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Medical Marijuana: US House Overturns Barr Amendment, Removes Obstacle to Implementing 1998 DC Vote

The US House of Representatives Thursday passed the District of Columbia appropriations bill and in so doing removed an 11-year-old amendment barring the District from implementing the medical marijuana law approved by voters in 1998. Known as the Barr amendment after then Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), the amendment has been attacked by both medical marijuana and DC home rule advocates for years as an unconscionable intrusion into District affairs.
Bob Barr, lobbied to repeal anti-medical marijuana legislation he wrote
Ironically, Barr, who was defeated in a Republican primary in 2004 in part because of his opposition to medical marijuana, has become an advocate of drug law reform -- including for repeal of his amendment. He has done stints with both the ACLU and the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Today represents a victory not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all city residents who have the right to determine their own policies in their own District without federal meddling," said Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations. "DC residents overwhelmingly made the sensible, compassionate decision to pass a medical marijuana law, and now, 10 years later, suffering Washingtonians may finally be allowed to focus on treating their pain without fearing arrest."

With Republicans in control of the House until 2006, Congress had reapproved the Barr amendment in every DC appropriations bill until this year. But even under Republican control, pressure had begun to mount after the 2004 death of DC resident Jonathan Magbie, a quadriplegic medical marijuana user who was arrested and died in a DC jail for lack of adequate medical care.

"Had the District been able to implement its medical marijuana law when it passed in 1998, Mr. Magbie may well be alive today -- and free to treat his pain as he and his doctor saw fit," Houston said. "Perhaps now nobody in the District will ever have to suffer as he and his family did simply for using the medicine that works best for them."

I Visited Imprisoned Medical Marijuana Patient Will Foster in Jail Last Night

I finally made into the Sonoma County Jail yesterday to visit medical marijuana patient Will Foster, who has been sitting there for the past 16 months first fighting off a bogus marijuana cultivation charge--since dropped by prosecutors--and now fighting off the zealous efforts of Oklahoma parole authorities to return him to the state where he was originally sentenced to a cruel and insane 93 years in prison. I don't want to recount the entire sorry tale--you can read my recent article about his case here--but in a nutshell: Thanks in part to a publicity campaign started by DRCNet, Foster was able to get that horrid original sentence reduced to 20 years, he eventually won release and was paroled to California, which released him from parole after three years of good behavior. That wasn't good enough for Oklahoma, which still wants a few more pounds of flesh. Oklahoma issued a parole violation extradition warrant a few years back, which foster successfully--and unusually--beat with a habeas corpus writ, a California judge throwing out the warrant. So Oklahoma parole officials issued another extradition warrant, this time trying to add new charges after the fact to increase Foster's potential exposure. That warrant is keeping him in jail right now. Foster and his allies are conducting a two-track effort to win his release: First, a political track attempting to get either the California governor or the Oklahoma governor to rescind the extradition warrant. You can help with this. Ed Rosenthal has a Free Will Foster blog post that will show you what actions to take. Second, Foster has prepared another habeas writ. It will have a hearing August 4, and I will attend. He could walk free that day, but he might want to walk fast--Oklahoma is vowing to immediately issue a new extradition warrant. To me, that's a sign of what vengeful, vindictive, authoritarian pricks inhabit the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. But that's just me. There may be a protest at his hearing. Details are sketchy at this point, but if you're in the neighborhood and interested, just email me for now: After 16 months in the slammer, Foster isn't looking so good. He's got big dark circles under his eyes and his skin has that jailhouse pallor. He has long suffered from arthritis, which is what he used marijuana for, and he also suffers from injuries in a car accident a couple of months before he was arrested and jailed. The nice folks at the Sonoma jail have plied him with all sorts of pharmaceuticals, but no pot, of course. Still, Foster remains strong in spirit and firm in his resolve. This guy is a determined fighter, not just for his freedom, but for what is right. Will Foster never hurt a soul. Why years of his life have been taken away from him and his loved ones for growing a plant is beyond me. If you believe in justice, take the time to help him out. Will Foster isn't the only drug war POW, but he is fortunate in the sense that at least some one is paying attention to his plight. Today is Bastille Day. In lieu of mob action to free the prisoners, will you pay some attention to a drug war prisoner you know? Send a letter? Make a visit? Send a check to commisary? Agitate with your elected officials? Something? Let's not forget our imprisoned brothers and sisters!

New Hampshire Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Bill; A Handful of Additional Votes Needed to Override

The House passed the bill 234-138 and the Senate passed it 14-10. If my calculations are correct, that means a successful override needs 14 more votes in the House and 2 more in the Senate. If an override effort is made, it will happen when the legislature returns in September. Until then, it's time to let those legislators know what they need to do. Here is Gov. Lynch's veto message press release in its entirety:
Gov. Lynch’s Veto Message Regarding HB 648 By the authority vested in me, pursuant to part II, article 44 of the New Hampshire Constitution, on July 10, 2009, I vetoed HB 648-FN, an act relative to the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. I have tremendous compassion for people who believe medical marijuana will help alleviate the symptoms of serious illnesses and the side effects of medical treatment. Although opinion of the medical community on the efficacy of medical marijuana remains mixed, I have been open, and remain open, to allowing tightly controlled usage of marijuana for appropriate medical purposes. But in making laws it is not enough to have an idea worthy of consideration, the details of the legislation must also be right. I recognize that the sponsors of this legislation, and the members of the conference committee, worked hard to attempt to address the concerns raised about this legislation. However, after consulting with representatives of the appropriate state agencies and law enforcement officials, I believe this legislation still has too many defects to move forward. Law enforcement officials have raised legitimate public safety concerns regarding the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. These concerns have not been adequately addressed in this bill. Marijuana is an addictive drug that has the potential to pose significant health dangers to its users, and it remains the most widely abused illegal drug in this State. I am concerned about the quantities of the drug made available to patients and caregivers under this bill, particularly because there are different types of marijuana and the potency of marijuana can vary greatly depending on how it is cultivated. I am troubled by the potential for unauthorized redistribution of marijuana from compassion centers. In addition to patients and designated caregivers, an unlimited number of “volunteers” can receive registry cards and receive the full protections afforded under this legislation to authorized cardholders. The provisions made for law enforcement to check on the status of an individual who asserts protection under the proposed law are too narrow. There are also many inconsistencies and structural problems in the legislation that would greatly complicate its administration and would pose barriers to controls aimed at preventing the unauthorized use of marijuana. The bill does not clearly restrict the use of marijuana to those persons who are suffering severe pain, seizures or nausea as a result of a qualifying medical condition. The bill requires compassion centers to hold a license to cultivate and distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes, but the bill does not contain clear provisions regarding a licensing process or standards. Compassion centers can be penalized for distributing amounts of marijuana that exceed permissible limitations, without the compassion centers having the means to know how much marijuana the patient already possesses. Caregivers in some instances are required to control the dosage of marijuana without any real means to accomplish this task. The bill leaves unclear the authority of a landlord to control the use of marijuana on rented property and in common areas of property. While the bill contemplates self-funding, there have been inadequate fiscal studies. The Department of Health and Human Services’ administrative responsibilities are of such a magnitude under this legislation that the fees potentially would be so great as to deny access to anyone but the wealthiest of our citizens, resulting in potential inequities. I understand and empathize with the advocates for allowing medical marijuana use in New Hampshire. However, the fact remains that marijuana use for any purpose remains illegal under federal law. Therefore, if we are to allow its use in New Hampshire for medical purposes, we must ensure that we are implementing the right policy. We cannot set a lower bar for medical marijuana than we do for other controlled substances, and we cannot implement a law that still has serious flaws. Therefore, I am regretfully vetoing HB 648-FN.

I Was Turned Away Again Trying to Visit Medical Marijuana POW Will Foster in Jail Last Night

You remember Will Foster: The Oklahoma arthritis sufferer who was sentenced to 93 years in prison for growing a closetful of pot plants, eventually got his sentence reduced to 20 years, got paroled to California, and finished parole there, but whom neanderthal Oklahoma parole officials want to drag back to that benighted state to extract yet another pound of flesh. Will has been sitting in the Sonoma County Jail for 16 months now after a bogus bust of his legitimate medical marijuana garden. The local charges were eventually dropped, but Foster remains behind bars and deprived of his liberty because of Oklahoma's pending parole violation extradition warrant. The extradition warrant has been signed by the governors of both California and Oklahoma, but either could end this tragedy by rescinding his signature. Those are the two obvious political pressure points. Will has fended off extradition by filing a writ of habeas corpus (he won an earlier one), but that means he stays in jail in California for as long as it takes to resolve that--unless one of those governors acts. I wrote about his plight here. Ed Rosenthal has organized a campaign to Free Will Foster. Go there and do what he asks. So, anyway, I went to see Will last night. It was my second attempt to visit him. I was turned away a few nights ago because I was wearing steel-tipped shoes. Who knew? Well, I didn't see him last night, either. After his girlfriend, Susie Mueller, and I arrived at 7:15 to get in line for the 7:30 sign-in for the visits set for 8:15, then waited before getting in line for the actual 8:15 visit, the whole place went into lockdown. We waited awhile to see if the lockdown would be quickly lifted, but it wasn't, so we left. I'll try again next week. Sheesh, it's starting to feel like it's as hard to break into one of these joints as it is to break out.

Snitch Exposed in Charlie Lynch Case

As if the persecution prosecution of medical marijuana provider Charlie Lynch wasn't sufficiently sickening already, The New Times in San Luis Obispo has some stunning revelations about the involvement of a confidential informant who assisted police in the case.

Apparently, police employed a professional informant who obtained a doctor's recommendation and purchased marijuana at Lynch's dispensary. The guy is a world-class scumbag with a history of impersonating police officers and committing various crimes. His work in San Luis Obispo began when he personally approached police and offered to help generate drug arrests. Lynch's case was one of many, including another marijuana case in which one of the defendants ended up committing suicide.

While this guy probably wasn't a critical factor in making the Lynch case possible, his involvement adds another layer of moral depravity to the Lynch saga. Given that Charlie Lynch scrupulously followed state law, the only actual criminal involved in the case was the police informant!

As alarming and frequent as gratuitous drug war injustices are, they still somehow turn out to be even worse than we thought.

Medical Marijuana: Oakland Dispensary Tax in Hands of Voters

Voters in Oakland, California, will decide this month whether to create a new business tax aimed at the city's four medical marijuana dispensaries. Mailed ballots went out this week and must be returned to the city registrar's office by July 21 to be counted.
The tax measure, known as Measure F, would levy a business tax rate of $18 per every $1,000 in gross sales at dispensaries. Under the standard retail business tax rate, the dispensaries now pay $1.20 per every $1,000, meaning the new rate would be a whopping 1500% increase.

But that's okay with Oakland dispensary operators. In fact, it was the dispensaries that approached Oakland City Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Nancy Nadel about instituting a new tax.

Operators say they are willing to pay their fair share to help the city deal with pressing financial problems. The proposed tax should bring in $315,000 in tax revenues for the city in 2010, up substantially from the $21,000 generated under the retail tax rate last year.

It is also an effort to further legitimize medical marijuana in a city that is already pretty pot-friendly. "Criminals don't pay taxes," said James Anthony, an attorney for Harborside Health Center, one of the dispensaries. "Law-abiding citizens do. We are nothing if not law-abiding citizens," he told the Oakland Tribune.

Councilmember Kaplan, a prominent medical marijuana supporter, also argued in favor of the measure. "It is important that there be regulation and that there be a permit process and that there be taxation," Kaplan said. "Both because the city needs the revenue and to be sure that we weed out the bad actors."

The ballot measure needs a simple majority to pass. It is also supported by the broad-based Yes 4 Oakland coalition.

Medical Marijuana: Users, Growers Can Sue Over Police Raids, California Appeals Court Rules

In the first ruling of its kind, the California 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento held Wednesday that medical marijuana patients and growers can sue police for illegally raiding their properties and destroying their plants. The ruling came in County of Butte v. Butte County Superior Court.

In that case, a Butte County sheriff's deputy went to the home of medical marijuana grower David Williams and demanded he destroy all but 12 of the 41 plants he was growing for a seven-person collective. Williams had complete documentation for his grow, but, threatened with arrest, he complied with the unlawful order. He then sued the county and won in Superior Court.

The county appealed, arguing that patients and providers could invoke the state's medical marijuana law only as a defense to criminal charges, not to sue for damages. But the appeals court sided with the lower court, holding that medical marijuana patients and providers have the same right as any other citizens to sue officials who violate the constitutional ban on illegal searches and seizures.

Williams was relying on "the same constitutional guarantee of due process available to all individuals," wrote Justice Vance Raye for the 2-1 majority. Medical marijuana patients and providers do not need to suffer "the expense and stress of criminal proceedings," to assert their rights, he wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Fred Morrison wrote that Congress should ease the federal ban on marijuana to accommodate the 13 states that allow medical use. But in the meantime, he argued, no one has the right to use marijuana, and police can legally confiscate it.

The county is likely to appeal to the state Supreme Court. But unless and until that happens, law enforcement in California should be on notice that any misbehavior regarding medical marijuana could turn out to be very expensive.

I went to visit Will Foster in Jail A Couple of Nights Ago

I wrote about the Will Foster case in the Chronicle last week. Here's a brief summary: Foster had a small medical marijuana garden in Tulsa that was raided in 2005. Two years later, he was sentenced to an insane 93 YEARS in prison. Only after a publicity campaign in which DRCNet played a vital role was he resentenced to merely 20 years, and after being twice denied parole, he was paroled to California. Although Oklahoma thought Foster should be on parole until 2011, California decided he didn't need any more state supervision and released him from parole after three years. That wasn't punitive enough for Oklahoma. Although Foster had left the Bible Belt state behind with no intention of ever returning, Oklahoma parole officials issued a parole violation warrant for his extradition to serve out the remainder of his sentence. When Foster had to show ID in a police encounter, the warrant popped up, and he was jailed. Desperate, Foster filed a writ of habeas corpus and won! A California judge ruled the warrant invalid, and Foster was a free man again. But not for long. It's thirst for vengeance still unslaked, the state of Oklahoma issued yet another parole violation warrant for Foster's extradition because he refused to agree to an extension of his parole to 2015--four years past the original Oklahoma parole date. Then he got raided in California, thanks to bad information from an informant with an axe to grind. Foster had a legal medical marijuana grow, but it took a hard-headed Sonoma County prosecutor more than a year to drop charges, and Foster has been jailed the whole time. Now that the charges have been dropped, Foster still isn't free because Oklahoma still wants him back. Extradition warrants have been signed by the governors of both states, and he was days away from being extradited in shackles when he filed a new habeas writ this week. Filing the writ will stop him from being sent back to Oklahoma, but it also means he's stuck in jail for the foreseeable future. The writ is a legal strategy; his real best hope is to get one of those governors to rescind the extradition order. You can help. Click on this link to find out how to write the governors. I think a campaign of letters to the editor of Oklahoma papers might help, too. Those letters might ask why Oklahoma wants to continue to spend valuable tax dollars to persecute a harmless man whose only crime was to try to get some relief for his ailments--and who has no intention of ever returning there. ...So, anyway, I went to see Will at the Sonoma County Jail Saturday night. But I didn't get in. The steel-toes in my footwear set off the metal detector, and I quickly found out such apparel was a security risk. Who knew? I'll go back later this week. I guess I'll wear sandals. In the meantime, there are letters waiting to be written. Keyboard commandos, saddle up!

Alert: Medical Marijuana Defendant Bryan Epis Wants YOU to Take Political Action

Dear reformers:

You probably know my name from the pages of Drug War Chronicle. I was the first California medical marijuana provider to be prosecuted by the federal government -- in 1997, during the Clinton administration -- and I served two years before being released in 2004 while my ten-year sentence was appealed. Last month a federal judges panel upheld that sentence, and now I'm appealing to the full 9th Circuit.

I'm writing to readers because I'm one of 32 medical marijuana activists who are still caught up in a federal prosecution, despite the Obama administration's promise to stop interfering with state medical marijuana laws; and because there are 67 others of us whose convictions are final and who should be pardoned. I've created a "political action" page that asks you to sign eight online petitions and to write a letter to President Obama about these issues. The page also takes on other aspects of marijuana prohibition. Please visit my page at to sign them -- the only way that anything will change is if we all let our voices be heard, and the dozens of us caught up in this for helping patients need for change to come sooner rather than later.

A little bit about the petitions, three of which I authored. One of them is directed to US Attorney General Eric Holder, listing the 32 medical marijuana defendants whose cases should be dismissed. Another is about my case, and emphasizes some egregious prosecutorial misconduct that occurred in my case and affected the outcome -- I think you'll agree it's an astonishing story. A third is directed to President Obama, and lists all 67 defendants whose convictions are final and who should be pardoned because they were implementing state medical marijuana law. (Let me know if I've left anyone out.) The other five petitions are related to these issues.

Thank you for standing up and taking action.


Bryan Epis

Medical Marijuana: Revised New Hampshire Bill Passes Legislature, Awaits Governor's Approval
Clayton Holton
The New Hampshire legislature Wednesday approved revised medical marijuana legislation that would allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation, but not to grow it. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. John Lynch (D) for his signature.

The bill, HB 648, was amended earlier this month by a special legislative committee to address eight specific concerns expressed by Gov. Lynch. The bill had already passed the legislature, but faced a likely veto if Lynch's concerns weren't met.

The primary change to the bill was to remove the ability of patients and caregivers to grow their own medicine, which they can do in all other medical marijuana states. Under the amended bill, patients will have to go to one of three state-licensed nonprofit "compassion centers," which would be able to legally grow medical marijuana and dispense it to patients.

If the bill passes, New Hampshire will join New Mexico and Rhode Island as medical marijuana states that allow for state-licensed dispensaries. California's hundreds of dispensaries do not operate under state licensing, but are regulated at the local level.

"The bill now before Governor Lynch represents a victory for the spirit of compromise in which the needs of seriously ill Granite Staters are met while ensuring our communities have a well-regulated, safe medical marijuana program," said Rep. Evalyn Merrick (D-Lancaster), prime sponsor of the medical marijuana bill. "Now that the bill has been tailored to meet the governor's specific concerns, we hope he will choose to do the right thing and support this much-needed reform."

"Once again, the legislature has clearly acknowledged that seriously ill patients should not have to live in fear of being arrested by New Hampshire police," observed Matt Simon, executive director for the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, which was backed by the Marijuana Policy Project. "At this point, we can only hope that Governor Lynch will share the legislature's compassion."

Proponents of the measure Thursday began a radio ad campaign designed to pressure Lynch to sign the bill. It features Clayton Holton, a muscular dystrophy patient whose weight dropped to 80 pounds before he could access medical marijuana. The ads will air on several New Hampshire outlets for the next week.

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