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Chronicle AM -- December 10, 2013

African-American faith leaders observe International Human Rights Day by calling for an end to the drug war and mass incarceration, Texans are ready for criminal justice reform, and Mexico's prohibition-related violence continues apace. And more. Let's get to it:

African American faith leaders called Tuesday for an end to the drug war and mass incarceration. (sdpconference.info)
Medical Marijuana

Michigan Medical Marijuana Bills Pass House Committee. A pair of bills that would allow for the use of medical marijuana-infused products, as well as legalizing dispensaries for cannabis, passed the House Judiciary committee Tuesday morning on unanimous votes. A third bill, which would allow pharmacies to produce and sell medical marijuana, also passed, but on an 8-1 vote. With the legislature adjourning for the year Thursday, it's unlikely they will get final votes before then.

Law Enforcement

California Appeals Court Rules Only Prosecutors -- Not Police -- Can Initiate Asset Forfeiture Proceedings. California's 5th District Court of Appeals in Fresno ruled last week that police agencies cannot initiate asset forfeiture proceedings, which must instead be undertaken by prosecutors. Police had seized $16,000 in cash from Adolfo Cuevas and a friend sitting in a car and moved to forfeit it when traces of methamphetamine were found on a $5 bill. Only prosecutors can make that call, the court held. The case is Cuevas v. Superior Court of Tulare County.

Pain Pills

American College of Physicians Calls for Pain Med Contracts, Database, Educational Programs. In a policy paper released Tuesday, Prescription Drug Abuse, the American College of Physicians set out 10 policy positions and recommendations aimed at reducing "the significant human and financial costs related to prescription drug abuse." They include supporting a national prescription drug monitoring program, more education and prevention efforts for doctors and patients, and considering the use of written agreements ("pain contracts") for doctors and patients when treating pain. [Ed: Patient advocates often regard databases and pain contracts with suspicion. We commonly receive reports about pain contracts in particular having a chilling effect on the availability of pain medication for patients who need it. It is not clear whether this paper fully considers the plight commonly suffered by pain patients because of the war on drugs.]

Sentencing

On International Human Rights Day, Black Leaders Call for End to Drug War, Mass Incarceration. The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, a major grouping of African-American faith leaders, called for an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration Tuesday, International Human Rights Day. The call came as the group released key findings from a series of community-based hearings on mass incarceration it has held around the nation. Click on the link for the recommendations.

Poll: Texans Ready to Reform Drug Punishments. A poll released Monday by the Texas Public Policy Foundation finds that nearly four out five (79%) Texans support drug treatment instead of prison for people caught possessing drugs. The poll also found overwhelming (84%) support for broader criminal justice reforms in the state.

International

Mexican Drug War Deaths Show No Decline. One year after Enrique Pena Nieto assumed office as president of Mexico, the deadly prohibition-related violence that has plagued the country for the past six years shows no sign of abating. According to Frontera NorteSur, citing Mexican press reports, there were 19,016 people killed in the drug violence in the first 11 months of Pena Nieto's term, compared to 18,161 during the last 11 months of Felipe Calderon's government. The violence also appears to have shifted geographically, from border states to states in the south and center of the country.

Chronicle AM -- December 9, 2013

A West Virginia man gets a first degree murder charge in his wife's accidental drug death, a Utah "Good Samaritan" overdose bill is moving, some US senators grumble about Zohydro ER, and we have a pair of stories about opiates in India. And more. Let's get to it:

Zohydro ER
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts High Court Rules against Prosecutors in Small-Time Marijuana Cases. Possession of up to an ounce of pot is decriminalized in Massachusetts, even if that less-than-an-ounce amount is divided up in separate baggies. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled last month that possessing small amounts of marijuana in separate baggies is not sufficient evidence to charge someone with possession with intent to distribute. Prosecutors are grumbling.

Harm Reduction

Utah "Good Samaritan" Drug Overdose Bill Moving. A bill that would provide limited criminal immunity for people who report a drug overdose has passed the Criminal Justice Committee and will be taken up by the full legislature when it reconvenes next month. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (D-Holladay) and has the backing of harm reductionists and the Utah Statewide Association of Prosecutors alike. There were more than 500 drug overdose deaths in Utah last year.

Law Enforcement

COPS Program Worried About Police Militarization. Cop-watcher Radley Balko notes that the monthly newsletter of the Justice Department's Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program is raising the alarm about the militarization of policing in the US. Balko cites a warning from COPS program senior policy analyst Karl Bickel: "Police chiefs and sheriffs may want to ask themselves -- if after hiring officers in the spirit of adventure, who have been exposed to action oriented police dramas since their youth, and sending them to an academy patterned after a military boot camp, then dressing them in black battle dress uniforms and turning them loose in a subculture steeped in an 'us versus them' outlook toward those they serve and protect, while prosecuting the war on crime, war on drugs, and now a war on terrorism -- is there any realistic hope of institutionalizing community policing as an operational philosophy?"

West Virginia Man Faces First Degree Murder Charge in Wife's Drug Overdose Death. Prosecutors have charged a Roane County man with first degree murder in the accidental drug overdose of his wife. Todd Honaker thought he was buying LSD, but instead gave his wife the synthetic drug 25b-NBOMe ("N-bomb"). The man who supplied the drug has been charged with delivery of a controlled substance. It's not clear why Honaker is facing such severe charges.

Pain Pills

Four Senators Scold FDA on Zohydro Approval. Four US senators have sent a letter to the FDA saying they disagree with its decision to approve Zohydro ER, a long-acting version of the pain reliever hydrocodone. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) said the decision "will only contribute to the rising toll of addiction and death" caused by the misuse of prescription drugs. Zohydro can be crushed and snorted by people seeking a strong, quick high, which the senators called "irresponsible." [Ed: As the item immediately below about pain control in India demonstrates, poorly conceived control measures can and do have a devastating impact on the lives of pain patients who end up under-medicated or un-medicated. We have this problem in the US too. Other measures than bans are needed to address prescription drug misuse -- the FDA was right to approve Zohydro.]

International

Less Than 4% of Indians Suffering From Chronic Cancer Pain Have Access to Morphine. Legal restrictions on access to opioid pain medications leave millions of Indians suffering from severe and chronic pain without access to relief, leading to an "epidemic of pain in India." Ironically, India produces 99% of the global supply of licit opium, most of which it exports.

Indian Authorities Warn of Rising Opium Cultivation in Northeast. Illicit opium production is on the rise in states such as Manipur and Nagaland, Indian drug experts said at a Saturday conference in Guwahati. Cultivation was increasing both as a cash crop and for personal consumption, the experts said. In some villages, between 60% and 90% of families were growing opium, they said.

Chronicle AM -- November 25, 2013

Drug reform funder Peter Lewis dies, the Oregon legislature will consider a legalization initiative bill, medical marijuana patients are suing Health Canada, and more. Let's get to it:

"Warning! Your Family is in Danger!" anti-legalization poster courtesy of the Mexican government (cij.gob.mx)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legislature to Consider Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, unveiled a draft bill Friday that would ask voters in the November 2014 election to approve marijuana legalization. If they did, the legislature would be charging with coming up with regulations in 2015. If the draft bill fails to move in the legislature, activists are already working on a separate 2014 legalization initiative.

Outdoor Anniversary Pot Party Approved for Seattle Center.The city of Seattle has approved a permit for a multi-hundred person pot party to mark the first anniversary of legal weed in the state. The event will take place at Seattle Center on December 6 and will include a permitted outdoor marijuana-smoking area.

Denver City Council Debating Marijuana Smoking Restrictions. The Denver city council is today holding a public hearing on an ordinance regulating marijuana smoking on private property. The council is about evenly divided between members who want to ban pot-smoking visible from the street or sidewalks and those who don't. Marijuana Policy Project spokesman and Amendment 64 proponent Mason Tvert held a protest on his balcony this morning where he publicly -- and legally -- consumed "a more dangerous substance."

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana States are Complying with Federal Enforcement Guidelines, Report Says. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access Monday released a report finding that medical marijuana states have enacted regulations that address federal enforcement concerns and calling on legislators and state rulemakers to keep the August 2013 Justice Department memo on enforcement guidelines in mind as they craft new laws and regulations. But DOJ memos aren't a solution, just a stop-gap until appropriate federal legislation is passed, the report said.

Public Hearings on Medical Marijuana Coming in New York State. Democratic lawmakers trying to push a medical marijuana bill through the legislature plan to hold public hearings next month in Buffalo and Mineola. For the past several years, bills have passed the Assembly, only to die in the more conservative Senate. Another bill is moving this year. Click on the link for hearing details.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Philanthropist, Drug Reform Funder Peter Lewis Dies. Peter Lewis, the man who took Progressive Insurance into the auto insurance big leagues, died Saturday in Florida. Over the past 30 years, Lewis gave millions of dollars to efforts to legalize marijuana, as well as other drug reform efforts, including a recent contribution to a proposed 2014 initiative in Oregon. He was 80 years old.

Pregnancy

Feticide Charge Dismissed Against Drug-Using Louisiana Woman. A Louisiana judge has ruled that a woman who allegedly snorted cocaine days before giving birth to a stillborn fetus cannot be charged under the state's feticide law. That law only applies to people other than the expectant mother, District Judge Trudy White ruled. The woman was charged after a parish coroner ruled the stillbirth a homicide, saying the mother's drug use "led to a normally healthy baby ending up dying." Prosecutors could still bring other charges against the woman, they said.

International

Medical Marijuana Patients to Sue Health Canada over Being Outed. Medical marijuana patients furious and frightened after Health Canada outed them by sending each one of them documents in a white envelope with "Medical Marijuana Access Program" written across the top, followed by the patients' names and addresses are planning a class-action lawsuit. Health Canada said last week the mailing was the result of administrative error, but that is not assuaging unhappy patients.

Government Sponsored Anti-Marijuana Legalization Marchers take to the Streets in Mexico. Organized by the National Social Leaders of Mexico (CONAL), and with the support of a federal government children's development program, anti-marijuana legalization marchers in small numbers took to the streets of at least 15 Mexican cities over the weekend. They oppose growing talk of legalization, which has occurred in the Mexico City city council and the national congress, among other places.

Medical Marijuana Update

Federal agencies are beginning to work on the banking problem for medical marijuana businesses, the District of Columbia is looking at why its program is so tiny, and New Mexico can't keep up with medical marijuana demand. And there's much more, too. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, a US Treasury official said the department is discussing banking for medical marijuana businesses with the Justice Department. Access to banking services has been a major roadblock for marijuana businesses, but the Obama administration has signaled it is willing to try to reach a workable solution to the problem.

Arizona

Last Friday, a judge ruled that the state's medical marijuana law did not limit the health care rights by preventing those living less than 25 miles away from a dispensary from growing their own medicine. Judge Katherine Cooper throw out the challenge from two men, but she said they may be able to try again by arguing that the 25-mile rule amounts to a violation of their rights under constitutional provisions guaranteeing everyone equal protection of the law. She said, though, they have yet to make a case for that claim.

California

Last Thursday, the city of Los Angeles filed suit to block a Mar Vista dispensary from opening. The suit claims the business would violate voter-approved rules for marijuana dispensaries because its proximity to a residential neighborhood and seeks penalties of up to $2,500 a day for anyone involved in operating a dispensary at that location.

On Monday, the city of Jurapa Valley said it had filed lawsuits against five dispensaries. The suits seek to force the dispensaries to close. The Riverside County community wants to shut down all dispensaries within its jurisdiction. The lawsuits follow sternly-worded letters sent out in September 2011 and again last summer warning dispensary operators of possible actions against them.

On Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors grappled with cultivation rules for medical marijuana grows. The supervisors had already set new rules for dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county and are preparing to vote December 10 on cultivation rules. The proposed rules would limit personal grows to 100 square feet, but allow up to 3,000 square feet in rural areas.

Also on Tuesday, the Richmond city council agreed to allow a dispensary to relocate to East Richmond. The Green Remedy Collective needed to move because its landlord is facing foreclosure, but wanted to move to a location zoned general use, which violates the city's guidelines. The city waived the zoning requirement.

Also on Tuesday, the Whittier city council voted to ban dispensaries. The ban passed 4-1 after several community and religious leaders spoke against allowing the outlets, claiming they have harmful effects on families and adolescents. The action was prompted by the approaching date for the expiration of the city's moratorium on issuing permits for medical marijuana dispensaries. The council imposed a 45-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in January 2012; it has renewed the moratorium twice. The current moratorium is set to expire January 24, 2014, and it cannot be renewed.

Last Friday, the city of Santa Ana sent warning letters to all dispensaries in the city saying they must close by the end of the month or face $1,000 a day fines and misdemeanor criminal charges. The city has a dispensary ban in place, but activists there have managed to place a referendum on the November 2014 ballot that would allow dispensaries to operate.

District of Columbia

On Tuesday, news came that Mayor Gray has convened a Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee to assess current policies. The move comes amidst complaints that strict restrictions on eligibility for the District's medical marijuana program are preventing patients from taking advantage of it. An Intergovernmental Operations Subcommittee will monitor the effectiveness of the current medical marijuana program, and a Scientific Subcommittee will review applicable scientific research. Both subcommittees will review the practices of other states. Only 59 patients are enrolled in the program in the District and only 39 doctors are currently licensed to recommend medical marijuana.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Brookline town meeting cleared the way for a dispensary to open there. The meeting passed three warrant articles designed to set up a licensing framework for medical marijuana businesses. Dispensaries must be at least 500 feet from a school.

Nevada

On Wednesday, the Reno city council approved a moratorium on dispensary business license applications. Las Vegas passed a similar temporary moratorium in September. Reno officials said they were waiting for the state to set final dispensary regulations before the 2013 medical marijuana law goes into effect on April 1.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state's third dispensary began accepting patient registrations. Garden State Dispensary (formerly known as Compassionate Care Center of America) is opening in Woodbridge, although when that will actually happen is not yet certain. Some 1,500 patients and caregivers have registered with the state program, which has gotten off to an excruciatingly slow start.

New Mexico

On Saturday, a survey of medical marijuana producers and patients found that demand is outstripping supply. New Mexico producers have had to turn away thousands of patients in recent months and ration supplies to others, the report found. The number of licensed producers has dropped from a high of 25 to 23, while the number of active patients certified to buy medical cannabis hit 10,289 as of the end of last month, according to state officials, increasing by 1,200 from earlier this year.

Oregon

Last Friday, the Tualatin city council voted to ban dispensaries. The town follows the lead of Medford, but both localities may be in conflict with Oregon's new dispensary law, which leaves regulation up to the state, not localities.

Pennsylvania

On Monday, medical marijuana supporters rallied at the state capitol in support of pending legislation that would allow for the use of medical marijuana by patients, including children. Senate Bill 1182, sponsored by Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R) is the first bipartisan medical marijuana legislation in the state.

West Virginia

On Wednesday, the first details of a new medical marijuana bill emerged. An interim meeting of the Joint Health Committee heard from counsel Charles Roskovensky that the bill he is drafting for them would allow people with certain illnesses like cancer and glaucoma to possess up to six ounces of marijuana. If the bill becomes law, registered patients would be able to purchase medical marijuana at five 'compassion centers' throughout the state that would be chosen through a competitive bid process, he said. Registered patients would also be allowed to have a limited number of 12 marijuana plants. But Roskovensky said the bill wasn't yet in final form, and he solicited suggestions from lawmakers.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

Budweiser sponsors a medical marijuana campaign event in Arkansas, California localities continue to grapple with regulating the business, and there is action afoot in Utah. And that's not all. Let's get to it:

Arkansas

Last Saturday, medical marijuana advocates kicked off a fundraising campaign to put an initiative on the 2014 ballot. Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC) is being joined by the national advocacy group Americans for Safe Access to push for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. The campaign began with an all-day concert in El Dorado sponsored by Budweiser (!).

California

Last Wednesday, the Lodi city council extended its ban on growing medical marijuana. The council approved the moratorium last year after a woman complained about the odor from her neighbor's plants. Now, the council has extended the ban for another year. That will give the city time to study how best to deal with the issue, officials said. The ban cannot be extended again.

Last Friday, a Mendocino County judge granted a motion to suppress the evidence in a case where the driver's admission that he was a medical marijuana patient and had marijuana with him resulted in the search of his vehicle. The officer had no reason to believe the search would turn up evidence of a crime, so proper grounds hadn't been established for the search, the judge ruled. "This Court is not suggesting that the presentation of the 215 card was a means of immunization from the search," the judge wrote. "But, the totality of the circumstances included a voluntary statement coupled with the county issued card AND a complete absence of odor or impaired driving, or evidence of a larger amount of marijuana in the car." The ruling could become precedent for similar decisions statewide, since it is the first of its kind.

Also last Friday, a second former Vallejo dispensary operator sued the city for raiding his medical marijuana business. Matt Shotwell, the founder of Greenwell, Inc., alleges that the city violated his civil rights by targeting his dispensary for raids and closure because of his outspoken advocacy for medical marijuana. Another Vallejo dispensary, Homegrown Holistic Collective, Inc., sued the city on similar grounds last month. They are two of six dispensaries Vallejo police raided last year -- after voters approved a dispensary tax. All of those cases have fallen apart.

On Tuesday, the Alameda County board of supervisors adopted a resolution supporting marijuana legalization for both medical and recreational purposes and asking the Obama administration to "end federal interference" in states where it is legal. The resolution "respectfully requests that Obama begin a discussion about the potential benefits of reforming federal marijuana use in all forms, including medicinal and recreational uses," citing states such as Colorado and Washington that have approved recreational use of the drug.

Also on Tuesday, Butte County supervisors tightened the county's grow ordinance, but not as much as had been previously recommended. On a 4-1 vote, the board approved an amendment to the existing marijuana cultivation ordinance that would require growers to live in a legal residence on the land where their garden is located. The house must also have permitted water and a septic system. The change would also hike the civil penalties for violations of he code to $500 a day for the first offense and to $1,000 a day for the second offense. Proposals to halve the number of plants allowed and to make it easier for distant neighbors to complain were dropped.

Also on Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors voted to extend the ban on new dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. The ban will remain until a new ordinance is drafted and approved.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill won a Senate committee vote. The bill, which would allow "pharmaceutical grade" marijuana to be sold in pharmacies passed out of the Government Operations Committee on a 3-0 vote. Even if passed, the bill would require that marijuana be rescheduled under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Nevada

Last Thursday, Carson City supervisors approved a six-month moratorium on dispensaries. The state legislature approved a dispensary bill earlier this year, but officials said they wanted the moratorium in place until state regulations are completed.

Utah

On Tuesday, three prominent Utah doctors came out in support of cannabis oil for kids with epilepsy. The low-THC, high-CBD oils "should be available as soon as possible to Utah children with severe epilepsy. The substance is not psychoactive or hallucinogenic, it contains less THC than do other materials that can be legally purchased in Utah, and it has absolutely no abuse potential," declared Francis Filloux, chief of the University of Utah Division of Pediatric Neurology, in a letter shared with Utah's Controlled Substances Advisory Committee. Two other university-affiliated doctors also signed the letter.

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

The Crooked Cop and the Case of the Vanishing Guilty Plea [FEATURE]

Special to the Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigates@gmail.com. This is Part 8 in his continuing series of stories about prosecutorial misconduct and police corruption in the drug war.

In an unusual recent case, the US 4th Circuit Appeals Court overturned a conviction in a crack cocaine case despite the defendant having pleaded guilty. The case involving Baltimore drug dealer Cortez Leon Fisher was not overturned because the plea agreement was coerced or not voluntary -- the usual standard -- but because it was based on the lies of a corrupt police officer.

The case -- but not this tale -- began with an October 29, 2007 raid on Fisher's home executed by Baltimore police officer and DEA drug task force member Mark Lunsford. The search turned up crack cocaine and a loaded weapon. To avoid a decades-long stretch behind bars, Fisher copped a plea to one count of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Federal District Court Judge Frederick Motz then sentenced Fisher to 10 years in federal prison.

Fisher subsequently appealed to overturn his plea agreement after Lunsford was indicted on theft and perjury charges involving his use of bogus informants to falsely arrest and rip off drug dealers. In July 2010, the crooked cop got 20 months in federal prison for his crimes.

Lunsford's arrest and conviction uncovered a pattern of fabricating evidence to enrich police officers and selected informants, who received payments in cases in which they had not provided information. Reward money was fraudulently awarded to undeserving informants, and the proceeds were split between Lunsford and the snitches.

A search of Lunsford's home turned up jewelry belonging to alleged drug dealers and $46,000 in cash stolen from them. Federal prosecutors made no effort to return the stolen money to its rightful owners, but instead seized it for their own coffers.

But it gets worse. Lunsford also had a long history with Fisher and some of his family members, whom he had previously arrested on drug charges, some of which had been dismissed. In this light, Lunsford's pursuit of Fisher takes on the appearance of a personal vendetta.

When Fisher discovered that Lunsford had been indicted for perjury and theft in 2009, he wrote a pro se appeal to the judge who sentenced him, requesting that his guilty plea be vacated. But Judge Motz demurred.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/J._Frederick_Motz_District_Judge.jpg
Judge Fredrik Motz
"Unquestionably if the defendant had known of Lunsford's misconduct he would have filed a motion to suppress, and the motion may well have been successful," Motz wrote in denying the appeal. Nevertheless, "the defendant does not deny he was in possession of a firearm (as he admitted under oath during his Rule 11).Under these circumstances, I cannot find that a failure to allow defendant to withdraw his guilty plea would result in a 'miscarriage of justice.'"

Fisher appealed that decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. In his appeal, Fisher wrote that Lunsford "set me up and arrested me unlawfully." The informant in the case, Fisher said in the appeal, "never gave Lunsford information concerning drug activities at Fisher's home." Citing prior arrests of Fisher by Lunsford years ago, the appeal went on to say that after Lunsford arrested Fisher in 2007 in the current case, "the officer returned to my apartment later, stole a safe containing all my jewelry specifically numerous diamonds with blue and red design, including a diamond watch."

The 4th Circuit overturned the trial judge. The key question for the court was whether a police officer's misrepresentations of facts invalidated a guilty plea under the due process clause. The court noted that in order to invalidate a plea, the defendant must show that egregious impermissible conduct preceded the entry of the plea and that the misconduct influenced the defendant's decision to plead guilty.

While one member of the three-judge panel voted to dismiss Fisher's appeal, arguing that "natural reaction of extreme distaste to Lunsford's criminal act does not instantaneously transform Fisher's guilty plea into some form of due process violation that permits him now to withdraw his plea," his was a dissenting opinion.

Judges James Wynn and Henry Floyd disagreed. Lunsford's lies influenced Fisher to cop a plea and his perjury "undermined the entire proceedings, thus rendering the defendant's pleas involuntary, and violated his due process rights," they wrote. "A plea based on law enforcement fraud is invalid even if the person is guilty," the court held in its ruling in the case.

Cortez Fisher is still behind bars, waiting to see if the US Attorney's Office in Maryland will dismiss his case. Meanwhile, Lunford, the dirty cop, has already been released from prison, as have other defendants caught up in Lunsford's perjury and bogus search warrants.

Fisher was scheduled to appear in court on October 25th to resolve the matter, but a court clerk told the Chronicle a new date has not been announced yet. Fisher's attorney, Marta Khan, did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment about the matter.

"I was supposed to be home like the other people that they let go behind Lunsford's lies but I believe the feds will try to recharge me," Fisher told the Chronicle in a letter from prison."But I am ready for a new trial since I have all this new evidence."

Cop v. Drug Dealer

Baltimore police officer Mark Lunsford despised drug dealer Cortez Fisher. Their adversarial history stretches years to when Lunsford rode patrol near Baltimore's notorious Murphy Homes Project, where Fisher and his brother called "Midget" sold drugs, according to court documents.

Between 1993 and 2004, Lunsford's aggressive efforts to rid the crime-ridden community of drug dealers helped fellow narcotics officers make some of the cases against Fisher, including one particular case in 1999 when Fisher faced charges for armed marijuana trafficking.

In 2001, Fisher picked up another drug case, but was never convicted. Doggedly pursuing Fisher, Lunsford finally nailed him in 2004 on drug trafficking and a weapons charge filed in federal court. Fisher immediately copped a plea to serve 36 months in prison.

After finishing serving the 36 months, Fisher got nailed again on drug charges by Lunsford, this time costing him another 12 months behind bars. But Lunsford wasn't through yet.

In a search warrant affidavit dated October 29, 2007, Lunsford wrote that he received reliable information from a snitch that Fisher was selling drugs out of his house. Then, based on that false report, Lunsford claimed he personally saw Fisher sell drugs from his car. It was all a lie.

Court records filed in Fisher's case include a redacted FBI document dated October 23, 2009, where Lunsford admits that he fabricated source information in Fisher's and numerous other narcotics cases that sent citizens to prison. Lunsford told FBI agent that, fully aware of Fisher's involvement in the drug trade, he had lied when he said the informant he had named in the affidavit was the source of his information about Fisher.

Fisher may well have had a career as a drug dealer, but as the 4th Circuit noted, "even the guilty can suffer a miscarriage of justice."

Cortez Fisher remains imprisoned as he awaits word on what prosecutors will do. In the worst case, he will stay there until 2017. Meanwhile, the crooked cop whose perjurious information led to Fisher's arrest and subsequent plea bargain is a free man, not on parole, and not in the clutches of the criminal justice system.

For the guy from the mean streets of Baltimore, there is nothing left to do except to start over -- again.

"They took everything I had," he explained.

Baltimore, MD
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

An LA dispensary crackdown gets underway, an Arizona judge throws out a restrictive dispensary ordinance, the Michigan Supreme Court hears a dispensary ban case, and much, much more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Monday, a Superior Court judge overturned Maricopa County's restrictive dispensary ordinance, ruling that it was a "transparent attempt" to bar the businesses from unincorporated areas of the county. The judge granted a pretrial verdict in favor of White Mountain Health Center, which seeks to open a dispensary in Sun City. While the county has the power to zone to protect public health, safety, and welfare, it cannot categorically deny permits to dispensaries, he ruled.

California

Last Tuesday, Berkeley police and city inspectors raided the Forty Acres collective to look for code violations. The raid came two weeks after Forty Acres filed a lawsuit against the city and its Medical Cannabis Commission in a longstanding dispute over the dispensary's efforts to ensure its legality. The suit charges the city with discrimination and denial of due process. City officials, who have been trying to shut the place down since December 2011, maintain that it is a collective operating in a commercial district, which violates the city's zoning laws. Collectives are supposed to operate in residential areas and be "incidental" to the rest of the house.

Last Friday, Los Angeles officials said 38 dispensaries are being prosecuted and another 40 have shut down voluntarily after receiving warnings to close their doors. This is the beginning of the city's effort to enforce Measure D, a May ballot initiative that capped the number of dispensaries at 135. There are an estimated 800 to 1,000 dispensaries in the city. About 800 received letters warning them they aren't legal. Some of them have joined together to challenge the law in court.

On Tuesday, the Yorba Linda planning commission approved an ordinance banning dispensaries and cultivation centers. The only dispensary to operate in the city was forced to close in February 2010. No one showed up to testify on either side of the issue. Yorba Linda, a community founded by Quakers, also does not have a single bar within city limits, although in recent years, it has allowed alcohol to be sold in restaurants.

Connecticut

On Tuesday, the Fairfield Plan and Zoning Commission voted to deny two dispensary applications. The unanimous vote came after two public hearings. The commission said it denied the application not out of opposition to medical marijuana, but because the town did not have regulations in place. Some commissioners said they needed to move forward with regulations, and that the state needed to get more deeply involved.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the town of Saugus approved a moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will be in place at least until next September. The town maintains that the moratorium will allow town boards, committees and officials an extended period of time to study the possible legal, land use, public safety and public health impact of a local dispensary on the town and make recommendations for Town Meeting approval.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the town of Wyoming's ban on dispensaries. The town's 2010 law barred any activity that conflicts with federal law, but that law was struck down by a lower court. The town then appealed with the support of an association of Michigan prosecutors.

Oregon

Last Wednesday, medical marijuana supporters picketed the Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis. Patients and supports complained that they are getting unfair treatment from the hospital's parent company, Samaritan Health Services, the largest health care provider in the mid-Willamette River Valley. Patients were especially incensed over efforts to force them to choose between opioid pain medications and medical marijuana.

Late last month, the city of Medford began revoking business licenses for dispensaries. The city says the businesses do not comply with federal law, even though the Oregon legislature this year passed a dispensary bill and the federal government has signaled a largely hands-off approach. The move came after the city council unanimously approved and expanded an ordinance that had previously only said businesses had to be conducted in a lawful manner. Patients and supporters are mobilizing.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds back off in some Southern California asset forfeiture cases, an Iowa newspaper tells local authorities to back off from prosecuting a cancer patient, and several states move forward with implementing their medical marijuana laws. And more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, Navajo County sheriff's deputies raided a dispensary in Pinetop. They hit the Beyond Compassion dispensary, owned by Mike Lytle. Lytle also owned the Mountain Meds dispensary in Lakeside that was raided earlier this year. He was charged with five drug-related felonies in that case, which is still pending. He racked up two more felony possession of marijuana for sale charges Thursday.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, the state attorney general approved the wording of a medical marijuana initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved an initiative submitted by Arkansans for Compassionate Care that would allow patients to grow their own or buy it from a dispensary. McDaniel earlier approved another medical marijuana initiative that would not allow patients to grow their own.

California

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors dropped their case against an Anaheim landlord whose property they tried to seize over a $37 medical marijuana sale. Under federal pressure, Tony Jalali had already evicted a dispensary he had rented to when the feds brought their asset forfeiture action. Prosecutors had been seeking to drop the case for months, but had insisted that he agree to surprise inspections and promise never to rent to another dispensary. They didn't get that, but Jalali did agree not to demand that the US government pay his attorney fees. The feds dropped the case with prejudice, meaning they cannot threaten to seize his property again. They also dropped two other asset forfeiture cases, but those agreements have been finalized with the courts.

Last Thursday, a Riverside County dispensary sued the city of Murrieta over its decision to ban dispensaries and medical marijuana delivery services. Compassionate Care Beneficiaries seeks a peremptory writ of mandate to set aside the city's decision. It alleges that Murrieta violated state environmental laws by failing to evaluate the potential air pollution and traffic impacts of barring dispensaries and forcing residents who use marijuana legally for medicinal purposes to drive miles farther to obtain it.

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors moved closer to new medical marijuana regulations. The board is considering rules that would prohibit dispensaries within 600 feet of schools or each other, restricts hours and signage, and could require background checks of dispensary managers or dispensary board members. They would also limit home grows to 100 square feet indoors and 1,000 square feet outdoors. The ordinance will have a final vote on October 22.

Connecticut

Late last month, the state began accepting cultivation and dispensary applications. Patients have been able to sign up for the medical marijuana registry for the past year, but no one has yet been authorized to cultivate marijuana. Now, the state is finally moving forward.

Iowa

On Sunday, the Quad-City Times editorialized against prosecuting a cancer patient for growing medical marijuana. The newspaper accused the Scott County justice system of enforcing "the letter of a law that is doing much more harm than good" in the case of Benton Mackenzie, who was arrested along with his wife, son, and parents for growing marijuana he used to alleviate his cancer treatments. Mackenzie was jailed for two months until authorities realized they might be stuck with his medical bills, and is now free awaiting trial. "Iowa is overdue for marijuana law reform in response to growing clinical evidence of its medicinal value," the paper concluded. "Iowa and Illinois are overdue for decriminalizing a substance readily available despite decades of targeted enforcement." The Quad Cities are a trans-Mississippi River metropolitan area consisting of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois (and East Moline, too).

Kansas

Last Friday, the Kansas Silver-Haired Legislature endorsed medical marijuana. The group focuses on legislation affecting Kansas senior citizens and said in a resolution that medical marijuana brings relief for numerous conditions "often found among senior citizens" as well as slowing the progress of two conditions common to senior citizens -- Alzheimer's Disease and glaucoma. Medical marijuana has gained virtually no traction in the Republican-dominated state legislature.

Michigan

Last Thursday, a Lansing couple whose medical marijuana use resulted in the state seizing their infant daughter saw felony drug charges against them dropped. Steve and Maria Green were arrested on marijuana manufacturing charges in 2011, but the Oakland County prosecutor dropped the charges after it was proven that Steve Green was a patient and his wife a caregiver. But the filing of those charges played a role in the state's decision last month to remove their daughter from their home. It's unclear how the dropping of charges will affect their battle to regain custody of their daughter, who is currently living with Maria Green's mother.

Nevada

On Friday, state officials released their 80-page draft medical marijuana dispensary regulations. The move comes after the legislature this year passed a dispensary bill, which is set to go into effect in April. The state Division of Public and Behavioral Health released the draft, which sets broad guidelines for growers, dispensaries and test labs. The draft has already excited numerous concerns and comments, and is subject to revision.

New Jersey

Last Friday, a second dispensary won approval to start selling marijuana to patients. The Health Department announced that the Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor Township can open for business. It has been growing marijuana since June, but has not announced an exact opening date. The state has authorized six dispensaries, but so far, only one has opened.

Vermont

On Tuesday, the Rockingham Selectboard approved an ordinance banning dispensaries. The vote came after the police chief said he didn't want a dispensary in the city and a village resident said the town already faced drug abuse issues. The ordinance can be overturned by a majority of voters at the next town meeting.

Washington

On Sunday, a medical marijuana farmers' market reopened in Seattle. While providing candies, lotions, and dried buds to patients, the market is also part of an ongoing fight by the state's patients and medical marijuana industry to ensure that their rights are kept in mind as the state moves toward legally regulated marijuana for all adults.

Wisconsin

Last Thursday, two Democratic legislators announced they would file a medical marijuana bill in the state legislature. Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison and Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton held a news conference Thursday to announce a new bill, saying marijuana can provide pain relief other medication doesn't. A similar measure in 2010 got a hearing, but went nowhere after that under Democratic leadership. In 2011, a similar bill got nowhere at all under a Republican-controlled legislature. The Republicans still control both houses.

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

US Supreme Court Rejects Marijuana Reclassification Appeal

The US Supreme Court Monday declined to hear an appeal from medical marijuana advocacy groups who had challenged the DEA's decision to maintain marijuana's status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the category reserved for the most dangerous substances.

The court denied in summary order a petition for a writ of certiorari from the groups, led by Americans for Safe Access, which had sought Supreme Court review of a DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the DEA's ruling that a change in marijuana's classification required the Food and Drug Administration's recognition of acceptable medical uses for the drugs.

Advocates of rescheduling marijuana have been trying to do so for more than four decades, but have been thwarted by DEA delays and intransigence. This was the third formal rescheduling effort to be blocked by DEA decision making.

Schedule I drugs are deemed to have no acceptable medical uses and a high potential for abuse. Other Schedule I drugs include LSD, MDMA, and heroin. Despite the fact that there is an ever-increasing mountain of research detailing marijuana medicinal effects and despite the fact that 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, the DEA continues to insist that it cannot be down-scheduled.

Joe Elford, lead attorney on the case for Americans for Safe Access, told Law360 that the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari was in line with its reluctance to overturn lower court and administrative decisions on medical marijuana.

"It's disappointing, but not altogether surprising," he said.

A fourth effort to reclassify marijuana led by the governors of the medical marijuana states of Rhode Island and Washington was filed in 2011 and is still awaiting action.

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

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

California localities continue to grapple with medical marijuana issues; meanwhile, officials in three states are moving forward with implementing medical marijuana laws, and a key Kentucky politician says nice things about it. Let's get to it:

California

On September 17, a state court judge granted Santa Clara's request for an injunction to close a dispensary. The injunction is aimed at the Angel's Care Collective, with which the city has had a long-running dispute. The judge cited the state Supreme Court's ruling in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, which gave localities the right to enforce bans on medical marijuana businesses.

Last Wednesday, Sutter County supervisors passed the first reading of a cultivation ordinance that would prohibit marijuana cultivation within 2,000 feet of schools, churches, parks and child-care centers and establish setback requirements from property lines for crops to mitigate the plant's odor. The vote came after several residents complained that an increase in grow operations have caused crime to increase and lessened their quality of life. The ordinance must have another vote at the October 21 supervisors' meeting before it becomes final.

Last Thursday, the Eureka city council canceled a meeting where a move to ban dispensaries was to be considered. The proposed amendment to the city's medical marijuana ordinance would have banned dispensaries, cooperatives, collectives, and mobile delivery services. The city currently has four dispensaries and a moratorium on new ones, but that moratorium is set to expire November 3. City officials said they postponed the meeting because of time pressure, but will now deal with the issue at their October 15 meeting.

Also last Thursday, the Clearlake city council moved forward with approving the final reading of a cultivation ordinance. The ordinance, which is modeled on the cultivation ordinance adopted by the Lake County Board of Supervisors, prohibits commercial grows, grows on vacant lots and puts limitations on the number of plants allowed. With Thursday's approval, the ordinance is to become effective January 1, 2014. It also prohibits cultivation within 600 feet of a school or licensed child day care center. The number of plants allowed is connected to parcel size, allowing no more than six plants on parcels smaller than a half acre and as many as 48 plants on properties 40 acres or larger.

Last Friday, the city of San Diego sued a dispensary to force it to shut down. Targeted is the Central Wellness Collective in mid-city. The move marks a change in policy since the forced resignation of Mayor Bob Filner, who had called on the city attorney to stop suing dispensaries. Acting Mayor Todd Gloria feels otherwise. He told the city's chief operating officer and assistant chief operating officer that enforcement of zoning violations by pot shops could resume. A new marijuana zoning ordinance, more restrictive than the one sponsored by Filner, is being vetted by neighborhood groups. The proposal should be ready for council consideration by January, a spokeswoman for Gloria said.

Delaware

On Tuesday, the Division of Public Health published preliminary regulations for the state's medical marijuana program. Implementation of the state's 2011 law had been delayed by federal government threats, but last month, Gov. Jack Markell (D) lifted his suspension of the dispensary program. The new regulations cover the bidding identification process and operation for the compassion center as well as the safety and security conditions. The state will then take bids for a pilot dispensary and begin evaluating the bids by March 2014.

Illinois

On Tuesday, state officials met to begin drafting rules for medical marijuana distribution. Representatives of Gov. Pat Quinn (D) met with officials from three agencies. The state Department of Health is examining how to issue identification cards for medical marijuana users. The Department of Agriculture is determining the standards for growers. And the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is examining how to regulate the 60 dispensaries that will distribute the medical marijuana. The agencies hope to present a final version of the rules to lawmakers in the spring. The state's medical marijuana law was signed last month.

Kentucky

Last Wednesday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he is leaning toward supporting medical marijuana and that the topic is worth debating. Medical marijuana bills have been filed in previous years, but have never gone anywhere without the support of leadership. Stumbo raised the issue after Attorney General Jack Conway sent an advisory letter to Governor Steve Beshear, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and other state leaders to clarify current law related to marijuana's cousin, hemp. State lawmakers approved a hemp bill earlier this year.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, the state's therapeutic cannabis advisory council held its first meeting, choosing Rep. Jim McKay as its leader, at its first meeting Thursday. Among other things, the council will try to gauge the effectiveness of the state's dispensaries. The state's new law allows up to four dispensaries. The council has until next July to come up with rules for patient identification and registry cards. The council doesn't expect dispensaries to actually open until 2015.

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

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