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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.

US Supreme Court Upholds Drug Dog Search of Truck

The US Supreme Court Tuesday upheld the use of police dog's sniff of a truck, finding that training and testing records were sufficient indicators of the dog's reliability and gave police probable cause for the search. The high court in 2005 upheld the legality of highway drug dog searches; in this case, the court focused on the reliability of drug dog searches.

In deciding the case, the high court reversed a decision from the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida court had held that a wide array of evidence was necessary to establish probable cause for the search, including field performance records that would indicate how many times the dog had falsely alerted. Without such records, the Florida court held, police could not establish probable cause.

Tuesday's ruling came in Florida v. Harris, in which Clayton Harris had been pulled over by a police officer in Liberty County in 2006. The drug dog, Aldo, alerted to the truck's door handle, the officer searched the truck, and methamphetamine precursor chemicals were found. Clayton was arrested on meth-related charges.

Harris was again pulled over by the same officer while out on bail, and Aldo again alerted on his vehicle. This time the vehicle search came up empty. Harris's attorneys challenged Aldo's reliability in part because of this second alert that turned up nothing. The Florida Supreme Court agreed with their argument that the dog's performance in the field needed to be assessed in order to determine probable cause for the search.

But not the US Supreme Court. It unanimously reversed the decision.

A drug dog's "satisfactory performance" in a certification or training program provided sufficient probable cause to trust its alert, Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority. "The question -- similar to every inquiry into probable cause -- is whether all the facts surrounding a dog's alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reasonably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime," Kagan wrote. "A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test."

The case is one of two Florida drug dog cases before the Supreme Court this session. In the other, the high court takes up the question of whether a drug dog can sniff the front doorstep of a home without a search warrant. The Supreme Court has upheld drug dog searches of vehicles on the highway and packages at delivery service warehouses, but in other cases has shown greater deference to Fourth Amendment requirements at residences.

Washington, DC
United States

AZ Court Says You Don't Have to Be High to Get a DUI

An Arizona appeals court has ruled that marijuana users don't need to be actually impaired to be successfully prosecuted for driving under the influence. The ruling came Tuesday in the case of a man who tested positive for an inactive marijuana metabolite that remains in the body for weeks after the high from smoking marijuana has worn off.

The ruling in Arizona v. Shilgevorkyan overturned a decision by a superior court judge who said that it didn't make sense to prosecute people for driving under the influence if they're not actually under the influence.

The ruling turned on a close reading of legislative intent in writing the state's DUID law. The legislation specified the presence of "the metabolite" of THC, and Shilgevorkyan had argued that lawmakers meant "hydroxy-THC, the metabolite which would indicate current impairment, not carboxy-THC, an inactive metabolite that indicates only usage some time in the past.

The appeals court disagreed, citing its decisions on earlier challenges to the DUID. "The legislature intended to create a 'per se prohibition' and a 'flat ban on driving with any proscribed drug in one's system," the court noted. "We determined that the legislative ban extends to all substances, whether capable of causing impairment or not."

Because the law was drafted to protect public safety, the appeals court said, it should be interpreted broadly to include inactive as well as active compounds.

But Superior Court Commissioner Myra Harris, who had ruled on Shilgevorkyan's behalf, warned in her earlier opinion that the appeals court's interpretation of the law would result in people, including out of state medical marijuana patients, being charged with DUI when they are not impaired.

"Residents of these states, particularly those geographically near Arizona, are likely to travel to Arizona," Harris said in her 2012 ruling upholding the dismissal. "It would be irrational for Arizona to prosecute a defendant for an act that might have occurred outside of Arizona several weeks earlier."

Shilgevorkyan's attorney said he plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Phoenix, AZ
United States

Michigan Supreme Court Rules Against Medical Marijuana Shops

In a ruling issued Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court held that it is illegal to sell medical marijuana through dispensaries. That means Michigan patients will either have to grow their own or rely on a designated caregiver, who is limited to providing for no more than five patients.

no dispensaries for Michigan (wikimedia.org)
The 4-1 decision in Michigan v. Compassionate Apothecary (scroll down past the syllabus) upheld an earlier appellate court finding that the state's voter-approved 2008 medical marijuana law does not allow people to sell medical marijuana to each other, even if they are registered patients.

The medical marijuana law says registered patients can possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in an enclosed space, but it does not mention dispensaries or otherwise say how patients might obtain their medicine.

"The Court of Appeals reached the correct conclusion that defendants are not entitled to operate a business that facilitates patient-to-patient sales of marijuana," wrote Chief Justice Robert Young for the majority.

The owners of Compassionate Apothecary had argued that their business wasn't illegal because the law allowed for the "delivery" and "transfer" of marijuana, but the high court wasn't buying. The shop could be shut down as a "public nuisance," the court affirmed.

Detroit attorney Matthew Abel, a specialist in the state's medical marijuana law, told the Associated Press the decision had settled the issue in the courts and it was now up to elected representatives to act.

"This is the end of the road. This is it," said Abel. "It will be a mess until the legislature clarifies what kinds of business entities are allowed to exist."

Ardent medical marijuana foe Attorney General Bill Schuette has yet to comment on Friday's decision, but when the appeals court ruled the same way last year, he called it "a huge victory for public safety."

Lansing, MI
United States

New Jersey Supreme Court Protects Rights in Pregnancy Case

The New Jersey Supreme Court Wednesday ruled unanimously that the state's child protection laws do not give child protective services jurisdiction over pregnant women and that drug use during pregnancy does not by itself establish abuse or neglect. In the ruling, the court also acknowledged concerns articulated by leading medical and public health organizations that applying child protection laws to pregnant women can be detrimental to the health of the mother and the fetus.

The ruling came in New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. A.L. In that case, the mother -- "A.L." -- gave birth to a healthy baby in September 2007, but a drug screening of A.L. and her baby came back positive for cocaine. The state Division of Child Protection and Permanency argued that those positive drug screens were sufficient evidence of harm or potential harm to declare that A.L. had neglected her fetus.

A.L. challenged that finding, but lost in district court. She also lost in appellate court, where the judges not only found neglect, but also declared that the state's child neglect law could be applied to fetuses in utero. In its ruling Wednesday, the state's highest court disagreed.

"On its own, the one entry [a medical notation of a positive drug test] does not tell us whether the mother is an addict or used an illegal substance on a single occasion," the court held. "The notation does not reveal the severity or extent of the mother’s substance abuse or, most important in light of the statute, the degree of future harm posed to the child. In other words, a [positive drug test], without more, does not establish proof of imminent danger or substantial risk of harm."

The Supreme Court also chided the lower courts for reaching conclusions not based on facts. Noting "the fact-sensitive nature of abuse and neglect cases," it said the Division -- not a judge -- must prove its case using qualified scientific and medical evidence. "Judges at the trial and appellate level cannot fill in missing information on their own or take judicial notice of harm," it said.

The maternal rights group National Advocates for Pregnant Women and attorney Lawrence Lustberg took up the case during the appeal to the Supreme Court, representing a group of 50 national and international medical, public health, and child welfare organizations, experts, and advocates including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Addiction Science Research and Education Center, and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

In briefs to the court in the case, those groups argued that the lower courts relied on popular misconceptions about drugs, pregnant women, and child welfare that lack any foundation in evidence-based, peer-reviewed research.

"We are so pleased that the New Jersey Supreme Court, consistent with its long tradition, carefully considered the expert amicus brief and rejected the State's reliance on scientifically discredited, factually incorrect statements about drug use in pregnancy," said Lustberg. "The court recognized, in effect, that drug tests cannot predict parenting ability and acknowledged amici's concerns that expansion of the state's child welfare law to the context of pregnancy would be likely to disproportionately harm low income and minority communities."

"It is extremely important that the New Jersey Supreme court today recognized that pregnant women, children and families should not be deprived of their fundamental rights -- including the right to family relationships -- based on presumptions that are medically baseless," said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "The court’s decision protects the rights of all pregnant women and in so doing actually protects maternal, fetal, and child health."

State officials have declined to comment on the ruling.

Trenton, NJ
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a key case on whether localities can ban dispensaries, and medical marijuana bills died in two Midwest states, and there's more news, too. Let's get to it:

California

Last Thursday, the Obama administration sought to dismiss a lawsuit by the city of Oakland defending its ability to issue permits for dispensaries. Oakland had sued the feds after US prosecutors moved against the Harborside Health Center, seeking to shut it down. The Justice Department argued that the city was using the wrong legal remedy, but Oakland argued that shutting down Harborside would send tens of thousands of patients into the streets seeking medicine, posing a threat to public safety in a city with crime problems. No ruling was made.

Also last Thursday, the LAPD raided a massive grow up that supplied dispensaries. LAPD officers and US Homeland Security gang agents found 1,500 pounds of marijuana and several firearms. Police said the warehouse grow did about $7.6 million in business every 60 days, and supplied numerous dispensaries in Southern California. Authorities also allege it was shipping marijuana to the Midwest and East Coast. Four people were arrested; their names have not been released.

On Monday, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis dropped the charges against two medical marijuana patients. The move came in the cases of Clint Guidry and Cameron Mitchell, and represented a setback for the staunchly anti-medical marijuana Dumanis.

On Tuesday, LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said dispensaries should be allowed to operate in the city. Up for reelection, the formerly anti-dispensary Trutanich said he was endorsing a city council initiative that would allow the 100 to 180 retailers that existed before a fall 2007 city moratorium on dispensaries to essentially carry on so long as they follow certain rules. A second initiative also set for the ballot would allow virtually all of the city's hundreds--possibly up to a thousand--dispensaries to stay open.

Also on Tuesday, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a key dispensary ban case. The issue is whether the city of Riverside's ban on dispensaries violates the state's medical marijuana laws. Questioning by the justices suggested that they were prepared to agree with the city that the state constitution gives cities wide policing power over land use and suggested that the state's medical marijuana laws have not undercut that authority.

On Wednesday, DEA agents and San Bernardino police raided a chain of dispensaries and a private residence. The raiders hit Kush Concepts at three locations, where they marched patients out of the dispensaries. City officials said there are 41 dispensaries in San Bernardino.

Also on Wednesday, an appeals court upheld Tehama County's cultivation ordinance. A group of medical marijuana patients sued over the ordinance in 2010, arguing it was unconstitutional and conflicted with the Compassionate Use Act. The county prevailed in Superior Court, and that decision was appealed. Now that appeal has been lost.

Colorado

Last Tuesday, the first applications for Fort Collins dispensary licenses were submitted. The city had had 21 dispensaries that were forced to close when voters chose to impose a ban in 2011. The ban was overturned by voters in November, and now the dispensaries are coming back.

Iowa

Last Thursday, legislators killed a medical marijuana bill. House Public Safety Committee Chair Clel Baudler (R-Greenfield) call it one of the "stupidest" bills he had ever seen. He was joined by the other Republican on the three-member panel in voting to kill it.

Massachusetts

On Sunday, state officials said they may not make the deadline to come up with medical marijuana regulations. They are required to have them in place by May 1, but health officials said the complexity of the issues was such that they were unlikely to be able to comply. Medical marijuana advocates responded that any delay is unjustified and would cause patients to suffer.

Michigan

On Tuesday, a report said the state had collected $10 million in revenues from medical marijuana program applicants. The report covered the period through the end of the state's budget year on September 30. It says the revenue intake was nearly double that needed to run the program.

Montana

Last Friday, Chris Williams was sentenced to a mandatory minimum five years in prison for his role in Montana Cannabis, the state's largest dispensary during its short-lived medical marijuana boom. He had been facing more than 90 years in federal prison after refusing plea agreements and then being convicted of marijuana cultivation and firearms offenses in federal court (they had a shotgun at their grow op), but in the face of a public outcry, prosecutors sought and got an unusual post-conviction plea bargain limiting his prison exposure.

South Dakota

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was killed in the legislature. It went down on a 7-6 vote in the House Health and Human Services Committee. Medical marijuana bills have been repeatedly introduced since 2001, only to die. South Dakota voters have also twice rejected medical marijuana initiatives.

Medical Marijuana Update

The agonizingly slow pace of implementing medical marijuana laws is causing problems in several states, while in California, the never-ending battles continue. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, dispensary operators asked lawmakers to crack down on compassion clubs, unregulated businesses that seek a "fee" from patients who seek to obtain medical marijuana. There are no provisions for the clubs in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, but they have popped up statewide as patients waited for the opening of dispensaries, which were delayed because of prolonged legal battles between medical marijuana advocates and recalcitrant state and county officials. At a news conference outside the State Capitol, dispensary owners and medical marijuana patients joined with advocates to ask that police, prosecutors and legislators target the unregulated clubs so patients receive their medication in a controlled and secure environment.

Last Friday, Maricopa County appealed to the state Supreme Court to decide whether federal drug laws preempt the state's medical marijuana law. The move comes after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled last month that federal drug laws don't stand in the way of public officials implementing Arizona's law.

On Tuesday, Tempe police raided two compassion clubs, arresting the owner. The cops hit Top Shelf Hydro College after purchasing "large amounts" of marijuana there. The name of the other club wasn't mentioned. The clubs are not permitted under state law, but have sprung up as advocates became frustrated waiting for dispensaries to open. Arizona voters approved medical marijuana in November 2010.

California

Last Thursday, US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag canceled a public appearance after hearing that she would be met by demonstrators. She canceled her appearance at Golden Gate University "at the last minute" after medical marijuana supporters announced plans to picket her talk. Three days later, at the California NORML conference, Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) took aim at the unpopular prosecutor, saying "I'm sorry to hear a house fell on her sister," a not-so-veiled reference to the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

On Monday, LA medical marijuana activists said they would support a city council dispensary initiative instead of moving forward with their own similar one. Representatives for Americans for Safe Access, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Greater Los Angeles Collectives Alliance announced that they plan to campaign on behalf of the city’s proposal, which the city council is expected to vote this week to place on the ballot. That measure would only allow shops that opened before a 2007 moratorium to operate. Another initiative, also going to the voters, would allow most of the 500 or so currently existing dispensaries to stay open.

On Tuesday, Butte County released draft cultivation rules. The new draft ordinance includes a six mature plant limit on county parcels between .4 and 1.5 acres and an 18 mature plant limit on parcels between 1.5 and 3 acres, among other things. A public hearing is set for February 12.

Also on Tuesday, the San Diego city council voted not to drop pending dispensary cases as Mayor Bob Filner ordered earlier this month, but will instead maintain the status quo until he introduces a new ordinance to regulate them within 30 days. City officials said a zoning ordinance similar to one adopted by the council in 2011 would be brought up for discussion. But that measure triggered a successful petition drive to repeal it.

Massachusetts

Last Wednesday, the Malden city council approved an ordinance restricting the location of medical marijuana businesses. They cannot operate in commercial or residential areas, just industrial ones.

Also last Wednesday, the Peabody city council voted to ban dispensaries. The unanimous vote came after Mayor Ted Bettencourt worried aloud that the dispensaries would send the wrong message to Peabody youth. It becomes the eighth town in the state to ban dispensaries.

Michigan

On Wednesday, the state appeals court ruled that patients can give small amounts of marijuana to other patients without breaking the law. The appeals court agreed with a Barry County judge who had dismissed charges against Tony Green after he provided less than 2 ½ ounces of medical marijuana to Al Thornton in November 2011. Both were qualified patients. The appeals court ruled in 2011 that sales are illegal; that case is pending before the state Supreme Court.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, a Superior Court judge refused to appoint a monitor to supervise the state's stalled medical marijuana program, instead sending the case to the Appellate Division. Two patients had sued the state Department of Health last year, saying they were denied medication because the department took nearly three years to get the program under way. Their lawyers sought a monitor and court orders compelling corrective action. Now they will have to seek results from the appellate court.

Washington

Last Thursday, the Longview city council passed zoning restrictions on collective gardens. The measure passed by the council restricts them to the Mint Farm Industrial Park and an area along Industrial Way. The city has a moratorium on the gardens, but it expires in March, and without the zoning restrictions, people would have been able to plant gardens anywhere after the moratorium expired.

DC Appeals Court Denies Marijuana Rescheduling [FEATURE]

In a ruling Tuesday, the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit denied a petition seeking to reschedule marijuana. The court held that while petitioners had presented some evidence of marijuana's medical efficacy, there was not enough to override the federal government's decision to place marijuana on Schedule I, the most restrictive classification.

E. Barrett Prettyman US Courthouse and William B. Bryant Annex
Schedule I drugs, which also include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, are those that are considered to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. Marijuana was placed in Schedule I when Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, and the DEA and FDA have consistently refused efforts to reschedule it.

The ruling came in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration. It comes more than 10 years after the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, led by Jon Gettman, originally filed its petition in October 2002 and 40 years after NORML first filed a petition seeking to reschedule the herb. The Coalition petition was denied in 2011, after ASA sued the Obama administration for delaying its response. The current appeal was the first time in two decades that a federal court has reviewed the issue of whether there exists adequate scientific evidence to reschedule marijuana.

The first challenge for petitioners was that of standing to sue. The presence of disabled Air Force veteran and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access member Michael Krawitz among the petitioners provided that standing. Krawitz, who has tussled with the Department of Veterans Affairs over his use of medical marijuana, "has suffered injury-in-fact because he must shoulder a financial cost for services he would otherwise obtain for free of charge from the VA" and thus has standing to sue, the court held.

But that was just the threshold question. On the substantive issue of rescheduling marijuana, the court came down squarely on the side of the federal government.

"The question before the court is not whether marijuana could have some medical benefits," wrote Senior Circuit Court Judge Harry Edwards for the majority. "Rather, the limited question that we address is whether the DEA’s decision declining to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana under the CSA was arbitrary and capricious… On the record before us, we hold that the DEA’s denial of the rescheduling petition survives review under the deferential arbitrary and capricious standard. The petition asks the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III, IV, or V drug, which, under the terms of the CSA, requires a 'currently accepted medical use.' The DEA's regulations… define 'currently accepted medical use' to require, inter alia, 'adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.' … We defer to the agency’s interpretation of these regulations and find that substantial evidence supports its determination that such studies do not exist."

"The court says the DEA didn't act arbitrarily and capriciously, but if that wasn't arbitrary and capricious, I'm going back to the dictionary," said a frustrated Krawitz. "This is an issue with 70% supporting change, yet nothing happens. We have a handful of champions in Congress, but where is one person in the federal government who represents us? How can there be so little integrity at the National Institutes for Health and the FDA, where they are supposed to be there to protect our interests?"

"We're stuck in a Catch-22 -- the DEA is saying that marijuana needs FDA approval to be removed from Schedule I, but at the same time they are obstructing that very research," said Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. "While there is a plethora of scientific evidence establishing marijuana's safety and efficacy, the specific clinical trials necessary to gain FDA approval have long been obstructed by the federal government itself."

"It's more of the same from the federal courts. I'm disappointed, but not surprised," said Dale Gieringer, longtime head of California NORML. "There has been a long line of court decisions affirming the federal government's dictatorial power to make arbitrary decisions about drugs. Ironically, this decision comes on the same day as the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Women in this country have the right to terminate the live of their fetuses, but not to smoke a joint."

"To deny that sufficient evidence is lacking on the medical efficacy of marijuana is to ignore a mountain of well-documented studies that conclude otherwise," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which appealed the denial of the rescheduling petition in January of last year. "The Court has unfortunately agreed with the Obama Administration's unreasonably raised bar on what qualifies as an 'adequate and well-controlled' study, thereby continuing their game of 'Gotcha.'"

ASA said it will seek an en banc review of the decision by the full DC Circuit and will go to the Supreme Court if necessary. The group said it will argue that the Obama administration has acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" by shifting its definition of what constitutes "medical efficacy." The administration now argues that Stage II and III clinical trials are necessary to show efficacy, while ASA contends that the more than 200 peer-reviewed studies it cited in legal briefs in the case meet the standard.

"The Obama Administration's legal efforts will keep marijuana out of reach for millions of qualified patients who would benefit from its use," said Elford. "It's time for President Obama to change his harmful policy with regard to medical marijuana and treat this as a public health issue, something entirely within the capability and authority of the executive office."

While ASA pursues its appeals in the courts, it is also trying to turn up the heat on Congress and the administration. With rescheduling through the courts blocked -- at least pending a favorable ruling on appeal -- that is where the action will be.

"I'm not optimistic that the courts are going to change their position," said Gieringer. "That means we will have to put pressure on the administration or Congress to do it."

But it's important to see that rescheduling is not an end in itself, but a means, said Gieringer.

"Rescheduling in itself would accomplish very little in the real world," he pointed out. "It would not end the federal-state conflict on marijuana, and even if it were rescheduled, there is still no FDA-approved supply. All of the marijuana out there today would still be an illegal controlled substance without FDA approval."

Marijuana policy reform is not just about real world effects; it is also about perceptions, and rescheduling marijuana would have been something of a game changer, as Gieringer noted.

"Symbolically, of course, it would have been huge," he said. "It would open the way for prescriptions and help unblock research -- the controls on Schedule II drugs are not nearly as fearsome. Still, rescheduling would have been a baby step, but a lot of other stuff has to happen, and that requires an act of Congress, and I haven't seen any sign of that."

But the federal courts have so far made clear that they will defer to Congress and the executive branch on these issues. That means that's where the battle will have to be won.

Washington, DC
United States

Federal Magistrate Rules for Harborside Medical Marijuana Dispensary

A federal magistrate in Oakland Monday ruled that landlords for the Harborside Health Center cannot stop it from selling medical marijuana in their properties in the cities of Oakland and San Jose. Federal Magistrate Maria-Elena James issued an order blocking the landlords from forcing Harborside to close its doors.

Harborside is the world's largest medical marijuana dispensary, serving 108,000 registered patients at its two locations. It was targeted by federal prosecutors as part of their ongoing crackdown on medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal.

Federal prosecutors targeted Harborside by threatening its landlords with seizure of their properties. In a bid to fend off asset forfeiture actions, the two landlords went to federal court to try to stop Harborside from engaging in "any unlawful activity," which, under federal law, includes selling medical marijuana.

But Magistrate James ruled that the landlords had no right to pursue such an action under federal law and she challenged the landlords' claims that their property values would be harmed by the sale of medical marijuana. Harborside has operated at the Oakland property since 2006 and in San Jose since 2009.

"Any damage or threat of harm to the (properties) resulting from Harborside's operations would have occurred when Harborside began its operations at the Oakland and San Jose locations," she wrote. "There is nothing in the record indicating that Harborside's continued operation compromises the existence, value or title of either the Oakland or San Jose property. Any argument about the urgency of stopping Harborside's activities rings hollow."

Harborside was joined in court by the city of Oakland, which argued that the federal government has missed the statute of limitations in the case and that closing Harborside would create a public safety risk by creating a black market for formerly available medical marijuana. The court did not rule on the city's motion to immediately enjoin the federal government from shutting down Harborside, but set a date for more hearings on that issue.

"We are grateful that Judge James carefully considered the facts and arguments in the Harborside case, and decided to grant us our day in court," said Harborside executive director Steve DeAngelo. "We have always believed that a Bay Area jury will recognize the value that Harborside brings to the community, and refuse to allow the federal government to seize the properties where we are located. We look forward to proving our case in front of a jury, and continue to believe we will prevail. In the meantime, we ask the Department of Justice to immediately freeze enforcement actions against Harborside and any other cannabis providers acting in full compliance with state law. Our nation's law enforcement officers should concentrate on real crime."

Harborside isn't out of the legal woods yet, though. The federal effort to shut it down remains alive, even though the dispensary won this skirmish. It has stated repeatedly that it will fight the battle to the end, and on that score, at least, nothing has changed.

"We are gratified that Judge James listened to and analyzed the parties' arguments so thoroughly and has now rendered an opinion that will ensure Harborside has the right to present its case to a jury," said Harborside attorney Henry Wysocki. "Despite the government's efforts to shortcut the case, Harborside will now be able to fully defend itself at trial. That is all we had asked, and the court has now agreed. The stage is now set for a jury trial on the underlying issues of the litigation, which will probably take place in about one year."

Oakland, CA
United States

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