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Use of National Guard in Legal Michigan Medical Marijuana Grow Raid Raises Questions

Location: 
MI
United States
The ACLU of Michigan says it is too early to tell if the use of National Guard assets was legal, or if the DEA was right to conduct the raid. "This situation seems to raise more questions than answers. The federal government has a policy of not enforcing federal marijuana laws where state medical marijuana laws are being followed," said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. "However, if a grow operation is being conducted outside of the confines of the MMMA, federal law enforcement may have reason to investigate and act." Gov. Rick Snyder’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this situation.
Publication/Source: 
The Michigan Messenger (DC)
URL: 
http://michiganmessenger.com/45414/use-of-national-guard-in-federal-raid-raises-questions

Did CVS Buy Its Way Out of a Meth Indictment? [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker

[Editor's Note: Clarence Walker is a veteran Houston-based journalist who writes on criminal justice issues and who dearly wishes this piece was called "CVS in the Hood." He wishes all readers a Happy New Year! Walker can be reached at cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com.]

Drug agents across the land pursue their endless war against methamphetamine with relentless vigor, busting tweakers daily and breathlessly trumpeting the seizure of yet another "meth lab," which these days often consists of no more than a couple of soda pop bottles and a few chemicals available from your general store. Yet in the relentless campaign against meth and its manufacturers, it seems some are more equal than others.

CVS, the largest operator of pharmacies in the United States, confessed back in October that it knowingly allowed crystal meth manufacturers to illegally buy large amounts of pseudoephedrine (PSE), an active ingredient used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. To avoid criminal prosecution, CVS officials agreed to pay the federal government a $75 million fine for narcotics violations, the largest cash money penalty in the 40-year history of the Controlled Substances Act.

Although pseudoephedrine is a common ingredient in over the counter cold medications and is legal to purchase from drug stores in Canada and the US, because it can also be used to make methamphetamine, it is illegal for pharmacies to sell a person more than 3 1/2 grams of PSE per day. But DEA and state narcotic officers eventually learned that meth cooks were able to get around the law by employing "smurfs" -- people working with meth cooks who make repeated legal purchases of PSE at numerous different pharmacies.

As early as 2007, dealers targeted CVS, and according to the DEA, the top CVS officials were warned by employees of the illegal violations. DEA reported that the pharmacy's head honchos ignored the warnings and demanded the workers continue selling the large amounts of PSE in California and Nevada.

Authorities say CVS in effect assisted meth cookers by failing to provide adequate safeguards to monitor the legal amount of PSE that customers could buy. DEA said the violations occurred not only in California and Nevada, but in Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina and 23 other states currently under investigation. Between September 2007 and November 2008, CVS's illegal practice of overselling PSE products caused the DEA to tag them as the largest suppliers of pseudoephedrine to meth traffickers in Southern California.

US Assistant Attorney Shana Mintz said, "Rather than choosing to over-comply with the law like their competitors did, they knowingly under-complied with the law."

Federal agents began investigating CVS in 2008 after pseudoephedrine seized at Southern California meth labs was traced back to the pharmacy chain. News media stories reported that CVS installed an automated system called Meth Tracker to track individual sales but that the mechanism didn't stop multiple same-day purchases.

Around Los Angeles, smurfs would hit CVS locations and raid the shelves of PSE products and cough and cold medicine tablets. Prosecutors said that in LA County alone over a 10-month period in 2008, sales of pseudoephedrine products such as Contac, Sudafed, Dimetapp and Chlor-Trimeton increased more than 150% over the same period in 2007.

"CVS knew it had a duty to prevent methamphetamine trafficking, but failed to take steps to control the sale of a regulated drug used by meth traffickers as an essential ingredient for their poisonous stew," said US Attorney Andre Birotte in a statement after the settlement. "This case shows what happens when companies fail to follow their ethical and legal responsibilities," he added.

"This historic settlement underscores DEA's commitment to protect the public's health and safety against the scourge of methamphetamine," said Michele Leonhart, the acting administrator of the DEA, in a statement.  "CVS's flagrant violation of the law resulted in the company becoming a direct link in the meth suppy chain."

While the feds were busy patting themselves on the back, CVS was busy absolving itself. In a statement, CVS Chairman and CEO Thomas Ryan said, "We have resolved this issue which resulted from a breakdown in CVS/pharmacy's normally high management and oversight standards."  The lapse, Ryan said, "was an unacceptable breach of the company's policies and was totally inconsistent with our values."

Small-time meth cooks are routinely sent to prison for years for "drug manufacturing," and people who help them out by buying small amounts of PSE go up the river for conspiracy, but not corporate criminals like CVS. Did the millions CVS paid the government keep company leaders from being indicted on drug charges?

During the DEA investigation of the CVS pharmacies, over 50 people were charged with possession with intent to manufacture methamphetamine for purchasing the PSE products they bought illegally from CVS stores. Each defendant faces prison time, while CVS officials who knowingly allowed the illegal purchase of the drugs get off scot free by paying millions that eventually will be recouped.

The arrest of the CVS smurfs sparked a heated debate about equal justice and disparities in the treatment of small-time smurfs and big-time corporate entities. "It doesn't seem fair to let those like CVS that ignored the law and sold massive amounts of an ingredient to make that poison get away with just a fine. Yes, it's a hefty one, but they'll probably just raise prices to offset it," said Dean Becker, the Houston-based host of KPFT radio.

"As always, the powers that be are utilizing fear and loathing to continue their eternal war. CVS and all the corporations that are subject to the oversight of the DEA are pawns in the game of fear," said Becker. "Why are people using CVS to make speed?"

Attorney Diane Bass says her client has been punished disproportionately while corporate decision-makers go free.
No one is more infuriated with the disparity in treatments of drug offenders, particularly in the CVS case, than California attorney Diane Bass.  Based in Laguna Beach, California, Bass represents one of the female defendants charged in federal court with possession with intent to manufacture the PSE drugs purchased from CVS.

"If this was any other drug case, CVS would be the 'source' of the drugs the government would be most interested in prosecuting, and CVS would receive the longest sentence," she told the Chronicle. "Here, CVS paid a fine of $75 million and walked away without facing criminal prosecution while the small players like my client who are meth addicts trying to earn a few bucks to buy their drugs are facing excessively long prison sentences. This isn't fair. It's outrageous!" Bass said.

"In my client's case, she needed the money to buy her medication for her illness. She's on SSI and had no money to pay for her medicine," the defense attorney explained. "These are certainly not the people that Congress intended to punish when it promulgated the PSE sentencing guidelines. I believe they intended to punish those who actually manufactured methamphetamine -- those whom my client sold the PSE cold medicine to."

Bass complained the disparity in treatment in this case is so unfair she will fight tooth-and-nail for her client to show how corporations break the law an only pay a fine, while the small fry goes to prison.

While corporate behemoths like CVS can buy their way out of trouble, that's not necessarily the case for Ma-and-Pa operations, like that of Oklahoma pharmacist Haskell Lee Evans Jr., 68, a member of the State Board of Health, who was recently indicted for "recklessly" selling pseudoephedrine to make crystal meth -- the same act committed by CVS.

Evans, the owner of Haskell's Prescription Shop in Lawton, Oklahoma, allegedly sold pseudoephedrine to undercover agents with valid licenses who had not exceeded the limit of purchase. The PSE sales were considered "reckless" on one count because the agents arrived in the same vehicle to do a purchase. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmonson is aiming to convict Evans on all accounts and ask a judge to dump him in prison for up to 43 years. Supporters of Haskell Evans are urging pharmacists to join a Facebook page called Pharmacists and Citizens in support of Haskell Evans.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the year-end holiday season, attorney Diane Bass reflected on the year ahead as she prepared to battle the federal government. She intends to ask the court to lessen her client's penalty due to the improper dispensing of the PSE drugs by CVS to the defendant.

"The federal sentencing guidelines in my client's case calls for a sentence around 188 months due to the fact she and her co-defendants purchased several thousand milligrams of pseudoephedrine from CVS," she said. "I have requested that the US attorney recommend a variance or departure based on the fact except for CVS' illegal sales to customers of more than 3.6 grams per day or 9 grams per month, my client never would have been able to purchase the amount she purchased. I believe she should only be sentenced as if she had purchased 9 grams per month which would result in a 60 month variance. Hopefully, since my client suffers from serious medical conditions and has had a tragic life, the court will grant a further down departure in sentencing."

A poor, sick, drug addicted woman's lawyer fights to get her sentence reduced to only 10 years for buying too much of a legal, over-the-counter medicinal product, while CVS gets off the hook by paying millions and has the opportunity to make millions more by staying in business. Disparate justice isn't just about race in America, it's also about class.

Feds Taking Michigan to Court to Get Access to Some Medical Marijuana Records

Location: 
MI
United States
Michigan's Department of Community Health is refusing to voluntarily turn over the records of seven medical marijuana patients to the federal government. The federal government is now taking the state to court to get them.
Publication/Source: 
Michigan Radio (MI)
URL: 
http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/michigan/news.newsmain/article/1/0/1745280/Michigan.News/Feds.taking.Michigan.to.court.to.get.access.to.some.medical.marijuana.records

Federal Fake Marijuana Ban Challenged

Location: 
Duluth, MN
United States
A Duluth man is now part of the first lawsuit challenging a federal ban on several ingredients found in synthetic marijuana products. Jim Carlson owns Last Place on Earth in downtown Duluth. He was already challenging the city's ban on fake pot ingredients.
Publication/Source: 
WDIO (MN)
URL: 
http://www.wdio.com/article/stories/S1901571.shtml?cat=10335

Senate Unanimously Confirms Leonhart as DEA Head

The US Senate December 22 unanimously confirmed Michele Leonhart as DEA adminstrator. Leonhart, a long-time DEA veteran, had served as acting administrator since late in the Bush administration and was nominated to head the agency by the Obama administration.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/mleonhart.jpg
Michele Leonhart
Drug reformers and concerned others had attempted last this year to block her nomination, citing her supervision of numerous raids on medical marijuana providers when she was Special Agent in Chief in Los Angeles, her refusal to allow a Massachusetts academic permission to grow marijuana for research purposes, and her unsavory relationship with former DEA "supersnitch" Andrew Chambers.

But those efforts got no traction in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where senators failed to ask a single tough question raised by reformers. The only flak Leonhart got in the committee was from Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Herb Kohl (D-WI), who complained about strict DEA drug diversion programs that made it difficult for seniors in nursing homes to receive pain medications in a prompt and timely fashion.

Kohl went so far as to announce a hold on her nomination to block a floor vote because of the issue, but although Leonhart refused during her confirmation hearing to tell him when the DEA would respond on the issue, Kohl lifted the hold before the vote, allowing her confirmation to go ahead.

Washington, DC
United States

This Year's Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories

A lot went on in the realm of drug policy reform in 2010. Here is our summation of what we think are the biggest stories of the year.

fire truck lent by Dr. Bronner's for SSDP/Prop 19 campus tour
Marijuana on the Verge -- Prop 19, Public Opinion, and the Looming Sea Change

California's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative, Proposition 19, ultimately failed to get over the top on Election Day, but it garnered 46.5% of the vote, the highest ever for a legalization initiative, and generated reams of media coverage, making it the most watched initiative of any in the land this year. The battle for Prop 19 also yielded the broadest coalition yet behind marijuana legalization, as unions, dissident law enforcement groups, and Latino and African-American groups got on the legalization bandwagon in a big way for the first time. Launched with over a million dollars of funding from Oakland cannabis entrepreneur Richard Lee, the initiative garnered significant additional support during the campaign's final months, including a late $1 million donation from George Soros, but too little and too late to make a difference in the nation's largest and most expensive media market. The coalition that came together around Prop 19 is vowing to stay together and work to place another initiative on the ballot, most likely in 2012.

If California has legalization on the ballot in 2012, activists in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington all took steps this year to ensure that it won't be alone. Ill-funded and controversial legalization initiatives missed making the ballot in Oregon and Washington this year, but organizers in both states have vowed to try again, and Sensible Washington, the folks behind this year's effort there, already have a pro-legalization billboard up on I-5 in the Seattle area. In Colorado, organizers bided their time this year amidst the medical marijuana explosion there, but are busy laying the groundwork for a legalization initiative there.

This year also saw a legalization bill pass out of the California Assembly Public Safety Committee in January, a first in the US. While that bill died later in the session, sponsor Tom Ammiano (D-SF), reintroduced it in March and it awaits further consideration in Sacramento. In New Hampshire, a decriminalization bill passed the House in March, only to be killed in a Senate committee in April, while in Washington state, legalization and decriminalization bills got a January hearing before dying in committee later that same month. In Rhode Island, a decriminalization bill was introduced in February and a state legislative commission endorsed it in March, but the bill went nowhere so far. Later in the year, the California legislature passed and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a decriminalization bill there. And in November, a marijuana legalization bill passed the House in the US territory of the Northern Marianas Islands, marking the first time a legalization bill has passed a legislative chamber anywhere in the US. It was later defeated in the Senate. No legalization or decriminalization bills passed this year, but the day is drawing near.

A plethora of public opinion polls this year suggest why, as support for pot legalization is now hovering just under 50%. In January, an ABC News/Washington Post poll had support at 46%; in April, a Pew poll had it at 41%. By July, an Angus-Reid poll had support at 52%, while Rasmussen showed it at 43%. In November, a Gallup poll had support for legalization at 46%, its highest level ever and a 15 percentage point increase over just a decade ago. Some of these polls showed majority support for legalization in the West, which will be put to the test in 2012.

Medical Marijuana -- the Ongoing Battle

The acceptance of medical marijuana continued in 2010, as two states, New Jersey and Arizona, along with the District of Columbia, became the latest to legalize the medicinal use of the herb. It's worth noting, however, that medical marijuana is not yet being produced or consumed in any of those places, even though the New Jersey legislation was signed into law in January and the DC medical marijuana initiative was actually revived last year. To be fair, voters only approved the Arizona initiative in November, and regulators there have three more months to come up with enabling regulations.

But the acceptance is by no means complete, and resistance from recalcitrant law enforcement and local governments continues apace. A medical marijuana initiative in South Dakota and an Oregon initiative to create a system of state-licensed, nonprofit dispensaries both failed in November. And despite efforts to pass medical marijuana bills through numerous state legislatures, none beside New Jersey came to fruition this year. Bills have stalled in Alabama, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Wisconsin, among others, even as they are continually pared back to be ever more restrictive in a bid to appease opponents.

Medical marijuana states that have less loosely written laws -- all via the initiative process, including California, Colorado, Michigan, and Montana -- proved to be highly contested terrain in 2010. The blossoming of hundreds of dispensaries in Colorado this year led to the passage of regulatory legislation this summer, while a similar, if more limited outbreak of envelope-pushing in Montana has legislators there vowing to rein in the industry when they reconvene next year. In Michigan, law enforcement in some locales has arrested people in apparent compliance with the state law. In all three states, battles have also broken out at the city or county level, especially over efforts to ban medical marijuana operations. These fights will continue.

California is a world of its own when it comes to medical marijuana. The most wide open of the medical marijuana states, which, thanks to the language of Proposition 215, allows for medical marijuana to be recommended for virtually anything, it is also the state where legal and political conflict over medical marijuana is most entrenched. Despite more than a decade of litigation, the legality of selling medical marijuana remains unclear, and depending on the attitude of local authorities, dispensaries can be -- and are -- subject to raids and prosecution. The medical marijuana community dodged a bullet in November when Kamala Harris defeated dispensary arch-foe Steve Cooley, the Republican Los Angeles County prosecutor. Meanwhile, in communities across the state, battles rage over banning dispensaries, or, in happier circumstances, over how to permit and tax them. And medical marijuana is increasingly recognized for the big business it is. A growing number of California towns and cities this year voted to tax medical marijuana, and Oakland gave the go-ahead for massive medical marijuana mega-farms, although it may now retreat in the face of rumblings from the Justice Department. None of this got resolved this year, and the fight over medical marijuana in the Golden State is unlikely to wind down any time soon.

The DEA Continues to Misbehave

And then there's the DEA. It was in October 2009 that the Justice Department released its famous memo telling the DEA to butt out if medical marijuana operations in states that had approved them where not violating state law. While DEA raids have certainly declined from their thuggish heyday in the Bush administration, they have not gone away. After a Colorado medical marijuana grower had the temerity to appear on a local TV news program showing off his garden, the DEA raided him in February. The DEA also hit Michigan medical marijuana operations at least twice, in July and again early this month. The DEA has also raided numerous California medical marijuana operations this year, including the first collective to apply for the Mendocino County sheriff's cultivation permit program and a number of beleaguered San Diego area dispensaries. In most cases, the DEA is relying on the cooperation of sympathetic local law enforcement and prosecutors. Making the DEA live up to the Holder memo is a battle that is yet to be won.

The Obama administration's nomination of acting DEA administrator Michele Leonhart is not a good omen. Despite a horrendous record at the DEA, including a stint as Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles during the height of the Bush administration raids on medical marijuana facilities, and in St. Louis during the Andrew Chambers "supersnitch" perjury scandal, Leonhart's nomination has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and is likely to be approved by the Senate as a whole once she takes some actions to improve access to pain medications for seniors in nursing homes -- an issue on which Sen. Herb Kohl was said will cause him to place a hold on a floor vote until she and the agency address it.

Drug War Juggernaut Continues Rolling

While support for marijuana decriminalization and/or legalization continues to grow, and while a number of states have enacted sentencing reforms in response to fiscal pressures, the drug war juggernaut keeps rolling along, chewing up lives like so much chaff. US law enforcement made more than 1.6 million arrests on drug charges last year, more than half of them for marijuana offenses, marking the first year pot busts made up more than half of all drug arrests. The number is actually down slightly from the previous year, but only marginally so, as drug law enforcement keeps humming along. But in the current economic crunch, such a high level of enforcement and punishment may no longer be sustainable. A Pew report found that state prison populations had declined for the first time since the 1970s, if only by 0.4%, although the federal prison population, more than 60% of which consists of drug offenders, increased by 3.4%. Similarly, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported than US jail populations had decreased for the first time in decades, dropping by 2.3% over the previous year. The tiny turnarounds are a good thing, but there is a long, long way to go.

Rolling Back the Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity


For the first time in the modern drug war era, Congress this year rolled back a harsh drug sentencing law. The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses had been under the gun for more than decade as it became increasingly evident that the laws were having a racially disproportionate impact. Under the old law, five grams of crack would earn you a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, while it took a hundred times as much powder cocaine to garner the same sentence. Although a majority of crack users are white, blacks accounted for more than 80% of all federal crack cocaine prosecutions. A bill to reduce, but not eliminate, the sentencing disparity passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in March and the Senate as a whole weeks later. The House Judiciary Committee had already passed a similar measure that would completely eliminate the disparity, but the House leadership chose to go along with the Senate, reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but not completely eliminating it when it voted to approve the bill in July. President Obama signed the bill into law days later. While passage of the bill is a milestone, it leaves work undone. The sentencing disparity, while reduced, still exists, and thousands of prisoners sentenced under the harsh old law remain in prison because the new law lacks retroactivity.

Demands for Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients, the Unemployed, and Even Politicians

The impulse to score cheap political points by unleashing moralistic wrath on the poor and the unfortunate remained alive in 2010. As in years past, efforts to demand drug testing of unemployment recipients or people receiving welfare benefits went nowhere, but not for lack of trying. In fact, the year was bookended by such efforts, starting with a Missouri bill that would have mandated drug testing for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients upon "reasonable cause." That bill passed a Senate committee and the House in February, but died in the Senate after a Democratic filibuster. Similarly, drug testing bills in Kentucky, South Carolina, and West Virginia all died, as did a silly Louisiana bill that would have allowed Louisiana elected officials to submit to a voluntary drug test and post the results on the Internet. Later in the year, successful Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott called for mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients, a call he has vowed to carry out as governor.

Attack of (on) the Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids marketed as incense under names like Spice and K-2 first showed up on the national radar last year, and by early 2010 the prohibitionist impulse began rearing its ugly head in state legislatures across the land. Containing synthetic cannabinoids JWH-018 or JWH-073, synthesized by a university researcher in the 1990s, the stuff was available at head shops, smoke shops, and corner gas stations everywhere, as well as on the Internet. Although no overdose deaths linked to synthetic cannabinoids have been reported, there have been reports of emergency room visits and calls to poison centers by people under its influence. But it wasn't the alleged dangers as much as the fear that someone, somewhere could be getting high without getting into legal trouble that impelled a series of statewide and municipal bans. In March, Kansas became the first state to ban synthetic cannabinoids, followed by Alabama in April, Georgia in May and Missouri in July. Also banning the compounds this year were Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Tennessee. Similar legislation was also proposed in several more states, including Florida, Ilinois, and New York. Then, in November, the DEA announced an emergency nationwide ban to go into effect in 30 days, meaning you have until Christmas to use the compounds legally. After that, you're a federal criminal.

SWAT Raids and Drug War Killings

It's not just the massive extent of the drug war that generates criticism, but the law enforcement violence and overkill that too often accompanies it. This year, the now infamous SWAT team raid in Columbia, Missouri, in February that left a dog dead and a family traumatized in a raid over marijuana went got national attention when a video of the raid went viral on the Internet at mid-year. Another SWAT raid in Detroit in May generated outrage when it resulted in the death of 7-year-old girl shot by a raider, and that same month, a Georgia grandmother suffered a heart attack when her home was mistakenly hit by the local SWAT team and DEA agents. And then there was the case of Trevon Cole, a 21-year-old black man killed as he knelt in his own bathroom as the apartment he shared with his pregnant girlfriend was raided over small-time pot sales. The police shooter, of course, was found innocent of any wrongdoing in a coroner's inquest, and now Cole's family is suing. So is the family in the Columbia SWAT raid.

Sentencing Reforms Continue in the States

In a bid to reduce corrections spending, a number of states in the last decade have moved to implement sentencing reforms, and 2010 saw the trend continue. In May, Colorado passed reforms that will reduce some drug use and possession sentences, allow greater judicial flexibility in sentencing, and keep some technical parole violators from being sent back to prison. But the package also increases some drug sales and manufacturing sentences. In June, South Carolina passed reforms that will end mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. In August, Massachusetts passed reforms that will eliminate some mandatory minimums in a bill that was watered down from an earlier Senate version.  In all three cases, it was not bleeding hearts but bleeding wallets that was the impetus for reform.

A Congressional Drug Warrior Goes Down in Flames

It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. This year is also notable for the spectacular May end to the career of inveterate congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). The doughy cultural conservative crusader from the heartland resigned from Congress after admitting at a press conference to having an affair with a female staffer with whom he had once made abstinence videos. Souder is best known to drug reformers as the author of the "smoke a joint, lose your federal aid" provision of the Higher Education Act, and thus deserves credit for almost singlehandedly causing the formation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. But his enthusiasm for the war on drugs also led him to the chairmanship of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources from 2001 to 2007, where he used his position to support harsh drug policies. He was, for instance, a staunch foe of medical marijuana and a loud voice against the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendments, which would, if passed, have stopped federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers. To be fair, Souder did offer committee legislation in 2006 to restrict the reach of his student aid penalty, and he was also a key Republican supporter of the recent "Second Chance" prisoner reentry funding legislation. Still, reformers are happy that one of the staunchest and most active drug warriors is out of Congress now, struck down by his own hypocrisy.

DEA, State Cops Raid Legal Michigan Medical Marijuana Grows [FEATURE]

Once again, this time last week in Michigan, the federal DEA has teamed up with recalcitrant state and local law enforcement in a bid to negate the will of the public and the law of the land. Heavily-armed state and federal lawmen raided a pair of medical marijuana gardens in the town of Okemos, outside Lansing, breaking windows, throwing smoke grenades, and seizing thousands of dollars worth of equipment and medical marijuana plants -- all in a raid of a facility that is undeniably within the confines of Michigan's medical marijuana law.

Michigan marijuana activists take to the streets (courtesy Capital City Care Givers)
The gardens subleased to two individual caregivers by Capital City Care Givers in nearby Lansing contained a total of 40 marijuana plants. Under the Michigan law, caregivers can grow up to 12 plants each for up to five patients, as well as growing 12 plants for themselves if they are patients. That means the two caregivers should have been legally protected in growing up to 72 plants each, or 144 in total.

The apparent hole in the law that the DEA and the state police could be seeking to exploit is that the law does not directly address the issue of conjoined grows. It says only that caregivers can grow up to 12 plants for up to five patients and does not address more than one caregiver growing under the same roof. On the other hand, the law does not forbid such activities.

"This was an operation of the state police and the DEA," said Detroit medical marijuana activist Tim Beck. "The state police couldn’t even get a warrant from a local judge, so the DEA had to get one from a federal judge in Grand Rapids. The state police claim that they are captives of the local prosecutor, but in this case, the local prosecutor didn't cooperate with them, so they went around him to the feds."

"We were completely in compliance with the law," said Ryan Basore, proprietor of Capitol City Care Givers, whose grow was hit. "We had contacted the local, county, and state police, and they all gave the go ahead and said we were doing it legally. We had two different attorneys write up the leases and go through plant counts and make sure everything was correctly separated. Every caregiver was well under the limit."

That didn't stop the DEA, the state police, and the Tri-county Metro Narcotics Squad from behaving as if they were busting an Al Qaeda cell. Raiding agents threw smoke bombs in the building, paraded around with AK-47s, and stole the marijuana being grown by legally compliant caregivers. When asked about the Holder memo, the agents acted as if they were above the law. "Obama is not our president," Basore reported the agents saying."The people wanted change," Basore overheard another agent say as they effectively laughed in the face of their own superiors.

"All I can tell you is that this is an ongoing investigation in which we procured the search warrant," said Detroit DEA spokesman Special Agent Rich Isaacson. "Just because someone makes a claim that it is medical marijuana doesn't make it so."

When asked about the October 2009 Justice Department memo urging the DEA to quit going after medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, Isaacson appeared to agree with the memo, but then suggested Capital Caregivers was somehow outside the state law. "If it's unambiguous that they're following state law, there would be better ways for the department to spend its resources," he said.

"Our mission is to target large scale drug trafficking groups," Isaacson said, but clammed up when confronted with the fact that the raids had seized only 40 plants. "That number may or may not be accurate," was all he would say.

Basore has been a prominent figure in the state's medical marijuana movement. He is a member of various cannabis patient groups and the Michigan Association of Compassionate Care Centers. He's been available to local and state media, and as a result, he has a very high profile. That could have been why he was targeted, his supporters suggested.

"This raid came about because Ryan Basore was in the media for the past few weeks talking about his desire to have regulated dispensaries," said Detroit attorney Matthew Abel. "He is a very successful businessman in this industry, and I think they just decided to take him down. They do that to anyone who goes public, and that's highly retaliatory against our First Amendment rights. He was talking to the press, so they took him out. That's pretty nasty."

"Ryan is high-profile, he's politically active and on TV all the time, but he's also scrupulously honest," said Beck. "That operation was absolutely straight up," he said.

"We're very troubled by the continuing raids involving the DEA that are occurring around the country, and we've been saying this for a long time," said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. "It is not the purview of the federal government to enforce state or local laws. If the feds believe state or local law may have been violated, they should leave those cases to the state to prosecute. Only then we will find out if there were in fact violations of state or local law, because if those cases go to federal court, prosecutors will not risk opening the door to a medical marijuana defense," he said.

"The DEA conducts these raids and provides very little evidence of state law violations," said Hermes. "They rarely, if ever, produce any actual physical evidence of state law violations."

It's not just Michigan where the DEA is acting out, said Hermes. "We've seen well over 20 DEA raids since Justice issued its memo, and while that is for sure a less aggressive posture than the Bush administration, any raids are unacceptable if they are going to undermine the implementation of a state's medical marijuana law," he said. "That has been the effect in California and Colorado, where the DEA attempts to undermine the state medical marijuana law," Hermes argued.

"US attorneys have received notice that there was a change in policy, and that has filtered down to DEA agents across the country in medical marijuana states," Hermes continued. "Eric Holder and the Obama administration have given pretty broad latitude to use discretion in enforcing federal marijuana laws in medical marijuana states, and it's mostly US attorneys and DEA field agents who consider their targets to be violating state or local law. The shadow of the Justice Department memo is coloring enforcement actions, and hopefully we'll see fewer raids in the future, but it's that discretion that has resulted in the continuing raids."

"The DEA has been all over Michigan trying to subvert this law, running around recommending that municipalities pass laws saying that any activity which is contrary to state local or federal law is also illegal," Beck noted.  "That is being challenged in court by the ACLU."

For Basore, it's not just about picking up the pieces and starting over. "I'm thinking about suing the state of Michigan, said Basore. "I think I have an entrapment case. I would never have broken the law unless I was told it was okay to do, and some of those who told me it was okay were in on the raids."

And it is full speed ahead, recalcitrant state police and DEA be damned. "We haven't been charged with anything, we're legal to grow in Michigan, and our patients need their medicine," said Basore. "If they are going to rob us at gunpoint again, they're going to do it. But we'll keep doing what we're doing, we have the law on our side."

The feds don't even have to prosecute to have inflict severe pain, Abel said. "They clean you out, and then where are you?"

"There will be bankruptcies filed because of this," said Basore. "Most of our caregivers are in the their 60s, and they're not rich."

The DEA and reactionary state law enforcement officials are once again showing serious signs of thinking they are above the law. Someone needs to rein them in, whether through lawsuits, in the streets, or at the ballot box.

Okemos, MI
United States

Maine Sheriff Calls for Drug Agency Chief's Ouster

Location: 
ME
United States
The sheriff in Maine's easternmost county, Washington County's Sheriff Donnie Smith, is crossing swords with Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Director Roy McKinney. Smith said that the MDEA is a "rogue agency." He cited several incidents including an agent's misuse of a stun gun, $3,000 in missing drug buy money and a video that surfaced showing an agent flash his badge, drink some beer and then drive away.
Publication/Source: 
New England Cable News (MA)
URL: 
http://www.necn.com/12/07/10/Maine-sheriff-calls-for-drug-agency-chie/landing_politics.html?&blockID=3&apID=094c0b1212054e2e9a0f0276d80a6957

Senator to Place Floor Hold on DEA Nominee Leonhart

The nomination of acting DEA administrator Michele Leonhart was passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, but Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) said he intended to put a hold on her nomination on the Senate floor because of concerns over access to pain medications by nursing home residents. (Watch the hearing here; go to the 43:20 mark.)

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/mleonhart.jpg
Michele Leonhart
"I have continuing concerns about her nomination," Kohl told the committee. "I'm not going to hold her up here today, but I do intend to hold her nomination up on the Senate floor until we make more progress on our goal of ensuring nursing home residents get timely access to the prescription drug care that they need. The most recent suggestions we received from the Department of Justice require waiting for all 50 states to take action. That's not acceptable.  Everyday nursing home patients continue to suffer from agonizing pain, so we need to get a solution to this problem of getting them the prescriptions drugs they need to alleviate this pain when they need it, which is not happening today."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) also used the Judiciary Committee executive session to criticize the DEA. "DEA has been a real impediment to providing needed comfort and relief to seniors in nursing homes and far too bureaucratic," he said. "The agency has also been a real impediment to the expansion of e-prescribing -- only under real pressure have they tried to accommodate our very important concerns about developing the health infrastructure. I look forward to stronger signals from the DEA that they will take these concerns seriously."

"I suspect these comments will be heard loud and clear," said committee chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), before calling a vote on Leonhart's nomination.

Leonhart is strongly opposed by the drug reform and medical marijuana communities, which had urged senators to ask her tough questions about DEA raids on medical marijuana providers, her refusal to approve a Massachusetts researcher's request for permission to grow his own marijuana, and other grounds. None of the senators actually did ask about those issues during her confirmation hearings last month, although the senior pain relief issue was also aired then.

Washington, DC
United States

Senator Kohl Threatens to Hold Up DEA Nominee Over Nursing Home Drug-Dispensing Issue

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) continues to express his reservations about Michelle Leonhart, the nominee to lead the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Leonhart on Wednesday, Kohl said he still has concerns about the DEA's policy regarding the delivery of pain medications in nursing homes. "I will not hold her nomination in the Committee today, but I do intend to hold her nomination on the Senate floor until we have made more progress towards our goal of ensuring that nursing home residents get timely access to the prescription drug care they need," Kohl told the committee.
Publication/Source: 
McKnight's Long-Term Care News (NY)
URL: 
http://www.mcknights.com/kohl-threatens-to-hold-up-dea-nominee-over-nursing-home-drug-dispensing-issue/article/192036/

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