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Massachusetts Drug Lab Review Getting Special Court Sessions

Court administrators in Massachusetts are scrambling to set up special court sessions to address the cases of more than a thousand people imprisoned after being convicted of drug crimes based on lab evidence submitted by Annie Dookhan, the now disgraced former state crime lab analyst. Dookhan herself was arrested last Friday for her fraudulent work at the lab, as the scandal continues to reverberate across the state's criminal justice system.

According to State Police reports obtained by the Boston Globe, Dookhan has admitted not performing proper lab tests on drug samples for "two or three years," forging colleagues' signatures, and improperly removing evidence from storage. Citing the same reports, the Boston Herald reported that Dookhan had admitted to "intentionally turning a negative sample into a positive a few times" and to "dry-labbing" samples, where she classified samples as drugs without actually testing them.

"I messed up bad, it's my fault," Dookhan told police, explaining that "she did what she did in order to get more work done."

Dookhan's misconduct, which first came to light in June 2011, has already shaken the Dept. of Public Health, whose commissioner, John Auerbach, has resigned, as have two other managers at the Hinton Laboratories facility in Jamaica Plain where the lab was located. The crime lab was consolidated earlier this year into the Dept. of Public Safety as part of a budgetary move.

The incident has also raised the question of systemic issues affecting the crime lab. In internal emails leaked to the Globe, laboratory staff went on record as far back as 2008 describing "the situation in the evidence office [as] past the breaking point." That was before some of the now former management at Hinton took those positions, though not before Dookhan. The Globe article describes "a staff drowning in work, instances of misplaced evidence in crime cases, and mounting frustrations over the Patrick administration’s seeming indifference."

Attorney General Martha Coakley and the State Police charge that Dookhan's mishandling of drug evidence is a crime under the state's broadly written witness intimidation law. She is also charged with falsifying academic credentials for claiming a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, a degree which the school said it never issued.

Dookhan tested some 60,000 drug samples in 34,000 criminal cases during her nine years at the now shuttered lab. Some 1,141 people are currently serving drug sentences in state prisons or county jails in cases where she had a hand in testing the drug evidence. It is not known how many of those cases have been tainted by Dookhan's actions.

Now, the state court system is beginning to deal with the fallout. Twenty defendants jailed pending trial have already been released, and hearings will begin in mid-October to hear motions to put the sentences of already-convicted inmates on hold and to request bail.

One defense attorney, Bernard Grossberg, who has already seen one client's sentence put on hold because Dookhan was involved in his case, told the Associated Press that judges hearing the cases in the special sessions would need to hear little more than that Dookhan was involved in the testing.

"My feeling is as soon as they call the case, if Dookhan's name is on the drug certificate, nothing further needs to be asked and the sentence should be put on hold immediately," Grossberg said. "Later on, you can figure out motions to withdraw guilty pleas or upset convictions."

The cases of the people currently serving time after conviction where Dookhan was involved are only the beginning. Gov. Patrick Deval (D) has said he wants to deal with them first, then the cases of people who have already done their time and those currently awaiting trial.

Boston, MA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Los Angeles dispensaries got a reprieve last week -- or did they? The busts there continue, despite the ban on the ban. And there's more news from around the state and the country as well. Let's get to it:

National

Americans for Safe Access is calling for demonstrations in support of medical marijuana access
in front of local Obama campaign headquarters across the country on September 20. The move comes in the face of federal crackdowns and seeks to remind President Obama of the campaign promises he made to the community in 2008.

Arkansas

Last Friday, opponents of the medical marijuana initiative filed suit to block it. The conservative Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values filed the lawsuit in the state Supreme Court. The suit argues that the measure's ballot title, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, is misleading and that the act itself is hard to understand. Arkansas initiative experts said the lawsuit didn't have much chance of succeeding.

California

Last Wednesday, Harborside's San Jose landlord sought a court order to shut it down. Concourse Business Center asked a district court to order the state's largest dispensary to quit growing, possessing, and selling marijuana on its property. The move comes after federal prosecutors sent a threat letter to Concourse, as well as to Harborside and its other landlords. Concourse said it had given Harborside 30 days notice to vacate, that negotiations had taken place to no avail, and that Harborside continued to conduct business there.

Also last Wednesday, the GDP Collective in Richmond announced it had reopened. The dispensary was shut down by the city of Richmond when it purged all dispensaries in 2010. But the city council has since changed its mind and decided earlier this year to permit and tax up to six dispensaries. Another one, Green Remedy, has already opened.

Last Thursday, the ban on LA dispensaries was halted before it went into effect. The ban was blocked after advocates of repeal handed in enough signatures to put the issue to the voters. The ban on the ban will remain in effect until the voters decide. Or the city council could decide within 30 days to repeal the ban. 

Also last Thursday, LAPD announced it had raided The Loft Co-op in Woodland Hills. They seized $1,000 in cash and 10 pounds of marijuana and arrested two employees for possession for sales of marijuana. Police said that despite its name, it was acting as an illegal dispensary, not a co-op.

On Monday, San Diego's only licensed dispensary announced it was closing. The Mother Earth Alternative Healing Co-operative is closing after receiving a threat letter from US Attorney Laura Duffy. The closure of Mother Earth means there are no licensed medical marijuana facilities in the county. That leaves an estimated 70,000 patients without a regulated supplier.

On Tuesday, LA city councilman Jose Huizar said the city would continue to bust dispensaries even though the council's ban set to go into effect Friday is now on hold. He said any sales are illegal under state law, and the city would enforce that law.

Oregon

Last Thursday, Lane County police raided the Kannabosm dispensary in Eugene and several related properties. The owner, Curtis Dean Shimmin, faces felony charges around illegal marijuana sales and money laundering, police said. Police seized 105 plants and pounds of marijuana in what Shimmin said was "a clearly illegal" raid.

Medical Marijuana Update

The battle of Los Angeles continues, Arizona prosecutors don't like their medical marijuana law, and a bill is pre-filed in Kentucky. There's also lots more going on. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, state and county prosecutors challenged the medical marijuana program in court. Attorney General Tom Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery asked a court hearing a dispensary application case to rule that the voter-approved law is illegal because it conflicts with federal drug laws. The Republican prosecutors are specifically targeting the dispensary provisions of the law, but argued in court that all aspects of the state law violate federal drug laws. In the case at hand, a would-be Maricopa County dispensary is suing the county because officials wouldn't provide zoning clearances required under the law. The officials had been advised by Montgomery that county employees could face prosecution for aiding and abetting drug crimes.

Arkansas

As predicted last week, Arkansas state officials announced that a medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the ballot. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act would allow patients suffering from specified diseases or medical conditions to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. It envisions a system of state-licensed nonprofit dispensaries, and would allow patients or their caregivers to grow their own only if they are not within five miles of a dispensary. In that case, patients could grow up to six flowering plants. Patients could possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana.

California

Last Wednesday, Los Angeles asked the DEA to help it shut down dispensaries. The request came from Councilman Bernard Parks, who filed a successful motion with the council. Parks is a former LA police chief. The council recently voted to close down all dispensaries in the city, although that is likely not the end of the affair (see below).

Also last Wednesday, a judge in Riverside ruled that the city can't ban a dispensary. Riverside County Superior Court Judge John Vineyard dissolved an injunction to shut down a dispensary in the city, agreeing that current law makes local government closures of the clinics unconstitutional. The decision affects The Closet Patient Care dispensary on Elizabeth Street in Riverside, but could be a precedent for other cases in the city. The city immediately said it would appeal the ruling.

Also last Wednesday, a Costa Mesa collective filed suit against the city over its ban on dispensaries. The Green Health Association argues that the city cannot legally ban nonprofit collectives and says it is operating with the state attorney general's guidelines. 

Also last Wednesday, the city of Chowchilla banned public medical marijuana use. It passed an ordinance limiting smoking or any other type of medical marijuana consumption to inside a private residence and requiring all cultivation to take place in an enclosed, locked area.

Also last Wednesday, the California Supreme Court dismissed Pack vs. Long Beach, a case that could have decided whether cities can lawfully regulate medical marijuana. The court held the case was moot after the attorney for the petitioners abandoned his original argument that Long Beach's short-lived rules to allow and regulate medical marijuana violated federal law. The state Supreme Court is still considering several other cases that will determine the power of cities to ban collectives or dispensaries.

On Tuesday, word spread that the Berkeley Patients Group would reopen in a new location. The iconic dispensary had been forced to close in May after federal prosecutors threatened its landlord with seizure of his property. The new location is just four blocks from its original location on San Pablo Avenue. No opening date has been set at the new site and officials from Berkeley Patients Group refused to go on record about their plans.

Also on Tuesday, Butte County's effort to ban outdoor grows hit a bump in the road. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey surprised supervisors by announcing the ordinance was unconstitutional as written. The ordinance envisioned charging violators with a misdemeanor, but the prosecutor said that was the domain of state law, not county ordinances. Now, it's back to the drawing board for the supervisors.

Also on Tuesday, the Wheatland city council banned dispensaries within the city limits. It passed two ordinances, one banning dispensaries and the other barring outdoor grows within the city limits and setting conditions on indoor ones.

On Wednesday, activists in Los Angeles turned in more than 50,000 signatures on petitions seeking a referendum to overturn the city council's recently-passed ban on dispensaries. The city now has 30 days to either rescind the ban or to call a special election to let the voters decide. That could come in March or May.

Kentucky


On Monday, state Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) pre-filed a medical marijuana bill for the 2013 session. He said he wanted to get a head start on building support in the legislature.

Montana

On Tuesday, the co-founder of Montana Cannabis agreed to plead guilty to a federal drug charge related to 2011 raids on dispensaries across the state. Chris Lindsay faces up to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to operate a drug-involved premises. Lindsay said he copped to the plea agreement to avoid other pending charges and because earlier court rulings made it clear he would not be able to testify about his belief that Montana Cannabis was in compliance with the state’s law. Lindsay is also the public face of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which has filed a lawsuit to block portions of the law rewritten by the Republican legislature and which is backing a referendum asking voters to repeal the law. That referendum will be on the November ballot.

Oregon

On Sunday, activists said they would try to get PTSD added to the medical marijuana list of qualifying conditions. Two previous efforts have failed. This time, the push is being led by veteran's groups. Oregon is home to some 300,000 veterans.

Washington

Last Thursday, the DEA sent threat letters to 23 dispensaries operating near schools. In the letters to the dispensaries, DEA Special Agent-In-Charge Matthew Barnes contended the dispensaries could face the seizure and forfeiture of assets, as well as criminal prosecution. The letter informs dispensary operators and property owners to cease the sale and distribution of marijuana within 30 days.

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds strike again in California, this time in Orange County, and meanwhile, the battle over the LA dispensary ban heats up. There's plenty more news, too. Let's get to it:

California

Since mid-August, signature gatherers have been hitting the streets in Los Angeles in an effort to collect 27,400 voter signatures to put on the ballot a referendum to repeal the recent ban on dispensaries. They have about 10 more days to go, and if they succeed, the referendum would go before voters in March. The more immediate effect would be a temporary suspension of the ordinance. Dispensaries in the city have until September 6 until they are supposed to shut down.

Last Wednesday, San Francisco Mission District property owners asked the feds to shut down a dispensary that hasn't even opened yet. Those owners of "white linen" restaurants and family-oriented businesses have asked the Justice Department to close down the Morado Collective, even though the Planning Commission approved the dispensary's permit at a hearing the same day. The Mission Miracle Mile Business Improvement District had its president, local realtor James Nunemacher, write a letter to US Attorney Melinda Haag urging her to shut it down because it "is incompatible with the family shopping that predominates the immediate area in the daytime and the dining/entertainment venues that are active in the evening." The gentrifiers have spoken.

Last Thursday, patients and supporters filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the LA ban. The Patient Care Association and 11 individual patients are seeking an injunction to block the city from implementing the ban. They argue that California law preempts the city's ban, that it violates dispensary owners' rights to due process, and that it violates their right to freely assemble and associate to cultivate medical marijuana.

Also last Thursday, Butte County staff released a draft of the proposed new medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. It would ban outdoor cultivation and set limits on the amounts that could be grown indoors based on the size of the parcel. On lots of an acre or less, the grow area could not exceed 50 square-feet. On lots one to five acres, the allowable grow area is 150 square-feet. There is no size limit on lots five acres or larger, but a maximum of 99 plants could be grown. The ordinance includes limits on how powerful indoor grow lights can be and requires a ventilation and filtering system that doesn't allow the smell of the pot outside the building. It also bans growing within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, child care centers, and other youth-oriented facilities.

Last Friday, a Lake County judge granted a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the county's recently adopted interim cultivation ordinance. The injunction is good until January 1. It allows all qualified people and collectives growing marijuana in conformity with state law at the time the county adopted its interim medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. Four people sued the county after the Board of Supervisors adopted the ordinance on July 9. It limited the number of marijuana plants allowed for outdoor cultivation and banned commercial growing as well as growing on vacant lands. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to extend the interim ordinance for another 45 days anyway.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors targeted more than 60 dispensaries in Orange County for closure by filing three asset forfeiture lawsuits and sending threat letters to the dispensaries. That brings the number of dispensaries targeted for closure in the Central District of California to more than 300. In all, 66 warning letters were sent to marijuana dispensaries in Anaheim and La Habra. Some have closed recently, but federal authorities said 38 remain open. As part of the offensive, DEA agents raided two Anaheim dispensaries.

Colorado

Last Friday, a state court held that federal law trumps the state's medical marijuana law. The ruling came in a case pitting a grower against a dispensary. The grower sought payment for marijuana that had already been delivered, but Arapahoe County District Judge Charles Pratt ruled for the dispensary. In his opinion, he held that since all marijuana sales are illegal under federal law, the contract between the grower and the dispensary was null and void. Later in the same ruling, Pratt wrote that "any state authorization to engage in the manufacture, distribution or possession of marijuana creates an obstacle to full execution of federal law. Therefore, Colorado's marijuana laws are preempted by federal marijuana law." Because the ruling is by a district court judge, it is not binding, but it has the medical marijuana community concerned.

On Monday, the Denver City Council approved a ban on all outdoor advertising for dispensaries. The vote came after a public hearing last week where medical marijuana advocates were split over the issue and council members voiced strong support for it. The council killed an alternate, more limited plan that would have blocked outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of schools, day care facilities, and parks. Dispensaries can still advertise on their buildings and can still place ads in newspapers, magazines, or online, and they can display their logos at charity events they sponsor. The city had been inundated with dispensary flyers and young men twirling large cardboard arrows advertising "Eighths for $25" and the like.

Maine

Last Monday, state officials held a public hearing on proposed new cultivation rules. The rules will impose restrictions on where and under what conditions patients or caregivers can grow their own medicine. Patients, dispensary operators, growers, and advocates objected to various portions of the proposed rules. The last day for public comment was Wednesday.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the agency overseeing the state's medical marijuana program said it could be up and running by this fall. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said its review panel for adding new qualifying medical conditions is just about set, but patient advocates are skeptical, saying the agency is at least two years behind on making recommendations on requests to add new conditions.

Washington

Last Friday, the state Department of Revenue began doing audits of dispensaries, escalating a battle over whether they should be collecting tax revenues for the state. The department has told dispensaries since 2010 that they must remit sale taxes on their transactions, and 50 dispensaries have registered with the department to do so. But the department believes there are other dispensaries out there that haven't registered, and now it's going after them. Some dispensary operators and defense attorneys argue that by paying state taxes, dispensaries are incriminating themselves in the federal crime of marijuana sales.

Over the weekend, medical marijuana advocates may have skirted state election laws at Hempfest by handing out fliers against the I-502 legalization initiative. Dozens of medical marijuana businesses used Hempfest to lobby against I-502, but one of them may have violated election laws by handing out anti-I-502 posters that failed to say who had paid for them.

On Tuesday, the owners of two dispensaries pleaded guilty to federal marijuana trafficking charges. Brionne Keith Corbray, owner and operator of three GAME Collectives in White Center, Northeast Seattle, and West Seattle, copped to conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Craig Dieffenbach and Jing Jing Mu, owners of the Seattle Cannabis Cooperative, copped to conspiracy to distribute and money-laundering charges. All admitted in their plea agreements to selling marijuana to people who were not patients. Conspiracy to distribute marijuana is punishable by up to 40 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Conspiracy to launder money is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

No Warrant Needed for Illinois Drug Audio Recordings [FEATURE]

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

No warrant needed for listening in on drug suspects (wikimedia.org)
In Illinois, the war on drugs has delivered yet another blow to citizens' privacy rights. In the Land of Lincoln, it is illegal for citizens to record or videotape Illinois police in public, yet the Illinois legislature last month gave police the right to engage in those very same activities -- without a warrant -- during drug investigations.

On July 24, citing police safety and the need for quicker drug arrests, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed into law House Bill 4081, which exempts police doing drug investigations from the provisions of the state's eavesdropping law. It also allows them to audio or videotape drug suspects without having to get a warrant.

Under the bill, sponsored by state Reps. Jehan Gordon (D-Peoria) and William Haine (D-Alton), the normal requirement of a warrant based on probable cause is replaced by the lower and constitutionally-suspect requirement of only reasonable cause. In a further victory for the imperatives of the drug law enforcement, police will be able to bypass judicial scrutiny of their need to record someone and instead will merely have to obtain prior approval from a prosecutor to listen in on suspected drug conversations.

"The world of illicit drugs moves very quickly," explained Terry Lemming, an Illinois State Police commander, during a May hearing on the bill. "It's very difficult to find a judge in the middle of the night. I didn't see the sense in spending all these hours drafting a court order when I could have already gone out and arrested a guy selling on the corner -- and that's the feeling of many narcotic officers."

Riverside, Illinois, Police Chief Tom Weitzel told the Chronicle the new law was desperately needed. Weitzel is a member of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, who, along with his comrades, fought for 14 years to get the law passed.

"The law is critical to undercover narcotic officers for several reasons," he wrote in an email. "First, it's an officer safety issue because many times backup teams are blocks away when drug transactions either take place in cars, within homes or apartments, or just on the streets."

Weitzel even went as far as to say the law would benefit defendants, too.

"The legislation will help secure better evidence for prosecutors and protect suspects from police misconduct, including the fact the same audio recordings made by police can be used by defendants who claim entrapment," he argued.

But while the bill is now law, not everyone is happy about it. Rumblings of discontent have been heard from civil rights advocates, legal experts, and opposing lawmakers.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) argued during hearings on the bill that if judicial responsiveness is a problem for police, then the fix would be to make judges more available for warrant requests -- not to take them out of the loop.

"I'm struggling with taking away where you'd go to get a judge's approval to have a wiretap," he said.

Under the new law, judges are not completely frozen out of the process, but their role is limited to determining whether evidence gained from a wiretap can be admitted at trial.

"I understand the desire to enhance law enforcement tools to deal with crime, and I am certainly on the side of law enforcement, but it's a very slippery slope we go down when we start removing safeguards that has historically exist to make sure certain tools not be used inappropriately," state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) told the Chicago Tribune.

State Sen. Michael Nolan (D-Elgin) also weighed in on the matter. Nolan's dissatisfaction with the bill is the fact the new law deals with reasonable cause as the standard for having private conversations recorded, as opposed to probable cause, which is the standard bearer for the integrity of the law.

"This legislation does not base that determination of admissibility on 'probable cause,'" he said. "This is basically upending the Fourth Amendment."

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ed-yohnka-200px.jpg
ACLU of Illinois' Ed Yohnka
The ACLU of Illinois had a similar reading. Its spokesman, director of communications and public policy Ed Yohnka, told the Chronicle the new law was not only constitutionally suspect but also unnecessary.

"In all the years that Illinois law enforcement worked for this change, they never been able to point to a particular need for this new power. In many years, we have seen drug related arrests in Illinois rise over a yearly period without this new authority -- which begs the question: is this power really necessary?" he asked.

"The legislature should have left things alone because judges act as a neutral third party and they can already act fast enough," Yohnka continued. "Our personal conversations are the most intimate we have and government should make certain it is necessary to intrude before engaging in eavesdropping."

For Yohnka, the new law doesn't pass the smell test. He noted that current law already allows police to wiretap or do audio recording in an emergency and suggested the real intent is to allow police to more easily listen in on targets not directly involved with drug trafficking, targets merely associated with a prime suspect.

"The current law permits an officer to conduct warrantless wiretapping or audio-recording if police or citizens were in imminent danger," Yohnka said. "The creation of this new authority suggests this is not about protecting police officers."

What makes the new law all the more galling to some is that police, who can now wiretap drug suspects without a warrant, have a habit of arresting members of the public who do the same thing to them. Under current Illinois eavesdropping law, citizens have the right to video a police officer making a public arrest, but a person cannot record an audio of police without permission.

That law is now under review by the state's appellate courts in a case arising from the 2009 arrest of self-employed artist Christopher Drew. When police arrested him for selling art on the street without a proper permit, they discovered him recording the encounter. They then charged him with felony eavesdropping for recording them without their permission.

Drew went public and fought to have the law declared illegal and earlier this year he won a partial victory when Circuit Court Judge Stanley Sacks declared it unconstitutional. Sacks ruled that the law criminalized innocent conduct and violated due process. But state prosecutors appealed the ruling and vowed to keep it on the books.

One standard for police, another for citizens. Police can record private conversations without a warrant, but citizens face years in prison if they record police in the line of duty -- at least until the Illinois courts definitively rule that portion of the eavesdropping law unconstitutional. Meanwhile, look for legal challenges to the new law allowing police to bypass judges and the warrant process in their never-ending war on drugs.

IL
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The end of dispensaries in LA looms, more federal threat letters in Colorado, and a medical marijuana initiative in North Dakota!? That's just some of the news. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and eight initial cosponsors introduced HR 6335, the States' Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act, in an attempt to stop the seizure of property from landlords of state law-compliant medical marijuana businesses. The bill would prohibit the federal government from using the civil asset forfeiture statue to go after real property owners if their tenants are in compliance with state medical marijuana law. The bill is a response to the use of threat of asset forfeiture by US Attorneys in California in their campaign to shut down dispensaries, including the state's largest dispensary, Harborside, last month.

Arizona

On Monday, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said the state should not authorize dispensaries because they could violate federal law. His advice came in the form of an official opinion crafted by lawyers in Horne's office, following requests for the opinion by law enforcement officials. He also wrote that he expected the courts to settle the matter and that he would not seek to block Tuesday's lottery for dispensary applicants.

On Tuesday, state officials conducted the lottery, awarding applicants in 68 dispensary districts preliminary approval to move forward with the permitting process. More than 400 applications had come in for those districts. In another 29 districts, there was only one applicant. State officials say some dispensaries could open within weeks if they are already well along in their planning processes.

California

Last Wednesday, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed the ordinance banning dispensaries. The measure, approved by the City Council a week earlier on a 14-0 vote, will take effect within 30 days. The so-called "gentle ban" will still allow patients and caregivers to grow their own, but is designed to eliminate the estimated 500 dispensaries in the city. Organizers from the UFCW Local 77 were already discussing plans for a referendum asking voters to allow some dispensaries.

Also last Wednesday, LAPD raided a Woodland Hills dispensary and an associated private residence, seizing 50 pounds of marijuana and arresting one person. The dispensary was West Valley Caregivers on Ventura Boulevard. Police said to report that they were working their way east on Ventura "so hopefully some of these will shut down without us having to do all this work."

Last Thursday, Lake County officials are using nuisance abatement procedures adopted a month ago under an interim urgency ordinance to shut down large grows in the county. As of last Thursday, 19 grows had been shut down, 2,000 plants removed, and seven people arrested. The enforcement actions come as a local judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping them from being inflicted on the four plaintiffs in the case, but only them.

Last Friday, a Riverside County judge ruled that the county cannot ban dispensaries in unincorporated areas. Judge Ronald L. Taylor said the county's outright ban on dispensaries leaves no room for dispensaries to operate legally under state law. A county attorney vowed to appeal.

Also last Friday, the Tax Court ruled a dispensary operator could not deduct business expenses. The ruling came after the IRS went after Martin Olive, owner of the Vapor Room Herbal Center in San Francisco, which was forced out of business at the end of July after its landlord received letters threatening asset forfeiture from US Attorney Melinda Haag. The federal tax code precludes a deduction of any amount for a trade or business where the "trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances… which is prohibited by federal law." Olive argued unsuccessfully that the provision did not apply because his business was not the illegal trafficking of a controlled substance, but was operating legally under state law.

Colorado

Last Friday, US Attorney John Walsh sent threat letters to 10 more dispensaries. This is the third batch of letters containing threats of prosecution or asset forfeiture directed at dispensaries. The first two rounds led to the closing of 47 of them. The letter said all of the targeted dispensaries were within 1,000 feet of schools. They have 45 days to shut down or face asset forfeiture actions.

Also last Friday, the DEA claimed medical marijuana is being diverted into illegal trafficking. It cited some 70 cases of Colorado medical marijuana ending up in 23 different states. Medical marijuana defenders responded that 70 cases wasn't that many, that the state's industry is tightly-regulated, and that there was marijuana in those states before Colorado had a medical marijuana program.

New Jersey

Patients in the Garden State will be able to register for medical marijuana cards beginning Thursday of this week, according to NBC New York. "It's the first time the department will be interacting directly with potential patients and their caregivers," state Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd told the Associated Press. Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair has begun to grow marijuana and will open its doors to patients in the fall.

North Dakota

On Monday, proponents of a statewide medical marijuana initiative handed in signatures. They need 13,500 valid signatures to make the November ballot. They handed in 20,000. State officials have about a month to validate signatures and see if the initiative made it.

Washington

On Tuesday, the state Health Department charged two naturopaths with unprofessional conduct for running "an assembly line" for medical marijuana approvals at last year's Hempfest. The pair, who were featured in a Seattle Times story last August, saw 216 potential patients and approved 214 of them after cursory exams. The charges are believed to be the first against any medical professional in the state over medical marijuana recommendations.

Medical Marijuana Update

What!? No DEA raids? Not this week, but the federal crackdown on dispensaries continues, and cities and localities in medical marijuana states continue to grapple with the issues around it. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Tuesday, 13 county attorneys urged Gov. Jan Brewer (R) to halt the state's medical marijuana program, citing fears that state employees could be charged with facilitating federal crimes when they issue licenses to dispensaries. They signed onto a letter authored by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who requests that the governor prevent the state's issuance of licenses for medical-marijuana dispensaries because the state program is preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act. Brewer responded two days later, saying she understands and shares the concerns of the prosecutors, but that she is bound to implement the law because voters approved it.

California

Last Tuesday, Sutter County supervisors rejected a proposed cultivation ordinance on a 3-2 vote. Supervisors said they had too many concerns about unintended consequences, including how it could be seen as the county giving tacit approval to marijuana growing. The ordinance would have limited outdoor grows to parcels at least 20 acres in size, with only 12 mature plants. Grows on fewer than 20 acres would have had to have been done indoors or in greenhouses.

Last Wednesday, the Solana Beach City Council voted to put a dispensary initiative on the November ballot. The initiative is similar to ones submitted by proponents in four other San Diego County cities -- Del Mar, Encinitas, Lemon Grove and La Mesa. Last week, Del Mar's council became the first of the four to agree to put the measure on the November ballot. It would create a set of regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries, including where they could locate and when they could be open. The operating hours would be limited to 8:00am to 10:00pm, and dispensaries couldn't locate within 600 feet of a school or a playground. If a prospective dispensary meets these restrictions, it could qualify for a city permit allowing it to open.

Last Thursday, a patient cooperative sued the city of Ventura after it was denied a business license to open a dispensary there. The Shangri La Care Cooperative filed a complaint in county superior court claiming the city has an "unwritten de facto ban on medical marijuana dispensaries" after the city denied its business license application last August, claiming "the request to open a medical marijuana dispensary does not appear to fall within any of the existing use types classified by the city’s zoning ordinance." But the location where Shangri La wants to open is zoned for medical and retail services. While the city says there is an administrative remedy -- applying for a conditional use permit -- Shangri La argues that it doesn't need a conditional use permit and that it doesn’t believe the city will grant one.

Last Friday, a Lake County judge indicated he would grant a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit challenging the county's marijuana cultivation urgency ordinance. Lake County Superior Court Judge David Herrick said the order would apply only to the plaintiffs in the case, which include Don Merrill and several other medical marijuana users identified as "Doe." Herrick will make a final determination on the order on August 15 after hearing additional arguments. The order would block the county from enforcing a 45-day urgency ordinance establishing regulations for marijuana growth, including where cultivation could occur and the number of plants allowed. That ordinance was passed July 9.

On Tuesday, San Diego activists hoaxed US Attorney Laura Duffy by issuing a statement purporting to be from her office in which she vowed to take her offensive against dispensaries to the next level by going after pharmacies. The fake news release used language similar to that used by Duffy in her campaign against dispensaries and fooled at least some local media outlets before the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access revealed themselves as the authors of the prank. Duffy was not amused and is looking to see if any federal laws were violated.

Also on Tuesday, Butte County supervisors moved closer to an outdoor growing ban. The supes voted 3-2 to direct county staff to draft an ordinance similar to one in Kings County, which bans all outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana. The only medical marijuana growth allowed under the Kings County ordinance is for personal use by qualified patients within a locked and fully enclosed structure. County staff is expected to deliver the ordinance to the Board of Supervisors by the end of the month. The supervisors rejected an ordinance that would have allowed growers to cultivate between six and 99 mature marijuana plants based on the size of their plots.

Also on Tuesday, two San Francisco dispensaries closed their doors after threats from the feds. The Vapor Room and HopeNet both announced they would cease operations in response to threatening letters sent to the business' landlords by the federal government. Since November, the Justice Department has sent out 600 letters across California threatening landlords who rent space to medical marijuana operations. During that period, nine San Francisco dispensaries clubs have shut their doors, leaving the city with the lowest number of dispensaries in years.

On Wednesday, activists held a funeral march for the Vapor Room and Hope Net.

Colorado

Last Thursday, state officials released the most recent medical marijuana registry statistics. As of the end of May, there were nearly 99,000 registered patients in the state. The number peaked in July 2011 at nearly 129,000, but then dropped to under 81,000 by November as the feds turned up the heat on dispensaries in the state. The number has been slowing climbing again since then.

Maine

Last Thursday, health officials proposed new rules for the state's medical marijuana program. One key change would make optional a state identification system designed to keep track of patients who are enrolled in the program. The proposed new guidelines would also prevent police from seizing marijuana belonging to a patient, caregiver or dispensary unless the amount of the drug is over the legal limit for those groups or the seizure is linked to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Michigan

On Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals ruled that no Michigan municipality can use the federal Controlled Substances Act as an excuse to enact local ordinances that outlaw medical marijuana cannabis patients and caregivers from exercising their rights which currently exist under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. After the law was passed, several Detroit suburbs, including Livonia, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Wyoming passed local ordinances barring patients from using medical marijuana in their communities and outlawing caregivers from operating within city boundaries. Now they've been told they can't do that. It's not clear whether they will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Washington

On Monday, three Wenatchee-area dispensaries announced they had shut their doors after federal prosecutors sent threat letters to their landlords. The letter sent by Eastern Washington US Attorney Michael Ormsby threatened to seize the properties and threatened to fine or imprison the landlords if they did not close the shops within a few weeks. Three dispensaries closed immediately; a fourth is expected to close shortly.

Also on Monday, four collective employees were allowed to go into diversion programs after they were charged with marijuana possession and delivery for selling to patients at the Cannabis Outreach Service in Lacey and The Healing Center in Olympia. All four stipulated to selling marijuana, but if they complete the one-year program and avoid any subsequent criminal law violations, all felony charges against them will be dropped. All were initially charged with more than 20 felonies related to the possession, manufacture and distribution of marijuana. The charges came after the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force raided five medical marijuana collectives in Olympia on Nov. 15, including Cannabis Outreach Services and The Healing Center, and made 17 arrests. According to court papers, narcotics detectives obtained medical marijuana authorizations in their undercover names and purchased marijuana from all five of the medical marijuana collectives. Defendants from the three other Thurston County medical marijuana collectives still face pending criminal charges.

On Tuesday, the Tacoma City Council approved a collective cultivation ordinance that allows collective grows with some restrictions. It sets up a framework to abate, fine or otherwise crack down on those gardens that draw complaints or noticeably run afoul of a list of new restrictions. Among the new rules, the gardens can't operate within 600 feet -- about one city block -- of a school, daycare, drug rehabilitation center, park, library, or youth center. They also can't use signs to advertise the sale of cannabis; can't operate in the open; and can't permit entry to anyone under 18. Gardens that emanate noticeable odors into a public place or that have patients smoking marijuana in public also would be subject to city enforcement. The ordinance is harder on dispensaries; it defines them as public nuisances.

Medical Marijuana Update

Harborside fights for its life, LA bans dispensaries, and Oregon transplant hospitals are lightening up on medical marijuana patients. Those are the big stories this week, but there's plenty more, too:

Arizona

Last Friday, Arizona public health officials refused to add several new disorders to the list of those that may be treated by medical marijuana. Patient advocates had petitioned to PTSD, anxiety, depression, and migraines to the list of approved illnesses and conditions, but state officials said there was not sufficient evidence to add them.

California

Last Tuesday, the Delmar City Council voted to put an initiative to legalize dispensaries on the November ballot. The city attorney said the initiative was so flawed it should be kept off the ballot, but the council said its hands were tied after supporters collected more than enough signatures to move it forward. The initiative is identical to proposals put forth in Solana Beach and Encinitas, along with the East San Diego County cities of Lemon Grove and La Mesa. Citizens for Patient Rights, a San Diego-based political committee working with the nonprofit Patient Care Association, collected 961 signatures in Del Mar, more than three times the 303 valid signatures that were needed to force an election. The city clerk's office said 554 signatures were deemed invalid. Under the proposal, dispensaries could not open within 600 feet of a school or playground and would have to be at least 1,000 feet from one another. Del Mar would collect a 2.5 percent tax on all marijuana sales, with the cash going into the general fund for day-to-day operations of the city. The city council action came the same day the US Attorney's Office in San Diego released a statement threatening city employees that they "are not immune from liability under the Controlled Substances Act." The feds have taken enforcement action against scores of dispensaries in San Diego and Imperial counties, and more than 200 have since closed.

Last Wednesday, Trinity County planners made their recommendations for regulating large grows in the county. Previous recommendations had relied on a permit system, but this time planners are recommending a mandatory registration scheme. Under the plan, growers who comply with 31 standards, register their operations and submit to inspection would be immune from county code enforcement actions. County planners moved away from the permit plan out of fears it could potentially place the county in conflict with federal law against controlled substances. The Planning Commission’s aggregate grow recommendations would limit collective marijuana farms to 30-acre parcels or greater with a resource or agricultural land use designation in the county’s general plan. More than 1,200 parcels of land in the county meet that criteria.Operations would also be subject to a 500-foot setback from any parcel boundary, or 500 feet from any neighboring residence if the grow is on a larger parcel. Garden size would be limited to a maximum of 99 plants in an area not to exceed 2,500 square feet whether it is indoors or outside.

Last Thursday, Harborside Health vowed to stay open and fight federal asset forfeiture claims. Harborside, the largest dispensary in the state has been hit with forfeiture claims against its building in Oakland and its location in San Jose. The federal government can seize property under current drug laws if the property is used in the distribution of a drug--in this case, federally illegal cannabis. "Harborside has nothing to hide, we have nothing to be ashamed of and we have no intention of closing our doors," said Harborside CEO Steve DeAngelo. "We shall continue to provide our patients with medicine. We will contest the [US Department of Justice] openly, in public and through all means at our disposal. We look forward to our day in court. We will never abandon our patients." State and local elected officials and US Rep. Barbara Lee (D) stood with him in support.

Also last Thursday, a Shasta County judge upheld the town of Anderson's ban on collectives and set a December trial date for the Green Heart Collective's lawsuit challenging the ban. The city has won a preliminary injunction halting sales of medical marijuana at the collective based on recent California court decisions.

Also last Thursday, Lake County authorities arrested two men for violating a disputed 10-day old emergency ordinance aimed at restricting medical marijuana grows. The two men were growing on unoccupied land, but the regulations adopted by the county prohibit grows on properties without residential structures. Three other growers at different sites who were also out of compliance with the new rules were given warnings. Those three growers each had in excess of 80 plants, while county rules stipulate a maximum of 48.

Also last Thursday, the Dunsmuir City Council approved an initiative for the November ballot that would loosen the city's growing rules. Petitions were circulated by Leslie Wilde, owner of Dunsmuir's sole dispensary, who started work on the initiative after the council passed a strict growing ordinance in August. The measure would remove canopy area limits for qualified patients, remove limits on qualified patients growing on any parcel, allow growers to cultivate on property other than where their homes area, and allow publicly-visible grows, grows in garages, grows in the city's historic district, and grows near youth-oriented activities. The current rules restrict or prohibit those activities.

On Monday, hundreds of protestors gathered in Oakland to greet President Obama and demand he rein in the federal crackdown on medical marijuana providers and the patients they serve. The march was preceded by a press conference featuring patients, Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee and his successor Dale Sky Jones, Harborside CEO Steve De Angelo, and Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate Judge Jim Gray, among others.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban all dispensaries. Under the ban, all of the 762 dispensaries registered in the city will be sent letters ordering them to shut down immediately. Those that don't comply may face legal action from the city. Medical marijuana activists erupted in jeers after the decision, and police officers were called into the council chambers to quell them. Some activists threatened to sue. Others vowed to draft a ballot initiative to overturn the ban. The new ordinance will allow patients and their caregivers to grow and share marijuana in groups of three people or fewer. But activists complain that few patients have the time or skills for that, with one dispensary owner saying it costs at least $5,000 to grow the plant at home. But the council also voted to instruct city staff to draw up a separate ordinance that would allow dozens of dispensaries  to remain open. Officials said that proposal, which would grant immunity to shops that existed before a 2007 moratorium on new dispensaries, could be back to the council for consideration in three months.

Also on Tuesday, Rep. Tom Ammiano vowed to push ahead with his bill establish statewide regulations on growing, transporting and selling medical pot. The San Francisco Democrat said he was refining Assembly Bill 2312 and would reintroduce it next year. The bill would create a state board to enact and enforce statewide regulations on medical marijuana, require all dispensaries to register with the state and allow cities and counties to tax sales. Medical marijuana advocates have called on the state to clarify the gray legal areas that continue to plague the state's voter-approved program.

Also on Tuesday, federal medical marijuana prisoner Bryan Epis got his sentence reduced. US District Court Judge Garland Burrell reduced his sentence from 120 months to 90 months, meaning Epis, who is currently serving his sentence at the Terminal Island federal penitientiary, will get out next year instead of 2013. Epis has been serving a 10-year mandatory minimum for allegedly conspiring to grow over 1,000 plants for a medical cannabis collective, though in fact he never grew 1,000 plants and was convicted on evidence misrepresented by the US attorney. The court ignored defense claims of prosecutorial misconduct by US Attorney Samuel Wong, but ruled that he had received inadequate defense counsel instead.

On Wednesday, San Diego-area activists vowed to challenge the federal asset forfeiture threat against the Mother Earth Collective in El Cajon. Dispensary owners, patients, and advocates gathered at the federal courthouse in San Diego and vowed to "go to the Supreme Court" if necessary. But they needed a temporary restraining order by this week to avoid Mother Earth having to close its doors, leaving 13 employees out of a job and 2,300 patients without a provider.

Oregon

Last week, the two hospitals that do organ transplants in the state eased restrictions on medical marijuana use among patients seeking organs. OHSU Hospital and the Portland VA Medical Center have revisited longstanding policy that required six months of negative drug screens and even the possibility of drug rehabilitation for marijuana users before patients could be wait-listed for a liver transplant. The revised policy allows marijuana users who meet all other criteria to be wait-listed for liver transplants if a single screen turns up negative. It's a step in the right direction.

On Tuesday, demonstrators gathered in Portland to protest the federal crackdown as President Obama came to town on a fundraising trip. He was hit by similar protests in Oakland a day earlier.

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.

Marijuana Initiative Sues Oregon over Signature Counts

There could yet be not one, but two marijuana initiatives on the Oregon ballot in November. The Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative (OMPI) filed a lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court last week against Secretary of State Kate Brown over her office's invalidation of tens of thousands of signatures on petitions for Initiative Petition 24 (IP-24), which would legalize personal possession and cultivation of marijuana for adults via a constitutional amendment.

The other Oregon legalization initiative, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), officially qualified on Friday. It will be known as Measure 80 on the ballot. OCTA needed only 84,000 signatures to make the ballot, but because the OMPI is a constitutional amendment it faces a higher hurdle.

The OMPI has handed in more than 175,000 signatures, far in excess of the 116,000 needed to qualify for the ballot, but the effort was hit hard when Brown's office invalidated nearly 48% of the 122,000 signatures handed in on May 25. That means almost 100% of the 53,000 signatures handed in after May 25 must be found valid if the measure is to make the ballot.

The lawsuit challenges a range of specific methods and reasons used by Brown's office to disqualify individual voter signatures and entire sheets of up to 10 voter signatures each in a sampling process conducted in June, before the final deadline for signatures on petitions on July 6. That sampling process invalidated resulted in a historically low validity rate and damaged the initiative's chance to make the ballot. Other measures submitted at the same time are suffering similarly low validation rates.

"Under the policies of Kate Brown, the Oregon Elections Division works hard to remove every possible signature from initiative petitions and for reasons that make no sense," said OMPI proponent Robert Wolfe. "Instead, they should be working to include as many signatures as possible, thus preserving citizen access to the ballot through the initiative system, as demanded by the Oregon Constitution."

The OMPI lawsuit seeks to reopen the state's validation work on IP-24 so that the measure can legitimately qualify the November ballot based a fair count of valid signatures from Oregon voters.

"The recently developed policies of the state and of Kate Brown reduce access to the initiative process and make it the province of only the wealthiest special interests," Wolfe said. "A win for IP-24 would help restore ballot access to all petition sponsors. It is time to shine a bright light on the undemocratic policies and actions of Oregon's Secretary of State."

Salem, OR
United States

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