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Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 50,000 people, including more than 15,000 in 2010 and another 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrests or killings of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Friday, January 20

In Durango, a high-ranking aide to Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was shot and killed by an army special operations unit. Luis Alberto Cabrera Sarabia, "the Engineer," is thought to have been responsible for cartel operations in Durango and parts of Chihuahua. One gunman was killed in the operation and eleven were taken into custody. Four soldiers were wounded during the gun battle.

Saturday, January 21

In Ciudad Juarez, a police officer was shot and killed on his way to work. A police spokesman said the officers were in a private vehicle when they were cut off by another car and several men opened fire.

In Sonora, a high-ranking Sinaloa Cartel figure was captured near the city of Cananea. Fidel Mancinas Franco is thought to have been in charge of cartel operations in Nogales, Agua Prieta, Naco and Cananea. He is also wanted in the United States in connection with the deaths of 11 migrants in 2009.

Sunday, January 22

In Atoyac de Alvarrez, Guerrero, eight men were killed at a funeral for a man shot days earlier. The men were attacked by men wielding automatic weapons.

In Acapulco, three bodies were found in an empty lot. Another individual was found decapitated in a car and a fifth died during an exchange of fire with the police.

Monday, January 23

In Veracruz, Mexican marines took over the duties of the local transit police. The move is designed to root out corrupt elements of the force, which, like the Veracruz municipal police, is thought to have been thoroughly infiltrated by organized crime groups.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least eight people were murdered. In one incident, four men were shot and killed when gunmen stormed a house in the south of the city. Earlier in the day, a naked body bound in duct tape was thrown from a moving car, along with a note from a criminal group.

In Saltillo, Coahuila, four gunmen were killed by the army. A local university was temporarily locked down during the incident.

Also in Saltillo, army and police forces conducted operations inside several penal facilities looking for drugs, weapons and other suspicious items.

Tuesday, January 24

Near Mexico City, five police officers were ambushed and killed as they made a traffic stop in Ixtapaluca. The officers had stopped a vehicle when a taxi and a minivan pulled up and they were shot at by gunmen with assault rifles. Police suspect the incident was an attempt to free people who had been taken into police custody.

Across Ciudad Juarez, banners threatening the municipal police were hung at various locations. Some of the notes also mention police Chief Julian Leyzoala by name. The banners were taken down and police stations in the city were put on high alert.

Two officers were shot and killed as they traveled in a private Ford Mustang in the city. At least five municipal police officers have been killed so far in 2012.

[Editor's Note: We are no longer going to keep a running tally of the death toll; the figures are too unreliable. The latest figures below were released by the Mexican government in January.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600
 
Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Partial Body Count for 2011 (official): 12,093*

Total Body Count (official): 47,705*

* Official figures through September 30, 2011. Unofficial estimates put the entire year's death toll at around 16,000, meaning more than 50,000 people have been killed by the end of 2011.

Mexico

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Lead us not into temptation with seized cash, nearby evidence rooms, and the perks of police powers, amen. A few law enforcement officers haven't been reciting the prayer. Let's get to it:

In Austin, Texas, the state attorney general's office is reviewing the use of asset forfeiture funds by the Brooks County Sheriff. An audit of $562,000 in asset forfeiture spending by Sheriff Balde Lozano found that he spent $394,000 to purchase 18 cars without county approval for reasons that had nothing to do with law enforcement and that he charged more than $88,000 in restaurant dinners, department and electronics store purchases, and at hotels and gas stations. He spent $3,000 at Cavender's Boot City alone. Lozano has not yet been charged with any crime, but the investigation comes only eight months after former Brooks County DA Joe Frank Garza was sentenced to prison for skimming at least $1.2 million from the fund for himself and his former staff members.

In Bridgeton, New Jersey, a Williamstown police officer was arrested last Wednesday on steroid-peddling charges, including a count of intending to deal drugs near a local school. Officer Robert Smith, 31, went down after local police received information he was involved in narcotics. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled dangerous substance with the intent to distribute, and distribution of a controlled dangerous substance in a school zone. At last report, he was being held in the Salem County jail on $75,000 cash bail. He has been suspended without pay and faces dismissal if found guilty.

In Alexandria, Louisiana, a former supervisor of the Rapides Parish drug task force was indicted last Thursday on a slew of drug and malfeasance charges. Michael LaCourt had originally been arrested in Augusts, but a parish grand jury issued a superseding indictment charging him with distribution of methamphetamine and conspiracy to distribute meth. He is also charged with having sex multiple times with a woman who was under the supervision of the Division of Probation and Parole. He faces four malfeasance charges, three of them for his misbehavior with the woman and one for falsely telling Crimestoppers that a certain person had provided information in a case, allowing that person to collect reward money. Bond was set at $150,000. LaCour had headed Metro Narcotics from 2008 until his August 2011 arrest. He went down after "three female offenders" complained about him.

In Carlsbad, California, a Carlsbad vice and narcotics detective was arrested last Thursday after he was caught stealing drugs from the evidence room "by various police employees." Det. Michael Koch, 44, an 18-year veteran of the department, was arrested within hours of the incident and posted $25,000 bail last Friday. The department declined to comment on the type or quantity of drug is accused of taking.

In Tucson, Arizona, a Border Patrol agent and an Arizona prison guard were arrested last Thursday on charges they had conspired to smuggle drugs into the US. Border Agent Ivhan Herrera-Chiang and corrections officer Michael Lopez are charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. Herrera-Chiang had been part of the Border Patrol's Smuggling Interdiction Group since March 2011, but was actually acting as a middle man between Mexican drug traffickers and Lopez. He is accused of monitoring Border Patrol radio and agent locations and notifying Lopez where the smuggling effort should occur. Both men are reported to have made at least partial confessions.

In Savannah, Georgia, a former Savannah-Chatham police officer pleaded guilty last Friday to extorting drugs and a cell phone while working off-duty at a night club while in uniform. Floyd Sawyer, 45, went down after DEA agents informed the FBI they had received reports that Sawyer and another Savannah police officer, Sgt. Kevin Frazier, were shaking down dealers at the club and taking their drugs and other possessions. FBI agents set up a sting, sending an undercover agent into the club posing as a dealer. Sawyer and Frazier shook down the agent, taking Oyxcontin pills and a cell phone from him. The pills ended up going to a local small-time dealer and the phone ended up with one of Sawyer's relatives. Sawyer pleaded guilty to extortion, but denied using force or intimidation, leaving the judge in the case to warn that he may not accept the plea bargain.

In Palm Beach, Florida, the commander of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office SWAT team has been placed on administrative leave, the office announced Tuesday. Lt. Daniel Burrows, a 17-year-veteran of the department was placed on leave January 3 amid allegations of misuse of prescription pain medication and possibly being under the influence of drugs while on duty.

Police Need Warrant for GPS Tracking, Supreme Court Rules

The US Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must obtain a search warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. But the decision was narrow, leaving unanswered lingering questions about citizens' expectations of privacy in an age of rapid technological advance.

The ruling came in US v. Jones, in which Washington, DC, nightclub owner Antoine Jones was convicted of drug trafficking offenses based in part on evidence developed after police placed a GPS device on his vehicle and monitored his movements for 28 days. (See the Chronicle's earlier coverage of the Antoine Jones case here.) Police had sought a warrant to place a GPS tracking device, but that warrant expired before the device was actually placed on Jones' vehicle.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said police needed a search warrant before attaching a GPS device to a suspect's vehicle. He was joined in the opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor.

"We hold that the government's installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a 'search'" under the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.

But the court split on whether the decision went far enough. Scalia wrote that if the government had been able to use electronic surveillance to spy on Jones without physically trespassing on his property, that may have been "an unconstitutional invasion of privacy." But, Scalia added, "The present case does not require us to answer that question."

That wasn't good enough for Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who, in a concurring opinion, said the court should have tackled the larger question instead of using "18th century tort law" to decide a case about "21st century surveillance techniques."

"The court's reasoning largely disregards what is really important (the use of a GPS for the purpose of long-term tracking) and instead attaches great significance to something that most would view as relatively minor (attaching to the bottom of a car a small, light object that does not interfere in any way with the car's operation)," Alito wrote.

It was the long-term surveillance itself, not the fact that police physically placed a tracking device on Jones' vehicle, that violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches and seizures, Alito argued.

"The use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy," he wrote. "For such offenses, society's expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not -- and indeed, in the main, simply could not -- secretly monitor and catalog every single movement of an individual's car for a very long period."

Although Justice Sotomayor joined the majority opinion, she also seemed disappointed that the court had not ruled more broadly. She wrote that the court had in effect ducked the big question of whether warrantless electronic surveillance was constitutional and warned that Monday's decision will do little to answer that question.

"With increasing regularity, the government will be capable of duplicating the monitoring undertaken in this case by enlisting factory- or owner-installed vehicle tracking devices or GPS-enabled smart phones," Sotomayor wrote. "In cases of electronic or other novel modes of surveillance that do not depend upon a physical invasion on property, the majority opinion's trespassory test may provide little guidance."

Still, this is a win for the Fourth Amendment and for individual privacy rights, even if it is limited.

Washington, DC
United States

Nevada Man Dies Eating Cocaine to Avoid Arrest

A man police identified as "a suspected drug dealer" died Wednesday night after ingesting a bag of cocaine as he was being detained by Las Vegas narcotics detectives. Anthony Barrett, 43, becomes the fifth person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to police, narcotics officers assisted by patrol officers learned Barrett was going to sell cocaine in his possession and pulled over his vehicle to investigate. As officers approached the vehicle, Barrett swallowed a bag believed to contain cocaine.

Police said officers on the scene summoned medical assistance as they took Barrett into custody. He was transported by ambulance to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, where he later died.

The Clark County coroner's office has not yet determined an official cause and manner of death. Detectives from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police investigations team responded and opened an investigation, police said.

Las Vegas, NV
United States

Hemp Farming Bill Filed in Kentucky

A bill to allow farmers to register to grow industrial hemp in Kentucky was filed last Thursday. House Bill 286 has 12 cosponsors.

hemp field at sunrise (votehemp.com)
The bill would create a process through which farmers could apply to grow hemp and then be vetted by state officials. If applicants passed a background check, they would pay a fee to be registered to grow hemp.

Hemp production is prohibited under federal law (unless the DEA authorizes a permit, which it doesn't), and the bill acknowledges as much, saying "nothing in [this bill] shall be construed to authorize any person to violate any federal rules or regulations."

But bill supporters said passage of a hemp legalization bill would send a message to Washington that Kentucky is joining the list of states that want to grow hemp. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a former House member, is among those supporters.

"This sends a message that this is something we're serious about here in Kentucky," Comer said.

According to the industry group Vote Hemp, nine states have passed bills authorizing either hemp production or research into it, while eight states have passed resolutions calling for legal hemp production.

Kentucky passed a hemp research bill in 2001, and hemp production bills have been introduced there each year since 2009.

Hemp is produced in at least 30 countries, and can be legally imported to the US, but not grown here because the DEA refuses to make a distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana. Hemp is the only plant that can be imported, but not produced here.

The bill was filed Thursday by Rep. Richard Henderson (D-Jeffersonville), with co-sponsors including former House Speaker Jody Richards (D-Bowling Green), David Osborne (R-Prospect) and Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville).

The bill has been assigned to the Agriculture and Small Business Committee.

Lexington, KY
United States

Guatemalan Leader Wants Decriminalization Talks

Newly installed Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has called for talks about a regional drug strategy, including drug decriminalization. Perez Molina made the remarks in an interview with the Mexican TV network Televisa, Miami's El Nuevo Herald reported.

Otto Perez Molina and the "iron fist" (wikimedia.org)
"I believe that the decriminalization of drugs would have to be a strategy in which all the region agreed," said the retired army general who took office January 14. "We're talking here from the south, where it is produced, through all the countries, like Guatemala, through which it passes, to Mexico and the United States. I think that if this is not the path, then when have to find another, but it has to be a regional strategy in which we are all disposed to make the same effort."

While praising Mexican President Felipe Calderon for making "a very great effort" in his fight against drug traffickers, Perez Molina complained that that effort "has not been matched by the United States, which is its neighbor and largest [drug] market."

Perez Molina's remarks on decriminalization come as something of a surprise. He said nothing like that during his election campaign, in which he vowed to use "an iron fist" against encroaching Mexican cartels. In one of his first acts in office, he emulated Calderon by calling out the armed forces to fight the cartels.

Both the Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel are reported to be operating in Guatemala, which borders Mexico to the north. The drug gangs are blamed for an increasing number of killings in the Central American country, the bloodiest being the May 2011 massacre of 27 farm workers whose boss had been targeted by the Zetas.

Guatemala

Arizona Governor Must Implement Medical Marijuana Law, Judge Rules

A state court judge in Phoenix last Thursday ordered Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) to fully implement the state's Medical Marijuana Act, which was approved by the voters in 2010. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Richard Gama said Brewer was acting illegally in refusing to implement the law.

[Update: Last Friday, Brewer said she would direct state employees to implement the law.]

Brewer had argued that she had the discretion to delay enactment of the dispensary regulating portions of the law while she sought clarity in federal court about whether state workers who would regulate the industry faced prosecution under federal laws. Brewer's federal case was thrown out earlier this month and she gave up on that avenue two weeks ago, but that was irrelevant as far as Judge Gama was concerned because he didn't buy her argument in the first place.

"Defendants cite no authority for this proposition, and the court has found none," Gama wrote in his ruling. "The voters intended the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act be implemented within 120 days. This has not been done."

In that ruling, Gama also held that rules on who can and cannot have a dispensary permit imposed by Health Director Will Humble were illegal. There was nothing in the law to allow such restrictions, Gama said.

This is the end of the road for Brewer's opposition to the medical marijuana law. She campaigned against it in 2010, but voters approved it anyway. Then, even as the state processed some 18,000 patient registrations, Brewer blocked the implementation of the portion of the law allowing up to 125 state-regulated dispensaries.

Her effort in federal court went down in flames last month, and now the state court has ruled against her. She could have appealed the state court decision, but chose not to.

Phoenix, AZ
United States

California High Court Takes Up Medical Marijuana Cases

The California Supreme Court announced last Wednesday it will review four medical marijuana cases decided by lower courts. In taking on the cases, the high court will attempt to resolve issues of federal, state, and local control that have tied the state's elected officials and medical marijuana community in knots for the past few years.

To be or not to be? That is the question the court will decide. (wikimedia.org)
The court will review Pack v. City of Long Beach, a case that began when a dispensary operator sued the city, saying the regulations it had crafted were too onerous. But instead of deciding whether the regulations were or were not too stringent, the appeals court threw out the regulations, saying that since marijuana is illegal under federal law, federal law preempted local officials from creating regulations for its sale.

Since the Pack decision, a number of California local governments have rescinded regulations they had crafted and instead opted to simply ban dispensaries from operating. Other localities have cited Pack as a reason not to move forward with plans to regulate dispensaries.

The court will also review City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, in which an appeals court ruled that cities and counties have the right to ban dispensaries. That ruling said neither Proposition 215 nor the state's medical marijuana program bars cities from banning the facilities.

As with Pack, local governments around the state have used the Riverside decision to move away from regulation and toward bans.

The court will also take up an unpublished ruling on a dispensary ban in Upland, which closely mirrors the legal reasoning in Riverside, and a case from Dana Point in which the issue of who has standing to challenge local dispensary regulations is at stake.

All four decisions have now been vacated pending the Supreme Court's decision, which is not expected for as long as two years. In the meantime, cities and counties can no longer rely on those decisions to argue they can't regulate dispensaries or that they can ban them.

The state Supreme Court is stepping into the fray even as federal law enforcement officials are in the midst of a renewed crackdown on medical marijuana providers across California. Federal lawsuits challenging that campaign have been filed in San Francisco and elsewhere.

The medical marijuana community welcomed the court's decision to take up the cases.

"These cases were very problematic for patients and their ability to safely and legally access a medication that works for them," said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "We're very pleased that local governments will now be unable to use appellate court decisions to deny patients access to medical marijuana in their own communities."

ASA was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the County of Santa Cruz in filing a brief last month asking the court to review the Pack case.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 45,000 people, including more than 15,000 in 2010 and approximately 12,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrests or killings of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Thursday, January 12

In Nuevo Leon, military personnel captured a high-ranking Zeta boss. Jesus Sarabia Luis Ramos, "El Pepito," was considered by authorities to be the fourth most important leader in the organization. He was known to operate in Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.

Sunday, January 15

In Culiacan, a Canadian national was gunned down. Salih Adabulazizz Sahbaz, 35, was apparently of Iranian or Iraqi origin and was carrying a large amount of cash on his person when he was murdered. The motive remains unknown. He is the third Canadian known to have been killed in Mexico so far this year.

Monday, January 16

In Cuernavaca, seven gunmen were killed in a fire fight with federal police. One officer was wounded in the clash. The gunmen were traveling in three stolen vehicles when police intercepted them.

In Zacapetec, Morelos, the local police chief was shot and killed by three men on motorcycles while he was at a gas station. He survived the initial shooting but later died in a local hospital.

Tuesday, January 17

In Little Rock, Arkansas, authorities indicted 22 individuals on trafficking charges for being part in a meth operation with links to Mexican cartels. Seventeen of those are now in custody. Police also seized 13.3 pounds of "ice" meth and seven vehicles, five weapons and $163,590.

In Ciudad Juarez, gunmen stormed a home and killed four individuals inside. Three of the dead were found in a bathroom where they had attempted to hide. Local media reported that at least some of the men had been released from prison six months ago.

In Nayarit, police arrested a local cartel boss. Benigno Ibarra Valle, 30, "El Guero Pelocho," was the head of the "Pelochos," a local branch of the Sinaloa Cartel. He is suspected in the deaths of at least five police officers in recent weeks. Nine other individuals were also taken into custody.

In Lazaro Cardenas, authorities seized 194 tons of meth precursor chemicals on a ship from China. The containers were all headed for Guatemala or Nicaragua.

[Editor's Note: We are no longer going to keep a running tally of the death toll; the figures are too unreliable. The latest figures below were released by the Mexican government in January.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600
 
Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Partial Body Count for 2011 (official): 12,093*

Total Body Count (official): 47,705*

* Official figures through September 30, 2011. Unofficial estimates put the entire year's death toll at around 16,000, meaning more than 50,000 people have been killed.

Mexico

Medical Marijuana Update

Here's our weekly look at medical marijuana news from around the country. There's plenty going on--and late breaking news from California Wednesday afternoon.

California

On January 11, the city of Upland filed a motion that would allow it to close the G3 Holistic dispensary. The motion seeks to vacate a stay granted by the 4th District Court of Appeal in Riverside to G3 back in June. The co-op and the city disagree over whether the stay allows the dispensary to stay open despite an injunction granted to the city in August 2010 by the West Valley Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga.

Also on January 11, Mendocino County officials confirmed that the feds are threatening to sue over the county's marijuana cultivation permit program. The warning was delivered during a meeting a week earlier, county officials said. The program is already suspended pending resolution of a court case about whether local governments can regulate activities prohibited by federal law. Supervisors will consider amending its medical marijuana ordinance at the January 24 meeting.

On January 12, Shasta County medical marijuana advocates fell short in their effort to gather enough signatures to force a recent county ordinance restricting marijuana growing onto a ballot before it became law that day. Nor Cal Safe Access needed 6,544 valid signatures  to place a referendum on the ballot. Organizers didn't have an exact count, but said they gathered "thousands." It wasn't enough. The ordinance bans growing inside residences but allows it in detached accessory structures and sets limits for outdoor growing regardless of how many patients live at a residence.

Last Thursday, federal prosecutors filed a forfeiture complaint against the Sacramento Holistic Healing Center. The feds said the center had been warned in October it was operating within a thousand feet of an elementary school and high school and told to cease operations.

Also last Thursday, the owner of the Regenesis Health dispensary in Adelanto was arrested by San Bernadino County sheriff's deputies. Ramsey Najor, 69, of Hesperia was arresting for violating municipal codes and suspicion of assault on a peace officer after he dragged a deputy with his car as he fled the scene.

Also last Thursday, the Sonoma County Planning Commission recommended a cap on dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. The planners want to limit the number at nine. The Board of Supervisors will have to vote on it later. There currently are six permitted dispensaries in the unincorporated area of Sonoma County and another three pending applications. In addition there are four dispensaries within city limits: two in Santa Rosa, one in Cotati and one in Sebastopol. Those cities also have caps that prohibit additional shops. The remaining six cities in the county ban dispensaries.

Last Friday, Lake County authorities reported that dispensary numbers are dwindling. Supervisors decided last month that they are not authorized land uses in the county's jurisdiction and have moved forward with the abatement process to close them down. Of 10 dispensaries that were operating in unincorporated areas of the county, as few as three are still open.

Also last Friday, a second dispensary has opened in Murrieta despite a citywide ban. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club has been hit with thousands of dollars in fines and several code violations every day. Owner Eric McNeil said he plans to fight the ban in court. The first dispensary to open, the Cooperative Medical Group, which opened in July, is now closed by court order after going several rounds with the city's attorneys. They are still awaiting a final court decision in that case.

Also last Friday, the LA city council's Public Safety Committee approved a motion to ban dispensaries in the city. The motion now moves to the city council and Planning Commission, which next meets January 26. The motion would indefinitely shutter the estimated 300 dispensaries in the city. The motion is the work of Council Member Jose Huizar, who said he was responding to the Pack v. City of Long Beach ruling, which held that that city's ordinance, which is similar to LA's, violated federal law by attempting to regulate the sale of a federally banned drug.

On Tuesday, an East Palo Alto dispensary announced it was closing its doors because of threats from the feds. The Peninsula Care Givers Collective said it was losing its lease after its landlord received a letter from the federal government threatening to seize the building. The city had passed an ordinance in July banning dispensaries, but Peninsula Care Givers was already open by then and refused to close. The city had been pursuing civil remedies. East Palo Alto police Chief Ron Davis said the city had contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office for help in shutting down Peninsula Care Givers.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local law enforcement raided the Green Tree Solutions dispensary in Kearney Mesa. It was the fourth raid on a San Diego area dispensary in less than a week. The DEA raiders were met by protesting patients and advocates.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA raided three Costa Mesa dispensaries, along with their owners' homes. The targeted businesses were American Collective, Otherside Farms and Simple Farmer.

Also on Tuesday, the Monroe city council voted to extend a moratorium on dispensaries for 180 days, and will revisit the issue in 60 days.

Also on Tuesday, the Poway city council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries, collectives and cooperatives.The ordinance will go into effect within 30 days if the council adopts it at its February 7 meeting.
 

On Wednesday afternoon, the California Supreme Court said it would review two controversial medical marijuana cases. In Pack v. City of Long Beach, the appeals court held that federal law preempted the city's ability to regulate dispensaries and in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, the appeals court held that cities could ban dispensaries altogether. The two rulings have been used by elected local officials to back away from regulating dispensaries and toward banning them.

Colorado

Last Thursday, federal prosecutors sent threat letters to 23 dispensaries and their landlords across Colorado warning that they must shut down within 45 days or "action will be taken to seize and forfeit their property." The letter was sent to dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of a school.

Last Friday, state Sen. Steve King said he would reintroduce a drugged driving bill. The bill would set a per se limit on THC, meaning police would not have to prove actual impairment, only that the driver's THC levels exceeded the limit. Such laws are fervently opposed by the state's medical marijuana patients, who managed to block one last year.

Idaho

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill, HB 370, was introduced in the Idaho House. It is the brain child of Rep. Tom Trail (R-Moscow), who filed similar legislation last year. It got an informational hearing in the House Health & Welfare Committee, but didn't proceed. HB 370 would permit patients with debilitating medical conditions to be dispensed up to 2 ounces of marijuana every 28 days; they'd have to get it from state-authorized "alternative treatment centers."

Michigan

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a pair of medical marijuana cases that could clarify the state's murky law. In one case, the issues include when someone using marijuana must have consulted a doctor and received a state-issued registration card to be legally protected under the medical marijuana law. In the second case, the court must consider what constitutes an "enclosed, locked facility" under the law.

That same day, an Oakland County circuit court judge dismissed the case against seven employees of the Clinical Relief dispensary in Ferndale. Clinical Relief was the first dispensary raided back in August 2010, and since then Michigan's Court of Appeals has ruled that person-to-person marijuana sales through dispensaries are illegal, but that ruling hadn't been made when the Ferndale workers were arrested, so the judge dismissed the case. Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said she plans to appeal.

Montana

Last Friday, federal prosecutors filed charges against four more people in their ongoing offensive against the medical marijuana industry in the state. They are 33-year-old Christopher Durbin, 40-year-old Justin Maddock, 29-year-old Aaron Durbin and 33-year-old Trey Scales. Christopher Durbin also is charged with structuring, or making bank deposits of less than $10,000 in order to avoid IRS reporting requirements.

New Jersey

On January 11, Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon said he would file a bill that would keep the state's medical marijuana growers from running afoul of zoning laws. The move comes after several New Jersey communities have blocked dispensaries or grows through zoning laws.

Last Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he would not force towns to allow medical marijuana facilities. He said he would veto O'Scanlon's bill if it came to that.

On Wednesday, patients and supporters rallied at the statehouse steps in Trenton to protest Gov. Christie's failure to implement the state's medical marijuana law. The protest and press conference came two years after the measure was signed into law. There are still no dispensaries in New Jersey.

Ohio

Last Thursday, backers of a medical marijuana initiative filed language with Attorney General Mike DeWine in a first step toward getting the measure on the November ballot. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment of 2012, accompanied by nearly 3,000 signatures, will be submitted to DeWine to review the language summarizing the proposal. This is the second time the amendment has been submitted; the first proposal was rejected last year after DeWine said it did not fairly summarize the measure. If approved, backers will need to collect 385,245 signatures to get it on the ballot. A competing proposal, the Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment, has already been approved for signature gathering.

Virginia

Last Thursday, a bill, House Joint Resolution 139, requesting the governor to seek rescheduling of marijuana was filed in Richmond. Governors in four medical marijuana states have already called for rescheduling.

Washington, DC

On Tuesday, the DC city council approved emergency legislation limiting the number of marijuana cultivation permits in each ward to six. The measure came after residents of Ward 5 complained that because zoning restrictions closed off large swathes of the city to grows, their neighborhoods would be inundated.

Drug War Issues

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