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Supreme Court Opens Door for More Lawless Police Searches [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

In a pair of decisions released Monday, the US Supreme Court again demonstrated its deference to law enforcement priorities, in one case by expanding an exception to the long-standing ruling requiring that unlawfully gathered evidence be discarded and in another by holding that drug dealers, even those engaged only in street-corner sales, are engaged in interstate commerce.

The two decisions expand the ability of local police to skirt the law without effective punishment on the one hand, and allow prosecutors to use the weight of the federal criminal justice system to come down on small-time criminals whose cases would normally be the purview of local authorities on the other. Taken together, the decisions show a high court that once again give great deference to the demands of law enforcement.

In the first case, Utah v. Strieff, the Supreme Court held that evidence obtained from the illegal stop of Strieff should not be thrown out under the exclusionary rule, which requires that illegally seized be suppressed as "fruit of the poisonous tree." The exclusionary rule, which dates back to 1920 and values the rule of law even at the expense of seeing a guilty suspect go free, has long been a bane of judicial conservatives, who have been trying to chip away at it since at least the 1980s.

In Strieff, a Salt Lake City police officer investigating possible drug activity at a residence stopped Strieff without "reasonable cause" after he exited the home. During his encounter with Strieff, the police officer found that he was wanted on a traffic warrant, arrested him, then searched him subsequent to arrest. The police officer found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, then charged him with drug and paraphernalia possession.

Strieff argued to suppress the evidence, arguing that it was derived from an unlawful investigatory stop. He lost at the trial and appeals court levels, but the Utah Supreme Court overturned his conviction, holding that an exception to the exclusionary rule known as the "attenuation doctrine" did not apply. The US Supreme Court disagreed.

The attenuation doctrine holds that unlawfully obtained evidence may be used even if "the fruit of the search is tainted by the initial, unlawful detention…if the taint is dissipated by an intervening circumstance," as the Utah Supreme Court described it. In other words, if police acting in good faith violate the law and don't do it flagrantly, they should be able to use any evidence found as a result of that violation in court.

The Supreme Court divided 5-3 on the case, with Chief Justice Roberts joining justices Alito, Breyer, and Kennedy joined Justice Clarence Thomas in his majority opinion. Thomas held that the police misconduct was not bad enough to warrant suppression of the evidence and, besides, police probably aren't going to abuse their powers to do mass searches.

"[The officer's] purpose was not to conduct a suspicionless fishing expedition but was to gather information about activity inside a house whose occupants were legitimately suspected of dealing drugs," Thomas wrote. "Strieff conflates the standard for an illegal stop with the standard for flagrancy, which requires more than the mere absence of proper cause. Second, it is unlikely that the prevalence of outstanding warrants will lead to dragnet searches by police."

Even if someone is unlawfully detained, evidence obtained from them can be used in court, the high court ruled. (wikimedia.org)
The Supreme Court's liberal minority was not nearly as sanguine. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with Justice Ginsberg concurring, cut right to the heart of the matter:

"The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer's violation of your Fourth Amendment rights," she wrote in her dissent. "Do not be soothed by the opinion's technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants -- even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant. Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent."

In the second case, Taylor v. United States, the high court upheld the ability of federal prosecutors to use federal law to prosecute people who rob drug dealers, even if the dealers are dealing only in locally-grown marijuana with no evidence of interstate sales. That 7-1 decision is in just the latest in a long line of cases upholding the ability of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce under the Constitution's "commerce clause" and to protect it from robbery or extortion under the 1951 Hobbs Act.

It was the "commerce clause" line of cases that led to the 2005 Gonzales v. Raich decision in which the Supreme Court upheld the ability of the federal government to move against marijuana cultivation and sales even in states where it is legal. In that case, the high court ruled that California medical marijuana patient Angel Raich's cultivation of marijuana plants at her home in California for her use in California implicated interstate commerce and was therefore liable to federal jurisdiction.

Even marijuana grown and sold locally implicates the Constitution's commerce clause, the court has ruled. (flickr.com)
In Taylor, Taylor was part of a Virginia gang known as the "Southwest Goonz" who targeted and robbed marijuana growers and dealers. He was charged under the Hobbs Act with two counts of "affecting commerce or attempting to do so through robbery." In his first trial, which resulted in a hung jury, Taylor offered evidence that the dealers targeted only trafficked in locally-grown marijuana. In his second trial, prosecutors convinced the court to exclude that evidence, and Taylor was convicted on both counts. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that conviction, "holding that, given the aggregate effect of drug dealing on interstate commerce, the Government needed only to prove that Taylor robbed or attempted to rob a drug dealer of drugs or drug proceeds to satisfy the commerce element."

In an opinion authored by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court agreed.

"[T]he Government met its burden by introducing evidence that Taylor's gang intentionally targeted drug dealers to obtain drugs and drug proceeds," he wrote. "That evidence included information that the gang members targeted the victims because of their drug dealing activities, as well as explicit statements made during the course of the robberies that revealed their belief that drugs and money were present. Such proof is sufficient to meet the Hobbs Act's commerce element."

Only Justice Thomas dissented, arguing that the whole line of "commerce clause" cases granted too much power to the federal government.

"The Hobbs Act makes it a federal crime to commit a robbery that 'affects' 'commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction," Thomas wrote. "Under the Court's decision today, the Government can obtain a Hobbs Act conviction without proving that the defendant's robbery in fact affected interstate commerce -- or any commerce. The Court's holding creates serious constitutional problems and extends our already expansive, flawed commerce-power precedents. I would construe the Hobbs Act in accordance with constitutional limits and hold that the Act punishes a robbery only when the Government proves that the robbery itself affected interstate commerce."

Two cases, two distinct lines of legal precedent, one outcome: Drug cases continue to provide a basis for the expansion of state law enforcement power.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

In Oklahoma and Ohio, medical marijuana half-measures are being challenged by initiative campaigns, Oakland tries to create some racial equity in the industry, Maryland medical marijuana hits another delay, and more.

California

On Tuesday, Oakland passed an ordinance designed to encourage minority participation in the industry. The city council unanimously approved a medical marijuana ordinance with an "equity program" that would reserve half of the city's new cannabis permits for people who live in a designated high-crime police beat in East Oakland or were imprisoned for marijuana-related crimes in Oakland in the past 10 years. But the plan is coming under fire from industry leaders who say it may actually be counterproductive to encouraging minority participation and could undercut a pot economy expected to boom if and when the state legalizes marijuana.

Louisiana

Last Wednesday, the House passed a CBD cannabis oil expansion bill. The House approved Senate Bill 271, but because it amended it, the bill must now go back to the Senate for a final vote. Last year, legislators legalized CBD cannabis oil, but only for a handful of conditions. This bill expands those conditions to include seizure disorders. No one can currently use CBD cannabis oils because the legislature is still figuring out how to regulate them.

Maryland

On Tuesday, the Medical Cannabis Commission announced continuing delays in implementing the program. The state approved commission, which was created in April 2014 and is charged with establishing the state's medical marijuana program, says patients probably won't have access to medical marijuana until the late summer of 2017.

Missouri

Last Wednesday, the House rejected a medical marijuana bill. The House killed the bill on a 71-85 vote. That leaves an open path for a medical marijuana initiative whose supporters have handed in signatures and are awaiting confirmation that the initiative has qualified for the November ballot.

Montana

Last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters appealed to the US Supreme Court. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association filed a petition with the US Supreme Court seeking to reverse a state Supreme Court decision that guts the state's once-thriving medical marijuana industry. Petitioners argue that the state Supreme Court mistakenly held that marijuana is universally illegal under federal law and point to the Obama administration's decisions to allow states to implement their own marijuana laws.

Oklahoma

Last Friday, the governor signed a CBD cannabis bill into law. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) has signed into law a CBD cannabis oil expansion bill. Last year, the state approved the use of the oil, but only for people under 18. This bill removes that age restriction.

Last Saturday, medical marijuana advocates began an initiative signature gathering drive. CBD cannabis oil isn't enough for Oklahomans for Health, which began gathering signatures over the weekend for a full-blown medical marijuana initiative. The group has 90 days to gather 66,000 valid voter signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, a new poll had overwhelming support for medical marijuana. A new Quinnipiac University poll has support for medical marijuana at very high 90%. The poll comes as a restrictive medical marijuana bill is working its way through the legislature and as a medical marijuana initiative is in the signature-gathering phase. The poll also asked about support for legalization, which came in at 52%.

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

Chronicle AM: MD MedMJ Delay, Ohio's Bad "Good Samaritan" Bill, No RI Referendum, More... (5/17/16)

Another New England legislature fails to act on pot legalization, Maryland's long-awaited medical marijuana program is again delayed, Wisconsin's GOP attorney general wants all employers to drug test their workers, and more.

No medical marijuana for Maryland patients for at least another year. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Chances Fade for Rhode Island Referendum on Pot Policy. For six years, marijuana legalization bills have failed to even get a vote in the legislature. This year is no exception. There has been some talk of a non-binding referendum to plumb public sentiment on the issue, but it now looks like even that is going nowhere. "A referendum on this year's ballot is unlikely," House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello told The Providence Journal in an email Monday. "I am keeping an open mind on the issue and will continue to analyze it over the summer and fall."

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission Announces Continuing Delays in Implementing Program. The commission, which is charged with establishing the state's medical marijuana program, announced Tuesday yet another delay in getting the program up and running. The state approved medical marijuana more than two years ago, in April 2014, making this one of the slowest roll-outs yet. The commission now says patients probably won't have access to medical marijuana until the late summer of 2017.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Attorney General Wants Every Workplace to Test for Prescription Drugs. Attorney General Brad Schimel (R), championing his Dose of Reality program aimed a prescription opioid use, has called on all employers in the state to institute drug testing programs. "We have 163,000 in Wisconsin abusing opiates in some manner. We need to get them help," Schimel said.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Legislature Considers 911 "Bad" Samaritan Law That Could Increase Overdose Deaths. As early as Wednesday, the Ohio Senate could consider a bill, House Bill 110, that was originally designed to save lives but has been amended so badly it could do more harm than good. The original bill was modeled after laws in more than 30 states known as 911 Good Samaritan laws that provide people who call 911 to report drug overdose immunity from arrest for drug possession. The Ohio bill, which some are calling a 911 "Bad" Samaritan law, was amended in committee in ways that would make people less likely to call 911; health experts warn people could die as a result. The bill would limit the number of times people could get immunity from prosecution for reporting an overdose and it requires medical providers to give patient information to police.

Law Enforcement

Texas Trucking Company Owner Asks Supreme Court to Hear Case Against DEA. The owner of trucking company whose semi was used without permission by DEA agents in a failed Zetas sting that left the driver dead wants the US Supreme Court to take up his case. Craig Patty, the owner, had filed a $6.4 million lawsuit for damages in the 2011 incident, which led to a wild shoot-out in northwest Houston. A New Orleans-based appeals court throw out his case in March; now, Patty wants it reinstated. A Patty employee working as a DEA informer took the truck to the Mexican border, then drove a load of Zetas marijuana to Houston, where DEA and local police would swoop in and make arrests, but the truck was attacked before the bust could go down.

Feds Give Up on Effort to Seize Nation's Largest Medical Marijuana Dispensary [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

In a stunning victory for California's marijuana industry, federal prosecutors have agreed to end their years-long effort to close and seize Oakland's Harborside Health Center, the nation's largest dispensary with more than 100,000 patients.

Inside Harborside. (HarborsideHealthCenter.com)
Harborside broke the news with a press release Tuesday, followed up by a press conference attended by Oakland officials who have stood by the dispensary since then-US Attorney Melinda Haag went after in 2012.

The effort to shut down Harborside was part of a broader offensive against the state's medical marijuana industry. Prosecutions and threats of prosecutions forced more than 500 dispensaries to shut down, but Harborside stood firm, didn't fold, and fought hard against the federal moves to seize its properties.

"When US Attorney Melinda Haag first filed suit to seize the property Harborside is located in, I vowed we would never abandon our patients... and predicted Harborside would outlast the efforts to close us down," Harborside Executive Director Steve DeAngelo said in the statement. "Today, thanks to the deep support of our community and our elected officials, and the skill and determination of our legal counsel, that prediction has come true."

"It's a great day for Oakland and for all of California," Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said at the press conference. "The federal government isn't going to waste tax dollars trying to frustrate the desires of Californians to have safe access to medical cannabis."

Harborside also stood firm because it had the money to do so. The dispensary, which also operates a facility in San Jose, brings in about $25 million a year from medical marijuana sales and was able to hire the finest legal talent in attorney Henry Wykowski.

"We are gratified that the government has finally seen fit to lay down its arms against Harborside in this case," Wykowski said. "The will of the people is for medical cannabis dispensaries to operate free from federal threats of closure. We hope we are on the cusp of a policy change and that the Department of Justice will no longer target state-legal dispensaries for forfeiture."

But Harborside's success also made it an appealing target for US Attorney Haag. In July 2012, she filed a civil forfeiture action against Harborside, claiming it violated federal drug laws.

"The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need," Haag wrote.

Still, Harborside counted on local support, and got it in spades. In October 2012, the city of Oakland sued the federal government in a bid to block the Justice Department from seizing the dispensary's properties. The city argued that shutting down Harborside would harm its patients and force them into the black market to get their medicine.

Between then and now, Harborside won a series of legal victories that allowed it to stay open and avoid eviction, but the city's lawsuit was ultimately rejected by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals last August. In the meantime, though, developments at the federal level worked in Harborside's favor. In 2014, Congress approved an amendment by California Congressmen Sam Farr (D) and Dana Rohrabacher (R) that blocks the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after medical marijuana programs in states where it is legal. That amendment was reauthorized last year.

The US Attorney's Office for Northern California has not commented on the decision to drop the case, but the different federal landscape most likely played a key role.

Oakland politicians praised the move.

"Today's decision by the U.S. attorney is a victory for health care access," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who represents Oakland and pressed for the DOJ to drop the case against Harborside. "For decades, Harborside has helped ensure members of our community can access their medicine. It's past time for the federal government to stop standing between these patients and their medicine."

"Harborside Health Center has been a strong positive presence in Oakland, both for the patients they serve, the workers they employ, and for the vital public services that are supported by their tax revenues," said Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. "I am glad that Oakland's work on the federal case helped keep Harborside open during this dispute, and heartened to know that the threat against them is now removed."

The federal war on medical marijuana in California appears to be ending with a whimper, not a bang.

Oakland, CA
United States

Chronicle AM: VT Legalization Bill Killed, Feds End Harborside Action, More... (5/3/16)

Marijuana legalization is dead in Vermont this year, Tennessee cuts repeat pot possession penalties, the German health minister says medical marijuana is coming early next year, and more.

There is no joy in Montpelier after the House killed marijuana legalization.
Marijuana Policy

Tennessee Reduces Repeat Marijuana Possession Penalties. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has signed into law House Bill 1478, which eliminates a provision in state law that makes a third conviction for pot possession a felony. Instead of facing one to six years in state prison, third offenders will now face up to a year in jail.

Vermont House Votes Down Pot Legalization Bill. The House voted 121-28 today to kill the marijuana legalization bill passed by the Senate in February. While Senate Bill 241 is dead, the House continues to work on a proposal to expand decriminalization from one ounce to two and to allow individuals to grow up to two plants. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Feds End Attempt to Shut Down, Seize California's Harborside Dispensaries. Federal prosecutors have reached a "historic agreement" with Harborside to end their efforts to seize the Oakland and San Jose dispensaries for violating federal drug laws. In return, Harborside agrees not to pursue further legal action against the federal government. "We are gratified that the government has finally seen fit to lay down its arms against Harborside in this case," said Harborside attorney Henry Wykowski. "The will of the people is for medical cannabis dispensaries to operate free from federal threats of closure. We hope we are on the cusp of a policy change and that the Department of Justice will no longer target state-legal dispensaries for forfeiture."

Illinois Medical Marijuana Board Okays New Health Conditions. The board voted Monday to add ten qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. Among them were PTSD and chronic pain, which were rejected earlier this year by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). The board members also said they doubted the conditions would be approved and complained that Rauner's standards for approving new conditions are too strict.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Needle Exchange Bill Filed. State Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Guilford County) has introduced Senate Bill 794, which would allow needle exchanges to operate legally in the state. The bill is set for committee assignment sometime this week.

International

German Health Minister Says Medical Marijuana Coming Early Next Year. Health Minister Hermann Groehe said Tuesday that the country will legalize medical marijuana early next year. "Our goal is that seriously ill patients are treated in the best possible way," Groehe said, adding that he will present draft legislation to the cabinet Wednesday.

Highway Drug Dog Searches: Two Diverging Trends in the Case Law [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Last year, in one of the Roberts' court's rare decisions not siding with law enforcement, the US Supreme Court ruled that police could not detain people pulled over for traffic violations in order to await the arrival of a drug-sniffing police dog. Once the traffic violation was dealt with, motorists were free to go, the court held.

"Absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures," wrote Justice Ruth Ginsberg for the court's 6-3 majority in Rodriguez v. United States.

That case was a necessary antidote for police practices that evolved after the Supreme Court's decision in Illinois v. Caballes a decade earlier. In that case, the high court held the use of drug dogs during a traffic stop did not violate Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unwarranted searches and seizures because, in the court's rather involved reasoning, people carrying drugs have no expectation of privacy. Unlike the use of infra-red cameras to peer inside homes, which the court disallowed in an earlier case, the use of drug dogs would only reveal drugs, not other intimate details of one's life, so that was okay.

What came after Caballes was repeated reports of people being stopped for alleged traffic infractions on the highway, then forced to wait on the side of the road in a sort of legal limbo ("Am I under arrest?" "No." "Am I free to go?" "No.") for the arrival of a drug dog to conduct a search of their vehicles. Then, when the drug dog would "alert" to the presence of drugs, police had probable cause to search the vehicle, find the drugs, and arrest and charge the driver.

What also came after Caballes was people being arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for drug offenses after being detained for lengthy periods. Asserting that their rights had been infringed by the lengthy detentions, some of them appealed, arguing that the evidence against them should be suppressed because it was unconstitutionally obtained.

The situation festered until the Rodriguez decision was announced. Police would no longer have a free hand to hold people against their will while awaiting the drug dog's arrival. That should have reined in the cops, but it hasn't exactly worked out that way. Instead, two distinct lines of post-Rodriguez drug dog jurisprudence have emerged, one seeking to uphold and strengthen it, but the seeking to find work-arounds for drug-hunting police and their canine helpers.

Representative of Rodriguez's positive impact was last month's Kentucky Supreme Court decision in Davis v. Kentucky. In that case, an officer pulled over Thomas J. Davis for crossing the center line, administered field sobriety tests that Davis passed, then asked for Davis's consent to search the vehicle. Davis refused to consent to a vehicle search, at which point the officer had his drug dog sniff the exterior of the car, despite Davis's protests. The dog alerted, the car was searched, and police found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

At trial, Davis moved to have the evidence suppressed as fruits of an unlawful search, but he lost at the trial level and reached an agreement to plead guilty while preserving his right to appeal the ruling on the motion. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the conviction and sent the case back to the trial court.

"As recently clarified by the United States Supreme Court in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), a police officer may not extend a traffic stop beyond its original purpose for the sole purpose of conducting a sniff search -- not even for a de minimus period of time," the state high court concluded. "Under Rodriguez, any nonconsensual extension of the detention beyond the time taken to verify Appellant's sobriety, unless accompanied by additional grounds to believe other criminal activity was afoot, was unconstitutional… With no articulable suspicion to authorize an extended detention to search for drugs, [the officer] prolonged the seizure and conducted the search in violation of Rodriguez and Appellant's Fourth Amendment protections."

"While Davis isn't perfectly clear, it strongly suggests that the use of drug dog without reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed offends the reasonableness clause of the Fourth Amendment, said John Wesley Hall, a Little Rock criminal defense attorney, former head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL), and author of Search and Seizure, 5th Ed.

Keith Stroup, the founder and currently counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), liked what he saw in Davis, too.

"This is a great decision," Stroup said. "It will help a lot of drivers, but it doesn't totally write drug dogs out. With no articulable suspicion to authorize an extended detention to search for drugs, the police are out of luck."

Police erred in this case, Stroup said, but not in the sense that the court meant.

"The mistake the cops made is that they didn't lie and claim they smelled marijuana," he said. "They will learn very quickly that the first thing to say is 'I smell marijuana.' Then they can at least do a search of the passenger compartment."

Still, Stroup pronounced himself pleasantly surprised at the ruling.

"In some states, the Supreme Court is very law enforcement-oriented and willing to give police the benefit of the doubt. That this came out of Kentucky is promising," he said.

The Kentucky case shows how the courts are applying Rodriguez to protect the rights of motorists, but other post-Rodriguez cases are heading in a different direction. As Hall notes on his Fourth Amendment blog linked to above, various US district and appellate courts are bending over backwards to find ways to allow drug dog searches to continue without any reasonable suspicion a crime is being committed.

"Dog sniff by second officer while first officer wrote ticket didn't extend stop," he wrote describing a case> out of the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Dog sniff during the normal computer checks are valid," is how he characterized another case in federal district court in Georgia.

"GA holds that a dog sniff of a car before dispatch confirms ID is valid because it didn't extend the traffic stop," he wrote about another Georgia case.

The upshot of these and similar cases is that they provide an opening for police to get their drug dog searches in simply by delaying what should be routine, quickly accomplished, procedures, such as verifying license, registration, and outstanding criminal warrants. "I severely disagree with that case law," said Hall. "It just offends every sense of justice and privacy. It makes a car a target without any reasonable suspicion whatsoever, and it essentially rewards the cop with the drug dog in his car."

And he scoffs at the reported delays in those routine procedures. "The cops deliberately delay the response," he said. "As fast as these computers are, if it takes more than 60 seconds, it's complete bullshit. Or they call in the drivers' license number and it takes forever for the call to come back, so the cop can sit there and chat with you and try to find excuses to come up with reasonable suspicion.

Clearly, Rodriguez hasn't settled the issue. While law enforcement is now somewhat constrained in the use of drug-sniffing dogs on the highway, police -- and friendly courts -- are working assiduously to find ways to continue to use them. Ironically, the current state of the law could result in not fewer but more drug dogs on the highway, because under some of these rulings, the police officer who has a dog with him can get away with a quick sniff, while the officer who has to call and wait for one to arrive would be out of luck.

And that means the litigation likely isn't over. "The Supreme Court is going to have to take this up one of these days," said Hall. "This whole idea of pulling people over with dogs smacks of Nazi Germany."

Chronicle AM: DC Smoke-In Saturday to Press Obama, VT Legalization Bill Hearing, More... (3/31/16)

DC activists plan to smoke-out the White House Saturday, Vermont's legalization bill gets a hearing this evening, California's historic Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana will soon be able to reopen, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DC Rally Saturday Will Feature Smoke-In, Mass Civil Disobedience. DC marijuana activist Adam Eidinger, the man behind the District's successful marijuana legalization initiative, is leading a protest Saturday in front of the White House to protest President Obama's lack of action on undoing pot prohibition. "Obama - he smokes, maybe not now, but he did smoke," Eidinger said. "So for him to oversee an enforcement regime that has arrested five million people for marijuana... I'm very motivated because I think it's a discriminatory practice." Eidinger and the DC Cannabis Campaign have moved their 4/20 celebration to 4/02 because Obama is "a big zero" on further marijuana reforms. They will be marching to the White House with a 51-foot joint and will engage in mass pot smoking at 4:20pm.

Vermont Legalization Bill Gets Hearing This Evening. The House Judiciary and Government Operations committees will be hearing testimony on the legalization bill, Senate Bill 241, between 5:00pm and 7:00pm this evening. Each speaker will be limited to two minutes. The bill passed the Senate last month, and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) says he supports the measure.

Washington State Legal Marijuana Sales Exceeded $700 Million Last Year. The marijuana market research group ArcView has pegged the state's legal marijuana sales at $709 million in 2015. That accounts for nearly half of legal adult use sales nationwide.

Medical Marijuana

California Historic Marin County Dispensary Cleared to Reopen. The Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana has won a federal court case that should clear the way for it to reopen soon. The dispensary, the first to operate in the state under the auspices of Proposition 215, was forced to shut down in 2011 during an offensive by then US Attorney Linda Haag. But in a Monday ruling, US District Judge Charles Breyer held that the injunction used to close it is unenforceable because it conflicts with a 2014 budget amendment approved by Congress that bars the Justice Department from going after law-abiding marijuana operations in states where they are legal.

Kansas Protest for Veteran Whose Kids Were Taken Away Over Medical Marijuana Use. US Navy veteran Raymond Schwab, who lost custody of his five kids after his mother-in-law took them and reported them as abandoned to state officials, told a crowd of supporters Wednesday at the state capital in Topeka that he lost custody because of his use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD, not because of minor legal scrapes. Schwab accused the state of "illegally kidnapping" his kids as he was preparing to move his family to neighboring Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal. He said the state has ordered him not to use medical marijuana for four months if he wants the kids back. Schwab is now two weeks into a 30-day vigil at the statehouse. He isn't the only medical marijuana parent to face problems in the state; just last week, Garden City resident Shona Banda sued the state, the city, and the police department over the seizure of her son after he spoke out in school about his mother's medical marijuana use.

Chronicle AM: PR Governor Says Legalize It, WY Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Signed, More... (3/1/16)

Puerto Rico's governor says legalize it, Wyoming's effort to felonize marijuana edibles dies, MPP rolls out its Ohio medical marijuana initiative, and more. 

Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Puerto Rico Governor Calls for Pot Legalization. Outgoing Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla called for marijuana legalization as he gave his last public address as governor Monday. He said doing so would lower both crime and hypocrisy. He said that at the least, legislators should approve a 2013 bill to decriminalize pot possession.

Wyoming Edibles Bill Dies as Lawmakers Tussle Over Making Possession a Felony. A Senate-passed bill, Senate File 96, that made it a felony to possess more than three ounces of marijuana edibles died Monday after failing to advance before a legislative deadline. The House Judiciary Committee last week stripped out the felony provision, but legislative squabbling left the bill dead. The bill was deemed necessary after a pair of state judges ruled that the state's marijuana laws did not apply to edibles. "There really is concern that if you overreach, you can turn activity that was lawful in one state into a felony on this side of the border, and while you may feel that’s the right way, you want to be careful before you undertake to put people in prison for that type of activity, explained Senate Majority Leader Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie). 

Medical Marijuana

MPP Rolls Out Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Ohioans for Medical Marijuana has rolled out its proposed constitutional amendment to allow for medical marijuana. The proposal calls for 15 large-scale grow operations and an unlimited number of smaller grows, with five types of business licenses for growers, manufacturers, and retailers. Personal medical marijuana grows would not need to be licensed.

Texas Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Texas Tegna poll suggests Texans are ready to move beyond the limited legalization of CBD cannabis oil and go for full-blown medical marijuana. The poll found that 71% supported expanding the program, with only 19% opposed.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Sued Over Asset Forfeiture Fund Disbursements. The Institute for Justice has sued the state to try to force it to enforce its own asset forfeiture laws. They require that proceeds from seizures go to a schools fund, but that hasn't been happening. Instead, police and prosecutors have been keeping the proceeds for themselves.

Wyoming Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last year, Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture reform, but on Monday he found an asset forfeiture bill he could get behind. Mead signed into law Senate File 46, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but imposes tighter rules on it. Now, people whose property is seized will get a probable cause hearing within 30 days, with a judge deciding whether to proceed with forfeiture. If property owners can prove they are innocent, the state will have to reimburse their legal costs.

Harm Reduction

Oregon Legislature Unanimously Approves Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. Following in the footsteps of the House, the Senate Monday unanimously approved House Bill 4124, which allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone (Narcan®) without a prescription. The bill also expands the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program so that emergency room physicians will be able to access the database.

Law Enforcement

Judge Denies Federal Government's Motion to Unlock iPhone in Drug Case. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in Brooklyn, New York, has denied a government motion to compel Apple to help it unlock an iPhone in a drug case. "Ultimately, the question to be answered in this matter, and in others like it across the country, is not whether the government should be able to force Apple to help it unlock a specific device; it is instead whether the All Writs Act resolves that issue and many others like it yet to come," the ruling says. "For the reasons set forth above, I conclude that it does not. The government's motion is denied." The Justice Department said it would ask Orenstein to review his decision in coming days.

International

Myanmar Christian Anti-Drug Vigilantes Retreat. The Pat Jasan movement, which had attempted to destroy opium crops in Kachin state, has abandoned its efforts after dozens of its members were attacked last week. Some 30 vigilantes were injured in grenade and gunfire attacks by unidentified assailants as they tried to clear poppy fields. 

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Takes Up CO Legalization, DEA Can't Keep Track of Evidence, More... (2/19/16)

The Supreme Court will decide if the case against Colorado can go forward, Ohio pot legalizers call it quits for now, Detroit dispensaries are facing a crackdown, a New Jersey bill would criminalize pregnant women who use drugs, and more.

Where did the drugs go? (justice.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Supreme Court Hears Case Against Colorado Legalization Today. The nation's highest court is deciding whether to take up a challenge against the state's legal marijuana law from neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend could alter the balance. If the court splits conservative vs. liberal, that would mean a 4-4 vote on the case. In regular cases that would mean that lower court rulings would hold. But the Supreme Court has "original jurisdiction" when states sue each other, meaning that there are no lower court rulings, raising the question of what would happen next.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Calls It Quits. The group, Legalize Ohio 2016, says it has put its signature gathering drive on hold because it doesn't have any money. The group's political action committee, Ohioans to End Prohibition, had only $268 in the bank. The group has some 80,000 signatures, but needs more than 300,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. It says it will instead concentrate on supporting the Marijuana Policy Project's medical marijuana initiative.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit Dispensary Boom Faces Looming Crackdown. The Motor City is now home to more than 200 dispensaries, but an ordinance that goes into effect March 1 is likely to put some of them out of business. The new ordinance insists that dispensaries must be at least a thousand feet from schools, parks, churches, libraries, and other dispensaries, and an unknown number are not going to be in compliance. Don't expect immediate raids, though; dispensary owners will have a chance to apply for licenses, and police said they would give dispensaries some time to comply before moving against them.

Asset Forfeiture

Illinois County Sued for Asset Forfeiture "Racketeering." Three people have filed a federal lawsuit against the Kane County Sheriff's Office alleging it is running a racketeering enterprise by stopping drivers, falsely arresting and searching them, and seizing their cash and cars for the benefit of the county. The suit also names three deputies, including one -- Sgt. Hain -- who is also employed by a private company, Desert Snow, that trains police to prolong traffic stops, conduct searches without warrants or consent, and aggressively seize assets. The plaintiffs allege they were stopped, searched, and had several thousand dollars in cash seized, and that they were booked into the county jail overnight, but never charged with a crime. They were released the next day. Police found no drugs or other suspicious items. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Inspector General Rips DEA Over Evidence Handling Procedures. The DEA isn't properly documenting, tracking, and relocating the drugs it seizes, compromising the security of the drugs and undermining their usefulness as evidence in court, the inspector general said in findings released Thursday. In nearly one out of every 10 cases, DEA could not even find the tracking documents that are supposed to account for the drugs. "Gaps in the formal documentation of the chain of custody for drug exhibits can compromise the security of the drugs and jeopardize the government's ability to use the evidence in court proceedings," the IG said. The IG also found that more than half of all seizures, DEA forms did not list the amount of drugs seized, making it impossible to know if they had been tampered with. The inspector general made nine recommendations in total to improve the oversight of DEA drug seizures, all of which the agency agreed to address.

New Jersey Bill Would Criminalize Drug Use By Pregnant Women. A trio of Democratic Assembly members have introduced Assembly Bill 774, which would make using drug while pregnant a felony crime. Advocates for pregnant women called the bill "blatantly discriminatory" and said it will deter pregnant women from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment. They also said it was aimed at poor women.

International

Report Criticizes Use of Private Contractors in Colombia Aerial Coca Fumigation. A new report from the United Kingdom's Swansea University analyzes the role of private contractors and finds their primary benefit to the governments involved -- Colombia and the US -- are "secrecy and lack of accountability." "The ineffective policy is of dubious legality, causes damage to people and the environment, and would, if carried out by US military forces, imply the direct involvement of the US in Colombia's civil war, thereby triggering the application of international law as it applies to armed conflict," the report found. Still, aerial fumigation achieved "strategic objectives" of the two governments by displacing rural populations from areas of insurgent influence.

Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Init Qualifies for Ballot, VT Gov Endorses Pot Legalization Bill, More... (1/28/16)

Busy, busy. State legislatures are in full swing, and the bills just keep coming. Meanwhile, Florida's medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the ballot, Vermont's governor endorses legalization, and more.

Heroin is on the agenda at statehouses this week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Colorado's Legalization. A Colorado US District Court judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging the legality of marijuana legalization in the state. The lawsuit was filed by a Washington, DC-based anti-marijuana group, the Safe Streets Alliance, and asked the court to find the state and Pueblo County guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The judge in the case rejected the claims, concluding that private parties have no standing to seek recourse for alleged violations of the Supremacy Clause, which makes federal law the supreme law of the land. Another lawsuit, filed by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, is still being decided.

New Mexico Poll Finds Strong Support for Legalization. Three out five (61%) adult New Mexicans support legalizing and regulating marijuana, according to a new poll from Research & Polling. The poll comes as the legislature ponders two bills, one that would amend the state constitution to let voters decide the issue, and one that is a straightforward legalization bill. The bills are Senate Joint Resolution 5 and House Bill 75, respectively.

Vermont Governor Endorses Legalization Bill. Gov. Peter Shumlin has endorsed the Senate Judiciary Committee's legalization bill, Senate Bill 137. "The War on Drugs has failed when it comes to marijuana prohibition," Gov. Shumlin said. "Under the status quo, marijuana use is widespread, Vermonters have little difficulty procuring it for personal use, and the shadows of prohibition make it nearly impossible to address key issues like prevention, keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, and dealing with those driving under the influence who are already on Vermont's roads. The system has failed. The question for us is how do we deal with that failure. Vermont can take a smarter approach that regulates marijuana in a thoughtful way, and this bill provides a framework for us to do that."

DC Poll Finds Residents Want District to Move Ahead With Regulation -- Despite Congress. A substantial majority of District residents believe Mayor Bowser should move forward with taxation and regulation of marijuana despite Congressional prohibition, according to a survey conducted over the weekend by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the Drug Policy Alliance, DC Vote, DC Working Families and the Washington City Paper. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents believe the mayor should pursue a legal method (such as use of reserve funds) to implement taxation and regulation of marijuana in the District. In light of congressional interference attempting to prevent such regulation, 63% of residents view marijuana legalization as a statehood issue for the District.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Releases Report on State Medical Marijuana Programs. The patient advocacy group graded each state and graded harshly. No state earned an "A" and only 12 earned a "B." Read the report here.

California Bill to Halt Medical Marijuana Bans Heads to Governor's Desk. After passing the Senate earlier this week, Assembly Bill 21, has now passed the Assembly and awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill lifts a March 1 deadline for localities to regulate medical marijuana or lose control to the state. The deadline has prompted more than a hundred localtities to enact bans on various sorts in a bid to retain local control.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for the November Ballot. The group behind the effort, United for Care, said Wednesday the Division of Elections has recorded 692,981 verified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than needed to qualify. A similar effort won 58% of the vote in 2014, but failed to pass because constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass in Florida.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Injection Drug Use Driving Appalachian Hepatitis B Infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that acute Hepatitis B was up 114% in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia between 2009 and 2013. The report found that injection drug was tied to 75% of the new cases. Unlike Hep C, Hep B can be prevented with a vaccine, but vaccine coverage is low among adults nationwide.

Maine Governor Wants Gunowners to Shoot Drug Dealers. Just days after saying Maine should revive the guillotine to execute drug dealers, Gov. Paul LePage suggested just shooting them instead. "I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry," LePage said in an on-camera interview in Lewiston. "Load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they're killing our kids," the governor said. He then denied that he was encouraging vigilantism.

New York Assembly Minority Task Force Releases Report on Heroin Addiction. The task force has come out with suggestions for combating heroin and opiate addiction. The recommendations include earlier drug education, involuntary "emergency medical" detention of addicts, and a felony "death by dealer" statute. Now, the task force must work with Assembly Democrats to create legislation.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Killed in Committee. The Health and Human Services voted to kill a bill that would have required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Even the Republican governor had opposed the bill.

International

Producers of Prohibited Plants Issue Declaration Ahead of UNGASS. The Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants (coca, opium, marijuana) is demanding that growers be heard at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in April. In a joint declaration from producers in 14 countries, the group urged an end to forced eradication of drug crops, the removal of the three plants from international drug control treaties, and sustainable rural economic development. Click the title link for a full list of participants and recommendations.

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