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Chronicle AM -- November 18, 2013

A bill to protect the guns rights of legal marijuana users has been filed, hempsters hit the halls of Congress, a new medical marijuana bill is filed in Pennsylvania, and more. Let's get to it:

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) filed a bill to protect the gun rights of legal marijuana users.
Marijuana Policy

Polis Files Federal Bill to Protect Gun Rights of Legal Marijuana Users. US Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) last Thursday filed House Resolution 3483 to override a 2011 ruling by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms that medical marijuana patients cannot legally buy or own guns. The bill's summary says its purpose is "to amend title 18, United States Code, to provide exceptions from the firearm prohibitions otherwise applicable in relation to marijuana if its possession is lawful under State law."

Washington State Now Taking Applications for Pot Business Licenses. Beginning today, Washington state is taking applications for licenses to grow, process, and sell legal marijuana. The licensing application period lasts 30 days. Under rules drafted by the Liquor Control Board, the state will license up to 2 million square feet statewide for marijuana production and up to 334 retail outlets.

Near Majority for Marijuana Legalization in Wisconsin. A Marquette University Law School poll has Wisconsin hovering on the cusp of majority support for legalization. The late October poll had support for legalization at 49.7%, with 44.9% opposed, 4.7% not sure, and 0.8% who refused to answer.

No Decriminalization in Puerto Rico This Year. Marijuana decriminalization won't happen this year in Puerto Rico. The legislative session has ended without the lower house taking up a decriminalization bill passed earlier by the Senate. Recent polls showing little support for decriminalization and even medical marijuana helped dampen things, but decrim bill sponsor Sen. Miguel Periera said he will reintroduce it in the new session in January.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Forms Virginia Chapter. The national medical marijuana advocacy group is coming to the Old Dominion. The state chapter, Safe Access Virginia, will lobby elected officials to pass a comprehensive Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. The group had its inaugural meeting Saturday in Richmond.

Oregon Committee Reviewing Dispensary Rules Meets Today. The committee charged with drafting rules for medical marijuana dispensaries is meeting in Salem today. It will consider an opinion from the Oregon Legislative Counsel that says regulating dispensaries is the job of the state, not localities. Some localities have already moved to ban dispensaries.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R) introduced a limited medical marijuana bill Monday. While the text is not yet available, Leach's remarks suggest that it seeks to allow medical marijuana with a high CBD content that could be used by children suffering from epilepsy.

Hemp

Hemp Lobbyists go to Washington, DC. Led by David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, several dozen supporters of industrial hemp were on Capitol Hill Monday urging Congress to lift the federal ban on domestic hemp production. "It's time to grow hemp," Bronner said. "I mean, it's been a long and ridiculous situation."

International

Ireland Stops Anti-Drug Aid to Death Penalty States; Britain Pressed to Do Same. Last Friday, Ireland announced it was stopping "funding to UNODC's Illicit Trafficking and Border Management program because of human rights concerns related to the use of the death penalty in Iran." The British justice reform nonprofit Reprieve is now pressing the UK government to do the same. "Britain is rapidly becoming isolated as the only country which thinks supporting the death penalty machines of Iran and Pakistan is acceptable. Hundreds of people have been sentenced to death in these countries in the last few years for non-violent drug offenses -- helped by millions of pounds of British taxpayers' money. Britain could end this problem tomorrow by putting in place conditions on the aid that it cannot be used to support the death penalty -- why are ministers refusing to do so?"

More Mass Graves in Mexico. Investigators in western Mexico have dug up 19 bodies from a series of eight mass graves after being led to them by corrupt police officers who had been working for drug cartels. More bodies may be coming. They are believed to be victims of turf wars between the Knights Templar and New Generation Jalisco drug trafficking organizations. The corrupt cops were arrested after two federal police were abducted in Michoacan. The missing federal cops are not among the bodies found so far. Meanwhile, in Guerrero, five more bodies were pulled from a mass grave.

Chronicle AM -- November 11, 2013

Utah is getting organized for marijuana law reform, the NAACP is supporting a "states' rights" federal marijuana bill, attention turns to the drug war south of the border in Washington, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

NAACP Endorses Federal Respect States Marijuana Laws Act. The NAACP late last month formally endorsed the Respect States Marijuana Laws Act, House Resolution 1523. Introduced in April by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the measure would protect both medical and recreational marijuana use and distribution in states where it is legal. That the nation's largest African-American organization and one of the top civil rights organizations would support a "states' rights" measure, given the history with which states' rights is weighted when it comes to race relations, suggests that the NAACP fully understands how destructive the war on marijuana has been to African-American communities.

Beehive State Activists Form Utah Cannabis Coalition. A number of Utah-based marijuana reform groups have formed the Utah Cannabis Coalition to fight for marijuana legalization in all its forms. The groups include Hempower Utah, SLC Hemp, Utah Moms for Marijuana, Salt Lake City Moms for Marijuana, Legalize Utah, and UtahCARE - Cannabis Awareness, Respect and Education. The coalition will be working to win over legislators and holding a number of event this fall and winter.

Search and Seizure

Another New Mexico Nightmare Drug Search, This One Courtesy of the Feds. The New Mexico chapter of the ACLU is representing a woman who was subjected to a strip search, vaginal and anal probes, X-rays, and a CAT-scan, as well as being forced to defecate in front of observers after a drug dog alerted on her as she crossed the US-Mexico border. No drugs were found. This incident comes after two recent cases of Deming police subjecting unwitting motorists to similar treatment, but in this case, the abuse took place at the hands of federal officials and compliant medical personnel.

International

Prague Grow Shop Raids Spark Protest. The Czech marijuana activist groups Leglizace organized a protest in central Prague Saturday against recent mass police raids on shops that sell indoor gardening equipment often used to grow marijuana. Some 200 people gathered to whistle loudly as they carried signs with messages such as "Growing is No Crime." Police have charged at least 22 people with criminal offenses in the wake of the raids.

Mexican Drug War

Petition to End US Support for Mexican and Central American Drug Wars. A petition sponsored by the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy is calling on Congress and the Obama administration to carry out a "fact-based evaluation and seriously rethink the war on drugs" as applied to Mexico and Central America. "We call on you to end funding to the bloody war on drugs in Mexico and Central America, which has led to the death and disappearance of more than 100,000 Mexicans and the dangerous militarization of the region. Instead of continuing to waste billions of taxpayer dollars through the Merida Initiative and the Central American Regional Security Initiative, we urge you to join citizens and governments of the region in the search for more just, effective and humane alternatives to the drug war at home and abroad," the petition says. You can sign it at the link above, and it could use your help; the goal is 5,000 signatures this week, but it so far has fewer than 500.

Javier Sicilia and Caravan for Peace in Washington, DC, This Week. Mexican poet and drug peace leader Javier Sicilia and the Caravan for Peace (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity) will be in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday. Sicilia and the group will brief the Organization of American States and Congress at separate events Tuesday and Wednesday. Click on the link for more details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cop v. Drug Dealer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They took everything I had," he explained.

Baltimore, MD
United States

Chronicle Daily News--November 1, 2013

The big news today is yesterday's surprising appeals court ruling allowing the NYPD to continue stop-and-frisk searches, but there's more as well on marijuana reform, drug testing, and a conference in New Zealand.

NYPD practices stop-and-frisk techniques (nyc.gov/nypd)
Search and Seizure

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Judge's Ruling on NYPD Stop-and-Frisk. The 2nd US Court of Appeals in New York City blocked an order by District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin requiring changes in the NYPD's much criticized stop-and-frisk program. In an unusual move, the appeals court also removed Judge Scheindlin from the case, saying she had violated the code of conduct for federal judges by giving media interviews and publicly responding to criticism of her court. Scheindlin had found that NYPD violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of people by subjecting them to stop-and-frisk searches based on their race.

Drug Testing

Truckers Object to Federal Bill to Allow Hair Drug Tests. A bill pending in Congress, House Resolution 3403, the "Drug Free Commercial Driver Act of 2013," is drawing opposition from an independent trucker group, the association's organ Landline Magazine reports. The bill would allow trucking companies to use hair testing for pre-employment and random drug tests. Currently, federal regulations mandate urine testing and allow hair testing only in conjunction with urine tests, not as a replacement. Hair-based testing can reveal drug use weeks or months prior to the testing date. The independent truckers accuse bill sponsors of carrying water for larger trucking firms that want to undercut their competition.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado to Vote Tuesday on Marijuana Tax. Colorado voters will decide Tuesday whether to impose a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales to pay for school construction and a 10% sales tax to pay for marijuana regulation. The tax vote wasn't included in Amendment 64 because state law requires any new taxes to be approved by the voters. The measure is expected to pass despite opposition from some marijuana activists.

No Pot in Washington Bars, State Regulators Say. The Washington State Liquor Control Board Wednesday filed a draft rule banning any business with a liquor license from allowing on-site marijuana use. The state's pot law already bars public use, including in bars, clubs, and restaurants, but some businesses have tried to find loopholes allowing customers to use on premise, such as by having "private clubs" within the establishment.

DC Marijuana Reform Moves Could Spur Congress to Ponder Legalization. The DC city council appears set to approve decriminalization, and DC marijuana activists are pondering a 2014 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. That could set the stage for Congress to finally turn its sights on federal marijuana legalization, Bloomberg News suggested in this think piece.

One-Fourth of Americans Would Buy Legal Weed, Poll Finds. At least one out of four Americans (26%) said they would buy marijuana at least on "rare occasions" if it were legal, according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll released Thursday. Only 9% said they buy it on rare occasions now. One out of six (16%) of respondents said they never buy it now, but might if it were legal.

International

New Zealand to Host International Conference on Drug Reform Laws. The country has drawn international attention for its innovative approach to new synthetic drugs—regulating instead of prohibiting them—and will be the site of a March 20, 2014 "Pathway to Reform" conference explaining how the domestic synthetic drug industry began, how the regulatory approach was chosen and how it works. International attendees will include Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann and Amanda Fielding, of Britain's Beckley Foundation.

Chronicle Daily News--October 31, 2013

Here's our first try at altering our format to continue to bring you comprehensive coverage of what's going on in the war on drugs and the world of drug reform. Look for this or something similar on a daily basis from now on. Let's get to it:

Marijuana

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies in Committee. House Bill 492, which would have taxed and regulated marijuana like alcohol was defeated in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Wednesday on an 11-7 vote. The action came just a week after a state poll showed 60% supported the bill.

Federal Judge Cuts Marijuana Sentences. Maryland US District Court Judge James Bredar Monday handed down sentences lighter than called for in federal guidelines in a major marijuana smuggling case, saying such offenses are "not regarded with the same seriousness" as they were just a few decades ago. Bredar also noted that the federal government's decision to largely leave marijuana sales in legalization states raised "equal justice" concerns.

Amendments Filed to California Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Americans for Policy Reform, the people behind the 2014 Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act initiative, Wednesday filed amendments to the proposed law. They include strengthening some penalties and clarifying medical marijuana patient ID card requirements. This is one of two initiatives aiming at 2014 in California, neither of which have big donor support.

Portland, Maine, Marijuana Legalization Initiative Draws Late Opposition. Small signs urging Portlanders to "Vote No on Question 1, NO to POTland" have begun popping up just days before the city votes on legalization next week. Who put them up is a mystery; no group has filed paperwork at city hall opposing the initiative. The initiative would not legalize marijuana per se, but would allow people 21 and over to "engage in activities for the purposes of ascertaining the possession of marijuana and paraphernalia."

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel Tuesday rejected the ballot title for a proposed legalization initiative, saying the language was ambiguous. This is the second time he has rejected the measure, which can still be rewritten and resubmitted.  

Drug Testing

Michigan Governor Signs Unemployment Drug Testing Law. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Tuesday signed a bill that denies unemployment benefits to job seekers who fail employer drug tests. The law is in effect for one year as a pilot program.

Psychedelics

New Group Formed to Assure Sustainability of Psychedelic Plants. The Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council was launched at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver last weekend. It will concentrate on "assuring the sustainability and safe use of traditional plants," and prominently mentioned ayahuasca in its formation announcement.

Sentencing Reform

Bipartisan Mandatory Minimum Reform Bill Introduced in US House. On Wednesday, Reps. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would significantly reform mandatory minimum drug sentencing policies. Companion legislation in the Senate, Senate Bill 1410, was introduced in July. The bills would halve mandatory minimum sentence lengths and expand safety valve access, as well as extend retroactivity under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

Study Shows Way to Louisiana Sentencing Reform. A study released Tuesday by the Reason Foundation, the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation details how Louisiana can reduce its prison population and corrections spending without lessening public safety by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders and reforming its habitual offender law. The study, "Smart on Sentencing, Smart on Crime: Reforming Louisiana's Determinate Sentencing Laws," is available online here and here.

International

At Least Five Dead in Mexico Vigilante vs. Cartel Clashes. Attacks in the Western Mexican state of Michoacan, home of the Knights Templar cartel, between anti-cartel vigilantes and cartel members left at least five dead and thousands without electric power last weekend. The fighting erupted after anti-cartel "self defense forces" marched Friday in the Knights Templar stronghold of Apatzingan and accelerated over the weekend. Vigilantes said they saw the bodies of at least 12 cartel members. 

UNODC Head Says Afghan Opium Crop is Thriving, Spreading. In remarks in advance of the release of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's annual Afghan opium survey early in November, UNODC head Yury Fedotov warned that the poppy crop will increase for the third straight year and that cultivation had spread into formerly poppy-free areas under central government control. Afghanistan accounts for about 90% of the global illicit opium supply.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Michigan couple get their child back, New Jersey gets its second dispensary, and Washington regulators get an earful over moves to do away with patient home grows under I-502 legalization. And much, much more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Tuesday, a judge allowed a medical marijuana patient to continue to use while on probation, even though her plea agreement strictly forbade it. The county attorney in the case had added a blanket condition to plea agreements prohibiting offenders from using marijuana regardless of whether they hold medical marijuana cards, but the woman's attorneys argued that the clause violated state law and that prosecutors could not legally prohibit probationers from using medical marijuana. The judge agreed. The county prosecutor is expected to appeal.

On Tuesday, advocates and doctors urged the state to add PTSD as a condition treatable with medical marijuana. The occasion was a public hearing at the Arizona Department of Health Services. The state currently allows marijuana for eight specified medical conditions. The department will make its decision by January.

Also on Tuesday, the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit requesting that the courts officially rule that extracts are covered under the state's medical marijuana law. The suit was filed in a bid to protect the parents of a 5-year-old boy suffering from epilepsy from criminal prosecution for treating him with marijuana-derived oil. Extracts are currently in a legal gray area in Arizona, where police and some prosecutors say they are illegal and the Department of Health Services is still "developing guidance to clarify these issues," even though that guidance was supposed to be completed this month.

California

On October 16, Mendocino County announced it had released more records to the federal government related to the former marijuana grow permitting program that allowed growers to have up to 99 plants per parcel. The county was responding to a second set of federal subpoenas, this one for a "limited number" of records concerning the program. An earlier subpoena was much broader, but was fought by the county. The county and the feds reached an agreement in April to release some records, but with the names of participants redacted.

Also on October 16, the Selma city council banned dispensaries and imposed tight restrictions on medical marijuana grows. The Fresno County community will require growers to register, get building permits, and stay 1,500 from sensitive uses, and no outdoor grows are allowed. The new ordinance is a slight improvement on a 2010 ordinance that banned all medical marijuana uses in the city.

Also on October 16, word came that the Justice Department has abandoned some asset forfeiture proceedings against medical marijuana landlords. The US Attorney for the Central District of California, Andre Birotte, dropped at least four cases in October. But other US Attorneys in the state continue to pursue asset forfeiture cases, including pending cases against landlords for Harborside Health Center and the Berkeley Patients Groups.

On October 17, medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow prevailed in a civil trial against anti-drug crusader Paul Chabot. Swerdlow had alleged false arrest and malicious prosecution after a 2007 incident at a Rancho Cucamonga meeting. The jury found for the false arrest, but not the malicious prosecution, and awarded Swerdlow $5,000 for past losses. They will meet again to determine punitive damages.

On October 18, the owners of a former Vallejo dispensary filed suit against the city alleging abuse of power, excessive force, and retaliation after it was raided by police last year. Daniel and Rhonda Chadwick, owners of Homegrown Holistic Cooperative, Inc., claim the city retaliated against them after Daniel Chadwick spoke out at a contentious city council meeting after a series of dispensary raids. Police in Vallejo raided at least six dispensaries there in 2012 even though the city had voted the year before to tax dispensaries -- not shut them down. All of those cases fell apart, but the damage had been done.

Connecticut

On October 17, the Westport planning and zoning commission approved a moratorium on dispensaries and producers. The moratorium would last for a year, while the community has a chance to wrap its head around "the newness" of recently issued state regulations.

On Monday, the Farmington planning and zoning commission passed a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities. The commission wants town staff to have adequate time to research the new state regulations.

Delaware

On October 22, the Marijuana Policy Project criticized Gov. Markell's dispensary plan. State law calls for three dispensaries, but Markell had delayed opening any dispensaries for the last two years after receiving a threat letter from federal prosecutors. Markell has now moved forward, but said he will support opening only one dispensary next year.

Florida

Last Thursday, state Attorney General Pam Bondi challenged a proposed ballot initiative for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The attorney general is required by state law to send initiatives to the state Supreme Court for review, but Bondi also attacked the initiative, saying if it passed, "Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations" and warning that it conflicted with federal law. The court will hear arguments on December 5.

Guam

Last Friday, Sen. Tina Muna-Barnes filed a medical marijuana bill. The bill would require that all medical marijuana come from Guam itself. Last month, Muna-Barnes introduced a resolution to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes that won broad support at a public hearing.

On Sunday, the Guam Medical Association complained it hadn't been consulted. The association didn't take a position for or against, but said it thought it should.

Massachusetts

On October 16, a Bolton town meeting decided to approve a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations. The moratorium would prevent such facilities until June 30, 2014.

Last Wednesday, a Saugus town meeting voted to approve a moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will stay in effect until September 30, 2014, or until local zoning bylaws are adopted.

On Monday, Wareham voters approved a zoning law that allows medical marijuana treatment centers. The law replaces a temporary moratorium on such businesses that was voted in at the spring town meeting. The centers will be allowed in an "institutional district."

On Tuesday, Framingham selectmen gave the go-ahead for staff to take dispensary applications.There are at least a dozen proposals pending for dispensaries or grow operations in the city. A Special Town Meeting last week rejected a zoning bylaw and proposed overlay district that would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities. The town is developing a ranking system to rate applicants.

Michigan

Last Friday, an Ingham County judge ordered an infant child returned to her medical marijuana using parents. Steve and Maria Green's daughter Bree had been removed by Child Protective Services last month, but the judge found no evidence of abuse or neglect. The parents agreed not to medicate around their children, but said that's how they've handled things all along.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state's second medical marijuana dispensary opened. The Compassionate Care Foundation opened in Egg Harbor, making it the first in South Jersey. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2010, but the Christie administration has made the roll-out excruciatingly slow. Now, though, things are starting to roll. A third dispensary is slated to open in a couple of weeks in Woodbridge Township, and the state Department of Health is in licensing talks with three other facilities.

North Dakota

Last Tuesday, two Dickinson residents entered conditional guilty pleas to marijuana possession, enabling them to appeal to the state Supreme Court that their out-of-state medical marijuana guards should have allowed them to possess marijuana in North Dakota. Their lawyers will argue that the medical marijuana recommendations should be a valid defense.

Oregon

Last Friday, the panel charged with crafting rules for dispensaries met again. The legislature this year passed a bill to regulate the medical marijuana system statewide, and this was the panel's second meeting. It is expected to finish its work by December 1.

Virginia

Last Tuesday, a poll found support for medical marijuana at 71%. The state has taken no action to approve the medical use of the plant, but perhaps some legislators will take heed.

Washington

On Sunday, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles warned that the battle for homegrown medical marijuana is not over. State agencies charged with implementing marijuana legalization under the I-502 initiative have proposed eliminating patient grows under the state's medical marijuana program, but that effort has ignited a firestorm of criticism from patients. Now, they have at least one prominent supporter in the legislature.

Wisconsin

Last Tuesday, 18 legislators cosponsored a medical marijuana bill. The bill, Senate Bill 363, would allow for dispensaries and home cultivation. Patients or caregivers could grow up to 12 plants and possess up to three ounces at a time. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Leah Vukmir, but has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

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

Arizona

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

Arkansas

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

California

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

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

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

Connecticut

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

Iowa

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

Kansas

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

Michigan

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

Nevada

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

New Jersey

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

Vermont

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

Washington

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

Wisconsin

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

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

US Supreme Court Rejects Marijuana Reclassification Appeal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, DC
United States

Venezuela to Shoot Down Drug Planes

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro warned last week this his government will shoot down planes using Venezuelan air space to smuggle drugs. The National Assembly passed a law allowing for such actions in May, but it did not go into effect until this month.

"Let drug traffickers know that starting today any plane that enters Venezuela (to smuggle drugs) will be forced to land in peace, or else it will by shot down by our Sukhoi, our F-16s and the entire Venezuelan Air Force," Maduro said in a speech last Wednesday. "I will begin applying this law immediately in coordination with our armed forces," he added.

While Venezuela is not a drug-producing country, it has become a key transit route for cocaine produced in neighboring Colombia, only this year displaced by Peru as the world's leading coca and cocaine producer. The US government has placed Venezuela and its South American ally Bolivia on its annual list of countries not complying with US drug war objectives, a charge both countries categorically rejected. (Oddly enough, neither Colombia nor Peru are on that list, nor Mexico, the country from which the most drugs are imported to the US.)

The drug plane shoot-down law, known officially as the Law of Control for the Integral Defense of Airspace, was originally proposed in 2011 by the late President Hugo Chavez. After Chavez's death last December, the law was approved by the National Assembly.

While an apparent violation of international civil aviation law, the shooting down of civilian planes suspected of drug running led to the downing of at least 30 planes by Peruvian authorities in the 1990s. The US suspended its cooperation with Peru in that effort after Peruvian fighter jets working with CIA spotters blasted a plane carrying American missionaries out of the sky in 2001, resulting in the deaths of Veronica Bowers and her infant child. Brazil also has had such a policy in place since 2004.

Caracas
Venezuela

Reps Urge New Direction with Drug Czar Pick

Five Democratic members of Congress are calling on President Obama to use the nomination of a new drug czar as an opportunity to take a big step toward fully embracing a drug policy based on science, reason, and facts. The five representatives made their call in a letter sent to the White House Thursday.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (the drug czar's office) is charged with advising the president on drug control issues, setting federal drug control policy, and producing an annual report on national drug control strategy. Its current head, former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske, is resigning to take on the position of commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

"We commend you and your Administration on the recent steps you have taken to pursue smarter sentencing and policies that respect state laws regarding marijuana," the congressmen wrote. "We urge you to nominate a new director of ONDCP who will develop policies based on science rather than ideology and move away from the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana. The new director should promote fact-based education and use medical science and behavioral research to end the questionable practice of equating marijuana with dangerous drugs like heroin, crack, and methamphetamine."

The signatories are US Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Jared Polis (D-CO).

The congressmen noted that the position of drug czar has historically been filled by individuals with law enforcement backgrounds who have viewed drug policy as a matter of criminal enforcement rather than as a matter of public health -- regardless of the medical science and public research available. That needs to change, they said.

"We ask that you break from this tradition and nominate someone with a background in science," the letter said. "Particularly in light of the rapidly growing public support for marijuana legalization and broader drug policy reform, it would be a mistake for you to appoint someone who merely continues to prosecute the failed war on drugs."

Instead, they wrote, "the new director of ONDCP should promote scientific research into the benefits and risks of marijuana legalization and be guided by the results of those findings. He or she should take note of the growing movement at the state level to make marijuana legal for medical or personal use and help shape national policies based on the lessons learned in those states. At a minimum the new director should urge strict adherence to the recent DOJ guidelines regarding criminal enforcement in those states."

It has been nearly six weeks since Kerlikowske's pending resignation was announced, but there has so far been little hint of who the White House has in mind to replace him. The congressmen are suggesting that it's time to break the mold and head in a new direction.

Washington, DC
United States

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