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Medical Marijuana Update

The federal crackdown on medical marijuana continues in California, the first plants are now being grown in New Jersey, and there's lot's more medical marijuana news, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last Tuesday, the US Department of Agriculture warned states that they cannot allow food stamp applicants to deduct the cost of medical marijuana expenses. The department acted after Portland's Oregonian newspaper surveyed medical marijuana states and found three -- Oregon, New Mexico, and Maine -- that allowed the deduction. Now, all three will have to stop.

On Tuesday, Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) introduced the Truth in Trials Act, which would allow medical marijuana patients and providers facing federal criminal prosecution to present evidence that they were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. The bipartisan bill has 18 cosponsors, including Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX).

California

Last Wednesday, the DEA raided a Venice dispensary. The feds hit the Pacific Collective. The warrant remains under seal, so no further information is available, but it was the first federal action against Venice dispensaries since the state's US Attorneys announced a crackdown last fall.

Also last Wednesday, the Palm Springs City Council approved an urgency ordinance requiring city-approved dispensaries to visibly post that they are operating legally. While the city has numerous dispensaries, only three are legally approved by it. The ordinance also establishes an abatement process and fine program for dispensaries that do not comply with city mandates.

Last Thursday, Oakland officials ripped federal prosecutors for targeting the Harborside Health Center for closure. With 100,000 patients, Harborside is the world's largest dispensary. US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag filed asset forfeiture lawsuits against Harborside's two locations. The other one is in San Jose. At an early morning press conference, city and state officials lambasted the feds.The uproar will continue Monday, when President Obama visits the city. Protests are being planned now.

Also last Thursday, the former mayor and one-time city manager of Cudahy agreed to plead guilty to bribery charges for taking money to support the opening of a dispensary. Ex-Mayor David Silva and former City Manager Angel Perales will each plead guilty to one count of bribery and extortion. They solicited and received a $1,700 bribe from the would-be operator. Then they took $15,000 offered to them by a former dispensary operator turned FBI informant. They each face up to 30 years in prison.

On Monday, a Clovis dispensary operator was hit with federal money-laundering charges. Mark Bagdasarian owned the Buds 4 Life dispensaries in Tarpey Village and Friant. He already faced federal marijuana possession and distribution charges from an indictment filed last October, but now the feds have updated the indictment to include money laundering. They accuse Bagdasarian of laundering money through ATMs at his dispensaries.

Also on Monday, the San Leandro City Council moved to begin regulating dispensaries. The move came against the advice of city staff, who recommended a ban within city limits. Instead, the council directed staff to start work on regulating where and how such facilities could be located. The issue now moves to the council's rules committee, which will start work with city staff to determine how to begin the process of creating zoning and permitting rules.

On Tuesday, a dispensary sued the city of Victorville over its recently-passed ordinance banning dispensaries. High Desert Herbal Therapy opened in September and was cited for a city code violation and fined $400 in May for operating without a permit. The dispensary says the city refused to issue a permit and its ordinance conflicts with state law. It will seek a temporary restraining order next week.

Also on Tuesday, Lake County supervisors voted to disband the Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Board. The move followed the adoption of a 45-day urgency cultivation ordinance at a special BOS meeting July 9 and the filing of a request for a temporary restraining order and injunction against Sheriff Frank Rivero and the County of Lake last Thursday by an attorney on behalf of Don Merrill, who was a member of the committee.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA raided a Lake Elsinore dispensary for the second time in three months. The feds hit the Compassionate Patients Association and seized marijuana, but not cash or paperwork. The collective was first raided in April. Now, the new owner says she doesn't know if she will reopen.

Also on Tuesday,  the Lemon Grove City Council voted to study regulating dispensaries. The council ordered city staff to prepare a report on the legal, financial, economic, and land use impacts dispensaries would have on the town. The council acted after Citizens for Patient Rights gathered enough voter signatures to put the issue to a vote if the council fails to act. The council also voted to have a subcommittee look into placing a competing measure on the same ballot that might include a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.

As of month's end, the number of dispensaries in San Francisco will be at a 10-year low. The announced July 31 closures of HopeNet and the Vapor Room under federal threat will bring the number of dispensaries to fewer than 20. A year ago, there were 26 licensed dispensaries operating in San Francisco. US Attorney Melinda Haag's office has shut down six to date. A seventh dispensary was put out of commission by a house fire. There were as many as 40 dispensaries in the city in 2005, but the municipal Medical Cannabis Act limited the areas in which they could do business, leading some to close.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, a medical marijuana initiative campaign conceded it wouldn't make the ballot. The Committee for a Safer Michigan said it had collected only about 50,000 signatures while it needed 322,609 valid ones. The group is pledging to return in 2014.

Last Wednesday, Kalamazoo officials confirmed a dispensary initiative will be on the ballot this fall. Initiative backers had met the signature requirements, but city officials had concerns that medical marijuana court decisions in the state might affect its legal viability. Now, they are prepared to let the vote go forward.

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana rally was canceled because of a cease and desist order from Hayes Township, where it was to have been held. Donnie and Billie Jo Hogan, owners of the Mid-Michigan Caregiver's Club in Harrison, had planned the rally as a protest after being arrested for selling marijuana last month. But Hayes Township said it sought the order because the Hogan's didn’t have permits for food and camping. The Hogans canceled the rally on their attorney's advice.

Montana

Last Friday, a medical marijuana grower and provider was sentenced to seven years in federal prison in one of the harshest sentences yet related to last year's federal raids of large Montana medical pot operations. Christopher Ryan Durbin pleaded guilty in March to charges of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana and structuring or making bank deposits of less than $10,000 to avoid IRS reporting requirements. Durbin owned and operated several medical marijuana businesses in the Columbia Falls area and was in charge of the distribution network.

New Jersey

On Monday, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora called for hearings on delays in the state's medical marijuana program. The Trenton Democrat was one of the sponsors of the law, and he says the state's administration should explain the delays, but a schedule for his proposed hearings hasn't been announced. The state planned to have dispensaries open by July 2011. But the first one to operate legally now won't open until at least late August.

On Wednesday, the Greenleaf Compassion Center revealed it had been growing medical marijuana for the past few weeks. That marks the first time in decades that marijuana has been grown legally in the state. The first plants are about a foot high and the center's Montclair dispensary should be open and accepting patients by mid-September, said center president Joseph Stevens.

Washington

Last Tuesday, the Leavenworth City Council voted to ban collective gardens and dispensaries. The 5-2 vote confirmed a moratorium  enacted in June after a collective garden opened in the city. Leavenworth Mayor Cheri Kelley Farivar said the city worried about liability, legality, zoning and public safety.

On Monday, the Shoreline City Council voted to approve regulations for collective gardens. It passed an ordinance providing for the adoption of  permanent development code regulations for medical marijuana collective gardens. The 6-1 vote was met with cheers from a packed chamber.

Georgia Governor Puts Welfare Drug Testing on Hold

Georgia's new welfare drug testing law was supposed to go into effect July 1, but that didn't happen. According to a spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal (R), the governor still supports the law, but will hold off on implementation until a legal challenge against a similar bill next door in Florida is resolved.

The Florida law took effect last July, but was blocked by a federal judge in October. That case is expected to go before the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Civil rights and civil liberties groups in Georgia said when the law was passed they would challenge it as soon as it is implemented. But they may not have to if the court, which has jurisdiction in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, strikes down the Florida law.

The federal courts have generally taken a dim view of random, suspicionless drug testing. They consider drug testing a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and have carved out only limited exceptions to the general prohibition against warrantless drug testing. Those exceptions include public safety-sensitive positions (airline pilots, truck drivers), law enforcement personnel engaged in anti-drug work, and high school students involved in athletics or extracurricular activities.

"The governor feels confident that the law in Florida, and therefore in Georgia, will be upheld," spokesman Brian Robinson told the Associated Press. "We plan to move forward on this as soon as we can, but we're willing to wait a little bit longer on the federal courts. There's just no need in us hopping in."

Under the Georgia law, the state Department of Human Services is mandated to create a drug testing program for welfare applicants at their own expense. Those who pass the test would be reimbursed, but those who don't would not only not be reimbursed, they would be ineligible to receive benefits for one month. A second positive test would result in a three-month ban, while a third positive test would result in one year of ineligibility.

Any applicant who fails a drug test must first pass another drug test before benefits would be reinstated. The department would have to provide people who fail the drug test with a list of drug treatment providers, but the state would not pay for drug treatment for them.

Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) told the AP Deal should have voiced his concerns about the law when it was being debated.

"During the debate, we talked about the viability of the law based on the Florida case," said Fort, who opposed the measure and was among the parties vowing legal action against the law. "It would've been appropriate for him at that time to have injected that point, but he's waiting until after he signed it, until it's about to be implemented. He chose not to say anything about it."

Ford said that if the law is upheld, it would set a dangerous precedent.

"The question is, if you're poor and need assistance, do you forfeit your constitutional rights or not?" he said. "I think that's dangerous. If it's poor people today, it could be other people tomorrow."

Atlanta, GA
United States

Supreme Court Grants Lesser Sentences in "Pipeline" Crack Cocaine Cases

The US Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that decreased crack cocaine sentences approved by Congress in 2010 also apply to people who were convicted but not yet sentenced when the law took effect. The decision could result in reduced sentences for thousands of so-called "pipeline" federal crack cocaine defendants.

Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act and President Obama signed it into law after years of complaints about the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine and the racial impact of those disparities. Under laws passed in the late 1980s, it took 100 times as much powder cocaine to generate mandatory minimum prison sentences as it did for crack cocaine. The act reduced the quantity disparity to 18:1.

The decision in two cases of men convicted on federal crack charges but sentenced after the act became law came on a narrow 5-4 vote. The two cases were consolidated in a single ruling in Dorsey v. United States.

In one case, Edward Dorsey was arrested in 2008 and pleaded guilty in July 2010 to possessing 5.5 grams of crack with the intent to distribute. He was sentenced to a mandatory minimum 10 years; under the new law, his sentence would likely have been around four years.

In the other case, Corey Hill was convicted in 2009 of selling 53 grams of crack in 2007 and sentenced to 10 years in prison; under the new law, his sentence would have been around five years.

Federal appeals court split on whether the new law should be applied retroactively, prodding the Supreme Court to take up the cases and bring clarity to the issue.

The court split in what has become almost standard for the Roberts court. All four liberal justices weighed in on the side of extending the sentencing reductions and were joined by swing justice Anthony Kennedy. The court's four staunch conservatives all dissented.

Sentencing reform advocates welcomed the ruling.

"We are thrilled with the court's decision," said Julie Stewart, executive director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which had filed a friend of the court brief in the case. "We considered it patently unjust to make these pipeline defendants serve longer sentences under a scheme that was completely repudiated by Congress. As the court found, doing so would have flouted the will of Congress, which called on the US Sentencing Commission to lower crack cocaine sentences 'as soon as practicable' after the Fair Sentencing Act was signed into law. Especially exciting is the fact that Justice Breyer's opinion for the majority recognized that people who were sentenced after August 3, 2010 to an old law sentence are eligible to seek relief in federal courts."

Washington, DC
United States

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Job Corps Worker Drug Tests

A federal appeals court ruled last Friday that a random, suspicionless drug testing program for workers at Job Corps centers is unconstitutional. In a 2-1 decision, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that the US Forest Service, which operates those Job Corps camps, did not demonstrate that drug use among staff or clients was such as problem that it qualified as an exception to the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures.

drug testing lab
The federal courts have held that drug tests are a search under the Fourth Amendment and have crafted only narrow exceptions to the rule, including testing of truck drivers and airplane pilots, police involved in narcotics work, and school students involved in sports or extracurricular activities.

The Job Corps program operates 28 centers for at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 24. Clients there receive vocational training at the typically remote locations. The Forest Service had informed the union during negotiations in 2010 that it was going to impose random, suspicionless drug testing on all employees. The National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents Job Corps workers, filed suit seeking a preliminary junction, but was turned down in federal district court.

But in National Federation of Federal Employees v. Vilsack, the appeals court sided with the union. Vilsack is Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack, who oversees the Forest Service.

"Although identifying governmental interests in the students' abstention from drug use and in their physical safety, the Secretary offered no foundation for concluding there is a serious drug problem among staff that threatens these interests and thus renders the requirement for individualized suspicion impractical," wrote Judge Judith Rogers, who was joined by Judge Douglas Ginsburg in the majority opinion. "Rather, the Secretary's evidence to date suggests the contrary. Because the Secretary has offered a solution in search of a problem, the designation of all Forest Service Job Corps Center employees for random drug testing does not fit within the 'closely guarded category of constitutionally permissible suspicionless searches.'"

In his dissent, Judge Brett Kavanaugh argued that it seemed sensible to drug test employees at residential schools for at-risk youth, some of whom have previously used drugs.

"In these limited circumstances, it is reasonable to test; indeed, it would seem negligent not to test," Kavanaugh wrote. "To maintain discipline, the schools must ensure that the employees who work there do not themselves become part of the problem. That is especially true when, as here, the employees are one of the few possible conduits for drugs to enter the schools."

But Kavanaugh's was the minority opinion, and once again, the federal courts have ruled against random, suspicionless drug testing absent the government making a strong case for its necessity.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The Rhode Island governor has finally opened the door to compassion centers, a medical marijuana initiative campaign is getting underway in North Dakota, people are going to federal prison in Montana, and the battles continue in California. Let's get to it:

California

Last Wednesday, Fresno police said they would shut down a newly opened dispensary. The California Herbal Relief Center opened quietly and said "a loophole" in the city code allowed it to circumvent the city's ordinance against dispensaries, but Fresno police were having none of it. The department has sent the operator  a "hand delivered note that he needs to stop doing what he is doing," a police spokesman said.

On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, advocates held a three-day unity event in Sacramento to rally support for state-regulated medical marijuana industry. About 200 people turned out Saturday to rally for a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) that would do just that. On Monday, reformers took to the capitol to lobby for the bill, Assembly Bill 2312.

On Monday, a federal appeals court ruled that cities do not violate the rights of the disabled when they ban dispensaries. A three-judge panel of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected a claim by patients from Costa Mesa and Lake Forest that those cities' efforts to close dispensaries violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law does not protect the use of drugs banned by the federal government, the court held.

Also on Monday, the LA branch of the NORML Women's Alliance launched a voter education project aimed at identifying favorable (or unfavorable) candidates Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge in the June 5 primary election. Candidates for Superior Court Judge in Los Angeles County are being asked their positions on issues relating to medical marijuana, as well as three-strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentencing and the recent United States Supreme Court mandate to end overcrowding in California prisons.

Also on Monday, Tulare County filed suit against five collective members for growing medical marijuana in the wrong place. The lawsuit asserts that they are violating the county's land use ordinance by growing marijuana in a rural area near Cutler in northern Tulare County zoned exclusively for agriculture. Under the county's ordinance, medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives must operate in a commercial or manufacturing zone. This is not the first time Tulare County has sued medical marijuana growers. In 2009, the county sued Foothill Growers Association for growing marijuana in a building on agricultural property near Ivanhoe and cited the same ordinance. The collective put up a court fight but lost.

On Tuesday, Novato's last remaining dispensary announced it was closing. The Green Door Wellness Education Center will shut its doors June 15. It had been open since April 2010. The city has a moratorium on dispensaries, and the second-to-the-last one, the Green Tiger, closed in April under federal pressure.

Also on Tuesday, an attorney filed a suit to block Nevada County from enforcing an emergency marijuana cultivation ordinance it passed earlier this month. Attorney Jeffrey Lake is seeking a temporary restraining order on behalf of Americans for Safe Access Nevada County, Grassroots Solutions and Patricia Smith, who is the founder of the nonprofit patient advocacy group and the ASA chapter.

On Wednesday, Imperial Beach initiative campaigners announced they had gathered more than 2,000 signatures in less than two months for a municipal initiative to repeal a ban on dispensaries and replace it with reasonable regulations. Canvass for a Cause, a San Diego based nonprofit with the largest gay rights field program in the county, has partnered with San Diego Americans for Safe Access, a local chapter of the nation’s largest medical marijuana patients’ rights advocacy group on this campaign. They will hand in signatures to the city clerk on Saturday.

Maine

Last week, a medical marijuana clinic opened in Brewer. It is operated by Wellness Connection of Maine.

Massachusetts

Last Wednesday, the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance filed a lawsuit challenging the language in a likely ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana. The lawsuit argues that the language is "misleading" and the initiative has "radical components." Attorney General Martha Coakley's office has already certified the ballot initiative titled, "An Act for the Humanitarian Use of Medical Marijuana." Proponents of the initiative must now collect 11,485 signatures by early July to get the initiative on the November ballot.

Over the weekend, the Massachusetts Medical Society approved a resolution opposing the legalization of medical marijuana without further scientific study. It did, however, pass another resolution calling on the DEA to reclassify marijuana to permit more studies.

Michigan

On Tuesday, the Marijuana Policy Project warned that more bad bills are coming in the state Senate. The bills would dramatically undermine the state's medical marijuana law, the group said, and it urged Michiganders to contact their senators.

Montana

On Monday, a Kalispell landlord was sentenced to a year in federal prison for renting a property to a medical marijuana business. Jonathan Janetski pleaded guilty to maintaining a drug involved premises, but he said he had no ties to the growing operation. The prosecution said Janetski wasn't just a landlord, that he didn't take money for rent for a year, and that he was an equal partner.

North Dakota

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana initiative campaign got underway. Rep. Steve Zaiser (D-Fargo) turned the proposed law in to the secretary of state's office for its approval, which is needed before signature-gathering can commence. The proposed law says someone with a "debilitating medical condition" may grow and use marijuana, and possess up to 2 ½ ounces of the drug. It says people with cancer, the HIV virus, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions may use marijuana legally.

Rhode Island

On Tuesday night, Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) signed the bill allowing compassion centers to open. Championed by Sen. Rhoda Perry and Rep. Scott Slater, the bill was crafted to allay the governor's concerns, which had caused him to block them from opening more than a year ago. The amended law only allows centers to possess 1,500 ounces at one time and they can have no more than 99 mature plants at one time. Patients and caregivers will be able to sell any excess medical marijuana they produce directly to the centers as well.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Harsh Cameron Douglas Sentence Sparks Appeal, Support

Cameron Douglas, the son of noted Hollywood actor Mike Douglas, had a well-known history of drug addiction when he was sentenced to five years in federal prison for heroin possession and drug distribution. Not offered drug treatment, Douglas relapsed while in prison and was caught in possession of a small amount of heroin and Suboxone.

Cameron Douglas
Most federal prisoners caught with small amounts of drugs are dealt with administratively, and that happened to Douglas. He spent 11 months in solitary confinement and was denied visits during that period for his transgression.

But, unusually, Douglas was also prosecuted for drug possession by a prisoner, and even more unusually, he was hammered hard at sentencing. Federal District Court Judge Richard Berman nearly doubled his original drug trafficking time, sentencing him to an additional 4 ½ years in prison. Prosecutors had asked for at most an additional two years.

In imposing the harsh sentence, Judge Berman said that Douglas was "continuously reckless, disruptive, and noncompliant" and had repeatedly refused to obey the law.

The draconian sentence for Douglas has sparked a reaction. Unlike most federal prisoners, thanks to his father, Douglas had the resources to appeal his sentence, which is possibly the longest in federal prison history for simple drug possession behind bars. And now that appeal has been joined by about two dozen addiction and drug treatment doctors and organizations who have signed an amicus curiae brief on his behalf.

The brief does not just argue that Douglas should be sentenced more leniently; it argues that Douglas is a classic example "of someone suffering from untreated opioid dependence" and that more prison time will do nothing to address his addiction. The brief shows that many federal prisoners suffer from drug addictions, that many fail to get any meaningful treatment for it in prison, and argues that imposing additional incarceration for drug-addicted prisoners serves no penological purpose.

"A central theme of the [brief] is the need to provide effective, evidence-based treatment to opioid-dependent persons, particularly to those under criminal justice supervision. Time and again, over the past four decades, the provision of appropriate substance abuse treatment to opioid-dependent persons has been shown to profoundly improve not only their health and well-being across a broad range of metrics, but also the health and safety of the larger public. This is especially true of methadone and other opioid substitution treatments," the brief argued.

"Conversely, [we] are acutely aware of the ramifications when such treatment is withheld -- the suffering, disease, death, and criminal behavior that result when punitive sanctions replace proven medical interventions and opioid dependence is left to fester," the addiction specialists argued.

The brief was written by Dan Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which organized the effort to intervene in the Douglas case. Its signatories include the New York and California Societies of Addiction Medicine, as well as other medical, public health and human rights organizations, along with prominent individual physicians and substance abuse researchers.

"Tacking on more prison time for a person who is addicted to drugs because they relapse behind bars goes against fundamental principles of medicine, inflicts unnecessary suffering and undermines both safety and health," said Abrahamson.  "Such a response only fuels the vicious cycle we see daily across the country of drug-dependent persons being imprisoned while sick, coming out sicker, and then returning to jail even quicker -- at huge expense to everyone."

Most federal prisoners don't have the resources or the celebrity of Cameron Douglas, but many share his struggles with addiction. Justice for Cameron Douglas could help lead to more just treatment for them, as well.

New York, NY
United States

Oklahoma Governor Signs Welfare Drug Test Bill

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) last Wednesday signed into law a bill, House Bill 2388, that requires welfare applicants to be screened for possible drug use and drug tested upon suspicion they are using. They would be denied benefits if they test positive. The screening requirement is designed to surmount constitutional objections to mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of public benefits applicants and recipients.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (wikimedia.org)
In the past two years, two states, Florida and Georgia, have passed laws requiring mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants. The Florida law has been blocked by a federal judge's temporary order as she considers whether to declare it an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendments proscription against warrantless searches. Civil liberties and civil rights advocates in Georgia have vowed similar action against the law there when it goes into effect July 1. An earlier Michigan attempt to impose suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients was found unconstitutional by a divided federal appeals court it 2003. That ruling was not appealed.

Several other states have passed public benefits drug testing laws with a screening process to create "reasonable suspicion" that a given individual might be a drug user. Those include Arizona and Missouri last year and Utah and Tennessee this year. The Tennessee bill has yet to be signed by the governor, but he has said he will do so. None of these state laws have yet faced legal challenges.

The Oklahoma law takes effect November 1 and is aimed at adults applying for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Applicants who refuse to take the drug test or who test positive will be denied benefits. Applicants who test positive and then undergo a drug treatment program -- at their own expense -- can reapply for benefits after six months.

Child-only cases and cases where the parent is underage would not have to be drug tested. If a parent is denied benefits, the bill allows for payments to be made to an alternative payee.

Under an amendment passed in the Senate, the state will pay for the cost of drug testing. The bill originally called for applicants to pick up the tab.

"House Bill 2388 will help ensure welfare checks are not being used to pay for drugs. Hard working taxpayers shouldn't be asked to subsidize drug abuse, and this bill will help to ensure they are not," Fallin said in a signing statement.

"Additionally, HB 2388 helps to preserve the mission of state-funded welfare -- to provide a social safety net helping the unemployed and needy get back on their feet, find work and support their families," the Republican governor continued. "Unfortunately, drug abuse prevents many recipients of welfare from achieving any of these goals. Drug addiction and illegal drug use contribute to child abuse and child neglect. They also make it difficult to find and hold a job. For all these reasons it is important for drug users and those with substance abuse problems to seek treatment rather than simply being handed a check from Oklahoma taxpayers."

Oklahoma Democrats opposed the bill, with Sen. Jim Wilson (D-Tahlequah) calling it "poor policy" and "mean-spirited" during earlier debates, and Sen. Tom Ivester (D-Sayre) questioning why only one population that receives state assistance should be subjected to drug testing. But their Republican colleagues weren't listening.

Medical Marijuana Update

President Obama is taking flak from comedians and politicians alike over the federal crackdown on dispensaries. Meanwhile, raids and legal battles continue to rage across the country. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, Rep. Barney Frank criticized President Obama for the medical marijuana crackdown. "I think it's bad politics and bad policy," Frank said. "I'm very disappointed. I think it's a grave mistake. It's unfair and will hurt innocent people," he told The Hill. Frank said he has told Obama personally that he is "making a mistake on this," though he doubts medical marijuana will be an issue for the president in the 2012 campaign. "Not against Mitt Romney," Frank said.

On Saturday, comedian Jimmy Kimmel confronted President Obama over the federal medical marijuana crackdown as he hosted the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner. "I do have one real question for you, Mr. President. What's with the marijuana crackdown? I mean, seriously, what's the concern, we will deplete the nation's Funyun supply?" he quipped. "You know, pot smokers vote, too -- sometimes a week after the election, but they vote." Go to the link above for Kimmel's complete marijuana segment.

California

The California legislature will vote on several bills that will seriously affect medical cannabis patients in the state, so patient lobby group Americans for Safe Access is leading a rare three days of outreach in Sacramento May 19-21. It's called the California Unity Conference and medical cannabis lobby day. "The conference is organized by Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana, a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to pushing back on federal pressure on medical cannabis in California. We are planning two days of strategy and skills-building. Then on Monday, May 21, we will be going to the Capitol en masse to support good legislation and stop bad bills. Conference attendees will visit all 120 legislative offices that day. This is an important element in our state campaign this year, and your participation is crucial. Register online today."

Last Tuesday, the Garden Grove police chief called on the feds to raid dispensaries in his town. Chief Kevin Raney told the City Council Tuesday night his department has been in touch with federal agents and "they will be coming to Garden Grove in the future." The chief's comments came in response to complaints about the dispensaries from some council members and neighborhood associations. Councilman Bruce Broadwater called the growing number of dispensaries "a nightmare." There are an estimated 60 dispensaries in the city of 35,000.

Also last Tuesday, a Union City dispensary was ordered shut down after a battle with the city. CHA Wellness Center will have to close by the end of this week. It had opened in January after its owner won a permit to provide "holistic health care and relaxed products and services" and "packaged products for retail exchange." The city had told CHA it couldn't distribute medical marijuana and quickly issued a ban on operations and filed a civil complaint in Alameda County Superior Court when it found out it actually was a dispensary. The city council revoked its business license last Tuesday.

Also last Tuesday, Trinity County approved most of the cultivation standards drafted by the County Planning Commission and directed that the draft ordinance be prepared for final adoption as soon as possible. That will require at least two more public hearings. The proposed rules only apply to cultivation for personal use in a residential setting, establishing plant count limits or garden size based on the size of a parcel of land. Once adopted, they will replace temporary limits currently in place under an emergency moratorium with slightly more stringent requirements including one that all cultivation be conducted indoors on parcels of one acre or less. Proposed aggregate grow standards addressing large-scale marijuana operations have been sent back for additional work by the commission.

Also last Tuesday, Nevada County ordered staff to come up with an interim emergency and other cultivation ordinance for a hearing on May 8. The ordinance being proposed bars indoor home grows and allows them only in detached structures on properties where a patient or primary caregiver lives. Rural or residential properties under two acres could grow up to 75 square feet outdoors and no more than six plants indoors, no matter how many patients are involved. The proposed ordinance also includes other requirements.

Last Thursday, the San Francisco Democratic Party called on President Obama to end the federal crackdown. The party Central Committee passed a resolution demanding that President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and US Attorney Melinda Haag "cease all Federal actions in San Francisco immediately, respect State and local laws, and stop the closure of City-permitted medical cannabis facilities." It was cosponsored by 21 DCCC members including its author, Gabriel Haaland, Assembly member Tom Ammiano, State Senator Leland Yee, Supervisor David Campos, Supervisor David Chiu, former State Senator Carole Migden, and former Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

On Monday, the Berkeley Patients Group closed its doors. The venerable and well-respected dispensary fell victim to the ongoing federal crackdown. Last fall, US Attorney Melinda Haag threatened to seize the property, and its landlords served it with an eviction notice effective Tuesday. The BPG was seen as a model dispensary, employed dozens of people, and served thousands of patients. Its closure is a major blow to the state's medical marijuana industry.

On Tuesday, the city of Rancho Mirage appealed a court ruling that overturned its ban on dispensaries. The city hopes to "freeze" the case with the appeal, which seeks a stay, so it can reject a new dispensary that recently filed an application. A Riverside County District Court judge in March ordered the city to process the application.

Also on Tuesday, CANORML announced that a new zero-tolerance DUID bill had been introduced in the state legislature. The bill, SB 50, was originally a political reform bill, but was gutted and refiled by a pair of veteran drug warriors, Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) and Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo), on April 16. The bill would make it a crime for a person to have a controlled substance in his or her blood while driving a vehicle. Since marijuana remains in the blood for as long as a week in chronic users, the bill would effectively make every MMJ patient who drives a de facto drugged driver.

Also on Tuesday, the Lakeport city council voted to oppose a cultivation initiative that is headed for the June 5 ballot in Lake County. Measure D would allow 12 plants to be grown on residential lots and up to 84 on larger lots. It was originally intended to undo a restrictive county cultivation ordinance, but the county board of supervisors rescinded that ordinance in the face of public pressure. The measure would only affect unincorporated sections of the county, but Lakeport is worried it could be next.

On Wednesday, patients presented House minority leader Nancy Pelosi with a petition bearing thousands of signatures from San Francisco voters asking her to help end the federal crackdown on dispensaries. Signatures were gathered by the Patient Advocacy Committee of the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Task Force. The petition asks that Pelosi help prevent the destruction of San Francisco's regulatory program that serves thousands of patients with safe and legal medical cannabis. It was cosponsored by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.

Colorado

As of Monday, two of three Boulder dispensaries targeted by the feds had closed, and a third was set to shut down by next Monday, the deadline imposed by warning letters from federal prosecutors. Signs in front of The Med Shed and Fresh Republic informed customers that the stores were closed, while the Hill Cannabis Club was advertising a going-out-of-business sale. The three Boulder dispensaries were among 25 statewide ordered to close by prosecutors in a recent round of threat letters. That's addition to 23 that closed earlier after a first round of threat letters.

Connecticut

Last Wednesday, the House voted 96-51 to approve a medical marijuana bill. The vote came despite a threat letter from the US Attorney two days earlier. The bill would allow some producers to cultivate and grow the marijuana, and licensed pharmacists could provide the marijuana to patients. Patients would need to requalify every year in order to keep smoking medical marijuana. It is supported by Gov. Daniel Malloy (D).

Michigan

On Tuesday, a bill allowing state-regulated dispensaries was introduced in the House. Introduced by Republican Rep. Mike Callton, House Bill 5880 would give localities the option of allowing dispensaries, or "provisioning centers," where patients could purchase up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana every 10 days. The Marijuana Policy Project supports the bill.

Montana

On Monday, a former Miles City dispensary operator appealed his federal prison sentence. Richard Flor, 68, was sentenced to five years in federal prison on April 19 despite suffering from numerous physical and mental ailments. Flor, his wife and his son, all pleaded guilty to drug charges related to a grow at their home and to his role as co-owner of Montana Cannabis, which was targeted in the March 2011 DEA sweep of the state.

Oregon

Last Saturday, the Associated Press highlighted the race for the Democratic attorney general nomination, in which the state's medical marijuana community has weighed in heavily for retired judge Ellen Rosenblum over former federal prosecutor Dwight Holton, who presided over medical marijuana raids while he was US Attorney. Rosenblum has portrayed herself as a friend of medical marijuana. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be the next attorney general, since Republicans have yet to manage to field a serious candidate.

On Tuesday, DEA agents arrested six men whose gardens were raided by the agency last year. The men were growing under the rubric of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, but appear to have had quantities of marijuana above and beyond what is allowed under the law. 

Rhode Island

Last week, the US Attorney for Rhode Island sent threat letters to property owners who intend to lease space to dispensaries. US Attorney Peter Neronha cautioned owners that their property could be seized. He had also previously warned that the dispensaries, their landlords or investors could face civil or criminal sanctions, including the seizure of assets or property. Neronha met with Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) last Tuesday, and told him that while the feds might target large-scale operations, they don't intend to prosecute patients. Chafee last year blocked dispensaries from opening in the face of federal threats and now supports legislation that would limit the amount of marijuana dispensaries could distribute in a bid to ease the federal threat.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Judge Rejects Florida State Employee Drug Testing

A federal district court judge in Miami has thrown out Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) executive order requiring state employees to submit to suspicionless drug tests. The order violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures, the judge ruled.

Gov. Scott, a former health care executive, issued the order calling for random drug testing of all state employees in March 2011, but stayed it in the face of a legal challenge from the ACLU of Florida and the Association of Federal, State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union representing thousands of state workers.

Scott argued that requiring drug tests was akin to statutory requirements that some state workers make financial disclosures, but US District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro wasn't buying it.

In her ruling last Wednesday, Ungaro called Scott's reasoning "hardly transparent and frankly obscure" and said it did not justify violating the Fourth Amendment. "He offers no plausible rationale explaining why the fact that a state employee's work product and financial status are publicly accessible leads to the conclusions that the employee's expectation of privacy in his or her bodily functions and fluids are then diminished," Ungaro wrote.

"The governor can't order the state to search people's bodily fluids for no reason -- the Constitution prohibits that sort of government intrusion," said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. "And the governor can't demand that people surrender their constitutional rights for the privilege of working for the state or receiving some other government benefit."

"Today's ruling is important because it reinforces the bright line which government may not cross," said ACLU cooperating attorney Peter Walsh. "If the state is going to require a drug test as a condition of keeping your job, it needs to have a reason, and simply being against drugs isn't enough."

In a statement last Thursday, Scott said he would appeal, but gave no acknowledgment of the constitutional issues involved.

"As I have repeatedly explained, I believe that drug testing state employees is a common sense means of ensuring a safe, efficient and productive workforce," he said."That is why so many private employers drug-test, and why the public and Florida's taxpayers overwhelmingly support this policy. I respectfully disagree with the court's ruling and will pursue the case on appeal."

Scott is not doing well with his drug testing campaign. A law he backed requiring drug tests for people seeking welfare has been temporarily blocked by a federal district court judge in Orlando, who has indicated she will likely find that measure also unconstitutional.

Miami, FL
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

More DEA raids in California and Montana, and more action in the legislature in Connecticut and New Hampshire, among other medical marijuana news, and the president addresses the medical marijuana crackdown. Let's get to it:

National

In an interview with Rolling Stone published Wednesday, President Obama addressed the federal crackdown on medical marijuana distribution. The questioner is Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner. Here is the exchange:

Rolling Stone: Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not "use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana." Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What's up with that?

President Obama: Here's what's up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it's against federal law. I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, "Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books." What I can say is, "Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage." As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

"The only tension that's come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we're telling them, "This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way." That's not something we're going to do. I do think it's important and useful to have a broader debate about our drug laws. One of the things we've done over the past three years was to make a sensible change when it came to the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. We've had a discussion about how to focus on treatment, taking a public-health approach to drugs and lessening the overwhelming emphasis on criminal laws as a tool to deal with this issue. I think that's an appropriate debate that we should have.

California

Last Thursday, Assemblywoman Norma Torres amended her drugged driving bill, AB 2552, to remove criminal penalties for driving with the residue of marijuana or other drugs. The bill originally would have made the presence of any level of marijuana metabolites per se evidence of impairment, but will now simply divide the driving under the influence law to distinguish between drugged and drunk driving.

Also last Thursday, DEA agents raided a Murrieta dispensary for the second time in a month. Volunteers at the Greenhouse Cannabis Club were handcuffed as agents searched the building. They scored an ounce of medical marijuana, some vaporizing equipment, a computer, and some baked goods ("fake edibles") left by volunteers as a joke after the first raid. The federal raid came two days after the dispensary filed a $3 million lawsuit against the city alleging it was invading the privacy of patients. The lawsuit seeks to stop police patrols around the store and nullify the city's moratorium on collectives.

On Friday, 4/20, more than 100 demonstrators marched to Obama campaign headquarters in Oakland to protest the ongoing federal crackdown on dispensaries and the raids earlier this month on Oaksterdam University and associated businesses in particular. The marchers hand delivered a letter to campaign headquarters demanding that the federal government cease and desist.

Also on Friday, Vallejo police made their fourth dispensary raid in two months. This time they hit Life Enhancement Services and arrested its operator on marijuana distribution charges. Police are raiding dispensaries even as the city has begun taxing them with voter approval. Friday evening, a local radio station held a benefit for the Greenwell Co-op, which was raided in February.

Also on Friday, Los Angeles police raided a Topanga Canyon dispensary. Three staff members were temporarily detained at Topanga Caregivers, which was supplying a large number of patients after LAPD almost wiped out dispensaries in its Devonshire division. Police seized electronics, records, and cash in what activists called "a smash and grab" operation. It's unclear if anyone has been charged.

On Saturday, San Francisco saw an anti-dispensary rally. The unusual event was led by labor organizer Leon Chow, who is challenging incumbent Supervisor John Avalos in the November election. Chow led about 100 mostly Chinese men, women, and children on a mile-long march in opposition to three proposed medical cannabis dispensaries down the main drag of Mission Street in the Excelsior. They were met by medical marijuana advocates mobilized by the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access.

On Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee approved SB 1182, which expands the list of those exempt from penalties under state law for possession, possession for sale, and transportation of medical marijuana to include cooperatives, collectives, and other business entities. The idea is to clarify that reimbursements paid to cooperatives and collectives are just as legal as those paid by patients to primary caregivers. The bill is sponsored by drug reform friend Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Colorado

On Tuesday, medical marijuana businesses and supporters held a press conference to urge President Obama to protect jobs in the state by calling off the federal crackdown on dispensaries. The press conference was organized by the National Cannabis Industry Association and was prompted by Obama's visit to Boulder on a campaign swing. Boulder has seen three dispensaries shut down after receiving threat letters from US Attorney John Walsh.

Connecticut

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill passed a General Assembly committee vote. The bill, House Bill 5389 was approved by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on a 36-14 vote after fending off hostile amendments from medical marijuana foe state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-Wilton).

On Tuesday, the bill passed the Public Assembly committee on a 19-6 vote. It now goes before the House for a floor vote. Gov. Dan Malloy has reportedly said he will sign it if it passes. The session ends May 9.

Michigan

Last Wednesday, a state appeals court ruled against medical marijuana patients who face drugged driving charges after using their medicine. Their status as medical marijuana patients is no defense against the state's zero-tolerance drugged driving law, the court held. There are 130,000 state-registered patients in the state.

Also last Wednesday, the ACLU asked that a wrongful firing lawsuit against Walmart be reinstated. The ACLU told the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that its lawsuit against Walmart for firing a medical marijuana patient who used it outside of work was wrongfully dismissed by a federal district court judge. The ACLU argued that the case should be reinstated because it belonged in state court, where the group originally filed it, and because the lower court ignored the text of the state law, which prohibiting such firings.

Montana

Last Thursday, three members of a Miles City family were sentenced to federal prison for operating dispensaries. Richard Flor, 68, and reportedly suffering from dementia and depression, was sentenced to five years as a co-owner of Montana Cannabis, one of the state's largest providers. His wife, Sherry, who did the books for the operation and tended plants in the back yard, was sentenced to two years, and his son, Justin, who worked the dispensary, was sentenced to five years. Those were the harshest sentences so far in the federal prosecutions after the DEA swept the state in a series of March 2011. The sentencing judge is US District Judge Charles Lovell. Oh, wait -- there's more: The Flors must also give up their home, six vehicles, and 28 weapons, and they must pay the feds $288,000 in money they made selling medical marijuana.

Also last Thursday, US Attorney Michael Cotter issued a statement bragging that 25 people have been indicted on federal drug charges stemming from the March 2011 raids and 12 convicted and sentenced. He also promised that prosecutions will continue. His office "will continue to support investigations and prosecutions of significant traffickers of all illegal drugs, including marijuana, in an effort to disrupt and dismantle illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks in Montana and elsewhere," he said.

Last Friday, 4/20, DEA agents raided a Billings medical marijuana operation. Agents and local police seized an undisclosed amount of marijuana and growing equipment from the unnamed business. There was no word on any arrests. The number of medical marijuana providers in Montana has declined by more than 90% since the DEA swept the state with raids a year ago.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana bill passed a House committee vote. The bill, Senate Bill 409, passed the Republican-controlled House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee on a 12-4 vote. It would allow patients to legally possess or grow up to six ounces of marijuana. A similar measure passed the House last year, but died in the Senate, where it did not have enough support to overcome a threatened veto by Gov. John Lynch (D). A slightly different version of this year's bill earlier passed the Senate.

On Tuesday, Gov. Lynch vowed to veto the bill if it passes. Lynch spokesman James Richardson said Tuesday that Lynch will veto the bill if it reaches his desk. Richardson said Lynch has compassion for people who believe in marijuana's benefits but is concerned about a lack of control over its distribution.

On Wednesday, the House voted 236-96 to pass the bill despite Gov. Lynch's veto threat. The bill is now expected to be referred to a second House committee for further consideration before returning to the Senate for a concurrence vote. The Senate passed SB 409 March 28 in a 13-11 vote, so support from three additional senators will be necessary to override the expected veto.

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