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Medical Marijuana Update

The big news this week is that Oakland is suing the feds over their efforts to shut down Harborside. Meanwhile, the battles continue at the state and local level in California and beyond.

California

Last Monday, Citizens for Patient Rights handed in signatures in La Mesa for an initiative to allow and regulate dispensaries. They handed in more than 6,500 signatures; the San Diego County Registrar of Voters has 30 days to verify the successful submission of the 3,034 valid signatures needed in order to qualify.

Also on Monday, medical marijuana proponents rallied at an Obama campaign stop in San Francisco. Upset with the administration's campaign of repression aimed at dispensaries, they demanded that the administration freeze all actions being taken against medical cannabis providers and review their records of state and local compliance.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles city council took its final vote to repeal the "gentle ban" on dispensaries. The council was forced to vote because medical marijuana advocates had gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on a city ballot asking voters to overturn the soft ban. The city council had to either repeal the ban on its own, or allow the question to go to the voters. Placing the question on the ballot for the upcoming election would have cost taxpayers up to $3 million at a time when the budget shortfall has forced reductions in core city services.

Also on Tuesday, the founder of G3 Holistic chain of three dispensaries went on trial in federal court for violating federal drug laws. Aaron Sandusky faces six felony counts. The feds accuse him of operating a for-profit business under cover of Proposition 215, but his attorney said he was running a perfectly legal business under state law and his cause is being championed by Americans for Safe Access. His trial is expected to last through the week.

Also on Tuesday, the Santa Monica city council approved a 45-day moratorium on new dispensary permits. City staffers called dispensaries a "risk to the public peace, health and safety" and will use the moratorium to come up with options for dealing with them. It could be extended for up to 22 months. Some city council members accused staff of Reefer Madness-style fear-mongering.

Also on Tuesday, the Clovis city council rejected a ban on medical marijuana grows. The city bans dispensaries but allows patients to grow their own indoors. The updated ordinance limits the size of gardens and requires them to be out of public view. The council rejected an outright ban after City Attorney David Wolfe said it would be costly to defend in court and hamper police efforts to control cultivation.

Also on Tuesday, an appeals court upheld Temecula's ban on dispensaries.  The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday on the ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within the city. The panel ruled, 2-1, that the city may use its zoning powers to absolutely ban the dispensing of the drug, and that such regulation is not preempted by Proposition 215, the statewide initiative permitting the use of marijuana upon a doctor’s recommendation, or the Medical Marijuana Program Act that regulates the distribution of the drug for medical purposes. The case was City of Temecula v. Cooperative Patients Services, Inc.

Also on Tuesday, the Arroyo Grande city council voted to ban medical marijuana delivery services. It was the second vote by the council in as many weeks to do so, but some residents are vowing a fight-back.

On Wednesday, the city of Oakland filed a lawsuit to block the feds from closing the Harborside dispensary. Oakland took in $1 million in tax revenues from Harborside last year, but the city said it wasn't about the money, but about federal interference in the city-permitted business. "The federal government has acted beyond its authority by initiating the forfeiture action outside of the statute of limitations," said Cedric Chao, the attorney representing Oakland. "Moreover, the government has indicated for many years by its words and actions that so long as dispensaries and medical patients acted consistently with state law, the dispensaries would be allowed to operate. Oakland has reasonably relied on these assurances, and the government should be prohibited from disrupting Oakland's medical cannabis program."

New Jersey

Last Thursday, a state court panel upheld Health Department rules limiting the number of medical marijuana dispensaries and requirements that they all be run by nonprofits. Natural Medical, Inc., a for-profit company formed to open a dispensary had sued, arguing that the department had unlawfully limited the number of dispensaries to six. Nearly three years after former Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed the state's medical marijuana law, no dispensaries are yet up and running. "Appellants simply have not shown that the Department acted unreasonably in limiting the initial issuance of ATC [dispensary] permits to the statutory minimum," the unsigned unanimous opinion said. "Beyond the mandated minimum, the Department has discretion to determine how many ATCs are needed to meet the demand for medical marijuana."

New Mexico

Last Friday, it was reported that half of the people using medical marijuana in the state are suffering from PTSD. The report comes as the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board reviews a petition from a psychiatrist to remove PTSD from the list of disorders that can be treated with marijuana. The board will conduct its review November 7, with the decision ultimately in the hands of the interim health secretary.

Rhode Island

On Monday, the ACLU said it will sue over a revision of the state's medical marijuana program that it says makes it more difficult for patients to obtain their medicine. While the ACLU was mum on the particulars, it appears it will challenge a decision this summer by the Department of Health to only accept patient applications signed by physicians. It had previously accepted applications signed by physician's assistants or nurse practitioners, as well.

Vermont

Last Thursday, the Rutland city council voted to ban dispensaries. The state has approved four medical marijuana dispensaries around Vermont, but also allows towns to opt out. The move came after Police Chief James Baker told aldermen last week that dispensaries had become crime magnets in other states. The measure passed without any debate.

California Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Bill Signed Into Law

California Gov. Jerry Brown Monday signed into law Assembly Bill 472, the "911 Good Samaritan Bill," aimed at reducing fatal drug overdoses by removing the threat of criminal prosecution for people who seek assistance for people suffering from them. California becomes the 10th state to enact such a law since New Mexico led the way back in 2007.

fatal drug overdose (wikimedia.org)
Sponsored by Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), the bill received bipartisan support in the legislature and was cosponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU of California, and the Health Officers Association of California.

"This is a great victory for parents. None of us want our kids overdosing on drugs, but as I told the legislature, I'd rather have my kid around to yell at than attend a funeral," said Ammiano. "The young friends of those who overdose shouldn’t hesitate to seek help because they fear arrest. With the Governor's signature, they won't have to."

"This is an incredibly special day for the thousands of California family members who worked so hard and for so long to pass this life-saving bill," said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager of the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is just a small first step in reducing the number of fatal overdoses in California, but it's a deeply important one."

Drug overdose deaths are the number one cause of accidental death in California, as in many other states. The new law encourages people to seek emergency health services when they witness an overdose by providing limited protections from charge and prosecution for low-level drug law violations, including possession of small amounts of drugs. Those who sell drugs are not protected under the new law.

"I never go a day without thinking of my son Jeff and I never will," said Denise Cullen, cofounder of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing). "Losing a child to a drug overdose is a tragedy in ways I can't explain, but fighting so hard for him and for all the parents just like me, to get this law passed is really the best possible way I can honor him."

"After forty years of the war on drugs, California is finally righting its priorities by putting saving lives ahead of making petty arrests. The message is loud and clear: call for help in case of an overdose. This is an important step toward better drug and public health policies and it will save lives," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, senior policy advocate for the ACLU of California.

"The physician Health Officers who provide leadership for public health programs in every county are grateful to Governor Brown for partnering with us on this common sense, no-cost approach to saving lives," said Bruce Pomer, executive director of Health Officers Association of California. "It's urgently needed."

Now the task is to get the word out to those populations where it will do the most good. Advocates from dozens of state and local organizations will be working to do just that, both before the new law goes into effect on January 1, and throughout the following year.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Los Angeles dispensaries got a reprieve last week -- or did they? The busts there continue, despite the ban on the ban. And there's more news from around the state and the country as well. Let's get to it:

National

Americans for Safe Access is calling for demonstrations in support of medical marijuana access
in front of local Obama campaign headquarters across the country on September 20. The move comes in the face of federal crackdowns and seeks to remind President Obama of the campaign promises he made to the community in 2008.

Arkansas

Last Friday, opponents of the medical marijuana initiative filed suit to block it. The conservative Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values filed the lawsuit in the state Supreme Court. The suit argues that the measure's ballot title, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, is misleading and that the act itself is hard to understand. Arkansas initiative experts said the lawsuit didn't have much chance of succeeding.

California

Last Wednesday, Harborside's San Jose landlord sought a court order to shut it down. Concourse Business Center asked a district court to order the state's largest dispensary to quit growing, possessing, and selling marijuana on its property. The move comes after federal prosecutors sent a threat letter to Concourse, as well as to Harborside and its other landlords. Concourse said it had given Harborside 30 days notice to vacate, that negotiations had taken place to no avail, and that Harborside continued to conduct business there.

Also last Wednesday, the GDP Collective in Richmond announced it had reopened. The dispensary was shut down by the city of Richmond when it purged all dispensaries in 2010. But the city council has since changed its mind and decided earlier this year to permit and tax up to six dispensaries. Another one, Green Remedy, has already opened.

Last Thursday, the ban on LA dispensaries was halted before it went into effect. The ban was blocked after advocates of repeal handed in enough signatures to put the issue to the voters. The ban on the ban will remain in effect until the voters decide. Or the city council could decide within 30 days to repeal the ban. 

Also last Thursday, LAPD announced it had raided The Loft Co-op in Woodland Hills. They seized $1,000 in cash and 10 pounds of marijuana and arrested two employees for possession for sales of marijuana. Police said that despite its name, it was acting as an illegal dispensary, not a co-op.

On Monday, San Diego's only licensed dispensary announced it was closing. The Mother Earth Alternative Healing Co-operative is closing after receiving a threat letter from US Attorney Laura Duffy. The closure of Mother Earth means there are no licensed medical marijuana facilities in the county. That leaves an estimated 70,000 patients without a regulated supplier.

On Tuesday, LA city councilman Jose Huizar said the city would continue to bust dispensaries even though the council's ban set to go into effect Friday is now on hold. He said any sales are illegal under state law, and the city would enforce that law.

Oregon

Last Thursday, Lane County police raided the Kannabosm dispensary in Eugene and several related properties. The owner, Curtis Dean Shimmin, faces felony charges around illegal marijuana sales and money laundering, police said. Police seized 105 plants and pounds of marijuana in what Shimmin said was "a clearly illegal" raid.

Medical Marijuana Update

The battle of Los Angeles continues, Arizona prosecutors don't like their medical marijuana law, and a bill is pre-filed in Kentucky. There's also lots more going on. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, state and county prosecutors challenged the medical marijuana program in court. Attorney General Tom Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery asked a court hearing a dispensary application case to rule that the voter-approved law is illegal because it conflicts with federal drug laws. The Republican prosecutors are specifically targeting the dispensary provisions of the law, but argued in court that all aspects of the state law violate federal drug laws. In the case at hand, a would-be Maricopa County dispensary is suing the county because officials wouldn't provide zoning clearances required under the law. The officials had been advised by Montgomery that county employees could face prosecution for aiding and abetting drug crimes.

Arkansas

As predicted last week, Arkansas state officials announced that a medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the ballot. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act would allow patients suffering from specified diseases or medical conditions to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. It envisions a system of state-licensed nonprofit dispensaries, and would allow patients or their caregivers to grow their own only if they are not within five miles of a dispensary. In that case, patients could grow up to six flowering plants. Patients could possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana.

California

Last Wednesday, Los Angeles asked the DEA to help it shut down dispensaries. The request came from Councilman Bernard Parks, who filed a successful motion with the council. Parks is a former LA police chief. The council recently voted to close down all dispensaries in the city, although that is likely not the end of the affair (see below).

Also last Wednesday, a judge in Riverside ruled that the city can't ban a dispensary. Riverside County Superior Court Judge John Vineyard dissolved an injunction to shut down a dispensary in the city, agreeing that current law makes local government closures of the clinics unconstitutional. The decision affects The Closet Patient Care dispensary on Elizabeth Street in Riverside, but could be a precedent for other cases in the city. The city immediately said it would appeal the ruling.

Also last Wednesday, a Costa Mesa collective filed suit against the city over its ban on dispensaries. The Green Health Association argues that the city cannot legally ban nonprofit collectives and says it is operating with the state attorney general's guidelines. 

Also last Wednesday, the city of Chowchilla banned public medical marijuana use. It passed an ordinance limiting smoking or any other type of medical marijuana consumption to inside a private residence and requiring all cultivation to take place in an enclosed, locked area.

Also last Wednesday, the California Supreme Court dismissed Pack vs. Long Beach, a case that could have decided whether cities can lawfully regulate medical marijuana. The court held the case was moot after the attorney for the petitioners abandoned his original argument that Long Beach's short-lived rules to allow and regulate medical marijuana violated federal law. The state Supreme Court is still considering several other cases that will determine the power of cities to ban collectives or dispensaries.

On Tuesday, word spread that the Berkeley Patients Group would reopen in a new location. The iconic dispensary had been forced to close in May after federal prosecutors threatened its landlord with seizure of his property. The new location is just four blocks from its original location on San Pablo Avenue. No opening date has been set at the new site and officials from Berkeley Patients Group refused to go on record about their plans.

Also on Tuesday, Butte County's effort to ban outdoor grows hit a bump in the road. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey surprised supervisors by announcing the ordinance was unconstitutional as written. The ordinance envisioned charging violators with a misdemeanor, but the prosecutor said that was the domain of state law, not county ordinances. Now, it's back to the drawing board for the supervisors.

Also on Tuesday, the Wheatland city council banned dispensaries within the city limits. It passed two ordinances, one banning dispensaries and the other barring outdoor grows within the city limits and setting conditions on indoor ones.

On Wednesday, activists in Los Angeles turned in more than 50,000 signatures on petitions seeking a referendum to overturn the city council's recently-passed ban on dispensaries. The city now has 30 days to either rescind the ban or to call a special election to let the voters decide. That could come in March or May.

Kentucky


On Monday, state Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) pre-filed a medical marijuana bill for the 2013 session. He said he wanted to get a head start on building support in the legislature.

Montana

On Tuesday, the co-founder of Montana Cannabis agreed to plead guilty to a federal drug charge related to 2011 raids on dispensaries across the state. Chris Lindsay faces up to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to operate a drug-involved premises. Lindsay said he copped to the plea agreement to avoid other pending charges and because earlier court rulings made it clear he would not be able to testify about his belief that Montana Cannabis was in compliance with the state’s law. Lindsay is also the public face of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which has filed a lawsuit to block portions of the law rewritten by the Republican legislature and which is backing a referendum asking voters to repeal the law. That referendum will be on the November ballot.

Oregon

On Sunday, activists said they would try to get PTSD added to the medical marijuana list of qualifying conditions. Two previous efforts have failed. This time, the push is being led by veteran's groups. Oregon is home to some 300,000 veterans.

Washington

Last Thursday, the DEA sent threat letters to 23 dispensaries operating near schools. In the letters to the dispensaries, DEA Special Agent-In-Charge Matthew Barnes contended the dispensaries could face the seizure and forfeiture of assets, as well as criminal prosecution. The letter informs dispensary operators and property owners to cease the sale and distribution of marijuana within 30 days.

California Drug Overdose Prevention Bill Passes

A bill aimed at saving the lives of drug overdose victims by protecting those who would come to their assistance from prosecution on drug charges passed the California legislature Monday on a bipartisan vote of 54-22 in the Assembly. It had already passed the Senate. The vote came days before International Overdose Awareness Day.

fatal drug overdose (wikimedia.org)
In recent years, Californians have been dying of drug or alcohol overdoses at a rate of ten a day, with the number of fatal overdoses increasing by 24% between 2000 and 2006, according to supporting documentation within the bill.

Introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), the bill, Assembly Bill 472, provides that neither the overdose victim nor a person who seeks emergency treatment for him shall be charged with the crime of drug possession or being under the influence of drugs, provided the drugs are for personal use.

Such bills are known as "Good Samaritan" bills and have already been passed nine other states.

In asking his colleagues to vote for the measure, Ammiano noted that more people die from drug overdoses than in car crashes. Fewer would die, he said, if witnesses sought prompt emergency help, but some hesitate for fear of being arrested for their drug use or possession. That argument got through to members of both parties.

"This is not going soft on crime," said Assemblyman Donald Wagner (R-Irvine). While he added that he does not condone drug use, he said it was necessary to "overlook some indiscretions for the greater good."

"It's critically important to save lives," said Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen (R-Modesto). "This bill doesn't condone drug behavior."

"It's not going to encourage underage use," noted Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles). On the contrary, he said, the knowledge that overdose is so life-threatening should encourage users to reevaluate their behaviors.

"It's time we started saving lives in California," said Ammiano.

The bill was lobbied for by the Drug Policy Alliance, and supported by a range of organizations including California Society of Addiction Medicine, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice; California Professional Firefighters, California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators Association of California, National Council of Alcohol and Drug Dependence of the San Fernando Valley, National Association of Social Workers, Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team, Bay Area Addiction Research and Treatment, Families ACT!, Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing and Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing.

The only group to officially oppose it was the California Sheriff's Association.

The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

Sacramento, CA
United States

Springfield, Missouri, Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession, But...

The Springfield, Missouri, city council voted 6-3 Monday night to adopt an ordinance decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but immediately announced plans to amend it or even gut it. The council was forced either to adopt the ordinance or place it before the voters on the November ballot after activists from Show-Me Cannabis Regulation gathered enough signatures to bring the proposal forward.

The ordinance reduces the penalty for possession of up to an ounce and a quarter of pot to a maximum $150 fine. It also requires the council to create an oversight committee to monitor the ordinance and it allows violators to have their records expunged after two years.

The vote came after the city attorney told the council the city has no authority to expunge records under state law. The city attorney also said an initiative ordinance cannot require the city to form an oversight committee.

Council members said they voted for the ordinance mainly to avoid the $180,000 cost of putting it to the voters and that they would work to fix what they saw as problems with it.

"It doesn't do what the petitioners want; it just fouls up the system," Councilman John Rush complained.

It isn't clear exactly what changes the council has in mind. One councilman, Tom Bieker, said he wants to amend it "to the extent we are comfortable with," while Mayor Robert Stephens said the council might try to "correct the faulty areas."

The council will present possible amendments for consideration as part of an emergency bill when it meets on September 10. But in the meantime, Springfield has decriminalized marijuana possession.

Springfield, MO
United States

Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced in Kentucky

The Kentucky legislature will be grappling with medical marijuana next year. State Senator Perry Clark (D-Louisville) Monday pre-filed a bill for the 2013 legislative session, saying he wanted to get a head start on building support at the state house.

The bill, next year's Senate Bill 11, would allow patients with a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of serious medical conditions, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, among others. It would also create a network of state-regulated dispensaries. Registered patients and their caretakers could opt to grow their own. The bill specifies that patients or caregivers could possess up to six ounces of marijuana and up to 12 mature and 12 immature plants.

"This is not a conservative issue or a liberal issue; it’s an issue of compassion," said Senator Clark. "Countless studies show that marijuana is effective at treating pain, nausea, loss of appetite, and other symptoms. If it was my family member, I would do anything to relieve their suffering."

The cannabis-friendly Clark -- he has previously introduced bills to legalize industrial hemp and to honor pioneering Kentucky marijuana activist Gatewood Galbraith after his death in January -- took pains to emphasize that this bill is only about medical marijuana.

"This is not about legalizing marijuana," he said. "It's about getting government out of healthcare, and putting science in."

Donna Fox, a patient from Louisville diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, welcomed the news.

"I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age four. I've been living with this disease for 42 years and lost count many years ago as to how many injections I have endured and the thousands of pills I have swallowed," she said. "If medical marijuana, which carries far fewer and less severe side effects, can work then why should I be denied relief? I just want to live a functional life without the pain."

The Kentucky 2013 legislative session begins on January 2. Senator Clark, patients, and advocates will be hard at work lining up support between now and then, and during the session itself.

Medical marijuana is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. It will be on the November ballot in two more states -- Arkansas and Massachusetts -- and, most likely, a third -- North Dakota.

Lexington, KY
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds strike again in California, this time in Orange County, and meanwhile, the battle over the LA dispensary ban heats up. There's plenty more news, too. Let's get to it:

California

Since mid-August, signature gatherers have been hitting the streets in Los Angeles in an effort to collect 27,400 voter signatures to put on the ballot a referendum to repeal the recent ban on dispensaries. They have about 10 more days to go, and if they succeed, the referendum would go before voters in March. The more immediate effect would be a temporary suspension of the ordinance. Dispensaries in the city have until September 6 until they are supposed to shut down.

Last Wednesday, San Francisco Mission District property owners asked the feds to shut down a dispensary that hasn't even opened yet. Those owners of "white linen" restaurants and family-oriented businesses have asked the Justice Department to close down the Morado Collective, even though the Planning Commission approved the dispensary's permit at a hearing the same day. The Mission Miracle Mile Business Improvement District had its president, local realtor James Nunemacher, write a letter to US Attorney Melinda Haag urging her to shut it down because it "is incompatible with the family shopping that predominates the immediate area in the daytime and the dining/entertainment venues that are active in the evening." The gentrifiers have spoken.

Last Thursday, patients and supporters filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the LA ban. The Patient Care Association and 11 individual patients are seeking an injunction to block the city from implementing the ban. They argue that California law preempts the city's ban, that it violates dispensary owners' rights to due process, and that it violates their right to freely assemble and associate to cultivate medical marijuana.

Also last Thursday, Butte County staff released a draft of the proposed new medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. It would ban outdoor cultivation and set limits on the amounts that could be grown indoors based on the size of the parcel. On lots of an acre or less, the grow area could not exceed 50 square-feet. On lots one to five acres, the allowable grow area is 150 square-feet. There is no size limit on lots five acres or larger, but a maximum of 99 plants could be grown. The ordinance includes limits on how powerful indoor grow lights can be and requires a ventilation and filtering system that doesn't allow the smell of the pot outside the building. It also bans growing within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, child care centers, and other youth-oriented facilities.

Last Friday, a Lake County judge granted a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the county's recently adopted interim cultivation ordinance. The injunction is good until January 1. It allows all qualified people and collectives growing marijuana in conformity with state law at the time the county adopted its interim medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. Four people sued the county after the Board of Supervisors adopted the ordinance on July 9. It limited the number of marijuana plants allowed for outdoor cultivation and banned commercial growing as well as growing on vacant lands. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to extend the interim ordinance for another 45 days anyway.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors targeted more than 60 dispensaries in Orange County for closure by filing three asset forfeiture lawsuits and sending threat letters to the dispensaries. That brings the number of dispensaries targeted for closure in the Central District of California to more than 300. In all, 66 warning letters were sent to marijuana dispensaries in Anaheim and La Habra. Some have closed recently, but federal authorities said 38 remain open. As part of the offensive, DEA agents raided two Anaheim dispensaries.

Colorado

Last Friday, a state court held that federal law trumps the state's medical marijuana law. The ruling came in a case pitting a grower against a dispensary. The grower sought payment for marijuana that had already been delivered, but Arapahoe County District Judge Charles Pratt ruled for the dispensary. In his opinion, he held that since all marijuana sales are illegal under federal law, the contract between the grower and the dispensary was null and void. Later in the same ruling, Pratt wrote that "any state authorization to engage in the manufacture, distribution or possession of marijuana creates an obstacle to full execution of federal law. Therefore, Colorado's marijuana laws are preempted by federal marijuana law." Because the ruling is by a district court judge, it is not binding, but it has the medical marijuana community concerned.

On Monday, the Denver City Council approved a ban on all outdoor advertising for dispensaries. The vote came after a public hearing last week where medical marijuana advocates were split over the issue and council members voiced strong support for it. The council killed an alternate, more limited plan that would have blocked outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of schools, day care facilities, and parks. Dispensaries can still advertise on their buildings and can still place ads in newspapers, magazines, or online, and they can display their logos at charity events they sponsor. The city had been inundated with dispensary flyers and young men twirling large cardboard arrows advertising "Eighths for $25" and the like.

Maine

Last Monday, state officials held a public hearing on proposed new cultivation rules. The rules will impose restrictions on where and under what conditions patients or caregivers can grow their own medicine. Patients, dispensary operators, growers, and advocates objected to various portions of the proposed rules. The last day for public comment was Wednesday.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the agency overseeing the state's medical marijuana program said it could be up and running by this fall. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said its review panel for adding new qualifying medical conditions is just about set, but patient advocates are skeptical, saying the agency is at least two years behind on making recommendations on requests to add new conditions.

Washington

Last Friday, the state Department of Revenue began doing audits of dispensaries, escalating a battle over whether they should be collecting tax revenues for the state. The department has told dispensaries since 2010 that they must remit sale taxes on their transactions, and 50 dispensaries have registered with the department to do so. But the department believes there are other dispensaries out there that haven't registered, and now it's going after them. Some dispensary operators and defense attorneys argue that by paying state taxes, dispensaries are incriminating themselves in the federal crime of marijuana sales.

Over the weekend, medical marijuana advocates may have skirted state election laws at Hempfest by handing out fliers against the I-502 legalization initiative. Dozens of medical marijuana businesses used Hempfest to lobby against I-502, but one of them may have violated election laws by handing out anti-I-502 posters that failed to say who had paid for them.

On Tuesday, the owners of two dispensaries pleaded guilty to federal marijuana trafficking charges. Brionne Keith Corbray, owner and operator of three GAME Collectives in White Center, Northeast Seattle, and West Seattle, copped to conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Craig Dieffenbach and Jing Jing Mu, owners of the Seattle Cannabis Cooperative, copped to conspiracy to distribute and money-laundering charges. All admitted in their plea agreements to selling marijuana to people who were not patients. Conspiracy to distribute marijuana is punishable by up to 40 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Conspiracy to launder money is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

New Jersey Good Samaritan Overdose Bill Passes

A bill designed to reduce drug overdose deaths by providing some legal protection to people who witness them and summon medical assistance has been approved by the state legislature and now awaits the signature of Gov. Chris Christie (R). The bill passed the Senate Monday on a 21-10 vote; it had cleared the Assembly back in May.

fatal drug overdose (wikimedia.org)
The bill, Assembly Bill 578, also known as the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act, would provide limited legal protection against drug possession charges for people who witness an overdose and call 911. It is aimed at reducing drug overdose deaths by reducing the fear of arrest for those might call for assistance.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death, replacing automobile accidents. More than 27,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2007, most of them from prescription opiates, either by themselves or in combination with other drugs, including alcohol.

Many drug overdose deaths occur in the presence of others and take hours to occur, meaning that there is time and opportunity to call for help. But strict enforcement of drug possession laws against would-be Samaritans discourages some from making that call.

Advocates are applauding the passage of the life-saving bill.

"Calling 911 should never be a crime. Our current policies focus on punishment and drive people into the shadows and away from help," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Saving lives should always take priority over punishing behavior.  A Good Samaritan law will encourage people to get help."

"When a life is on the line we can ill afford to waste time weighing the consequences of calling 911 or deciding whether or not to be truthful about what substance was used to overdose," said Senate bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex). "By narrowly eliminating the criminal consequences one might face after calling 911 to report an overdose, I hope to diminish any hesitation one might have about doing the right thing."

"I and my family are so grateful to the senate for passing this life-saving legislation," said Patty DiRenzo, whose son Salvatore died of an overdose at age 27. "We, and the other families who have lost loved ones to overdose, will be advocating with Gov. Christie to urge him to sign this bill. It's extremely important that we prevent future overdose deaths and spare other families the grief that mine has endured."

If Gov. Christie signs the bill into law, New Jersey will become the ninth state to enact a Good Samaritan law. The others are Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington. Similar legislation is pending in several other states.

Trenton, NJ
United States

No Warrant Needed for Illinois Drug Audio Recordings [FEATURE]

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

No warrant needed for listening in on drug suspects (wikimedia.org)
In Illinois, the war on drugs has delivered yet another blow to citizens' privacy rights. In the Land of Lincoln, it is illegal for citizens to record or videotape Illinois police in public, yet the Illinois legislature last month gave police the right to engage in those very same activities -- without a warrant -- during drug investigations.

On July 24, citing police safety and the need for quicker drug arrests, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed into law House Bill 4081, which exempts police doing drug investigations from the provisions of the state's eavesdropping law. It also allows them to audio or videotape drug suspects without having to get a warrant.

Under the bill, sponsored by state Reps. Jehan Gordon (D-Peoria) and William Haine (D-Alton), the normal requirement of a warrant based on probable cause is replaced by the lower and constitutionally-suspect requirement of only reasonable cause. In a further victory for the imperatives of the drug law enforcement, police will be able to bypass judicial scrutiny of their need to record someone and instead will merely have to obtain prior approval from a prosecutor to listen in on suspected drug conversations.

"The world of illicit drugs moves very quickly," explained Terry Lemming, an Illinois State Police commander, during a May hearing on the bill. "It's very difficult to find a judge in the middle of the night. I didn't see the sense in spending all these hours drafting a court order when I could have already gone out and arrested a guy selling on the corner -- and that's the feeling of many narcotic officers."

Riverside, Illinois, Police Chief Tom Weitzel told the Chronicle the new law was desperately needed. Weitzel is a member of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, who, along with his comrades, fought for 14 years to get the law passed.

"The law is critical to undercover narcotic officers for several reasons," he wrote in an email. "First, it's an officer safety issue because many times backup teams are blocks away when drug transactions either take place in cars, within homes or apartments, or just on the streets."

Weitzel even went as far as to say the law would benefit defendants, too.

"The legislation will help secure better evidence for prosecutors and protect suspects from police misconduct, including the fact the same audio recordings made by police can be used by defendants who claim entrapment," he argued.

But while the bill is now law, not everyone is happy about it. Rumblings of discontent have been heard from civil rights advocates, legal experts, and opposing lawmakers.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) argued during hearings on the bill that if judicial responsiveness is a problem for police, then the fix would be to make judges more available for warrant requests -- not to take them out of the loop.

"I'm struggling with taking away where you'd go to get a judge's approval to have a wiretap," he said.

Under the new law, judges are not completely frozen out of the process, but their role is limited to determining whether evidence gained from a wiretap can be admitted at trial.

"I understand the desire to enhance law enforcement tools to deal with crime, and I am certainly on the side of law enforcement, but it's a very slippery slope we go down when we start removing safeguards that has historically exist to make sure certain tools not be used inappropriately," state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) told the Chicago Tribune.

State Sen. Michael Nolan (D-Elgin) also weighed in on the matter. Nolan's dissatisfaction with the bill is the fact the new law deals with reasonable cause as the standard for having private conversations recorded, as opposed to probable cause, which is the standard bearer for the integrity of the law.

"This legislation does not base that determination of admissibility on 'probable cause,'" he said. "This is basically upending the Fourth Amendment."

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ACLU of Illinois' Ed Yohnka
The ACLU of Illinois had a similar reading. Its spokesman, director of communications and public policy Ed Yohnka, told the Chronicle the new law was not only constitutionally suspect but also unnecessary.

"In all the years that Illinois law enforcement worked for this change, they never been able to point to a particular need for this new power. In many years, we have seen drug related arrests in Illinois rise over a yearly period without this new authority -- which begs the question: is this power really necessary?" he asked.

"The legislature should have left things alone because judges act as a neutral third party and they can already act fast enough," Yohnka continued. "Our personal conversations are the most intimate we have and government should make certain it is necessary to intrude before engaging in eavesdropping."

For Yohnka, the new law doesn't pass the smell test. He noted that current law already allows police to wiretap or do audio recording in an emergency and suggested the real intent is to allow police to more easily listen in on targets not directly involved with drug trafficking, targets merely associated with a prime suspect.

"The current law permits an officer to conduct warrantless wiretapping or audio-recording if police or citizens were in imminent danger," Yohnka said. "The creation of this new authority suggests this is not about protecting police officers."

What makes the new law all the more galling to some is that police, who can now wiretap drug suspects without a warrant, have a habit of arresting members of the public who do the same thing to them. Under current Illinois eavesdropping law, citizens have the right to video a police officer making a public arrest, but a person cannot record an audio of police without permission.

That law is now under review by the state's appellate courts in a case arising from the 2009 arrest of self-employed artist Christopher Drew. When police arrested him for selling art on the street without a proper permit, they discovered him recording the encounter. They then charged him with felony eavesdropping for recording them without their permission.

Drew went public and fought to have the law declared illegal and earlier this year he won a partial victory when Circuit Court Judge Stanley Sacks declared it unconstitutional. Sacks ruled that the law criminalized innocent conduct and violated due process. But state prosecutors appealed the ruling and vowed to keep it on the books.

One standard for police, another for citizens. Police can record private conversations without a warrant, but citizens face years in prison if they record police in the line of duty -- at least until the Illinois courts definitively rule that portion of the eavesdropping law unconstitutional. Meanwhile, look for legal challenges to the new law allowing police to bypass judges and the warrant process in their never-ending war on drugs.

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