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Medical Marijuana Update

The feds strike again in California, Connecticut becomes the 17th medical marijuana state and New Hampshire could be 18th, and localities in various medical marijuana states continue to try to keep a lid on the green medicine. Let's get to it:

California

Last Wednesday, a new dispensary opened up in Eagle Rock just a day after an LA City Council committee voted to advance a new ban on dispensaries in the city. The Together For Change dispensary is at the same location as the American Eagle Collective, which was raided and closed by LAPD narcotics officers on May 2. It is supposedly under new ownership, but has the same décor and even the same security guard as American Eagle.

On Tuesday, researchers reported that dispensary neighborhoods have no higher crime rates than neighborhoods without dispensaries. The research, which will appear in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, examined 95 neighborhoods in Sacramento in 2009. The researchers found no evidence that neighborhoods with a higher density of medical marijuana dispensaries had higher rates of violent crime or property crime than other neighborhoods. But the authors added that further research is needed because they looked at neighborhoods at only one point in time. A neighborhood's crime patterns could change over time as more medical marijuana dispensaries open.

Also on Tuesday, CANORML reported that California elections brought mixed results. In Butte County, a measure that would have restricted patients' rights to cultivate on their own property lost 55% to 45%, but in Kern County an ordinance sharply limiting the location of dispensaries passed with 69% of the vote and in Lake County, a grower-led measure to regulate marijuana like agricultural crops was defeated by a margin of 66% to 33%.

In Los Angeles, LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, a staunch nemesis of medical marijuana, failed in his bid to run for District Attorney. That means the contest will be between Jackie Lacey, who believes medical marijuana sales are illegal, and Deputy DA Alan Jackson, who has been more friendly to the cause.

In San Diego, stridently anti-medical marijuana DA Bonnie Dumanis was crushed in the mayoral primary, getting only 13% of the vote. The November election will feature a choice between medical marijuana foe Carl Demaio (32%) and medical marijuana supporter Rep. Bob Filner (30%).

In the 33rd Congressional District, LA NORML Director Bruce Margolin came in fourth in the race with 4.5%, followed closely by Libertarian Steve Collett with 4.3%. Both had made marijuana reform a centerpiece of their campaigns against long-time incumbent Henry Waxman, who was leading with 45%.

In the race for US Senate, where veteran drug warrior Sen. Dianne Feinstein faced a field of 32 unknown opponents, David Levitt, who had campaigned on drug reform and other progressive issues, got 1.6% of the vote;  while Libertarian Gail Lightfoot got 2%. Feinstein's opponent in November will be Republican Elizabeth Emken.

On Wednesday, federal authorities announced a crackdown on LA County dispensaries, with the DEA raiding two dispensaries and federal prosecutors sending warning letters to 34 more. While the feds didn't target the city of Los Angeles, the crackdown seeks to wipe out dispensaries in the cities of Santa Fe Springs, Whittier, South El Monte, La Mirada, Diamond Bar, Artesia, Paramount, South Gate, City of Commerce, Agoura Hills and Malibu. The two dispensaries that were raided Wednesday were the Tri-City Patient's Association and the Canna-America Collective (a.k.a. Organic Way Collective) in Santa Fe Springs. The two dispensaries were also hit with federal civil asset forfeiture lawsuits. The warning letters give the operators and landlords 14 days to come into compliance with federal law or risk potential civil or criminal actions.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Garfield County commissioners set a June 18 deadline to approve land use regulations for medical marijuana growers in the county. A two-year moratorium on grows expires July 1. One commissioner proposed that the commission require a 1,000-foot buffer zone between grow facilities and schools, parks or churches, in accordance with state law. He also proposed that growers be restricted to commercial zone districts and banned from rural zones, because of concerns about ease of enforcement. He also proposed that Garfield County growers be allowed to sell their products only within the county. But the proposed ban on rural grows and on selling products outside the county drew opposition.

Connecticut

Last Friday, Connecticut became the 17th medical marijuana state after Gov. Dan Malloy signed into law the bill passed by the legislature. Patients will obtain their medicine from dispensaries run by licensed pharmacists.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court ruled that state law allows an affirmative defense for patients even if they haven't registered with the state. The ACLU of Michigan called the decision a victory for medical marijuana patients throughout the state. In one case ruled on by the court, Owosso resident Larry King, who suffers from severe and chronic back pain, was issued a medical marijuana card in 2009 by the state after being examined and approved by a doctor. He grew 12 marijuana plants for his own medical use. The Shiawassee County prosecutor charged him with manufacturing marijuana, a felony, because some of his plants were being grown outside. Drug charges against King initially were thrown out because he was a medical marijuana patient. But the Court of Appeals reinstated felony drug charges against him because it held that King would not be permitted to raise a medical defense at his trial. The higher court's decision reverses the appeals court.

Also last Thursday, the New Baltimore City Council extended a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses that has been in place since 2009. While in the past, the council had extended the moratorium for six months at a time, this time it was only for two months. The council is hoping some clarity will emerge this summer after the legislature finishes dealing with a package of medical marijuana bills.

Last Sunday, the Flushing Police announced they were reporting to the federal government medical marijuana users who were seeking to buy firearms. Police Chief Mark Hoornstra said his department began doing so about six months ago after an FBI training seminar. And it's not just gun buyers. Hoornstra said his officers report any interactions with individuals identified as medical marijuana patients to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, even if they are not committing a crime or violating the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. He said his department has reported about ten patients so far.

On Tuesday, patient and dispensary advocates threatened to sue the city of Jackson if the city council approves an ordinance saying patients and primary caregivers can only use and grow their medicine in their homes. A council committee voted later that evening in favor of the ordinance. There are already at least two dispensaries in Jackson, and they would be forced to close if the ordinance passes. The Jackson City Council likely will consider the ordinance next Tuesday.

Montana

Last Wednesday, the state Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging a new medical marijuana law passed by the legislature last year. That law bans the commercial sale of medical marijuana. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association challenged it. Chief Justice Mike McGrath said the issue is not whether marijuana has medicinal value, but whether there is a right to sell a drug that federal law labels a Schedule I narcotic. A key component of the 2011 law was to make it illegal for marijuana providers to be compensated for their services and to limit them to three patients each. Supporters said that provision was necessary to end the business of marijuana and to ensure the drug was used as voters intended --to treat the neediest patients. An appeals court judge ordered an injunction that prevented the sales ban from taking effect, saying it would harm people's right to seek health care.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, the state legislature gave final approval to a medical marijuana bill, which now heads to the desk of Gov. John Lynch (D), who earlier said he would veto it. Supporters are scrambling to either persuade Lynch to change his mind or come up with a veto-proof majority. They're not quite there yet.

Washington

On Monday, the Pasco City Council voted to ban collective medical marijuana grows. Five council members decided to end their year-long moratorium and amend Pasco's zoning code to say the city won't allow anything that violates local, state and federal law. That includes the issuing of a building permit or business license for a collective garden, where authorized patients would grow cannabis plants together. The legislature in 2011 passed a law allowing collective gardens, but Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) vetoed parts of it. The city had enacted successive moratoria on grows while waiting for the legislature to act this year, but got tired of waiting.

On Tuesday, the Kent City Council voted to ban dispensaries and collective gardens. The 4-3 vote came after more than 150 people at the meeting pleaded with the council not to enact the ban. Now, the Cannabis Action Coalition says it plans to sue the city.

Detroit to Vote on Marijuana Legalization in August

The Michigan Supreme Court has cleared the way -- finally -- for Detroiters to vote on a marijuana legalization initiative. The high court Friday refused to hear an expedited appeal of a February appeals court ruling that Detroit election officials had acted improperly when they blocked the measure from getting on the ballot.

Detroit skyline (saferdetroit.net)
That means Detroit residents can expect to see the initiative on the August 7 primary ballot. The initiative, sponsored by the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over by amending the city's controlled substances ordinance to say that it does not apply to small-time pot possession by adults.

Although initiative supporters had cleared all the legal hurtles to making the ballot back in 2010, the measure was opposed by the Detroit City Council, especially Council President Charles Pugh, who also serves as chairman of the Detroit Election Commission. The commission voted 3-0 to block the measure from appearing on the city ballot.

But initiative advocates were undeterred and persevered in pursuing the matter through the courts. Now, with the Supreme Court rejecting the city's motion for immediate consideration of its appeal, they have prevailed.

"A long trail of voter abuse by the City of Detroit has come to an end," said the Coalition's Tim Beck, in an e-mail to supporters. "We got everything right. Our petitions were flawless," said Beck.

Detroit Mayor Bing had no comment Friday evening, but a Detroit police spokesman told the Detroit Free Press the department could adapt to legalization "if it's handled in an appropriate way, and this is what the citizens of Detroit choose."

That's a remarkably open-minded and democratic statement from Detroit police, especially when compared to law enforcement reactions elsewhere to legalization, lowest law enforcement priority, and medical marijuana votes. It will be up to the voters of Detroit to ensure that the department lives up to its word.

Detroit, MI
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been a pretty quiet week on the medical marijuana front. Heck, it looks like even the DEA took a break -- no raids to report. Let's get to it:

National

On Memorial Day, a veterans' group slammed the Obama administration for its stance on medical marijuana. Veterans for Medical Cannabis had petitioned the administration to look into the reliable new science showing that medical marijuana has benefits and asked the administration to change its policies to allow vets to use it for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What they got instead was a canned non-response from drug czar Gil Kerlikowske.

Arizona

Last Friday, the Department of Health Services held a hearing on requests to expand its fledgling medical marijuana program to allow use of the herb for a variety of conditions, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Besides PTSD and migraines, the requests for covered conditions include depression and general anxiety disorder. The law already permits medical marijuana use for such medical reasons as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, chronic pain, muscle spasms and hepatitis C.

Also last Friday, the application period for people seeking to open dispensaries ended. The Department of Health Services will issue only 126 dispensary permits statewide, but had received nearly 500 applications, along with a $5,000 fee, $4,000 of which is non-refundable. The department will review the applications and grant permits on August 7. If an application passes review and is the only application in its district, it will be granted a permit. In districts with multiple applications, those that survive the review process will enter a lottery to see who gets the permit.

California

Last Wednesday, a San Diego medical marijuana prosecution ended in a mistrial after jurors deadlocked and the judge dismissed prosecutors' request to retry the case "in the interest of justice." The effort by San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to convict Therapeutic Healing operator Dexter Padilla was only the latest in her ongoing campaign against medical marijuana. In dismissing the prosecution request for a new trial, the judge accused the DA's office of being "disingenuous" in its arguments in the case.

Also last Wednesday, the state Supreme Court denied review of a key medical marijuana case, handing a victory to patients and providers. Attorney General Kamala Harris and law enforcement had asked the court to review People v. Colvin, which upheld certain protections for patients and providers, in a bid to get the court to rule that patients in collectives must help cultivate their medication. The court declined to review the case, affirming that patients are not required to help grow their medicine.

On Tuesday, the LA city council moved closer to a ban on dispensaries. A council committee approved a recommendation to ban dispensaries while allowing small groups of patients and their primary caregivers to grow their own. A counterproposal that would allow up to 100 existing dispensaries to stay open also won a committee recommendation. In 2007, the city imposed a moratorium on dispensaries, but a loophole allowed hundreds of new pot shops to proliferate. In reaction, lawmakers approved an ordinance two years ago that called for a lottery to limit which dispensaries should be allowed to operate. But City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has argued that the ordinance should be revoked because it may violate federal law. The turning point was an appellate court ruling last year that Long Beach, which also imposed a lottery, was violating federal law by in effect sanctioning the distribution of drugs. The proposed ban in Los Angeles would last at least until the California Supreme Court reviews the Long Beach case.

Colorado

On Tuesday, patients and supporters petitioned to add PTSD to the list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana. The effort is a reprise of a failed attempt to add it in 2010. That year, the Colorado Department of Public Health opposed legislation that would have added PTSD. Now, we will see if the department has changed its mind.

New Jersey

Last Wednesday, Newark Mayor Cory Booker came out in support of medical marijuana. His support came amidst of series of Twitter tweets he sent out critical of the war on drugs, and while he said he didn't support all-out drug legalization because of fears of addiction, he told one follower, "However, I'm with you on medical marijuana, and NJ should do more to make it real for those who need it."

Washington

On Tuesday, medical marijuana advocates sent a letter to the Kent City Council opposing a planned ordinance that would ban all medical marijuana access points within the city, including collective grows, which are explicitly allowed by state law. The letter signed by Sensible Washington and state Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) calls on the city "to respect the wishes and demands of the voters of Washington State, to act in adherence to the laws adopted by our state in regards to medical cannabis (pursuant to RCW 69.51a), and to cease and desist any and all attacks on qualifying medical cannabis patients, medical providers,  and safe access points within the City of Kent." The statute mentioned reads as follows: "Qualifying patients may create and participate in collective gardens for the purpose of producing, processing, transporting, and delivering cannabis for medical use." The city council is scheduled to take up the ordinance on June 5.


 

Medical Marijuana Update

The biggest medical marijuana news this week has to be the Oregon election that saw a pro-medical marijuana attorney general candidate win against a former interim US Attorney, but there was plenty of other news, as well. Let's get to it:

National

Last Wednesday, Mitt Romney got asked about medical marijuana and didn't much like the question or really answer it. "Aren't there issues of significance that you'd like to talk about?" Romney asks the interviewer. "The economy, the economy, the economy. The growth of jobs. The need to put people back to work. The challenges of Iran. We've got enormous issues that we face, but you want talk about -- go ahead -- you want to talk about marijuana? I think marijuana should not be legal in this country. I believe it is a gateway drug to other drug violations. The use of illegal drugs in this country is leading to terrible consequences in places like Mexico -- and actually in our country."

On Tuesday, a Mason Dixon poll found broad support for medical marijuana among Republicans. Some 67% of Republicans said federal officials should respect state medical marijuana laws. So did 75% of Democrats and 79% of independents.

Also on Tuesday, researchers reported that smoking marijuana can relieve MS symptoms. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that smoked marijuana relieved pain and muscle tightness spasticity. The research was published in the peer-reviewed Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Arizona

As of Monday, Arizona started accepting dispensary applications. Arizona has some of the strictest dispensary rules in the country, including requirements that a licensed physician be employed on premises, that letters be obtained showing dispensaries are complying with zoning laws, and that they have a business plan showing they are operating as nonprofits. Then there is the $5,000 application fee and the preference that will be shown to those who can prove they have $150,000 in the bank. Still, competition is expected to be fierce for the licenses, which will be capped at 125 statewide. Interested parties have until May 25 to apply.

California

Beginning Saturday, a medical marijuana "Unity" conference gets underway in Sacramento. It goes through Monday and is aimed in part at obtaining passage of Assembly Bill 2312 to regulate medical marijuana cultivation and distribution statewide. The conference is sponsored by the PAC Californians to Regulate Marijuana as well as  Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, California NORML, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, and the Emerald Growers Association. The conference will focus on skill-building and grass roots leadership, with a day of lobbying set for Monday.

Last Thursday, a Santa Barbara dispensary operator took a plea deal. Charles Restivo, operator of the Pacific Coast Collective between 2008 and 2010, was arrested after a four-dispensary raid by local law enforcement in February 2010. He was charged with possession of marijuana for sale and cultivation of marijuana for sale since authorities argued the dispensary was violating state laws regarding medical marijuana. Under the deal, Restivo pleaded guilty to one new count of possession of concentrated cannabis (hash) in return for the other charges being dropped. He will get three years probation.

Also last Thursday, the Clear Lake city council voted to oppose Measure D, the Lake County marijuana cultivation initiative set to go before voters June 5. The council's action follows similar votes taken by the Lake County Office of Education Board of Trustees Wednesday night, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and the Lakeport City Council last week. It is also opposed by the Sierra Club, the Lake County Deputy Sheriffs Association, Kelseyville Business Association, Lake County Chamber of Commerce, California Women for Agriculture, Lake County Farm Bureau, the Buckingham and Clear Lake Riviera homeowners associations, and the Lake County Association of Realtors' Board of Directors. Measure D would allow 12 female plants to be grown in residential areas on lots under a half acre, 24 plants on lots larger than a half acre and 84 plants on larger parcels.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local police raided a Fontana dispensary. The raiders hit Holistic Meds RX, detaining four people, and seizing large quantities of medical marijuana. It was a federal warrant, but town and San Bernadino County police aided the DEA. Dispensaries have opened in Fontana, but have been unable to get permits because the city considers the businesses illegal.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles city council postponed adopting a "gentle" ban on dispensaries proposed by Councilman Jose Huizar. The move came after Councilman Paul Koretz instead proposing allowing some dispensaries to continue to operate if they agreed to city regulations. Koretz called Huizar's "gentle" ban, which would close all dispensaries, but allow personal and collective grows, in reality a "vicious, heartless" ban. The city is home to an uncertain number of dispensaries, somewhere in the hundreds.


Colorado

On Monday, 25 dispensaries targeted by federal officials had to be closed down. That was the second wave of dispensaries threatened by US Attorney John Walsh, who earlier forced 22 out of business. He says a third wave of threat letters is forthcoming. In the first wave, Walsh targeted dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools; in the second wave, he targeted dispensaries within 1,000 feet of college campuses. No telling yet what his criteria will be next time.

On Tuesday, the Dacono city council moved forward with its ban on dispensaries, as well as grows and edibles manufacturing. The council voted 4-2 for the ban, but must do so one more time on June 11 before it takes effect. The town has had a temporary moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses since July 2010, but that edict expires on July 1. The town has three existing dispensaries, but they would be forced to close if the ban passes.

Michigan

Last Friday, the state appeals court confirmed the conviction of a man who had a medical marijuana card, but not a fence. Lewis Keller of Emmet County got busted with 15 plants on his property. Under state law, he could have 12, but it had to be fenced. Keller said he knew he was over the limit, but he didn't realize the plants had to be secured.

On Tuesday, the Jackson city council got an earful from advocates concerned about its proposed medical marijuana ordinance. Under the proposed ordinance, qualifying patients or primary caregivers who are registered by the Michigan Department of Community Health to grow marijuana could do so in their homes. Patients could consume the drug only in their homes or their primary caregivers' homes. Patients and primary caregivers also could grow medical marijuana at non-dwelling locations in certain commercial and industrial business districts.
The city has had a moratorium on medical marijuana operations during the drafting of the ordinance. The city council will revisit the issue next week.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, the House passed a medical marijuana bill already passed by the Senate. It now goes back to the Senate for approval of changes. Gov. John Lynch (D) has vowed to veto the bill over concerns over distribution, just as he did in 2009, when a veto override failed by two votes in the Senate.

New York

On Wednesday, a Siena College poll found majority support for medical marijuana in the Empire State. The poll had 57% supporting it and only 33% opposed. A bill in the Assembly has been stalled since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signaled that this was not the year for it.

Oregon

On Tuesday, Ellen Rosenblum defeated former interim US Attorney Dwight Holden in the fight for the Democratic Party nomination for state attorney general. Oregon medical marijuana activists and national drug reformers rallied against Holden and supported medical marijuana-friendly Rosenblum as she picked up 63% of the vote against the former front-runner. Activists said the vote shows opposing medical marijuana carries a political price tag.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the House passed compromise dispensary legislation. A similar measure has already passed the Senate, so after the formalities of concurrence votes, the measure will head to Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I), who is expected to sign it.

Washington

On Monday, the Pasco city council moved closer to banning grows. A workshop discussion that night leaves little doubt that the city will outlaw medical marijuana gardens in the city at its next meeting to avoid violating federal anti-drug laws. Pasco is among Washington cities that have been waiting for nearly a year for the legislature to act to clarify a law allowing cities to write their own rules for medical marijuana garden collectives. The council is expected to vote on the ordinance Monday.

(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.)

False Testimony: How Prosecutors Leave Justice Behind [FEATURE]

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

Prosecutors are arguably the most powerful figures in the American criminal justice system. They decide which charges to bring, what plea bargains to offer, and what sentences to request. Given their role in the system and the broad powers they exercise, it is critical that they discharge those duties responsibly and ethically.

Brian Wilbourn's conviction was overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct.
But according to attorneys and criminal justice reform advocates, prosecutors across the country are misbehaving -- and getting away with it. While the most common forms of prosecutorial misconduct are hiding exculpatory evidence and engaging in improper examination and argumentation, another form of intentional misconduct is the knowing use of false testimony to win convictions.

"Perjury can easily undermine a defendant's right to a fair trial," said Chicago criminal defense attorney Leonard Goodman.

He ought to know.

In 2009, Goodman represented Brian Wilbourn in a federal narcotics case in which prosecutors knowingly allowed an informant to testify that Wilbourn sold crack cocaine out of a penthouse apartment over a three-year period when he was in fact nowhere near the scene at any time.

"Mr. Wilbourn was safely locked away in prison when the informant testified that Wilbourn was selling drugs at the penthouse between 2002 and 2005," Goodman explained.

The US 7th District Court of Appeals overturned Wilbourn's conviction because of the perjured testimony.

"When the government obtains a conviction through the knowing use of false testimony, it violates a defendant's due process rights," wrote Judge Daniel Manion as he ordered the reversal.

And when a prosecutor knowingly allows perjured testimony to be heard, that's prosecutorial misconduct. In the Wilbourn case, Assistant US Attorney Rachel Cannon knew that her informant's testimony was false -- because Goodman told her so before the trial -- yet she has not been sanctioned in any way. That's not unusual.

Legal experts say most prosecutors dedicate themselves to do an ethical and professional job, but that some prosecutors repeatedly commit misconduct because they realize they most likely will never face serious punishment. Prosecutors have immunity from civil liability for their misbehavior, and the legal system seems unable or unwilling to effectively police itself.

Prosecutorial misconduct can have serious financial consequences for state and local governments. Taxpayers take the hit to retry cases thrown out because of misconduct, and they take another hit when states pay compensation to the wrongfully imprisoned.

But despite the seriousness of the issue, there has been little research done nationwide on the scope of prosecutorial misconduct. What research there is suggests that even misbehaving prosecutors have little to worry about.

A 2003 study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, Harmful Error, found that among 11,452 documented appeals alleging prosecutorial misconduct between 1970 and 2002, approximately 2,012 appeals led to reversals or remanded indictments, indicating prosecutorial misconduct in 17.6% of the cases.

In California, the Veritas Institute issued a 2009 report, Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California, 1997-2009, which reviewed 4,000 complaints of misconduct and found it occurred in 707 of them. Only six prosecutors were disciplined.

In March, the Prosecutorial Oversight Coalition released research findings on Texas convictions between 2004 and 2008 that showed appeals courts found a pattern of prosecutorial error or misconduct in 91 cases, ranging from hiding exculpatory evidence to improper argument and examination. While the appeals courts found the errors "harmless" in 72 cases, affirming the convictions, they reversed 19 cases because of prosecutorial conduct "harmful" to the defendant.

Still, none of those prosecutors were disciplined, the report found. Only one prosecutor in the state was disciplined for misconduct during that period, and that was for misconduct committed before 2004.

Chicago defense attorney Leonard Goodman
"As best we can determine, most prosecutors' offices don't even have clear internal systems for preventing and reviewing misconduct, but perhaps even more alarming is that bar oversight entities tend not to act in the wake of even serious acts of misconduct," said Stephen Saloom, Policy Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.  "We don't accept this lack of accountability and oversight for any other government entity where life and liberty are at stake, and there's no reason we should do so for prosecutors."

Prosecutors want to win cases, even at the expense of justice, said legal observers.

"It's a result-oriented process today, fairness be damned," said Robert Merkle, a former US Attorney in Florida.

That certainly seems to be the case in the Brian Wilbourn prosecution. He was charged along with 16 other defendants in December 2007 with numerous federal counts of possession and conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, heroin, and marijuana at the Cabrini Green Public Housing Development in Chicago Illinois.

The DEA and prosecutors alleged that Wilbourn was part of the Gangster Disciples drug dealing gang led by Rondell "Nightfall" Freeman. When the DEA announced federal charges against the defendant, a spokesman said the agency was "upending the gang's flagrant drug dealing at public housing projects and  other apartments in the Chicago area."

Charging that the group was taking in $3 million a year, the feds played on a holiday theme.

"It's a season of giving, so our gift to the people is to let them live without constant fear of this drug organization all around them," said ATF Special Agent in Charge Andy Traver. "And our gift to Rondell Freeman and his organization is 20 years to life."

But in the end, prosecutorial misconduct gave the defendants a gift. Wilbourn, Freeman, and three other defendants who went to trial and were convicted had their convictions thrown out because prosecutors knowingly allowed perjured testimony to be heard.

"This was a case where prosecutors allowed an informant to testify falsely against my client, Brian Wilbourn," said Goodman. "Prior to trial, I informed the government that my client was in prison from 2002-2005 -- when the informant said he saw Mr. Wilbourn selling drugs in the company of co-defendant Rondell Freeman."

Prosecutors conceded that Goodman submitted the certified documents to them in December 2008, two months before the trial started, but they would later argue before Judge Lefkow they could not accurately verify the dates of Wilbourn's incarceration.

In one example, prosecutor Rachel Cannon noted that three separate entries in court documents said that Wilbourn was not in court in April 2002 and that a no-bail warrant had been issued for him. But Goodman explained that Wilbourn had in fact been arrested a week later, pleaded guilty to an offense, and had been sentenced to prison, from which he was not released until September 2005.

"Wilbourn's incarceration date was listed on records from Illinois Department of Corrections including the time period he was re-arrested and placed in the county jail," Goodman explained.

Despite Goodman's notice that Wilbourn was incarcerated during the period described in the indictment, the government plowed ahead to convict Goodman's client. And it did so in part relying on the testimony of informant Seneca Williams, who had rolled over for the feds and agreed to testify against others in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Williams testified at length about an apartment penthouse that was allegedly at the center of the conspiracy, frequently placing Wilbourn on the scene discussing sales and bagging up the drugs for distribution with Freeman and other players in the group.

Of particular significance to the conspiracy charge, Seneca Williams not only testified to seeing Freeman, Wilbourn, Hill, and Sanders transport and sell drugs at designated locations during specific time periods. Williams also went far as to identify Wilbourn's voice on two audio recordings -- which served as the basis for a conspiracy charge which carried up to life in prison.

"You mentioned that you saw Brian Wilbourn at this apartment as well, what did you see him do?" asked prosecutor Cannon during direct examination.

"I seen him use orange-striped bags to bag up crack cocaine, heroin and marijuana." Williams testified.

"And when was that?"

"That was early 2003."

During cross examination, Goodman confronted Williams with the fact that his client  was in prison from 2002 to 2005 and could not have been at the penthouse apartment discussing drug business like Williams said Wilbourn had been doing.

"Now Mr. Williams, isn't it true that Brian Wilbourn was in jail from April 23rd of 2002 until September 2005?" Goodman asked.

"I don't know it to be true," Williams replied.

Suddenly, Assistant US Attorney Kruti Trivedi objected, saying "That's not true."

"It is true, your honor," Goodman rejoined, and Judge Lefkow overruled the prosecutor.

Under continued intense questioning by Goodman, Williams confessed to other misdeeds, including previously perjuring himself in an earlier drug case against Rondell Freeman to help him beat that rap. He said he testified falsely in that case because he didn't want to lose his job and a place to stay at Freeman's car wash. He added that he decided to cooperate with the government because he was facing a minimum of 20 years in prison and was looking forward to receive a reduced sentence of 58 months. That gave Goodman an even larger opening.

"You would lie at Rondell Freeman's trial in state court because if he got convicted you might not get to live at the car wash, correct?" he asked.

"Yes," Williams responded.

"But you wouldn't lie to save yourself 15 years of your life?"

"No."

On redirect the government made no attempt to correct Williams' false testimony that he saw Wilbourn selling drugs between 2002 and 2005, when Wilbourn was in Illinois Department of Corrections. Instead the government tried to bolster Williams' glaringly inaccurate testimony:

"Have you been truthful and tried to the best of your ability to give approximate dates as you remember them?" prosecutors asked.

"Yes," he replied.

In a hearing outside the presence of the jury, Goodman informed Judge Lefkow that he had filed a motion to dismiss the counts against Wilbourn because of prosecutors allowing Williams' false testimony against his client.

Wilbourn had been "incarcerated from April 2002 until September 2005 -- and Williams' testimony about the events and conversations purportedly involving Wilbourn and co-defendants at the penthouse apartment on Granville during late 2002-2003, was false," Goodman told the judge. "The government had an obligation under to correct the record," he said.

But prosecutors weren't interested. "The government stipulated as to the dates of Wilbourn's incarceration and if Mr. Goodman wants to argue to the jury that Seneca Williams perjured himself, he's absolutely free to do that," retorted Cannon. "Our argument will be Williams was wrong about the dates but the facts remain true."

Judge Lefkow responded to Cannon's argument. "You know, you as the representative of the United States have an obligation to make sure the evidence you are presenting is truthful and accurate."

"We stand by everything that's been presented, your honor," Cannon replied.

Judge Lefkow then denied the motion to dismiss based on the perjured testimony, and the trial headed for its conclusion.

Even in closing arguments, Cannon continued to insist that Williams had not perjured himself. "Williams did not lie," she explained. "Don't think what he testified to about Brian Wilbourn's involvement with drugs never happened. Ladies and gentleman, it's for you to decide whether these witnesses were testifying to facts as they remember them or whether they were actually lying."

Goodman implored the jury to find his client not guility. "They put a liar on the stand and he got caught and the government still has the nerve to ask you to rely on Seneca Williams' testimony to convict. You should be offended."

The jury sided with the government and convicted all four defendants. The jury convicted Wilbourn and Freeman on the conspiracy charge to distribute more than 50 grams of cocaine, an offense that carried up to life in prison.

The defendants appealed, and on appeal, prosecutors continued to argue that they did not knowingly use false testimony to convict them. That even after Judge Lefkow found that when Cannon "bolstered William's false testimony it constituted prosecutorial misconduct. The government had a duty to correct false testimony."

Upon winning the appeal, Goodman felt vindicated and pleased that his client no longer faces life in prison for a conviction based on perjured testimony.

"It is an important opinion because it stands for the principle that federal prosecutors are not above the law and that telling the truth is more important than winning. Federal cases are based on the word of informants who understand the only way to get a lesser sentence is to help government prosecutors convict others," he said.

"Everybody knows these witnesses will lie, saying whatever the government want them to say to get a deal," said Goodman after winning the appeal. "The only difference in this case is we happened to catch one."

"No trial is perfect, and sometimes mistakes are made, but for a prosecutor to put perjury on the witness stand that is scary," said Mark Vinson, a former Harris County (Houston), Texas, Chief Prosecutor, now in private practice as a criminal defense attorney.

Despite winning their appeal, Wilbourn and the others remain in federal custody pending the resolution of other charges against them.

Nothing has happened to Assistant US Attorney Cannon or her colleagues.

[Editor's Note: There is more on prosecutorial misconduct coming from Clarence Walker. In his next installment, Walker will look at how a bulldog lawyer exposed misconduct in a major cocaine case with Mexican cartel connections. Walker can be reached at cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com.]

Chicago , IL
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The national battle over medical marijuana is heating up, Connecticut is about to become the 17th medical marijuana state, and state and local battles continue. And so do the DEA raids. Busy, busy, busy. Let's get to it:

National

Last Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized the federal crackdown on medical marijuana. Listening to her home town constituents, the San Francisco representative called on the administration to back off from the raids and prosecutions. In doing so, she joined the San Francisco and Alameda County Democratic Party organizations, and various state and local elected officials.

Last Saturday, 34 groups opposing medical marijuana sent a letter to President Obama urging him to "continue to enforce federal drug laws in states that allow 'medical marijuana.'" The effort was organized by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America and the signees were mostly law enforcement, treatment industry, and community anti-drug groups.

This week, drug reform and medical marijuana advocacy groups mobilized in support of an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill that would cut funding for the agency's offensive against medical marijuana. The amendment failed on a voice vote Wednesday night.

California

Last Tuesday, the Milpitas city council voted to reaffirm its ban on dispensaries. City leaders had been considering allowing them in order to create tax revenues, but decided to hold off pending clarification of state laws by the Supreme Court.

Also last Tuesday, Yuba County adopted a medical marijuana nuisance ordinance on a 4-1 vote by the board of supervisors. The ordinance creates limits on how big a space people with valid medical marijuana cards could use to grow plants, depending on the size of the parcel. Earlier, there were loud objections about the 100 square foot limit on grows on parcels of less than an acre. Growers are threatening a lawsuit.

Last Wednesday, the DEA raided a Santa Barbara dispensary. The raiders hit Pacific Coast Collective, but no arrests were made. A sign posted on the door that same day read: "Due to a raid by the federal government, we will be closed until further notice. We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused."

Also last Wednesday, the LAPD raided an Eagle Rock dispensary. The American Eagle Collective was hit and police on the scene said it would be permanently shut down. The collective is one of more than two dozen that are being sued by the city of Los Angeles for allegedly violating city zoning laws. Two other Eagle Rock dispensaries have been sued for operating within 600 feet of a school. The city plans to seek a preliminary injunction against American Eagle on May 31.

Last Thursday, the DEA and local police hit a medical marijuana grow in Santa Barbara. It was part of a declared war on dispensaries in the county by federal prosecutors. "All known marijuana stores in Santa Barbara County are now the subject of federal enforcement actions," according to a statement from the US Attorney's Office. The feds also filed three asset forfeiture lawsuits, two against dispensaries and one against the grow up.

Last Friday, the DEA raided a Glendora dispensary. The raiders hit the Glendora Healing Clinic and arrested two customers on outstanding warrants. Agents seized money and marijuana, but did not arrest the operators. The dispensary had only been open a few weeks.

Also last Friday, Vallejo police raided their fifth dispensary since February. They hit Nature's Love and arrested at least one person. The identity of the man taken into custody Friday, and if anything was seized from the dispensary was not immediately known.

On Tuesday, protestors picketed the Garden Grove city council over the city's recent talks with federal authorities about helping them crack down on dispensaries. They also gave council members an earful once the meeting got underway.

Also on Tuesday, Tulare County amended its code enforcement measures for medical grows. Now, for the first time, the county can use administrative code enforcement proceedings that could lead to a series of penalties that include $100-a-day fines for each violation of the county's medical marijuana ordinance.The ordinance specifies where medical marijuana can be grown and distributed, along with other requirements, which include requiring the plants be grown in enclosed buildings with security.

Also on Tuesday, the Palm Springs city council approved a fourth dispensary. Three permitted dispensaries already operate in the city, as do at least a half dozen unlicensed ones, clustered in an area known as "Little Amsterdam."

Also on Tuesday, Nevada County approved marijuana cultivation ordinances on a 4-1 vote of the board of supervisors. The ordinances limit cultivation to 100 square feet in parcels smaller than two acres, 300 square feet in parcels smaller than five acres, 400 square feet in parcels less than 10 acres, and 600 square feet in parcels smaller than 20 acres. Unhappy residents shouted that supervisors should be voted out, and growers are threatening a lawsuit over the restrictions.

Also on Tuesday, the Vallejo city council retreated from plans to regulate dispensaries. They cited uncertainty under state law and fears of federal prosecution if they regulate. Residents accused the council of cowardice, but the council was not swayed. 

Also on Tuesday, Lake County came out against a June ballot measure that would give "right to farm" privileges to medical marijuana growers. The board of supervisors voted to oppose Measure D, which would also allow medical pot growers to cultivate up to 12 mature plants in residential backyards of less than a half acre outside of city limits in Lake County. More plants could be grown on larger parcels, with a maximum of 84 plants allowed on properties that are seven acres or more. The ballot measure is opposed by county and police officials, the local Sierra Club, the Chamber of Commerce and state and local farm bureaus. Opponents say it will lower property values and increase pot-related crime.

Colorado

On Monday, a Denver attorney reported she had lost her liability insurance because part of her practice involves representing medical-marijuana businesses. Ann Toney's insurance company, Hanover Insurance Group, explained that her practice "does not meet current underwriting guidelines because of the following risk factors: Area of practice involving medical marijuana." This is believed to be the first time in the nation an attorney has lost her insurance because of doing medical marijuana-related work.

Also on Monday, 25 more dispensaries were ordered to close by federal prosecutors. All of the targeted dispensaries are within 1,000 feet of schools, which does not violate Colorado law, but which federal prosecutors are using as an arbitrary benchmark for targeting them.

On Wednesday, the state legislature adjourned without passing a drugged driving bill that would have criminalized drivers solely on the basis of having five nanograms or more of THC per milliliter of blood in their systems. The bill had passed the Senate, but didn't get a floor vote in the House.

Connecticut

Last Saturday, the state Senate approved a medical marijuana bill. The measure had already passed the House, and Gov. Dan Malloy (D) has already said he will sign it. Connecticut will become the 17th medical marijuana state.

Iowa

On Sunday, news came that three out of four state Democratic district platforms support medical marijuana.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the House passed a package of four medical marijuana bills that advocates don't think very much of. The Marijuana Policy Project said it is "opposed to the package because of concerns that the bills would compromise patients’ privacy and subject medical marijuana to more onerous restrictions than those that apply to more dangerous prescribed narcotics." It is urging supporters to voice their objections to House bills 4834, 4851, and 4856.

Montana

On Monday, advocates suing to repeal Montana's restrictive medical marijuana law said they need more donations to continue. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association said the case has cost about $150,000 and it needs another $100,000 to take the case to the state Supreme Court.

Also on Monday, the number of medical marijuana patients had dropped below 11,000, continuing a steep decline since the number of card-holders peaked at more than 31,000 at the end of last May. The number of providers has also declined by more than 90%, to slightly more than 400. This in the wake of a federal crackdown and the state legislature passing very restrictive legislation.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the state Senate approved a compromise dispensary bill. It would restrict dispensaries to 1,500 ounces of usable marijuana at one time and limit cultivation to 150 plants. Patients and caregivers would be able to sell their excess to the dispensaries. The bill now must be approved by the House. Dispensaries had been stalled after Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) quailed in the face of federal threats; this compromise legislation should assuage his worries.

Wisconsin

Late last month, the Wisconsin Medical Society voted to adopt a new position on medical marijuana. It calls for further controlled studies on medical marijuana and a review of the plant's Schedule I status.

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.)

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

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