Court Rulings

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Chronicle AM: CA Cops Raid Indian Reservation Grow, Colombia Announces New Drug Strategy, More (9/23/15)

The era of aerial herbicide spraying of Colombia's coca crops is at an end, California cops raid an Indian reservation marijuana operation, medical marijuana bills are moving in Michigan, and more.

no more spraying Roundup on Colombia's coca fields (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts High Court Bans Traffic Stops Solely for Suspected Marijuana. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday that police can't stop motorists simply because they suspect the vehicle's occupants may possess pot. The state decriminalized possession of up to an ounce in 2008, and the court based its ruling on that. "Permitting police to stop a vehicle based on reasonable suspicion that an occupant possesses marijuana does not serve [the] objectives" of the decriminalization law, Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the majority. The case is Commonwealth v. Rodriguez.

Medical Marijuana

California Indian Reservation "Megagrow" Raided by Mendocino County. Mendocino County sheriff's deputies Tuesday raided a commercial marijuana cultivation operation on the Pinoleville Pomo Nation reservation in Ukiah, cutting down about 400 plants, seizing about 100 pounds of trimmed buds, and an undetermined quantity of cannabis oil. The county maintains the operation is illegal under the state's medical marijuana laws.

Michigan House Panel Advances Medical Marijuana Bills. The House Judiciary Committee Tuesday passed a package of bills aimed at legalizing dispensaries and edible forms of medical marijuana. The bills have tighter rules than similar measures that failed last year, and some patient advocates are grumbling. Seed-to-sale tracking is one new addition; an 8% excise tax is another. Now it will be up to the legislature's GOP leadership to advance the bills or not.

New Jersey Will Get a Fourth Dispensary. The state Department of Health has issued a permit for Compassionate Sciences in Bellmawr. It will becomes the state's fourth dispensary when it opens next month.

Pennsylvania Patients, Parents Demand Action on Medical Marijuana Bill. Supporters of delayed medical marijuana legislation rallied at the state capitol Tuesday to urge solons to act on a pending bill. A bill passed the state Senate in May, and House leaders earlier this summer created a group to draft a version that would pass in the GOP-led chamber. Protestors urged House leaders to just hold a vote on the Senate-passed bill.

International

Colombia Shifts on Drug Policy; No More Aerial Eradication. President Juan Manuel Santos Tuesday unveiled a new drug strategy for Colombia that will emphasize alternative development, with forced manual eradication of coca crops to be used as a last resort. There will be no more US-backed aerial spraying of crops with herbicides.

Medical Marijuana Update

California passes historic medical marijuana regulation, Illinois blocks expanding qualifying conditions, Missouri activists gear up for a 2016 initiative, and more.

California

Last Friday, the legislature approved sweeping medical marijuana regulation. After nearly 20 years of wrangling over what is and is not legal under California's 1996 Proposition 215 medical marijuana law, the state legislature has passed a set of bills designed to bring order to the chaos. After working with Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on acceptable language, the Assembly and the Senate Friday passed Assembly Bill 243,Assembly Bill 266, and Senate Bill 643. The session ended at midnight Friday. Click on the title link for more, and read our feature article on reactions to the move here.

Illinois

Last Thursday,the governor vetoed medical marijuana for PTSD. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) Thursday vetoed a measure that would have allowed people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to qualify for medical marijuana. His administration also refused to expand access to medical marijuana for 10 other ailments. The Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had recommended adding the 11 conditions, but Rauner killed PTSD and the Department of Public Health killed the rest. Rauner said expanding the program was premature.

Iowa

On Wednesday, Iowa activists announced they would use their state's primary campaign to pressure candidates. The advocacy group Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis is taking advantage of the state's early presidential primary and the attention it generates to pressure presidential candidates to stand up for medical marijuana. The group has developed a questionnaire it plans to deliver to all the candidates. "Moms and dads across America want to know what presidential candidates are proposing to help the sick and suffering obtain medical cannabis, a proven plant that is made by God," said Maria La France, a Des Moines mother whose 14-year-old son Quincy has epilepsy.

Missouri

Last Friday, Missouri activists said they would run a 2016 medical marijuana initiative. The activist group Show Me Cannabis has announced it will try to put a medical marijuana initiative -- not a legalization initiative -- on the November 2016 ballot. They will need to come up with 160,000 valid voter signatures by next May to do it.

Nevada

Last Wednesday, Las Vegas' only dispensary was forced to shut its doors over shortages after test samples came up dirty. The only dispensary in the city, Euphoria Wellness, was forced to close its doors for almost a week after it ran short on marijuana because too many batches failed state-required contamination tests. The state basically allows no pesticides to be present, and about one-third of samples have failed, mostly over the presence of pesticides, but some for microbial contamination. The dispensary planned to reopen today.

New Jersey

Last Tuesday, an appeals court ruled that the smell of marijuana is still enough for a warrantless search. Even though medical marijuana is legal in the state, an appeals court ruled that the smell of marijuana can still be used by police as grounds for a warrantless search. The ruling came in the case of a man arrested after a vehicle stop in which the officer used the smell of marijuana to justify searching the vehicle.

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

Chronicle AM: Pot Polls in MI & SC, CA Diversion Bill Goes to Governor; Ecuador Retrenches, More (9/10/15)

New polls show majority support for legalization in Michigan and overwhelming support for having the feds butt out in South Carolina, efforts to get a medical marijuana regulation bill passed in California are still alive, Ecuador's president wants to toughen sentences for small-time dealers, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Support for Legalization at 56%. A new Public Sector Consulting/Denno Research/Michigan Public radio poll has support for legalization at 56.7%. Support was split between those who wanted only limited commercial production (21.2%), those who wanted to allow home growing (26.7%), and those who wanted to leave it to local governments (7.8%). The poll comes as several ballot initiatives are being developed.

South Carolina Poll Finds Voters Want Feds to Butt Out on Marijuana Policy. A survey commissioned by Marijuana Majority had 65% of respondents agreeing that "states should be able to carry out their own marijuana laws without federal interference, with only 16% agreeing that "the federal government should arrest and prosecute people who are following state marijuana laws."

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Going Down to the Wire. The clock is ticking on the state's legislature, and Wednesday, officials from organized labor, local government, and law enforcement sent a letter to legislative leaders voicing concern about the legislature's inability to get a regulation bill done. "We note, respectfully, that there are no significant policy differences between the two houses of the Legislature on this issue, based on the latest versions of the language that each have produced and made available for distribution," states the letter from the UFCW Western States Council, League of California Cities, and state Teamsters and police chiefs organizations. "The existing differences between the houses on this issue therefore appear to reside elsewhere." One issue appears to be who gets to take credit for passing a regulation bill. More at the link.

New Jersey Appeals Court Rules Smell of Marijuana Is Still Enough for a Warrantless Search. Even though medical marijuana is legal in the state, an appeals court ruled Tuesday that the smell of marijuana can still be used by police as grounds for a warrantless search. The ruling came in the case of a man arrested after a vehicle stop in which the officer used the smell of marijuana to justify searching the vehicle.

Drug Policy

California Legislature Passes Pretrial Diversion Bill to Protect Immigrants. The Assembly Wednesday gave final approval to Assembly Bill 1351, which would prevent deportation and loss of public benefits for minor drug law violations by diverting offenders out of the criminal justice system before adjudication of their cases. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

International

Ecuador to Toughen Penalties for "Microtraffickers." In something of a policy reverse, President Rafael Correa has launched an effort to increase penalties for small-time drug dealers. His proposal would modify the country's drug sentencing scheme, which had effectively decriminalized the possession of up to a gram of heroin or 50 grams of cocaine. Correa introduced the sentencing reforms earlier in his term, but now says they amount to "impunity" for "microtraffickers."

Chronicle AM: MI Rejects MedMJ for Autistic Kids, US Rejects Afghanistan Opium Eradication...For Now, More (8/28/2015)

California could still see a medical marijuana regulation bill this year, a Michigan official ignores his own advisory panel and bars medical marijuana for autistic kids, California counties strike out in an effort to make Big Pharma pay for damages related to prescription opiates, and more.

In Afghan fields the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Gutted, But Still Alive. A measure aimed at bringing the state's medical marijuana industry into an era of statewide regulation passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, but there was nothing in the version of the bill approved by the committee. Assembly Bill 266 was gutted and now simply reads: "It is the intention of the state legislature to regulate medical marijuana." It appears the move is designed to make room for input from the office of Gov. Jerry Brown (D), which has now submitted its language. The governor's language largely mirrors earlier language and would set up a tightly regulated system. The legislature has until next month to get the bill passed.

Michigan Rejects Medical Marijuana for Autism. Although an advisory panel recommended allowing medical marijuana for autism, Mike Zimmer, the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said Thursday he was rejecting that recommendation. Zimmer said there was not sufficient research and he questioned whether cannabis oil is even allowed under the state's medical marijuana law. Advocates said he was mistaken in his reading of the law, and said they were frustrated with the decision.

Drug Policy

Feeling Political Pressure, Los Angeles County Promoter Cancels Rave After Deaths at Earlier Event. Organizers of HARD Presents… A Night at Fairplex have canceled the September 10 rave in the face of threats from county commissioners to ban raves on county properties after two teens died at the HARD Summer festival at the same venue in early August. The promoter is also scaling back its annual Day of the Dead party set for October 31 and November 1. But some county commissioners say they are still moving forward with plans for a ban.

California Judge Throws Out Counties' Lawsuit Against Prescription Opiate Manufacturers. An Orange County Superior Court judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed against five of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies by Southern California counties seeking to make them pay for damages related to prescription drug abuse. The suit accused the companies of fraudulently marketing the pain relievers to undercut the warning labels required by the FDA. The pharmaceutical companies, including PurduePharma, the makers of Oxycontin, argued that the FDA had exclusive jurisdiction. The judge agreed, dismissing the case, but leaving an opening for it to be re-filed after an FDA evaluation.

International

US Rules Out Opium Eradication in Afghanistan, At Least For Now. The US will not support eradication programs in the world's largest opium producer until and unless there is a comprehensive alternative development program that will provide a stable source of income for poppy farmers, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday. "This is a tough problem to get at, but to simply, you know, work towards some eradication program -- to burn them to the ground, while that may have an immediate effect, it doesn't necessarily do anything for long-term stability and security for Afghan farmers," he said. "You have to be able to work on supplementing it for something else, and we have worked with Afghan authorities for many years about trying to find other crops that farmers can grow to make a good living, and there's been some success in that," he said.

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. (nj.gov)
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.

International

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 StoptheDrugWar.org'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. (gob.es)
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.

International

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 StoptheDrugWar.org'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. (state.gov)
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.

International

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 StoptheDrugWar.org'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. (wikipedia.org)
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.

Peyote

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, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

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 (law.pace.edu)
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
Amen
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
amen

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. (supremecourt.gov)
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.

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