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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.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's taken ever so long, but it now looks like dispensaries will soon be operating in Arizona, New Jersey and Washington, DC. Meanwhile, the battles over medical marijuana continue across the country. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Wednesday, the state announced it would begin accepting dispensary applications next month. The Arizona Department of Health Services said it will accept applications for medical marijuana dispensaries from May 14 through May 25. Voters approved medical marijuana in November 2010, but Gov. Jan Brewer (R) dragged her feet on approving dispensaries, citing fears of federal prosecution of state employees. She lost in federal court. The health department will announce which dispensaries are awarded licenses on August 7.

California

Last Tuesday, a proposal to shut down dispensaries in Vallejo died in a split city council vote. Mayor Osby Davis had proposed sending cease and desist orders to the city's dispensaries, but the motion failed on a 3-3 vote. Later in the same meeting, the council voted 5-1 to have City Manager Dan Keen send a policy-clarifying letter, and warning, to all dispensaries. Keen's pending letter is expected to include information on the city's new medical marijuana business tax, approved by voters in November, and a reminder that the tax does not provide dispensaries with immunity to law enforcement. The letters are also to include an explanation of laws the city enforces in regard to dispensaries and a warning that dispensaries are subject to further potential raids. Several raids have occurred since late February, and operators have been arrested for allegedly violating state laws.

Also last Tuesday, a Murrieta dispensary won a victory in court when a Riverside Superior Court judge ruled this week that the city cannot bar it from opening. The Cooperative Medical Group might not reopen, though, because if it does, it could face another lawsuit from the city for violating a temporary moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium runs through October 2013.

Last Thursday, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved a permit for a new dispensary in the SOMA district. That's the fifth new dispensary approved by the commission in the last two months. Five is coincidentally the number of dispensaries forced to close recently under federal threat. The city Planning Department staff had recommended the permit not be approved, but commissioners overrode them.

Also last Thursday, Orange County deputies raided the Charles Café, a small dispensary that was the last one remaining in Lake Forest. It was the third raid on the dispensary in the last six months, and now the Charles is shut down. The Orange County Sheriff's Department said it had executed a search warrant there, but had no information about any arrests or seizures. Lake Forest once had 40 dispensaries, but Lake Forest City Attorney Scott Smith wrote to the US Attorney for Southern California seeking assistance and got it. The feds cracked down on dispensaries, including a November 2011 raid on the Charles. It had already been hit by Orange County deputies the previous May.

Last Friday, two Long Beach dispensary operators won a new trial after the judge in their case sent a complimentary letter to prosecutors after they were convicted on marijuana sales and related charges but before they were sentenced. Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron saw their convictions thrown out after an appeals court found that Long Beach Superior Court Judge Charles Sheldon had a strong bias against medical marijuana defenses. The pair has maintained there was no illegal activity at the cooperatives, two in Long Beach and one in Garden Grove, but that they were the victims of overzealous police and prosecutors.

On Tuesday, a bill to regulate medical marijuana distribution statewide won a vote in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill, AB 2312, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would also prevent most bans on cooperatives and collectives and limit the amount of taxes cities and counties can collect.

Also on Tuesday, a bill that would have required state-issued ID for patients was dropped. The bill, AB 2465, introduced by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, was challenged as an unconstitutional violation of patients' rights under Proposition 215.

Also on Tuesday, a replacement for Richard Lee as head of Oaksterdam University was announced. Stepping up is Dale Sky Jones, who had been executive chancellor at the university and who had worked with Lee on the Proposition 19 campaign in 2010. See our feature story on this in this issue.


Colorado

Last week, a Fort Collins initiative campaign to overturn a dispensary ban got underway. Medical marijuana supporters filed a petition notice with the city clerk's office, and once the wording is approved, they will have 60 days to collect 4,214 valid voter signatures. If they do, the measure will appear on the November ballot.

Delaware

Last Thursday, the state issued proposed regulations for the medical marijuana program. The Department of Health and Social Services proposal does not include regulations for dispensaries. The department is taking public comment on the regulations through April 30.

Maine

Last weekend, a medical marijuana exposition in Augusta attracted hundreds of people. The Canna Maineia Medical Marijuana Exposition also featured live music and dozens of vendors. Much of the conference focused on providing information to patients on how to grow their own medicine.

Michigan

Last Friday, police raided a South Haven dispensary and arrested one man. The target was Tranquility Central, which police searched in an investigation into the "illegal sale and distribution" of marijuana.

On Tuesday, medical marijuana supporters demonstrated at the state capitol to protest proposed changes in the state's medical marijuana law. Legislators are considering a package of bills they say will clarify the voter-approved law, but patients say the changes infringe on their rights. The four bills have made it out of committee and await a House floor vote. HB 4834 would require a photograph for medical marijuana patient registration cards, extend the expiration from one to two years, and would allow law enforcement officers or officials to access medical marijuana patient information.  HB 4851 attempts to clarify the definition of “bona fide physician-patient relationship,” which is required for medical marijuana cardholders. HB 4853 lays out sentencing guidelines, and HB 4856 regulates the transportation of medical marijuana in cars.

On Monday, the city of Douglas extended its dispensary moratorium for another 60 days. The town first addressed the possibility of a medical marijuana operation in July 2010, and city planners drafted an ordinance, but the planning commission rejected it last week. The city is waiting for the state Supreme Court to rule on pending cases.

Montana

Last Wednesday, Tom Daubert agreed to a plea bargain on federal drug charges. Daubert, one of the state's most well-known medical marijuana advocates, will plead guilty to conspiracy to maintain drug involved premises. He was a co-owner of Montana Cannabis, one of the dozens of dispensaries and other medical marijuana businesses raided by the feds in March 2011. He helped draft the state's voter-approved medical marijuana initiative and is the founder of the group Patients and Families United. He's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state finally issued the first permit for a medical marijuana grow. The state Department of Health announced the permit for the Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair.The center will need a second permit before it can begin providing marijuana to patients, but since it will take three to four months for the first crop to be harvested, the state is confident it can issue that permit before harvest time.

On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Greenleaf's owner "should stop complaining" about delays in implementing the state's program, which was signed into law in January 2010, but has yet to see a single dispensary sell any medical marijuana to any patient. Christie blamed legislators and former Gov. Jon Corzine (D) for forcing him to delay the program in order to address what he called concerns about security.

Washington

Last Thursday, a judge denied a temporary restraining order to block Bellingham from shutting down two medical marijuana cooperatives raided by police last month. The Northern Cross and The Joint collectives had sought the order, but Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Steven Mura denied it, saying it would be an "empty order."

Washington, DC

Last Thursday, the city health department announced it given four applicants preliminary approval to run dispensaries in the nation's capital. Seventeen potential operators had applied, and the four selected had all scored enough points to seek approval from their advisory neighborhood commissions. The move to advance the dispensary licensing comes two weeks after officials gave the green light to six medical marijuana cultivation centers. Those businesses now are pursuing business licenses and other permits in order to get final approval to open and operate.

Washington State Supreme Court Limits Vehicle Searches

In an 8-1 decision last Thursday, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a search warrant to search a vehicle even if they believe it contains evidence of the crime for which the person was arrested. The decision in State v. Snapp overturns the convictions of two men in unrelated but consolidated cases where police stopped drivers and then found drugs in their vehicles while searching them.

The ruling also extends the Washington state constitution's Fourth Amendment privacy protections beyond those granted to other US citizens under the current interpretation of federal constitutional law. In 2009, the US Supreme Court ruled in Arizona v. Gant that such searches were permissible under the Fourth Amendment.

In Gant, the court held that police must obtain a search warrant to search a vehicle, but allowed two exceptions: a limited search for weapons for officer safety and if the officer reasonably believed the vehicle contained evidence of the crime for which the person had been arrested.

While the Washington Supreme Court ruling found that the officer safety exemption already exists under the state constitution, it held that searches of a vehicle for evidence of the crime for which the person was already arrested is not allowed under Article I, Section 7 of the state constitution, which enumerates protections against illegal search and seizure under state law.

The near-unanimous decision came over the protests of prosecutors, who complained that making officers get search warrants to search a vehicle after arrest will take up too much time and would have other, unspecified impacts on law enforcement.

"These delays will only multiply if a warrant is required for every stop at 2:00am on a Friday night in which the officer concludes it is reasonable to believe there is evidence of the crime of arrest in the vehicle," wrote James Whisman, a senior deputy prosecutor with the King County Prosecutor's Office. "Scores of such arrests occur in any given jurisdiction in any 24-hour period."

But as the high court noted, while "a warrantless search of an automobile is permissible under the search incident to arrest exception when that search is necessary to preserve officer safety or prevent destruction or concealment of evidence of the crime of arrest," it had already "rejected the idea that the existence of probable cause alone can justify a warrantless search of a vehicle. While probable cause is a necessary condition for obtaining a warrant, it does not itself justify a search. Contrary to the urgency attending the search incident to arrest to preserve officer safety and prevent destruction or concealment of evidence, there is no similar necessity associated with a warrantless search based upon either a reasonable belief or probable cause to believe that evidence of the crime of arrest is in the vehicle."

In its opinion, the court clearly held that the rights of Washingtonians to be free of warrantless searches trump the right of law enforcement not to be inconvenienced.

Washington is not the only state where state courts have found rights in the state constitution beyond what the US Supreme Court has found in the US Constitution. In Alaska, for one example, the state courts have upheld the right of adults to possess limited amounts of marijuana in their homes. In Pennsylvania, in another example, the state courts have used state law to strike down school drug testing programs that had been okayed under federal Supreme Court jurisprudence.

Olympia, WA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

More DEA raids in California, more threat letters in Colorado, plus action from the statehouse to the courthouse. Just another week in medical marijuana politics.

Arkansas

Signature gathering is underway for a proposed medical marijuana initiative sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care. The initiative would allow patients with serious or debilitating medical conditions to use and possess marijuana and to purchase it from state-regulated, nonprofit dispensaries. Patients could grow their own if they live more than five miles from a dispensary. The campaign needs to gather 65,000 valid voter signatures by July to make the November ballot.

California

Last Tuesday, the Richmond city council voted to double the number of dispensaries in the city. The council approved an ordinance allowing up to six dispensaries, or one for every 17,000 residents. Oakland, by contrast, only allows one for every 50,000 residents. Right now, though, even the three dispensaries already permitted haven't opened.

Last Wednesday, the LAPD raided the Nature's Answer dispensary in Reseda, seizing 50 pounds of pot and $17,000 in cash. Owner Annie Bishop was arrested for possession for sales of marijuana. They also raided her home in Van Nuys. LAPD is taking the position that medical marijuana sales are illegal.

Last Thursday, DEA and local police raided a Temecula dispensary, the Co-Op Social Club. The raid came just days after the DEA raided another Riverside County dispensary, the Greenhouse Cannabis Club in Murrieta. That same day, the DEA raided a Lake Elsinore medical marijuana grow-op, the Consolidated Container Nursery as part of the same investigation.

That same day, two men struck a plea bargain over their role in the North Bay Dispensary in Newark. The dispensary was raided by the DEA last year, but the pair copped to state charges and received jail sentences of one and five days, which they already served after being arrested. Charges against three dispensary employees were dropped. Meanwhile, a civil dispute between the NBD Collective and the city of Newark, which started almost as soon as the club opened in 2009, is still ongoing.

Also last Thursday, the UFCW announced it was unionizing Los Angeles dispensary workers. "This is the next step in professionalizing and stabilizing this new sector of the health care industry," said Local 770 president Rick Icaza in a press release. "Unionization and collective bargaining bring better training, less turnover, and more stability to the health care industry. This is a positive step towards successfully integrating compassionate care into our system of health care."

Last Friday, signature gathering began for an Imperial Beach initiative, the Safe Access Ordinance, which would overturn the city's current ban on dispensaries and replace it with zoning and other regulations for dispensing collectives and cooperatives wishing to operate in the city. The move comes after more than two years of tussles with the city, which has adopted an outright ban on dispensaries. The initiative is a joint effort of Canvass for a Cause, Americans for Safe Access, and concerned citizens in Imperial Beach. Organizers need 1,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot and hope to collect 2,000.

On Sunday, California NORML reported that Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose) had introduced a bill, Assembly Bill 2465, which would require all medical marijuana patients to register with the state. The bill is sponsored by the Police Officers' Research Association of California, which wants to make it easier for police to distinguish between illegal and legal marijuana users. California NORML strongly opposes the bill, saying it infringes on patients' right under Prop 215 to legally possess and cultivate marijuana given a physician's written OR oral recommendation.

On Tuesday, the Redding city council vote not to appeal a judge's ruling that rejected the city's request for a preliminary injunction on medical marijuana storefront collectives. That means dispensaries can continue to operate in the Shasta County community. Redding's elected officials have said they were surprised and confused by Shasta County Superior Court Judge Stephen Baker's decision, handed down late last Wednesday.

Also on Tuesday, the Daly City city council voted to ban dispensaries, with Councilman David Canepa saying he'd allow the clubs over his "dead body." Council members cited a report from Police Chief Manuel Martinez that noted the city has a problem with illegal indoor pot grows.

Also on Tuesday, a Santa Monica marijuana testing facility filed a lawsuit against the city to force it to give it a business license, which it has so far refused to do. Golden State Collective, the testing firm, applied for a business license in December, but was turned down even though it is not a dispensary. The facility opened this month, but closed again after being informed it could be fined.

Colorado

Last Friday, US Attorney John Walsh sent threat letters to 25 more dispensaries. In January, he sent out 23 threat letters, forcing those dispensaries to close. The latest targets have 45 days to close or face the seizure of their property. And there will be more to come, Walsh's office said.

Michigan

Last weekend, the second annual Detroit Medical Marijuana Expo took place, drawing more than 130 vendors and large crowds.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to decide a key issue in conflicts over the state's medical marijuana law: whether patients can sell marijuana to other patients. The case involves the Compassionate Apothecary in Mt. Pleasant, which was targeted by prosecutors in 2010. A lower court found that sales were permitted, but an appeals court disagreed, leading to the closing of the dispensary and many others around the state after the ruling.

Montana

Last Friday, medical marijuana providers targeted by the DEA in raids last year said they would appeal a federal district court ruling dismissing their challenge to those raids. More than a dozen providers, as well as the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, challenged the legality of the federal enforcement operations, but suffered a defeat in January, when US District Judge Donald Molloy, citing the 2005 Raich decision by the US Supreme Court, ruled that state law does not shield providers from federal prosecution. Their appeal goes to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

On Tuesday, another medical marijuana provider pleaded guilty in federal court to charges stemming from the DEA raids of March 2011. Christopher Ryan Durbin of Whitefish operated several medical marijuana businesses, including Good Medicine Providers and a pair of large warehouse grows. DEA agents made undercover buys at Good Medicine and seized more than 1,000 plants at the warehouses. Durbin copped to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana and structuring bank deposits to avoid IRS reporting requirements. He faces sentencing on June 29.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, sponsors of a medical marijuana bill held a press conference to try to drum up a veto-proof Senate majority for the bill. State Sen. Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford) and state Rep. Evalyn Merrick (D-Lancaster) worry that Gov. John Lynch will veto the bill because of his historical opposition to such measures.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill on a 13-11 vote. That's not enough to overcome a threatened veto, but the bill still has to go through the House, and that gives supporters time to try to pick up the handful of Senate votes they will need.

New Jersey

Last Friday, one of the nonprofit groups trying to set up a dispensary said it is giving up. The Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair is further along in the process than any of the other groups, but CEO Joe Stevens said he was put off by repeated delays and that he has no faith in state officials anymore. The state's law was passed more than two years ago, but none of the six dispensaries allowed by the law have opened, due to delays by the Christie administration and NIMBYism in local communities.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, lawmakers were set to consider compromise dispensary legislation, House Bill 7888, that would allow the three state-designated outlets to open. Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) blocked them last year after the state's US Attorney warned they could be prosecuted under federal law. The compromise would limit the amount of marijuana dispensaries could have, but that had advocates worried limits too low would make them economically unviable. Also getting a hearing Wednesday, are a pair of bills sponsored by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, Senate Bill 2783 and its companion, House Bill 7960, that would impose various restrictions on the state program. Some medical marijuana proponents are cosponsoring the bills in a bid to get a say in their final forms. As of late Wednesday evening, there were no reports back from Providence.

Tennessee

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill advanced in the House. A House Health subcommittee approved House Bill 294 on a voice vote. It now goes before the whole House Health Committee. The bill would allow patients with specified diseases or conditions to use medical marijuana and would set up a state-regulated and -licensed distribution system. Its companion measure, SB 251, remains stuck in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

Washington

Last Friday, city of Issaquah planners approved a permit for the GreenLink Collective to open for business. The facility will process and deliver medical marijuana to qualified patients, offer classes and information, and sell supplies for people to produce and consume marijuana under a framework established by state law. GreenLink does not intend to grow marijuana in the space. State law allows up to 10 qualifying patients to join together and form a collective garden of up to 45 plants, so long as the marijuana is not visible from public spaces. GreenLink operators must also install a security system and cameras onsite. The collective first opened in 2010, but city officials refused to give it a business license, then, in June 2011, the city council imposed a moratorium on collective gardens. The council adopted new rules governing collectives in December, and now GreenLink has its permit.

Washington, DC

On Friday, DC is set to announce who will get the five marijuana cultivation permits for the city's long-awaited medical marijuana dispensaries. The city has authorized up to ten sites, but only five will be announced Friday.

West Virginia

Last Wednesday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced that a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 4498 had been denied a hearing in the House Health and Human Resources Committee. The bill's sponsor, Del. Mike Manypenny (D-Grafton) will attempt to keep the issue alive by offering a resolution, HCR 144, calling for the legislature to study medical marijuana more thoroughly.

Supreme Court to Decide Second Florida Drug Dog Case

The US Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether it is necessary to provide detailed documentation of drug dog's reliability to prove that the dog is effective at finding drugs. The high court accepted a case on appeal from the state of Florida.

The Florida Supreme Court threw out evidence derived from a drug dog search, holding that police and prosecutors had not provided sufficient evidence of a drug dog's reliability and thus had not provided probable cause to undertake the search.

The case in question, Harris v. Florida, began with a pair of drug dog sniffs of a vehicle being driven by Clayton Harris in Liberty County, between Panama City and Tallahassee in 2006. In the first search, the drug dog alerted and police found pseudoephedrine and other meth-making materials. In the second sniff, the drug dog alerted, but no drugs were found.

As is common practice in Florida and many other states, at trial, prosecutors merely presented evidence that the dog and been trained and certified at drug detection. But on hearing Harris's appeal, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that wasn't good enough.

"Like the informant whose information forms the basis for probable cause, where the dog's alert is the linchpin of the probable cause analysis, such as in this case, the reliability of the dog to alert to illegal substances within the vehicle is crucial to determining whether probable cause exists," the court held. "We conclude that when a dog alerts, the fact that the dog has been trained and certified is simply not enough to establish probable cause to search the interior of the vehicle and the person."

The state's presentation of evidence that the dog is properly trained is just the beginning -- not the end -- of whether probable cause has been shown, the court said.

"Because there is no uniform standard for training and certification of drug-detection dogs, the State must explain the training and certification so that the trial court can evaluate how well the dog is trained and whether the dog falsely alerts in training (and, if so, the percentage of false alerts)," the court held in Harris.

"Further, the State should keep and present records of the dog's performance in the field, including the dog's successes (alerts where contraband that the dog was trained to detect was found) and failures ("unverified" alerts where no contraband that the dog was trained to detect was found). The State then has the opportunity to present evidence explaining the significance of any unverified alerts, as well as the dog's ability to detect or distinguish residual odors. Finally, the State must present evidence of the experience and training of the officer handling the dog. Under a totality of the circumstances analysis, the court can then consider all of the presented evidence and evaluate the dog’s reliability."

The US Supreme Court decision will be awaited with great interest by law enforcement, which has found drug dogs a very useful tool in going after drug offenders, especially since the Supreme Court has earlier ruled that a drug dog sniff is not a "search" under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The National Police Canine Association has filed a friend of the court brief in the case.

This is the second Florida drug dog case the high court will examine this year. In January, it said it would decide whether a drug dog sniff of the front door of a residence violates the Fourth Amendment. While it has okayed drug dog sniffs at traffic stops, at airport luggage inspections, and for shipped packages in transit, it has repeatedly emphasized that a residence is entitled to greater privacy than cars on a highway.

That case should have oral arguments next month and a decision in September. It is not yet clear when Harris v. Florida will be heard.

Washington, DC
United States

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