Federal Courts

RSS Feed for this category

Federal Court Again Blocks Missouri College Drug Testing Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jefferson City, MO
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Legislatures are in session across the land, and that's reflected in our update this week. Bills are moving, generally, though not always in the right direction. Meanwhile, Arkansas looks ahead to 2014, and Oakland wants back in the Harborside case. Let's get to it:

Arkansas

Last Monday, activists submitted a medical marijuana ballot initiative to the state attorney general's office. Arkansans for Medical Cannabis plans to try again in 2014 after their 2012 initiative surprised just about everybody by coming up just short with 49% of the vote.

California

Last Wednesday, the city of Oakland filed notice that it will appeal a federal magistrate's decision to dismiss its lawsuit in support of Harborside Health Center in its ongoing battle with the federal government. Oakland sued after federal prosecutors moved to seize the property where Harborside is located.

Also last Wednesday, Butte County prosecutors dropped charges against a dispensary operator in the wake of Fourth District Court of Appeal's reversal of the conviction of San Diego dispensary operator Jovan Jackson. That decision held that members of a collective do not need to actually work growing plants. Prosecutors said they were dropping a case against dispensary operator Rick Tognoli because the Jackson ruling "has made it almost impossible to prosecute dispensaries that are disguised as collectives and making supposedly no profit."

Hawaii

On Tuesday, the House passed two medical marijuana bills. House Bills 667 and 668 are designed to improve the state's existing medical marijuana program. They now go before the state Senate.

Iowa

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill was pronounced dead even though it was approved by a Senate subcommittee. The chairman of the subcommittee, Sen. Joe Bolkom (D-Iowa City), said the bill is unlikely to advance because it lacks support in the full committee. A similar bill was rejected by a House subcommittee earlier this session.

Illinois

On Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill won a House committee vote. The bill, House Bill 1, passed the House Health and Human Services Committee on an 11-4 vote and now goes before the full House. Qualified patients would be able to obtain marijuana from one of up to 60 dispensaries, which would acquire marijuana from up to 22 cultivation centers. The Illinois Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Department of Financial & Professional Regulation would regulate the cultivation, acquisition, and distribution of marijuana.

Montana

Last Thursday, two minor players in a dispensary were sentenced to time served by a federal judge. Doran Leslie Hewitt had kept patient records and Travis Birdinground had delivered medical marijuana to patients. They had worked for Eastern Montana Cannabis. The judge in the case has sentenced all five Eastern Montana Cannabis defendants to terms shorter than the federal guideline ranges.

New Jersey

On Monday, a Senate committee approved a bill to protect medical marijuana patients on organ transplant lists. The bill would ensure that a person's use of medical marijuana would not prohibit him from receiving needed medical care, including organ transplants. It was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. The bill, S-1220, would provide that a registered, qualifying patient's authorized use of medical marijuana would be considered equivalent to using other prescribed medication rather than an illicit substance and therefore would not disqualify the person from needed medical care, such as an organ transplant. It now heads to floor vote in the Senate.

Oregon

Last Thursday, a bill that would add PTSD to the list of qualifying debilitating medical conditions passed the Senate Health and Healthcare Committee. It now goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 281 passed out of committee on a 4-1 vote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlanta, GA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

From the village board to the halls of Congress, medical marijuana is popping up all over. And there's action at various state houses, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last weekend, Americans for Safe Access hosted the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, DC. The conference featured numerous panelists, as well as lobbying on Capitol Hill.

On Monday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the States' Medical Marijuana Patients Protection Act (House Resolution 689) at a press conference surrounded by attendees at the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference. The bill would get the federal government out of states where medical marijuana is legal.

Arizona

Last Thursday, an unapproved dispensary was shut down in Kingman and its proprietors arrested on a variety of marijuana-related and weapons charges. Police seized several pounds of marijuana, $7,000 in cash, and a shotgun.

California

Earlier this month, Shasta County moved a lawsuit filed against it by a medical marijuana collective from state to federal court, and the attorney representing county supervisors has already filed a motion there to dismiss it. The Medicine Man Collective Spiritual Center Corporation sued in state Superior Court in January, naming the supervisors, the county sheriff, and three deputies as defendants. The suit charges that the county conspired to deprive the collective of its contractual, constitutional and state rights by enacting a ban on dispensaries. The collective closed its Main Street doors in May 2011 after being evicted following implementation of the ban in 2010 and its finalization the following year.

Last Thursday, the LA city council voted to approve a third dispensary measure for the May ballot. This third measure is the council's own and would allow about 100 dispensaries to stay open, restrict them from locating near schools and churches, and increase taxes on them. One of the other measures would allow a similar number of dispensaries to stay open, while the other would allow most of the hundreds of currently existing dispensaries to stay open. The initiatives come after the council tried to impose a total ban last year.

On Tuesday, Butte County supervisors adopted a cultivation ordinance. The measure prohibits outdoor marijuana gardens on lots smaller than 0.5 acre. It allows up to 12 plants (six mature and six immature) on parcels larger than 0.5 acre but smaller than 1.5 acre. On parcels smaller than 3 acres, 36 plants (18 mature and 18 immature) are allowed. The total allowable number of plants tops out at 99 on property larger than 40 acres. The gardens have set-back requirements that increase as the lots grow, and the plants have to be screened from view with fencing. Grows are prohibited within 1,000 feet of schools and parks. The growers have to be able to prove they have been county residents for a year, and there has to be written proof the landowner is aware of the garden and approves of its existence. The ordinance allows  indoor gardens in free-standing buildings of 120 square feet on lots anywhere in county jurisdiction.

Florida

On Tuesday, a statewide poll had support for medical marijuana at 69%. The poll showed strong support among Democrats and independents and even among Republicans, 56% of whom said they supported marijuana. The poll comes as its sponsor, People United for Medical Marijuana, pushes for medical marijuana to come to the Sunshine State.

On Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. The bill is Senate Bill 1250.

Iowa

On Sunday, a statewide poll found that 58% support legalizing medical marijuana. That's down six points from a similar poll in 2010. The poll comes as the Iowa legislature considers medical marijuana bills.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Westborough Board of Health supported zoning for dispensaries. The board did not reach agreement on whether Westborough should ban dispensaries or whether to zone or ban home grows for medical use. The town planning board has already proposed a zoning bylaw that would ban both dispensaries and home grows. It goes before voters at the annual town meeting on March 16.

Montana

Last Thursday, two more medical marijuana providers were sentenced to federal prison terms. Ross Pattison and Brandon Strecker were partners in Eastern Montana Cannabis. Pattison got 20 months and Strecker got a year and a day. They are only the latest Montana medical marijuana providers to be sent to federal prison after a spring 2011 crackdown by the DEA and the Justice Department.

Nevada

Last Friday, legislators held a hearing on problems with access to medical marijuana. During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, members acknowledged that it is almost impossible for the state's 3,600 card holders to acquire their medicine. Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) said after the hearing that he soon will introduce a bill to set up a regulated system where marijuana is grown at farms and then distributed and taxed through licensed dispensaries.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, a House committee held a hearing on a pending medical marijuana bill. The bill, House Bill 573, would allow patients to grow up to four plants or obtain their medicine through one of five state-licensed dispensaries. Similar bills have twice passed the legislature since 2007, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch (D). New Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) supported the bills as a legislator, but has expressed concerns that the system be tightly regulated.

Oklahoma

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill died in the legislature. The bill, Senate Bill 710, would have allowed patients to possess up to eight ounces and grow up to 12 plants. It would also have allowed state-sanctioned collectives. It was killed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee after members heard testimony. The bill was defeated 6-2 in a party line vote.

Washington

On Monday, the Spokane city council approved a six-month moratorium on new dispensaries. The council feared a proliferation of marijuana businesses before the state finishes writing its rules for legal non-medical marijuana commerce. Spokane currently has about a dozen dispensaries.

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Florida Welfare Drug Test Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlanta , GA
United States

US Supreme Court Upholds Drug Dog Search of Truck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

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

California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado

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

Iowa

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

Massachusetts

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

Michigan

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

Montana

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

South Dakota

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

DC Appeals Court Denies Marijuana Rescheduling [FEATURE]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

An important federal court ruling, medical marijuana bills start popping up in the states, more providers get prosecuted, and LA continues to stumble toward a resolution of its dispensary issue. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition to reschedule marijuana.The nearly 11-year-old petition had been rejected by the DEA, and the appeals court upheld that decision. While attorneys for petitioners say they will appeal -- to the Supreme Court if necessary -- advocates are now turning their attention to Congress and the administration.

California

Last Wednesday, the state Supreme Court denied review of a landmark medical marijuana case, People v. Jackson. In that case, the Fourth District Court of Appeals had overturned the conviction of San Diego dispensary operator Jovan Jackson and established a clear defense for Jackson and others like him who are prosecuted in state court. The Fourth District court had held that in mounting a defense at trial, "Jackson was only required to produce evidence which would create a reasonable doubt as to whether the defense provided by the [Medical Marijuana Program Act] had been established." The court further held that, "the collective or cooperative association required by the act need not include active participation by all members in the cultivation process but may be limited to financial support by way of marijuana purchases from the organization. Thus, contrary to the trial court's ruling, the large membership of Jackson's collective, very few of whom participated in the actual cultivation process, did not, as a matter of law, prevent Jackson from presenting an MMPA defense."

Last Friday, a Stockton dispensary operator pleaded guilty in federal court to marijuana manufacturing and distribution charges. Lynn Farrell Smith, 62, was a co-owner of a half dozen Stockton and Sacramento-area dispensaries and grew marijuana at a Stockton warehouse to supply the stores. Prosecutors said he made millions while hiding under the cover of the state's medical marijuana laws.

On Tuesday, the LA city council voted to put two medical marijuana initiatives on the May ballot. The two must come up for a second vote next week, when the council considers its own third initiative. One initiative would allow about 100 dispensaries to remain open; the other would allow most of the estimated 500 dispensaries currently operating in the city to remain open.

Also on Tuesday, the Antioch city council voted to ban dispensaries. The ban passed on a 3-2 vote after city staff told the council it had concerns about burglaries and robberies at dispensaries and over the sale of illegal drugs to youngsters.

Connecticut

Last Wednesday, state officials handed in draft regulations for in-state cultivation and sale of medical marijuana to Gov. Dan Malloy (D). The draft rules include nuts-and-bolts guidelines for growers, doctors, patients obtaining medical certificates and even the disposal of unused marijuana, which could be turned in to local police. If the regulation process proceeds smoothly, dispensaries could be operating by late this year or early next year.

Iowa

Last Wednesday, Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines) introduced a medical marijuana bill. The bill, House File 22, would allow Iowans with debilitating medical conditions to obtain and use marijuana without fear of arrest. It would also create a dispensary system.

Montana

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana worker was sentenced to four years in federal prison for his involvement with Montana Cannabis, which was raided by the DEA as part of 2011's statewide sweep of dispensaries. Dan Nichols had done construction and worked as a night watchman at the dispensary. Several other Montana Cannabis operators have already been sentenced to federal prison, including 68-year-old Richard Flor, who died there.

Also last Thursday, a medical marijuana provider was convicted in federal court of "conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana" and "possession with intent to distribute marijuana," but was acquitted of another felony, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-related crime. Former Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jason Washington claimed to be in compliance with Montana's medical marijuana law but, as is typical with such federal cases, defendants like Washington are routinely denied a defense. He is facing a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence, up to 40 years in prison, and more than $10 million in fines and forfeitures.

Also last Thursday, a district court judge issued a second injunction blocking implementation of SB 423, the law passed by the state legislature that effectively gutted the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Judge James Reynolds had ordered a similar injunction last year, but was reversed by the state Supreme Court. After hearing new testimony, he issued a more thorough ruling last Thursday.

Oklahoma

On Monday, Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) filed a medical marijuana bill. The bill, Senate Bill 902, directs the medical board to develop and adopt rules allowing patients to obtain permission from their doctors to use marijuana.

South Dakota

On Wednesday, two senators said they were introducing a medical marijuana defense bill.Sen. Craig Tieszen (R-Rapid City) and Rep. Dan Kaiser (R-Aberdeen) were hoping to introduce the bill Wednesday. It would allow persons caught with two ounces or less of marijuana to argue a medical necessity defense.

Texas

Last Friday, Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin) introduced a medical marijuana affirmative defense bill. The bill, House Bill 594, would enact protections for physicians who make written or oral statements to their patients that marijuana would likely provide benefits that outweigh any risks. Patients whose doctors make such statements would be able to present evidence of the statement in court if charged with possession of marijuana and have their charges dismissed.

Washington

Last Wednesday, the Bremerton city council voted to ban collective medical marijuana gardens. Such gardens are legal under a 2011 state law, but the council sided with city attorneys, who warned that regulating and permitting the gardens might put city workers at risk from the federal government, which considers all marijuana production illegal.

Can the DEA Hide a Surveillance Camera on Your Land? [FEATURE]

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

A case that began with reports of suspicious activity in northeast Wisconsin forest land last spring may be headed for the US Supreme Court. That's because a US district court judge ruled in the case last fall that it was okay for the DEA to enter the rural property without a warrant and install surveillance cameras that were used to help convict five members of a family on charges they were growing marijuana.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dea-camera.jpg
surveillance camera (shutterstock.com)
The ruling last October came in a motion to suppress the evidence obtained by the warrantless video cameras. After that ruling, the defendants, five members of the Magana family, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute marijuana and now face up to life in prison and up to $10 million in fines. But as part of the plea deal, they retained their right to appeal the ruling.

And their attorneys say they are prepared to take the case all the way to the US Supreme Court.

In their motion, they had asked the court to suppress evidence because of the property's locked gate and "No Trespassing" sign. Since the properties were heavily wooded and posted with signs, the owners were entitled to an expectation of privacy, the attorneys say.

"After sentencing, the first round of appeals will go to the Seventh Circuit and if there's no favorable ruling there, the cases will be filed into the US Supreme Court," Wisconsin attorney Stephen Richards told the Chronicle last week.

"That one's action could be recorded on their own property even if the property is not within the curtilage is contrary to society's concept of privacy," said Green Bay attorney Breet Reetz, who represents Marco Magana.

Curtilage is a term of legal art referring to the area of a property immediately surrounding a house or dwelling. Past Supreme Court jurisprudence, particularly US v. Oliver, had held under the "open fields" doctrine that areas outside the curtilage are not subject to the same Fourth Amendment protection as a home itself. "An individual may not legitimately demand privacy for activities conducted out of doors in fields, except in the area immediately surrounding the home…," the court held in Oliver. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Oliver was another marijuana cultivation case, in which Kentucky deputies walked a mile onto the property before spotting a marijuana field. Their search was upheld.)

It all began in rural Marinette County last May, when a fishermen reported to local authorities that he had been run off the land by two men who told him "fishing is closed" and that he had observed trees cut down and power lines running across the property. Authorities investigated and found the property and two more adjacent properties were owned by members of the Magana family, which had purchased them months earlier.

Authorities left it at that until the following month, when a logger reported that when he had gone to check on a timber stand at one of the properties, he stumbled over a marijuana cultivation operation with more than 30 plants in a 50' x 50' clearing. The DEA then was called in and entered the Magana's properties without a warrant. Agents installed video cameras that eventually captured incriminating evidence of vehicles traveling in and out of the properties.

It wasn't until the DEA observed some of the men handling what believed to be marijuana did they go and request a warrant. A warrant was signed and the agents, accompanied by several local sheriff officers, executed the warrant and arrested the men at separate addresses near Green Bay.

The bust was big news in Marinette County.

"You've got thousands of plants, and as healthy as they look, this is a big operation," Sheriff Jerry Suave told local reporters at the time. The grow is probably "the largest I've seen," he added.

Before trial, set for the fall, counsel for the Maganas filed a motion to suppress the evidence, informing the court that videos from the surveillance camera showed dates that indicated that the camera had been running for 79 consecutive hours before DEA agent Steven Curran obtained a search warrant for the property.

"It is undisputed that the government trespassed without a warrant upon private property with visible 'No Trespassing' signs" posted," Reetz wrote in the motion, noting that the camera had operated from July 12 to July 15, but the warrant wasn't issued until July 17. Nor were there any "exigent circumstances" that would have allowed officers to enter the property without a warrant.

Federal prosecutors were ready with a response.

"Officers entering an 'open field' is not an area enumerated as protected under the Fourth Amendment," countered Assistant US Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin James Santelle. "'Open fields,' woods, and private lands are not 'persons, houses, papers, and effects' protected under the Constitution."

That was good enough for Eastern Wisconsin US District Court Chief Judge William Griesbach, who dismissed the defense motion and ruled that it was legal for the DEA to go onto private property without a warrant to install multiple covert digital cameras, and to use the evidence they obtain that way to obtains warrants and in court. Citing US v. Oliver, Griesbach held that the rural properties were curtilage and not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

But the Maganas' attorneys and other legal experts argue that even though "open fields" are not considered curtilage, if "No Trespassing" or "Private Property" signs are posted on the land, the property owner should still be entitled to an expectation of privacy under the law. And they are willing to take their argument to the highest court in the land.

"We have become a nation of men and not a nation of laws, which, is what our founding fathers didn't want us to become," Reetz said.

After formal sentencing, the case heads for the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. If Reetz and Richards don't prevail there, it is on to the Supreme Court. If the court were to take up the case, it would once again have the opportunity to try to untangle the dilemmas that result when the Fourth Amendment runs up against new technologies, for better or worse.

Green Bay, WI
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School

StopTheDrugWar Video Archive