect today, and more.

Peyote buttons, sacrament of the Native American Church. (
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Appeals Court Upholds Search Based on Marijuana Odor. Whether the odor of marijuana is probable cause for a search or a search warrant now looks like an issue heading to the state Supreme Court. Just days after one appeals court panel ruled that the state's medical marijuana law means it is not grounds for a search warrant, a second panel has ruled that it is. In Thursday's case, the appeals court upheld the actions of police officers who searched a vehicle after they smelled burnt marijuana. The panel held that the medical marijuana law didn't make marijuana legal, but only provided immunity from prosecution to those who had medical marijuana ID cards. "The fact that a registered patient under the AMMA with a valid registry identification card can affirmatively claim immunity from arrest, prosecution or penalty for possession of use of marijuana .... does not eliminate the significance of the smell of marijuana as an indicator of criminal activity in this case," Judge Samuel Thumma wrote.

Grassroots Effort Leads in Fundraising Among Michigan Legalization Initiatives. Campaign finance reports reveal that the Michigan Cannabis Coalition (MCC), backed by wealthy Oakland County interests, has only $1,000 in the bank, while the grassroots MILegalize has raised $60,000, with more than $100,000 in matching funds pledged. MCC got a $21,000 donation from an Oakland county Republican political operative, but the same day, it sent a $20,000 check to signature-gathering firm. A third group, the Michigan Responsibility Council, which wants to create a cultivation monopoly like the one championed by ResponsibleOhio, appears to have gone quiet. Its website is defunct, it hasn't displayed any initiative language, and it will not reveal the identities of its leaders.

New Hampshire Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new WMUR Granite State poll has support for legalization at 60% and support for decriminalization even higher at 72%. Support has climbed six points for legalization and nine points for decriminalization since the last WMUR Granite State poll in May. The state legislature has considered legalization, but has so far refused to pass it. Click on the link for more poll results and methodology.

Medical Marijuana

CDC Warns of "Potential Danger" From Edibles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today released a report citing the case of a Wyoming college student who fell to his death after eating edibles in Colorado to warn of the "potential danger" with the products. "Although the decedent in this case was advised against eating multiple servings at one time," the CDC article says, "he reportedly consumed all five of the remaining servings of the THC-infused cookie within 30-60 minutes after the first serving." The CDC noted that the coroner in the case listed "marijuana intoxication" as a contributing factor in the death, which was classified as an accident.

Washington State Medical Marijuana Program Changes Now In Effect. Recently passed legislation designed to bring the program in line with the state's legalization system went into effect today. The Liquor Control Board is now the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, PTSD and traumatic brain injury are now considered qualifying conditions, a voluntary patient database (which patients must join if they want the tax breaks for medical marijuana) is now in effect, the number of plants in a household is limited to 15 no matter how many patients live there, and doctors who write more than one medical marijuana authorization a day must report their totals to the Department of Health.


Salt Lake City Religious Freedom Rally Calls for End to Utah Ban on Sacramental Use. Protesters gathered at the state capital in Salt Lake City Thursday to advocate for the right to use peyote as part of their religious observances. The demonstration was organized by the Tahteya Topa (Four Winds) Native American Church of Utah, which is allowed under federal law to use the cactus for religious purposes. The Utah law bans anyone who is not at least one-quarter Indian from using it for religious purposes. "It's supposed to be 25% [Native American heritage], but what they're really doing is trying to kill a religion by saying you have to have a certain blood… Religion is not about race," said the church's David Hamblin.

Santa Muerte Goes to Court: The Curious Case of the Narco Saint's Prayer [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker,

Does praying to a "narco saint" constitute evidence that someone is a drug trafficker? In an unusual case out of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the court said "no." In overturning the conviction of the woman doing the praying, the court both acted to protect First Amendment freedoms and opened a window into Santa Muerte, the unofficial Saint Death venerated by hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of poor Mexicans, some of whom are members of the criminal underworld.

Santa Muerte shrine, Nuevo Laredo (wikipedia/not home)
The case,US v. Medina-Copete and Goxcon-Chagal, unfolded on June 28 2011, when New Mexico State Police Sergeant Arsenio Chavez pulled over a truck with Nevada plates on I-40 in Albuquerque for failing to maintain adequate distance from the vehicle ahead of it. According to court testimony, Chavez felt suspicious when he noticed the occupants appeared nervous, and the woman riding on the passenger side could be heard reciting a handwritten prayer she held in her hands.

In the truck were Tulsa residents Rafael Goxcon-Chagal and Maria Medina-Copete. Also in the truck, stashed in a secret compartment, were two pounds of 90% pure methamphetamine. The couple, who had borrowed the truck, denied any knowledge of the drugs, but they were nonetheless charged with trafficking meth. They were convicted in August 2012 for conspiracy to distribute more than 50 pounds of meth and firearms possession. They were sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

The prayer the woman was reciting was to Santa Muerte, and the fact the she directed her adorations toward the Mexican "narco saint" helped convict her of drug trafficking.

Who is Santa Muerte?

For years, religious experts and law enforcement authorities have called Santa Muerte a "narco saint," worshipped by drug traffickers and who believe she has the power to protect them from their enemies -- who range from other traffickers to the police.

Santa Muerte is typically portrayed as a skeletal woman, wearing robes or a bridal gown, and holding a scythe -- a sort of Grim Reaper figure. For the millions that venerate her, she is a figure of compassion, protection, and unconditional love who will protect her devotees from evil. She is the saint of the marginalized, as well as the criminal.

For the Catholic Church, worship of Santa Muerte is blasphemy. Still, her popularity continues to grow, and each November, thousands of worshippers gather at her main shrine, in the rough and tumble Tepito district of Mexico City to get her blessings and bestow gifts -- both humbly modest and gaudily golden -- on her statue.

She is estimated to have 10 to 12 million devotees, not just in Mexico, but, increasingly, in the US and other Latin American counties as well.

Muerte, the Skeleton Saint."

While it began among the lumpenproletariat of Mexico City and has always been associated with criminals and narcos, the experts concede that Santa Muerte is worshipped by many who are simply poor and on society's fringes.

"Santa Muerte has been used as evidence and used as probable cause in some cases," Chesnut explained. "But she is not just a narco-saint, and many of her devotees aren't involved in criminal behavior. Some drug traffickers pray to Saint Jude, a recognized Catholic Saint, but that deity is rarely brought up in criminal cases," he pointed out.

Chesnut called the appeals court's ruling in the case "a landmark decision," adding that it marked the first time to his knowledge "that a conviction has been overturned because a folk saint was used in trial."

Challenging the "Expert Testimony"

Goxcon-Chagal andMedina-Copete appealed their convictions, with their attorneys arguing that federal prosecutors and the district court judge had subjected them to harmful error by allowing an expert on religious iconography to testify that Santa Muerte was so intimately connected to drug trafficking that Medina-Copete's invocation was evidence the pair knew illegal drugs were secreted in their vehicle.

The expert was US Marshal Robert Almonte, producer of the documentary, Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld. Almonte is also the author of two books, "Evolution of Narcotic Investigation" and "Managing Covert Operations."

The appellate attorneys also argued that Almonte's testimony about Santa Muerte 's association with narcotics severely undermined the defendants' defense that they had no knowledge of the drugs because the truck had been borrowed from one of Goxcon-Chagal's friend. They argued that the admission of Almonte's testimony violated federal rules of evidence.

Federal prosecutors retorted that the testimony was admissible under rules about evidence relating to "tools of the trade" of the drug business.

The 10th Circuit disagreed. In their ruling last year, the court found that prosecutors had indeed violated the rules of evidence by using Almonte's testimony, which the panel likened to "psychobabble."

The district court had erred in allowing the testimony because "it applied our 'tool of the trade' jurisprudence to Almonte's purported area of expertise without considering whether a prayer could qualify as a 'tool of the drug trade,' " wrote Judge Carlos Lucero for the majority. He is the first Hispanic judge to sit on the circuit.

US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Carlos Lucero (
The lower court also erred because 'it allowed Almonte to testify as an expert based on his experience without considering the relevance or breadth of that experience, thereby eliding the 'facts or data' requirements found under [the rules of evidence], " Lucero continued.

It was a double whammy: The prosecution did not show Almonte knew what he was talking about, and the lower court misinterpreted the rules of evidence to allow religious beliefs to be considered tools of the drug trade.

As a result, Judge Lucero noted, "Almonte's expert testimony characterizing the mere presence of the prayer as a very good indicator of possible criminal activity influenced the outcome of the trial in a prejudicial manner."

Lucero didn't hold back with what he thought of Almonte's testimony, either.

"He essentially painted the defendants in this case as heretics, holding beliefs not recognized by the Catholic Church either in Mexico or the United States. A criminal trial is not a place for a theological disputation on sainthood and the power of prayer. We urge the government to be cautious about appearing to take sides in theological debates," he wrote.

Out of the Frying Pan

While the 10th Circuit's decision reversed Goxcon-Chagel and Medina-Copete's convictions, it didn't free them. Instead they were transferred from federal prison to a federal detention center for retrial.

Things didn't look good for the pair. They had, after all, been caught with the meth, and the appeals court allowed to stand trial testimony from a DEA agent about the unlikelihood of drug traffickers sending loads of drugs with unknowing couriers.

Defense attorneys explored both the circumstances of the traffic stop and any investigations that might have preceded it, but were unable to find wriggle room there.

"Part of the problem is the standard permitting 'pretext stops,'" Goxcon-Chagel attorney Katherine Converse told the Chronicle. "Another problem is the difficulty of learning whether there was any NSA involvement in the stop," she added, referring to recent revelations of NSA intelligence being fed to DEA officers and on to local law enforcement agencies to launch drug investigations against potential suspects.

After lengthy negotiations with federal prosecutors, and without much in the way of a defense to the drug charges, Converse and Media-Copete's attorney advised their clients to take a plea. In February, Goxcon-Chagel copped to the charges and got 7 ½ years; Medina-Cotete, the praying woman, got four. Because of time already served, she's already been released.

And she probably sent a prayer of thanks to Santa Muerte.

Here is the complete hand-written prayer to Santa Muerte recited by and recovered from Maria Medina-Copete:

For protection during a trip
Holy Spirit of Death, I invoke your Holy Name to ask you to help me in this venture.
Make my way over the mountains valleys and paths an easy one,
never stop bestowing upon me your good fortune
weave the destiny so that bad instincts vanish before me because of your powerful protection.
Prevent, Santa Muerte, problems from growing and embracing my heart, my
Lady, keep any illness from embracing my wings (Illegible)
Glorious Santa Muerte be my protector and light my path. Be my
advocate before the redeemer. Be my truth in times of darkness
Grant me the strength and faith to invoke your name
and to thank you now
and forever for all your favors
Oh miraculous Santa Muerte, Niña Blanca of my heart and right arm of god
our lord. Today I come to you with infinite devotion to implore you for
health, fortune and luck
Remove from my path (illegible) that hurts me, envy and misfortune; don't
allow my enemy's slander reach and harm my spirit
may no one prevent me from receiving the prosperity that I am asking of you today
my powerful lady bless the money that will reach my hands and multiply it
so that my family lacks for nothing
and I can outreach my hand to the needy that crosses my path
keep tragedy pain and shortage away from me
this votive candle I will light so that the radiance of your eyes forms an
invisible wall around me
grant me prudence and patience holy lady, Santa Reina de las Tinieblas
("Holy Queen of Darkness") strength, power and wisdom tell the elements
not to unleash their fury wherever they cross paths with me take care of my
happy surroundings and that I want to adorn decorate
in my Santa Muerte

Chronicle AM: Delaware Decriminalizes, Supremes Make Synthetic Convictions More Difficult, More (6/19/05)

The marijuana reform bandwagon rolls through Delaware, federal bills on opiates and racial profiling get filed, the Supreme Court issues an interesting decision on synthetic drug sales, and more.

The Supreme Court clarifies that criminal intent matters. (
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession. With the signature of Gov. Jack Markell (D) Thursday night on House Bill 39, Delaware becomes the 20th state to either decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana or make it legal for adults. The new law, which goes into effect in six months, removes the criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce by an adult, replacing them with a civil infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine. For those between 18 and 21, a first offense would be a civil infraction, while any more would be misdemeanors. For people under 18, possession would remain a misdemeanor. Public use would be a misdemeanor punishable by a $200 fine and up to five days in jail. That includes moving vehicles, public areas, and outdoors on private property within 10 feet of street, sidewalk, or any other areas generally accessible to the public.

Missouri Cannabis Conference Next Weekend. Missouri advocacy groups Show Me Cannabis and Missouri NORML are holding a joint conference beginning next Friday in Kansas City. Click on the title link for all the details.

Heroin and Opiates

Federal Bill to Deal With Opiate Use Filed. A bipartisan group of six House members Thursday filed HR 2805 as a multi-pronged effort to grapple with opiate and heroin use. Several other bills on the topic have already been filed. This one would increase prescription monitoring requirements, create an inter-agency task to develop best practices for pain management, create a grant program to increase the number of first responders carrying the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, and direct the drug czar's office to establish a public awareness program.

New Synthetic Drugs

Supreme Court Rules People Can't Be Convicted for Selling Synthetic Drugs If It's Not Clear They're Illegal. A unanimous US Supreme Court ruled Thursday that people cannot be convicted for selling synthetic drugs unless prosecutors prove they knew the drugs were prohibited by law. Stephen McFadden had been convicted of violating the Controlled Substance Analog Enforcement Act for selling "bath salts," and a federal appeals court ruled that trial court jury instructions saying he could be convicted if the jury found he intended the drugs for human consumption. But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying prosecutors must prove the defendant knew the substance was either a controlled substance or an analog. The case is McFadden v. United States.

Law Enforcement

Federal Racial Profiling Bill Introduced. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) Thursday filed S 1610, which would eliminate racial profiling by police officers and promote accountability for state and local law enforcement. The bill also has provisions to eliminate sentencing disparities and promote reentry programs. It has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Senate sends a message to the DEA, a new study deflates fears of medical marijuana leading to increased teen pot-smoking, California continues to try to regulate its medical marijuana free-for-all, and more.


Last Thursday, a Senate committee voted to keep the DEA out of medical marijuana states. Just a week earlier, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. Last Thursday, a similar message came from the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one today in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Click on the link for more details and reaction.

On Tuesday, a study found that medical marijuana doesn't lead to increased youth use. A study published in the British medical journal The Lancet finds that allowing for the legal use of medical marijuana has not led to an increase in the number of teens using it in the US. The study relied on 24 years' worth of data from the Monitoring the Future surveys and found that while youth use levels were higher in some medical marijuana states, those higher levels of use had preceded the legalization of medical marijuana.


Last Wednesday, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act won a committee vote. The measure, Assembly Bill 258, would bar health providers from denying organ transplants to people solely because they are medical marijuana patients. It has already passed the Assembly, and was approved by the Senate Health Committee. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

On Monday, members of a Santa Ana dispensary filed a lawsuit against local elected officials and police. The suit comes in the wake of a highly-publicized raid on the dispensary in which police were caught smashing surveillance cameras (oops, they missed one), making crude remarks about patients, and helping themselves to samples of the edibles. But the lawsuit alleges deeper problems, including collusion between Mayor Pulido, the police, and other elected officials to rig the dispensary permit system and harass unpermitted dispensaries.


On Monday, the state Supreme Court ruled that employers can fire medical marijuana patients for off-duty use. The Court today affirmed lower court decisions allowing employers to fire employees for marijuana use while off-duty. The decision hinged on the state's lawful off-duty activities statute. The Court held that in order for the off-duty conduct to be considered "lawful," it must be legal under both state and federal law. The unanimous decision was not a surprise to advocates working to reform marijuana law and policy in Colorado. The case is Coats v. Dish Network. Coats is a quadriplegic who worked in customer service for Dish, but was fired after a random drug test turned up marijuana metabolites.


Last Thursday, the legislature approved a youth CBD cannabis oil bill. The state Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 90, which would allow children with epilepsy to use CBC cannabis oil. The bill, also known as Rylie's Law after 9-year-old Rylie Maedler, who suffers from severe seizures, already passed the House and now heads to the governor's desk.


On Monday, the state unveiled its online registry for CBD cannabis oil patients. The Department of Public Health today went live with its online registry for patients authorized to use low-THC CBD cannabis oil. Also, the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis met for the first time.

South Dakota

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana initiative was filed. A state activist has filed the explanation for a medical marijuana initiative with the state attorney general's office. Once it is reviewed and approved, proponents will then have 180 days to come up with 13, 871 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. Medical marijuana initiatives have twice been defeated in the state. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

California localities continue to wrestle with medical marijuana, Illinois' nascent program gets an extension, another South Dakota initiative could be coming, Seattle plans to shut down dozens of dispensaries, and more.


Last Tuesday, Marin County supervisors began working on a restrictive medical marijuana ordinance. The ordinance envisions up to three nonprofit dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county, but critics said it would create so much red tape that it would be difficult to comply with its provisions.

Last Wednesday, the State Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Yuba County patients challenging the county's new marijuana cultivation ordinance and especially its urgency provision. That provision effectively stopped opponents' ability to circulate petitions for a voter referendum. Other legal challenges to the ordinance are still pending.

On Tuesday, a successful Santa Cruz County referendum blocked a supervisors' ban on commercial medical marijuana grows. The supes had voted last month to enact the ban, but opponents managed to gather enough signatures in just three weeks to qualify an initiative for the ballot, thus putting the ban on hold until the vote.


Last Thursday, the Senate approved an extension of the medical marijuana program. The state Senate voted 33-16 to approve House Bill 3299, which would extend the program by two more years. The measure has already passed the House and is headed for the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), but it's unclear if he will sign it. He has said he didn't think the program should be extended until it's been fully evaluated -- but it hasn't even really started.


Last Thursday, the legislature approved a CBD cannabis oil study bill. The state Senate gave final approval to Legislative Bill 390, under which the University of Nebraska Medical Center would study the effectiveness of CBD in treating epileptic seizures. Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) now has five days to act on it.

On Wednesday, a CBD cannabis oil bill was pronounced dead. A bill that would have allowed the limited use of CBD cannabis oil has died. LB 643, filed by state Sen. Tommy Garrett (R-Bellevue), did not have enough support to advance, Garrett said. He said he would bring it back next year.


On Monday, it looked like the medical marijuana bill had been blocked in the House. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 3, has passed the Senate, but appears to be bottled up in the House after being assigned to the Health Committee, which is headed by medical marijuana foe Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga County). He told local media last week he didn't see the bill moving any time soon. Bill supporters are exploring their options, including moving the bill to a different committee, adding it as an amendment to other legislation, and including it in a budget measure.

South Dakota

On Wednesday, word came that a medical marijuana initiative is in the works. Maybe the third time will be the charm. An activist from Emery has submitted initiative language to the state Attorney General's office. If approved, petitioners would have to gather 13,871 valid voter signatures by November 8 to qualify for the 2016 ballot. South Dakota voted down previous efforts in 2006 and 2010.


Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court uphold local collective garden bans. The high court ruled 8-1 that the city of Kent can ban medical marijuana collective gardens. The decision upheld lower court rulings allowing cities to impose bans via zoning regulations. The case was Cannabis Action Council v. City of Kent.

On Tuesday, Seattle's mayor said he planned to shutter dozens of dispensaries. Mayor Ed Murray said Tuesday he plans to require special business licenses for marijuana shops and that dispensaries in operation before January 1, 2013, will get priority in licensing. But of the city's 99 dispensaries, 54 either opened after that date or are operating without a license, and the mayor's office says they need to shut down.

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

Three Marijuana Reform Bills Filed in Louisiana

(Welcome back to our one-time intern Jimi Devine, who has graciously volunteered his time to support our blog.)

Louisiana State Capitol
The smell of marijuana reform is strong in the bayou air, Louisiana is now home to a big push for both medical marijuana and major sentencing reforms around marijuana convictions.

Today the Louisiana legislature' House Health and Welfare Committee will hear a medical marijuana bill brought forward by Republican State Senator Fred Mills, a man who formerly served as head of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy. Mills spent the last year working with law enforcement to make it past a committee and organizations that had held it back in the past.

According to Northeast Louisiana media outlet The News Star, major revisions have been made with support from the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, they include:

  • Prescribed marijuana would be taken in a form other than smoking it, perhaps in a pill.
  • The state Agriculture Department would be in charge of growing marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
  • Dispensing pharmacies -- ten, at this point -- would be required to meet certain conditions.
  • The bill would "sunset," or be reviewed on Jan. 1, 2020, giving lawmakers pause to determine if the changes to state law were beneficial. If the bill proves ineffective, the law could be corrected or ended.
  • The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy would adopt rules about dispensing medical marijuana.

This session the bill made it through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that halted its progress in 2014, and then passed the full senate with two thirds in support. On when he takes it before the house Mills noted, "I'm hoping for a repeat performance from the Senate."

While the bill is very restrictive, but it would reinforce national trends on the medical use of marijuana in Louisiana. Hopefully leading to a more inclusive law in the future.

The sentencing reform bills look to reduce the penalties associated with a marijuana conviction in the state. Currently a third marijuana possession conviction could lead to a baffling 20 year sentence.

According to, the bill authored by New Orleans State Senator J.P. Morrell,

"reduces the maximum penalty for possession from 20 years in prison to eight, raises the threshold for a felony-level possession charge and adds a second-chance provision for first-time offenders."

Penalties would still be much more severe than their counterparts in other states, but first time offenders would have one opportunity to expunge their record after two years without a conviction. The bill would also reclassify a second offense from a felony to misdemeanor for quantities between fourteen grams and two and a half pounds.

The bill is projected to save Louisiana $17 million over the first five years. This would cover the $900,000 a year in wasteful spending on corrections highlighted by the Office of State Inspector General with $13 million to spare. columnist Jarvis DaBerry noted,

"Such a bill does two important things. First, it establishes that a person with a small amount of weed isn't a real threat to the public. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the bill would keep such a conviction from haunting a person forever."

The second bill authored by Rep. Austin Badon would push major reforms, but is not as big a shift as the one presented by Morrell. Badon' bill would see those committing a third offense jailed five years, as opposed to the two year sentence in Morell' bill. It also does not include the possibility of conviction being expunged for first time offenders.

UPDATE: On Thursday Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said he would sign the bills if passed by the house and senate. In regards to the sentencing bill he told the Shreveport Times

"We've said all along we're fine with the idea of providing rehabilitation and treatment for nonviolent drug offenders. I think this bill does that. That's good for those offenders, that is good for taxpayers. So again, that's another one of those bills that if it got to our desk we'd sign that."

While Louisiana debates the direction of their sentencing procedures, I'll leave you with another quote from Jarvis DeBerry on the subject:

"Here's a prediction: Sooner or later, we're going to look back at what Louisiana has doing to folks caught with marijuana, and we're going to be just as shocked those sentences had our officials' blessing."


Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Nixes Roadside Waits for Drug Dogs, DEA Head to Resign, More (4/21/15)

The DEA head is on her way out, the Supreme Court rules on making motorists wait for drug dogs to arrive, Indiana's governor extends an emergency needle exchange, a new report on asset forfeiture abuses in California is out, and more.

The US Supreme Court rules that detaining motorists on the side of the road to wait for drug dogs is illegal. (
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Legal Pot Price Declines to $12 a Gram. Pot prices averaged nearly $30 a gram—well above black market prices—when the state's first marijuana retail outlets opened, but that has changed dramatically, according to the State Liquor Control Board. Now, the average retail price of a gram is about $12, as supply expands to meet demand. That's still $336 an ounce, though.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Getting Underway. Activists with Wyoming NORML submitted their initiative application with the secretary of state's office Monday. If and when the application is approved, organizers will have until next February to gather 25,673 valid voter signatures to place it on the 2016 general election ballot. A recent poll had support for marijuana at 72% in the Cowboy State.

Asset Forfeiture

New Report Details California Asset Forfeiture Abuses. The Drug Policy Alliance today released a new report, Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California, a multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in the state that reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law. The report finds that a handful of LA County cities lead the state in per capita seizures, that some departments rely on asset forfeiture for funding themselves, and that some departments were providing false or incomplete reports to the Justice Department.

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Dead. The legislator who unexpectedly proposed adding a welfare drug testing proposal to a social services spending bill has withdrawn it after learning how few people would be tested and how little support there is for it. Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crawfordsville) said today he would instead seek a study committee to examine how best to fight drug abuse.

Florida Governor Settles on State Employee Drug Testing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) has formally given up on his effort to subject state employees to random, suspicionless drug testing. He reached an agreement Monday with the employees' union that will only allow drug testing in a relative handful of safety-sensitive positions. Of the 1,400 job classifications Scott originally wanted covered, only 267 will be covered.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Extends Emergency Needle Exchange Program. Gov. Mike Pence (R) Monday extended an emergency needle exchange program in Scott County for another 30 days in a bid to get a handle on an injection drug-related HIV outbreak there. The move comes as the legislature heard testimony supporting a bill that would allow similar exchanges elsewhere in the state.

Law Enforcement

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart Set to Resign. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is expected to resign soon, a unnamed "senior administration official" told CBS News this morning. The embattled DEA head has been under fire for years over her leadership of the scandal-ridden agency, but it was her performance at a Capitol Hill hearing last week that sealed her fate. Click on the link to read our feature story on this.

Supreme Court Says Detaining Motorists to Wait for Drug Dogs to Arrive is Not OK. In a 6-3 decision today, the US Supreme Court held that detaining motorists on the side of the highway to await the arrival of a drug dog violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unlawful searches and seizures. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that police may request drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, proof of insurance, and check for outstanding warrants because all those investigatory actions are aimed at enforcing traffic laws and ensuring that vehicles are operating safely—the ostensible reason for the stops. "A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety," she said. Prolonging the stop, even for a few minutes, to allow for the arrival of a drug dog was improper, Ginsburg wrote. "A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries," Ginsburg said. Click on the link to read our newsbrief and view the ruling itself.


Mexicans Capture Gulf Cartel Leader. Mexican authorities confirmed over the weekend that they had captured Jose Tiburcio Hernandez Fuentes, who they described as a Gulf Cartel leader responsible for much of the recent violence in the border city of Reynosa. He was caught despite a shootout between Mexican soldiers and police and around 60 cartel gunmen who tried to rescue him. The Mexicans caught a key Juarez Cartel leader just a day earlier. 

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