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Medical Marijuana Update

Lots of action in California this past week, including more raids and more threat letters, plus action in various state legislatures and elsewhere. Let's get to it:

California

Last Wednesday, local law enforcement raided three San Bernardino dispensaries. City Attorney's office officials, and police, fire, and code enforcement officers served search warrants and issued demands that they cease and desist from allegedly unlawful activities. The dispensaries hit were Trio Holistic Center, Berdo Medical Center, and THC First Time Patients. San Bernardino authorities banned dispensaries last year. In February, they raided three other dispensaries.

Last Tuesday, the Vallejo city council approved a 45-day moratorium on new dispensary applications. A number of dispensaries already operate in Vallejo without the city's permission, although voters last year approved a 10% tax on their sales. The city quit accepting business license tax applications for dispensaries in January. City officials said they need time to sort out the confusion. Now, the city must move forward to either regulate or ban dispensaries, although the moratorium could be extended another two years.

On Wednesday, Vallejo police returned marijuana to two dispensaries raided last year. Nearly 60 pounds of medical marijuana and hundreds of dead plants were returned to Better Health Group and the LES collective. Police gave the property back after a judge dismissed the criminal cases against the two dispensaries. Police last year raided numerous Vallejo dispensaries, but have lost every criminal case they have brought, and prosecutors have dropped the charges in others.

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee. Senate Bill 439 is described by its sponsor, Sen. Steinberg, as a placeholder, "a vehicle to engage stakeholders" in the process of legislating statewide regulations. Steinberg said he is in close contact with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who has introduced companion legislation, Assembly Bill 473, and that it could take one to two years to complete the process.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee refused to pass a drugged driving bill that could impact medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 289, would create a zero-tolerance drugged driving offense, but the committee was skeptical. It did, however, leave the door open for the bill to be amended.

Also on Tuesday, word emerged that federal prosecutors have sent out more dispensary threat letters. They were issued by the office of US Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag and target the landlords of dispensaries in San Jose, San Francisco, and Ukiah. The letters warn landlords that the facilities are operating too close to a school or park. In addition, the letters warn landlords that they are liable for forfeiture under USC Title 21, Section 881(a) 7. Unlike some previous letters, they do not threaten immediate prosecution or set a deadline for compliance.

Colorado

Last Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that employers can fire medical marijuana users who fail a drug test. The ruling came in the case of a quadriplegic telephone operator for the Dish Network, who was fired after failing a drug test. He argued that he shouldn't have been fired because his actions were legal under state law, but the court held that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the state law he cited did not apply.

Hawaii

On Wednesday, two medical marijuana bills were approved by the state legislature. House Bill 668 transfers control of the medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Public Health, while Senate Bill 642 increases the amount of medicine a patient can possess from three to four ounces and allows patients to have up to seven plants, but also amends the law so that only a patient's primary care physician can recommend marijuana.

Idaho

On Monday, Idaho medical marijuana activists fought back after authorities seized their children. The children were taken from a Boise couple and a Boise single mom who are leading Idaho activists after a child at the school their children attended fell ill and marijuana was blamed. Police and child protective services workers went to the home while the parents were on a retreat and took the kids, as well as some marijuana and paraphernalia. One set of kids has been returned, the other two remain in foster care.

Maryland

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley confirmed he will sign a medical marijuana bill. The formal signing is set for Thursday. The bill allows academic medical research centers to establish programs to dispense marijuana to sick patients.

New Hampshire

 

On Tuesday, Gov. Maggie Hassan said she wants home cultivation stricken from a pending medical marijuana bill. Bill supporters said they were disappointed and that patients with terminal conditions couldn't wait the 18 months to two years it could take for dispensaries to get up and running. The governor "shares the concerns of law enforcement about the state's ability to effectively regulate a home-grow option," spokesman Marc Goldberg said in a statement. Hassan voted for a medical marijuana bill in 2009 that included a home-grow option. The proposal is now being rewritten in a Senate committee.

New Mexico

On Tuesday, the state Department of Health agreed that PTSD should remain a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The move upheld a recommendation by the Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board, which had faced an effort to withdraw PTSD as a qualifying condition.

 

Colorado Appeals Court Rules Employers Can Fire Marijuana Users

Colorado employers can legally fire marijuana users from their jobs, the state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in a 2-1 decision. Although the case was brought by a medical marijuana user, the ruling will have any even broader impact given that the state has now legalized marijuana for all adults.

The case was Coats v. Dish Network LLC, in which Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic telephone operator for Dish Network and registered medical marijuana patient, was fired by Dish Network after testing positive for marijuana during a drug test. Paralyzed by a car crash as a teen, Coats had been a registered patient since 2009. Dish Network cited no other reason for firing Coats other than his positive drug test result.

Coats challenged his firing, citing Colorado's Lawful Activities statute, which prohibits employers from firing workers for "engaging in any legal activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours." But both the trial court and now the appeals court rejected his challenge, holding that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Lawful Activities statute does not apply.

"For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law," the appeals court said.

Judge John Webb dissented, saying he could not find a case addressing whether Colorado judges must consider federal law in determining the meaning of the Colorado statute.

Coats' attorney, Michael Evans, said in a statement that the ruling will have a broad impact in the state.

"This case not only impacts Mr. Coats, but also some 127,816 medical marijuana patient-employees in Colorado who could be summarily terminated even if they are in legal compliance with Colorado state law," Evans said.

And with adult marijuana legalization now in place in the state, it is not just medical marijuana users who stand to be affected.

The ruling is expected to be appealed.

Similar rulings allowing employers to fire medical marijuana users have been upheld by courts in other states, including California, Michigan, and Montana.

Denver, CO
United States

Supreme Court Rules No Automatic Deportation for Minor Marijuana Possession

A 26-year-old Jamaican who has resided in the US since he was three should not automatically be deported for being caught with a small amount of marijuana, the US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. The case was Moncrieffe v. Holder.

In that case, Adrien Moncrieffe was caught with 1.3 grams of marijuana when police in Georgia pulled him over for a traffic stop. He pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute in a plea bargain in which the state of Georgia agreed to expunge the charges after he served five years' probation.

But a federal immigration judge ruled that the plea bargain made Moncrieffe deportable as an "aggravated felon." While federal law considers possession of small amounts of weed a misdemeanor, federal officials argued that his plea was to an offense analogous to a federal felony and thus calling for automatic deportation under federal immigration law. With the lesser offense, Moncrieffe might potentially face deportation, but the government would not have to seek it and Moncrieffe could make his case before a judge if it did.

The US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the immigration judge's ruling, but the Supreme Court accepted the case for review last year. On Tuesday, seven justices agreed that Moncrieffe's conviction did not rise to the level of a drug trafficking offense that triggered the aggravated felony classification for deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

"Moncrieffe's conviction could correspond to either the CSA [Controlled Substances Act] felony or the CSA misdemeanor," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority. "Ambiguity on this point means that the conviction did not 'necessarily' involve facts that correspond to an offense punishable as a felony under the CSA. Under the categorical approach, then, Moncrieffe was not convicted of an aggravated felony."

Although federal prosecutors had argued that any marijuana distribution conviction (even intending to distribute one gram) is "presumptively" a felony, Sotomayor and the other six justices weren't buying that.

"That is simply incorrect, and the government's argument collapses as a result," Sotomayor wrote. "Marijuana distribution is neither a felony nor a misdemeanor until we know whether the conditions in paragraph (4) attach."

That paragraph lists exceptions to the offense of marijuana distribution that allow defendants to be considered misdemeanor "simple drug possessors."

To follow prosecutors' logic, Sotomayor argued, "would render even an undisputed misdemeanor an aggravated felony. Recognizing that its approach leads to consequences Congress could not have intended, the government hedges its argument by proposing a remedy: Non-citizens should be given an opportunity during immigration proceedings to demonstrate that their predicate marijuana distribution convictions involved only a small amount of marijuana and no remuneration, just as a federal criminal defendant could do at sentencing," she wrote.

But that approach was "entirely inconsistent with both the INA's text and the categorical approach," Sotomayor stressed. "The government cites no statutory authority for such case-specific fact finding in immigration court, and none is apparent in the INA. Indeed, the government's main categorical argument would seem to preclude this inquiry: If the government were correct that 'the fact of a marijuana-distribution conviction alone constitutes a CSA felony,' then all marijuana distribution convictions would categorically be convictions of the drug trafficking aggravated felony, mandatory deportation would follow under the statute, and there would be no room for the government's follow-on fact finding procedure. The government cannot have it both ways."

And the government's approach would lead to a litany of "absurd consequences that would flow from" immigration investigations into such offenses. "That the only cure is worse than the disease suggests the government is simply wrong," she wrote.

Only Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, with Thomas arguing that since Georgia punished Moncrieffe's offense as a felony, he should be deportable under the CSA, and Alito warning that the majority had just given a free ride to "drug traffickers in about half the states."

"In those states," Alito wrote in his dissent, "even if an alien is convicted of possessing tons of marijuana with the intent to distribute, the alien is eligible to remain in this country. Large-scale marijuana distribution is a major source of income for some of the world's most dangerous drug cartels, but the court now holds that an alien convicted of participating in such activity may petition to remain in this country."

Of course, Moncrieffe was not convicted of "large-scale marijuana trafficking" and was not a member of one of "the world's most dangerous drug cartels;" he was a guy busted with a couple of joints worth of weed. And the government may still be able to deport people in Moncrieffe's situation, but now they will have to make the case for deportation before a judge.

Washington, DC
United States

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Researcher's Bid to Grow Medical Marijuana

The US First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston Monday sided with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in rejecting University of Massachusetts-Amherst scientist Dr. Lyle Craker's appeal of the agency's decision to deny him a license to grow medical marijuana for research purposes.

Professor Lyle Craker (maps.org)
Craker sought to break the federal government's monopoly on the production of marijuana for research purposes. Because of hostility to research on the possible benefits of marijuana in the federal drug control and research bureaucracies, the federal monopoly on marijuana for research purposes created a bottleneck, blocking potential valuable research efforts.

The decision in Craker v. DEA caps a 12-year odyssey through federal regulatory purgatory for Craker and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which had backed the UMass-Amherst scientist's bid to develop a source of marijuana independent of that produced under the auspices of NIDA.

"After such a long struggle, I'm disappointed that the Court failed to recognize the need for an independent source of plant material for use in research on the medical uses of marijuana," said Prof. Craker. "In doing so, they have failed the American people, especially those for whom marijuana as a medicine could help."

Craker first applied for a license from the DEA in 2001; it took the agency three years to initially deny his request. In 2007, the DEA's own administrative law judge recommended that the agency grant his application, but two years later, then DEA Deputy Administrator (and current Adminstrator) Michele Leonhart rejected that recommendation. Craker sought a formal reconsideration, which Leonhart denied in 2011.

Craker then appealed to the First Circuit, with oral arguments taking place in May 2012. In its decision Monday, the First Circuit upheld Leonhart's denial. In so doing, it dismissed Craker's claims that the DEA had changed the rules in the middle of the game and that the supply of marijuana from the NIDA facility was inadequate and uncompetitive. Leonhart's interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act was permissible and her findings were "reasonable and supported by the evidence," the court held.

"This ruling will result in sick people continuing to be denied the medicine they desperately need, and which 18 states and the District of Columbia recognize as legitimate," said Allen Hopper, criminal justice and drug policy director for the ACLU of California and one of the lawyers representing Prof. Craker. "The Obama administration must stop blocking the research necessary to take marijuana through the FDA approval process."

Boston, MA
United States

Feds' New Cell Phone Spying Device Raising Privacy Concerns [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by independent investigative journalist Clarence Walker, freelancewriter82@gmail.com

Blocked by a Supreme Court decision from using GPS tracking devices without a warrant, federal investigators and other law enforcement agencies are turning to a new, more powerful and more threatening technology in their bid to spy more freely on those they suspect of drug crimes. That's leading civil libertarians, electronic privacy advocates, and even some federal judges to raise the alarm about a new surveillance technology whose use has yet to be taken up definitively by the federal courts.

StingRay cell phone spying device (US Patent photo)
The new surveillance technology is the StingRay (also marketed as Triggerfish, IMSI Catcher, Cell-site Simulator or Digital Analyzer), a sophisticated, portable spy device able to track cell phone signals inside vehicles, homes and insulated buildings. StingRay trackers act as fake cell towers, allowing police investigators to pinpoint location of a targeted wireless mobile by sucking up phone data such as text messages, emails and cell-site information.

When a suspect makes a phone call, the StingRay tricks the cell into sending its signal back to the police, thus preventing the signal from traveling back to the suspect's wireless carrier. But not only does StingRay track the targeted cell phone, it also extracts data off potentially thousands of other cell phone users in the area.

Although manufactured by a Germany and Britain-based firm, the StingRay devices are sold in the US by the Harris Corporation, an international telecommunications equipment company. It gets between $60,000 and $175,000 for each Stingray it sells to US law enforcement agencies.

[While the US courts are only beginning to grapple with StingRay, the high tech cat-and-mouse game between cops and criminals continues afoot. Foreign hackers reportedly sell an underground IMSI tracker to counter the Stingray to anyone who asks for $1000. And in December 2011, noted German security expert Karsten Nohl released "Catcher Catcher," powerful software that monitors a network's traffic to seek out the StingRay in use.]

Originally intended for terrorism investigations, the feds and local law enforcement agencies are now using the James Bond-type surveillance to track cell phones in drug war cases across the nation without a warrant. Federal officials say that is fine -- responding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) and the First Amendment Coalition, the Justice Department argued that no warrant was needed to use StingRay technology.

"If a device is not capturing the contents of a particular dialogue call, the device does not require a warrant, but only a court order under the Pen Register Statute showing the material obtained is relevant to an ongoing investigation," the department wrote.

The FBI claims that it is adhering to lawful standards in using StingRay. "The bureau advises field officers to work closely with the US Attorney's Office in their districts to comply with legal requirements," FBI spokesman Chris Allen told the Washington Post last week, but the agency has refused to fully disclose whether or not its agents obtain probable cause warrants to track phones using the controversial device.

And the federal government's response to the EFF's FOIA about Stingray wasn't exactly responsive. While the FOIA request generated over 20,000 records related to StingRay, the Justice Department released only a pair of court orders and a handful of heavily redacted documents that didn't explain when and how the technology was used.

The LA Weekly reported in January that the StingRay "intended to fight terrorism was used in far more routine Los Angeles Police criminal investigations," apparently without the courts' knowledge that it probes the lives of non-suspects living in the same neighborhood with a suspect.

Critics say the technology wrongfully invades technology and that its uncontrolled use by law enforcement raised constitutional questions. "It is the biggest threat to cell phone privacy you don't know about," EFF said in a statement.

ACLU privacy researcher Christopher Soghoian told a Yale Law School Location Tracking and Biometrics Conference panel last month that "the government uses the device either when a target is routinely and quickly changing phones to thwart a wiretap or when police don't have sufficient cause for a warrant."

"The government is hiding information about new surveillance technology not only from the public, but even from the courts," ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye wrote in a legal brief in the first pending federal StingRay case (see below). "By keeping courts in the dark about new technologies, the government is essentially seeking to write its own search warrants, and that's not how the Constitution works."

Lye further expressed concern over the StingRay's ability to interfere with cell phone signals in violation of Federal Communication Act. "We haven't seen documents suggesting the LAPD or any other agency have sought or obtained FCC authorization," she wrote.

StingRay pricing chart (publicintelligence.net)
"If the government shows up in your neighborhood, essentially every phone is going to check in with the government," said the ACLU's Soghoian. "The government is sending signals through people's walls and clothes and capturing information about innocent people. That's not much different than using invasive technology to search every house on a block," Soghoian said during interviews with reporters covering the StingRay story.

Advocates also raised alarms over another troubling issue: Using the StingRay allows investigators to bypass the routine process of obtaining fee-based location data from cell service providers like Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Comcast. Unlike buying location data fro service providers, using StingRay leaves no paper trail for defense attorneys.

Crack defense attorney Stephen Leckar who scored a victory in a landmark Supreme Court decision over the feds' warrantless use of a GPS tracker in US v. Jones, a cocaine trafficking case where the government tracked Jones' vehicle for weeks without a warrant, also has concerns.

"Anytime the government refuses to disclose the ambit of its investigatory device, one has to wonder, what's really happening," he told the Chronicle. "If without a warrant the feds use this sophisticated device for entry into people's homes, accessing private information, they may run afoul of a concurring opinion by Justice Alito, who ruled in US v Jones whether people would view unwarranted monitoring of their home or property as Constitutionally repugnant."

Leckar cited Supreme Court precedent in Katz v. US (privacy) and US v. Kyllo (thermal imaging), where the Supreme Court prohibited searches conducted by police from outside the home to obtain information behind closed doors. Similar legal thinking marked February's Supreme Court decision in a case where it prohibited the warrantless use of drug dogs to sniff a residence, Florida v. Jardines.

The EFF FOIA lawsuit shed light on how the US government sold StingRay devices to state and local law enforcement agencies for use specifically in drug cases. The Los Angeles and Fort Worth police departments have publicly acknowledged buying the devices, and records show that they are using them for drug investigations.

"Out of 155 cell phone investigations conducted by LAPD between June and September 2012, none of these cases involved terrorism, but primarily involved drugs and other felonies," said Peter Scheer, director of the First Amendment Center.

The StingRay technology is so new and so powerful that it not only raises Fourth Amendment concerns, it also raises questions about whether police and federal agents are withholding information about it from judges to win approval to monitor suspects without meeting the probable cause standard required by the Fourth. At least one federal judge thinks they are. Magistrate Judge Brian Owsley of the Southern District of Texas in Corpus Christi told the Yale conference federal prosecutors are using clever techniques to fool judges into allowing use of StingRay. They will draft surveillance requests to appear as Pen Register applications, which don't need to meet the probable cause standards.

"After receiving a second StingRay request," Owsley told the panel, "I emailed every magistrate judge in the country telling them about the device. And hardly anyone understood them."

In a earlier decision related to a Cell-site Simulator, Judge Owsley denied a DEA request to obtain data information to identify where the cell phone belonging to a drug trafficker was located. DEA wanted to use the suspect's E911 emergency tracking system that is operated by the wireless carrier. E911 trackers reads signals sent to satellites from a cell phone's GPS chip or by triangulation of radio transmitted signal. Owsley told the panel that federal agents and US attorneys often apply for a court order to show that any information obtained with a StingRay falls under the Stored Communication Act and the Pen Register statute.

DEA later petitioned Judge Owsley to issue an order allowing the agent to track a known drug dealer with the StingRay. DEA emphasized to Owsley how urgently they needed approval because the dealer had repeatedly changed cell phones while they spied on him. Owsley flatly denied the request, indicating the StingRay was not covered under federal statute and that DEA and prosecutors had failed to disclose what they expected to obtain through the use of the stored data inside the drug dealer's phone, protected by the Fourth Amendment.

"There was no affidavit attached to demonstrate probable cause as required by law under rule 41 of federal criminal procedures," Owsley pointed out. The swiping of data off wireless phones is "cell tower dumps on steroids," Owsley concluded.

But judges in other districts have ruled favorably for the government. A federal magistrate judge in Houston approved DEA request for cell tower data without probable cause. More recently, New York Southern District Federal Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein approved warrantless cell-site data.

"The government did not install the tracking device -- and the cell user chose to carry the phone that permitted transmission of its information to a carrier," Gorenstein held in that opinion. "Therefore no warrant is needed."

In a related case, US District Court Judge Liam O'Grady of the Northern District of Virginia ruled that the government could obtain data from Twitter accounts of three Wikileakers without a warrant. Because they had turned over their IP addresses when they opened their Twitter accounts, they had no expectation of privacy, he ruled.

"Petitioners knew or should have known that their IP information was subject to examination by Twitter, so they had a lessened expectation of privacy in that information, particularly in light of their apparent consent to the Twitter terms of service and privacy policy," Judge O'Grady wrote.

A federal judge in Arizona is now set to render a decision in the nation's first StingRay case. After a hearing last week, the court in US v. Rigmaiden is expected to issue a ruling that could set privacy limits on how law enforcement uses the new technology. Just as the issue of GPS tracking technology eventually ended up before the Supreme Court, this latest iteration of the ongoing balancing act between enabling law enforcement to do its job and protecting the privacy and Fourth Amendment rights of citizens could well be headed there, too.

Federal Court Again Blocks Missouri College Drug Testing Plan

For the second time, a Missouri federal district court judge has granted a preliminary injunction blocking Linn State Technical College from drug testing all first-year and some returning students. The college had sought to implement the unprecedented drug testing regime in the fall of 2011, but had been blocked after the ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed suit on behalf of six students.

US District Judge Nanette Laughrey issued a preliminary injunction stopping the program and the reporting of early test results in the fall of 2011, but the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals overruled her in January, finding her order too broad. The ACLU of Eastern Missouri then filed a narrower challenge, which Laughrey has now granted.

"Today's decision affirms the privacy and personal dignity of hundreds of students who were forced to supply their college with urine samples before they could take any classes," said Tony Rothert, the ACLU-EM's legal director. "Without a compelling need, a search of your bodily fluids is exactly the type of unreasonable search and seizure that the Constitution prevents the government from imposing."

Linn State had argued that it should be allowed to drug test students without any suspicion because some of its programs, such as aviation maintenance and heavy equipment operations, had a public safety component. But the ACLU-EM argued that its program was overly broad, and in granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Laughrey cited the testimony of a mechanical engineering professor at the college who said his students handled nothing more dangerous than pencils.

While the federal courts have allowed suspicionless drug testing in limited circumstances -- in occupations affecting public safety, among drug law enforcement personnel, and among limited sets of high school students -- they have generally deemed it a violation of the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches and seizures. The Linn State case is the first one known where a college sought to test a broad swath of the student population without any particularized suspicion.

The case will be argued in July. In the meantime, the preliminary order barring drug testing is in effect and suggests that Judge Laughrey will grant a permanent injunction then.

Jefferson City, MO
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

There is action in various state houses, Michiganders continue to tussle over their medical marijuana law, and there's an investigation going on in Maine. Let's get to it:

California

Last Thursday, the California Coastal Commission approved Imperial Beach zoning law changes that banned dispensaries from operating in the city. The city had approved the ban in July 2011, but action was delayed while opponents of the ban sought unsuccessfully to overturn it with a municipal initiative last November. The change in local zoning will not impact the ability for up to three people to form a collective to cultivate marijuana in Imperial Beach.

Maine

Last Friday, state officials said they were investigating a cultivation center that supplies the state's largest dispensary operator. The grow operation supplies Wellness Connection of Maine's four dispensaries, which all closed last week. A Wellness Connection spokesperson said the state was conducting "a comprehensive regulatory inspection" and that there was no connection between the investigation and the dispensary closings. State officials had no further comment.

Maryland

Last Friday, the governor's office suggested he would support a pending medical marijuana bill. Joshua Sharfstein, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, testified before lawmakers on Friday that a bill sponsored by Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D), a Baltimore County doctor, contained most of the provisions the governor could support. The bill would allow academic medical centers in the state to operate "compassionate use programs" beginning in 2016.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, the Massachusetts Medical Society called for research on marijuana's medical uses. The move signals an evolution in the thinking of the doctors' group, which had publicly opposed passage of the state's medical marijuana initiative last year. The group called for research to ensure that marijuana is subjected to the same rigorous testing as prescription drugs.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, a circuit court judge ruled that medical marijuana users can collect unemployment benefits. Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette overturned a decision by a state commission that found a state-approved medical marijuana user, who was fired from her job after failing a drug test, was not eligible for the benefits. Collette ruled that the worker had already informed her employer of her medical marijuana use and the drug test "merely demonstrated what she had informed her employer of prior to the test -- that she uses medical marijuana."

Last Wednesday, police in Grand Rapids raided three dispensaries. Dispensaries were ruled illegal by the state Supreme Court last month, and the state attorney general has given local prosecutors the go-ahead to start shutting them down. At least one dispensary has already reopened, with the proprietor arguing that it is not violating the law because it requires caregivers to be present with patients during transactions. No charges have been filed yet.

Last Friday, a circuit court judge ruled that dispensaries are bound by local zoning laws. Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Archie Brown made the ruling in refusing dismiss a complaint against two Ypsilanti Township residents who are accused of growing more marijuana than the town's zoning ordinance allows. Under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, caregivers can grow up to 72 plants for patients, but township code only allowed the 12 plants approved for an individual patient. The case was the first court challenge to zoning laws restricting medical marijuana in the state.

Minnesota

On Wednesday, a Public Policy Polling survey found that 65% of state voters support medical marijuana. The results of the statewide survey come as state lawmakers prepare a bipartisan bill that would make it legal for Minnesota residents with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, to access and use medical marijuana if advised to do so by their physicians. Its introduction is expected within the next two weeks, at which time details of the proposal will be made available. The poll found a strong majority (54%) of voters in the state would disapprove of their county sheriff or county attorney working to defeat such a bill, while only 24% would approve.Two-thirds (66%) think Gov. Mark Dayton should sign it if it is approved by the legislature.

Missouri

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill was reintroduced in the state legislature. The bill, House Bill 688, would allow patients with debilitating conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, to use and possess marijuana for medical purposes if their doctors recommend it. The bill would put the question to voters on the November 2014 general election ballot.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana bill advanced in the House. The Health Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee voted 14-1 to recommend that the full House pass the bill after amending it to block out of state patients from buying marijuana at the five dispensaries the bill envisions. Out of state patients could bring up to two ounces of their medicine with them. The amended bill also lowers the number of plants allowed from four adults to three and reduces the area of a legal grow site from 100 square feet to 50.

Appeals Court Ruling Throws Wrench in Maritime Drug Prosecutions [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker, freelancewriter82@gmail.com

America's war on drugs overseas was dealt a heavy blow in the federal courts late last year. In November, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta handed prosecutors a crushing defeat by reversing the multiple drug convictions of four foreign nationals arrested after their fishing vessel with 760 kilos of cocaine was seized off the Panamanian coast three years ago. That cocaine was valued at between $180 million and $200 million.

Coast Guard drug bust, 2004
The defendants were convicted and sent to prison under a never before challenged provision of the federal Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act. The ruling reversing their convictions has called into question current US war drug tactics on foreign territory and territorial waters.

If upheld, the decision in US v. Bellaizac-Hurtado, could prevent the US from prosecuting suspected smugglers caught within the 12-mile territorial waters of South and Central America countries, and it may hinder US authorities from entering the 12-mile limit themselves while carrying out anti-narcotics operations. That would wreak havoc with US drug enforcement offensives such as Operation Martillo (Hammer), which has been aimed squarely at Central America and has so far seized over $2 billion worth of drugs from sea-going vessels.

Federal prosecutors haven't said whether they will appeal, but it would be a surprise if they didn't.

As the justices at the 11th Circuit noted, the Bellaizac-Hurtado case is the first taken up during modern times to determine whether the "Offenses clause" of the US Constitution can legally allow US prosecution of drug trafficking crimes in another country. The Offenses clause gives Congress the right to "define and punish… Offenses against Law of Nations."

The court found that the use of the clause to justify the prosecution of Bellaizac-Hurado under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act is illegal because drug trafficking was not a crime under the Law of Nations when the Constitution was written more than two centuries ago, nor is it a crime under "customary international law" now. The pursuit of felony crimes overseas is limited by customary international law, and the international community has not treated drug trafficking under these premises as a crime, the court held.

"Drug trafficking was not a violation of customary international law during the 'Founding of the US law' and drug trafficking is not a violation of customary international law today," the opinion stated. "Because drug trafficking is not a violation of customary international law, we hold that Congress exceeded its power, under the Offences Clause, when it proscribed the defendants' conduct in the territorial waters of Panama. And the United States has not offered us any alternative ground upon which the Act could be sustained as constitutional. As applied to these defendants, the Act is unconstitutional, and we must vacate their convictions."

While the ruling found the act could not be used to prosecute suspected drug smugglers arrested within a country's 12-mile territorial waters, it does not impact cases against smugglers using "stateless" submarines, nor impede the ability of US authorities to prosecute felonies committed on "the high seas."

The potentially precedent-setting case began in 2010 when US Coast Guard patrols in Panamanian waters spotted a wooden fishing vessel operating without lights or a flag. Suspicious, the Coast Guard alerted the Panamanian Navy and the chase was on. The Navy officers chased the vessel until the suspects abandoned the ship and fled on land deep into Panama's jungle. Following a thorough search of the vessel the Coast Guard discovered "760 kilos of cocaine." The feds had scored a mother lode. Meanwhile the four occupants of the vessel were arrested the next day in the jungle by Panamanian National Frontier Service.

Through a diplomatic agreement, Panama handed the captured men over to the US for prosecution.They were indicted in Florida's Southern District in Miami for conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine aboard a vessel subject to US jurisdiction under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act.

They were convicted and sentenced to federal prison. Their attorneys, led by Miami defense attorney Tracey Dreispul, appealed. The Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act was unconstitutional because it exceeded Congress' constitutional powers under the Offenses Clause, they argued.

The Justice Department responded that "drug trafficking is an offense against 'Law of Nations' as applied to the defendants' conduct -- -subject to Universal Jurisdiction because when Congress enacted the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act, it stated that drug trafficking is 'universally condemned' and a threat to the security and societal well-being of the United States." Prosecutors also argued that "the US federal district court had lawful jurisdiction over the cocaine because the defendants had been operating a vessel without a flag or national identification, and that the Panamanian government consented to have the men prosecuted in the United States."

But the appeals court in Atlanta wasn't buying it. "Offenses against Laws of Nations can only be interpreted in accordance with principles of customary international law because international law proscribes which conduct may be punished as an Offense against the Laws of Nations," the court held.

In other words, Congress doesn't get to define what constitutes customary international law.

"Where does the government get off on by prosecuting people they don't have the power to prosecute?" asked attorney Stephen Leckar, counsel for the defense in the landmark US v. Antoine Jones GPS drug trafficking case, in an interview with the Chronicle. "Where is the evidence that the drugs were headed for the US market to be distributed?"

"This basically was a Panamanian internal matter and their government is saying 'United States, you clean this up for us,'" Miami lawyer Phillip Horowitz, who represented one of the defendants, told the Miami Herald.

The ruling could have a cascading effect, impacting some of the thousands of drug smuggling cases stemming from offshore arrest. Legal experts predict that if the ruling withstands appeal, other convicted drug smugglers may go free if they, too, were arrested in foreign territorial waters by international police, then turned over to US for prosecution under "Offences against Laws of Nations."

Those defendants need to act, though, said Florida defense attorney David Silverstein. "Any defendants convicted under the same set of facts in Bellaizac-Hurtado must file a writ of habeas corpus within two years after the opinion was issued," he told the Chronicle.

With their convictions now voided, it remains to be seen if Bellaizac-Hurtado and his codefendants will now be prosecuted by Panamanian authorities. If so, let's hope they get credit for time served. Luis Carlos Hurtado did 25 months, Pedro Angulo-Rodallega and Albeiro Gonzales did 36 months, and Yimmie Bellaizac-Hurtado is still doing his 90-month sentence pending resolution of the appeals. The others have been deported.

Atlanta, GA
United States

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Florida Welfare Drug Test Law

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta Tuesday upheld a preliminary injunction blocking Florida's 2011 law requiring welfare applicants to take and pass a drug test. The court held that mandatory, suspicionless drug testing violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches and seizures.

The decision came in Lebron v. Secretary, Florida Department of Children and Families, in which Navy veteran, single father, and university student Luis LeBron applied for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, but refused to be drug tested. His challenge to the law led to a federal district court's preliminary injunction halting the implementation of the law. The 11th Circuit's ruling Tuesday upheld the preliminary injunction.

Federal courts have generally found random, suspicionless drug testing to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, but have carved out two "special needs" exceptions: for public safety (allowing testing of pilots, truck  drivers, and police doing drug enforcement) and children (allowing testing of students involved in athletic or extracurricular activities). The 11th Circuit held that the Florida law did not fall within those exceptions.

The state of Florida "presented no empirical evidence to bolster its special needs argument that suspicionless drug testing of TANF applicants is in any way warranted," the court held. "There is nothing so special or immediate about the government’s interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant suspension of the Fourth Amendment."

"Today, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in affirming a preliminary injunction halting Florida's law mandating suspicionless drug testing of TANF applicants, set important precedent, which will hopefully curtail other states from following in Florida's stampede over individuals' Fourth Amendment rights, said Shawn Heller, a co-counsel on the case. "As Judge Jordan succinctly stated in his concurrence, 'constitutionally speaking, the state's position is simply a bridge too far.'" (Heller first joined the case while on staff at the Florida Justice Institute, which argued the case as co-counsel to the ACLU of Florida.)

"The 11th Circuit's decision deals a devastating blow to any state's attempt to impose suspicionless drug testing as a condition of receiving governmental benefits," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, which had filed an amicus brief in the case. "We hope that lawmakers will choose to honor the constitution rather than scapegoat poor people in efforts to address perceived drug problems."

In that amicus brief, the Drug Policy Alliance was joined by the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy, the Legal Action Center, Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, National Employment Law Project, Child Welfare Organizing Project, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

The brief argued that Florida’s drug testing scheme does not achieve any of its purported goals of protecting the well-being of children, promoting the employability of person on public assistance and assuring fiscal integrity, and does not pass the "special needs" test that is required to justify otherwise unconstitutional searches by government officials.

The ruling comes as public benefits drug testing measures continue to be introduced -- and sometimes advanced -- in states across the country. Some of those bills attempt to overcome the Fourth Amendment obstacles cited by the appeals court here by attempting to set up a "reasonable suspicion" assessment before mandating drug testing.

Atlanta , GA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Most of the action was at statehouses this week, but there was also news from the Harborside Health Center battle in California and an announcement that the nation's capital will soon have its first dispensary.

Arkansas

On Tuesday, the state attorney general rejected the wording of a ballot measure that would legalize medical marijuana. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel complained of ambiguities in the measure. McDaniel must certify the measure before signature-gathering  to qualify for the 2014 ballot can begin.That means it's redrafting time for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the same folks who brought a narrowly-defeated measure to the ballot last year.

California

Last Thursday, a federal magistrate rejected the city of Oakland's challenge to the federal government's effort to shut down Harborside Health Center, the world's largest medical marijuana dispensary. Magistrate Maria-Elena James ruled that only those who have a direct interest in the property -- Harborside and its landlords -- have the right to challenge the government's effort to seize it. The city had intervened in the case on Harborside's behalf, arguing that its closure would lead to public health and safety problems.

On Wednesday, medical marijuana patient Daisy Bram was arraigned in Tehama County on marijuana cultivation charges. This is the second run-in with recalcitrant local authorities for Bram, who was arrested on similar charges in 2011 in Butte County. In both cases, authorities also seized her children. In the Butte County case, police and social workers tore Bram's month-old son from her arms, and he and his sibling remained in foster care for six months. Her children have been seized once again, as has her 12-year-old personal vehicle, which authorities claimed was purchased with the fruits of crime.

District of Columbia

Last Friday, operators of Capital City Care announced that the District's first dispensary will open in April. It's been a long time coming. Voters approved medical marijuana in 1998, but Congress blocked its implementation for more than a decade, and District officials have moved at an excruciatingly slow pace in enacting regulations and permissions. City officials have approved three dispensaries and six cultivation centers, but Capital City will be the first out the gate.

Massachusetts

Last Thursday, state health officials held a "listening session" in Boston to get public input as they work on regulations for the state's nascent medical marijuana industry. They heard from patients seeking broad access, as well as from substance-abuse groups, youth counselors and police, who urged them to draft strict regulations. This was the second of three "listening sessions" undertaken by the Department of Public Health. The department has until May 1 to draft regulations for the program.

Montana

Last Friday, a package of bills to fix the state's gutted medical marijuana program was defeated in a House committee vote. The bills were an effort to undo some of the restrictions passed by the legislature in 2012 that effectively killed the state's burgeoning medical marijuana industry. The hearing was also notable for one of the more colorful comments on marijuana heard in recent years. Marijuana is "a joke," said House Human Services Committee Chair David Howard (R-Park City), a former FBI agent, adding, "It makes you delusional. It is psychologically addicting and physiologically addicting and it absorbs in your fat cells, which is the most dangerous drug there is. This is not a drug. It's a poison."

Washington

On Monday, lawmakers held a hearing on taxing medical marijuana dispensaries. The bill's sponsors said they want to hit dispensaries with a 25% tax on cannabis sales like the one mandated for non-medical marijuana under the state's new legalization scheme. The idea is to avoid a dual market -- one taxed and one not -- once legalization regulations go into effect. But more than a dozen people, most of them patients, testified against the move. No vote was taken.

West Virginia

On Monday, Del. Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor) introduced a medical marijuana bill. The bill, House Bill 2230, would allow patients to possess up to six ounces of marijuana and establishes five "compassion centers" to provide patients their medicine. Manypenny introduced similar bills in the last two sessions, but they never got a hearing.

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