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Medical Marijuana Update

After a brief hiatus, the DEA wrecking ball was back at work in California this week. Also, an important court victory in Colorado, a couple of court losses in Oregon, and Vermont is accepting dispensary applications. And there's a whole bunch more, too. Let's get to it:


Last Wednesday, Kern County dispensaries said they would try to overturn Measure G, a ballot measure approved by 69% of voters a day earlier. Measure G will require dispensaries to move to unincorporated areas of the county and also specifies that they must be a mile away from schools, churches, public parks, daycares, and each other. Dispensary operators said they are weighing their options for a legal challenge.

Last Thursday, the Humboldt County Planning Commission voted to revoke the permit for a Myrtletown dispensary. City planning staff said the Humboldt County Collective had failed to meet certain requirements outlined in its conditional use permit, including failing to widen a driveway and to provide financial information proving the collective is a nonprofit. The April arrest of collective president Bill Byron, 42, in Pennsylvania on suspicion of marijuana trafficking also didn't help. Byron has since stepped down as president. Now, the matter moves to the county Board of Supervisors.

Last Friday, an LA City Council panel gave its approval to the "gentle ban" that would shut down dispensaries all across the city but allow patients and collectives to have gardens. The council's Public Safety Committee voted 3-1 to recommend the proposal by Councilmen Jose Huizar and Mitch Englander to shut down dispensaries pending a state Supreme Court decision on the legality of permitting them. The panel also voted against a competing measure from Councilman Paul Koretz that would have allowed 100 dispensaries to stay open under strict regulation. Next comes a vote of the full council, but a date for that hasn't been set yet.

Also last Friday, Imperial Beach activists handed in signatures for a Safe Access Ordinance initiative in the city. Activists from San Diego Americans for Safe Access and the LGBT non-profit Canvass for a Cause handed in 1,555 valid signatures, or roughly 15% of all registered voters in the community. They collected more than 2,600 signatures, then verified their authenticity internally.

On Monday, DEA agents raided the El Camino Wellness dispensary in Sacramento. The dispensary was among a group targeted by the US Attorney in Sacramento last fall, and the owner of the building in which it was located had been the recipient of a letter from federal prosecutors warning her property could be seized. The DEA raiders were jeered by protestors who mobilized on hearing of the raid.

Also on Monday, a Lake County board approved a motion recommending guidelines for the number of plants allowable on small parcels. The Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Committee Monday approved a motion recommending allowing no more than three two plants uncovered outdoors for parcels smaller than a quarter of an acre, and up to six uncovered plants for parcels between one-quarter and one-half acre in size. The measure was approved on an 8-1 vote and now goes to the Board of Supervisors.

On Tuesday, the Lake Elsinore city clerk announced that an initiative campaign was underway to seek the legalization of dispensaries in the city. Backers of the initiative published a public notice last month, so signature gathering should get underway soon. The petition asks residents if they want an election to be held so voters could decide whether to approve an ordinance that would allow a limited number of medical marijuana dispensaries. The proposed ordinance would establish how such medical marijuana operations, also referred to in the petition as cooperatives, would be taxed, regulated and monitored. The city imposed a ban on dispensaries in 2010. An earlier initiative campaign fell short.


On Monday, an El Paso County jury acquitted a medical marijuana grower of drug cultivation charges. Elisa Kappelmann, 52, had been looking at up to 12 years in prison on state charges after being arrested by Colorado Springs police in connection with a grow she was operating. Police said she was not in compliance with Colorado Department of Public Health documentation requirements. But defense attorney Robert Corry argued that Kappelmann had physicians' recommendations and caregiver forms for each of her 22 patients and was within her plant count even under the strictest interpretations of the laws. After six days of deliberations, the jury voted to acquit. Corry called the trial a "failed political test case" and urged El Paso County prosecutors to rethink their interpretation of the medical marijuana law.

Also on Monday, the Dacono City Council voted to ban medical marijuana businesses. The 4-2 vote will close three dispensaries, which have a little more than six months to leave town. Dacono has regulated dispensaries since 2009, although it's had a moratorium barring new ones since 2010. Angry dispensary operators and patients berated the council and vowed to file initiative petitions to get the ban overturned.


Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of medical marijuana opponents who argued the likely November ballot question was misleading. The Massachusetts Prevention Alliance had filed a petition against the question in May, but it was rejected by Attorney General Martha Coakley's office. Now Coakley and Secretary of State William Galvin must rewrite the "yes" section of the ballot question and get the new wording approved by the court. Opponents had challenged even the use of the term "medical marijuana," arguing that it isn't recognized as medicine under federal law, but the high court was okay with the term.

New York

On Wednesday, the New York Assembly passed its medical marijuana bill on a vote of 90-50. That's the third time a medical marijuana bill has passed the Democratically-controlled Assembly, but it has always been blocked from a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. This year is expected to be no different.


Last Wednesday, a Washington County dispensary operator pleaded guilty to unlawful delivery of marijuana for payment and was sentenced to probation. Local police arrested Terry Spaunhorst, 54, the operator of Serene Dreams Medical Greens in Hillsboro. Prosecutors said Spaunhorst sold marijuana, a clear violation of Oregon's medical marijuana law. Last year, authorities raided another Washington County dispensary, Wake 'n Bake Cannabis Lounge in Aloha and convicted its owner on similar charges with similar results. A third dispensary, the Human Collective in Tigard remains open.

Last Friday, a Grants Pass man became the first registered Oregon grower to be convicted on federal drug trafficking charges. Jason Nelson, 36, was one of four medical marijuana growers from Southwestern Oregon who pooled their harvests and made monthly shipments from Portland to Boston in pods loaded with furniture bought from Goodwill. The other three faced state charges. Federal prosecutors crowed over the conviction and said they had "one more bit of evidence out there so people can be thinking critically whether or not this is what they want in their communities."


Last Thursday, the Department of Public Safety announced that dispensary applications are now available. The department will authorize up to four medical marijuana dispensaries throughout Vermont based on a competitive scoring process. Applications are now being accepted, and the closing date to apply is June 22, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. A $2,500 non-refundable application fee must accompany all applications. To view the rules for the Vermont Marijuana Program (VMP) and to obtain a dispensary application, go to the Vermont Criminal Information Center.

Washington, DC

On Tuesday, city officials announced that all four dispensaries are free to pursue building and other permits. All four had previously advanced through the city licensing process, and three of the four have already won necessary approval from Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. But it will still be months before patients are able to obtain their medicine in the nation's capital; medical grows approved earlier have not yet planted crops, and the dispensaries will not have any product until the grows harvest.

AG Holder Accused of Lying About Medical Marijuana Crackdown [FEATURE]

US Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday and defended his Justice Department's crackdown on medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. Holder told committee members the agency was only targeting only those medical marijuana businesses that were "acting out of conformity… with state law."

Eric Holder
That had medical marijuana defenders up in arms at what they called his falsehoods. Advocates pointed to numerous dispensaries and other medical marijuana-related enterprises that were operating in compliance with state laws and with the support of local elected officials that have been raided by the DEA or subjected to other federal enforcement actions.

Holder's comments came in response to questioning from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who pointed out that during his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama had promised that he wouldn't use "Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue."

Holder agreed that the Justice Department had broken with Bush administration policy and promised not to go after people operating in compliance with state laws. But large-scale growers and dispensaries have "come up with ways in which they are taking advantage of these state laws and going beyond that which the states have authorized," Holder added. "Those are the only cases we've being going after."

Nadler pointed out that since 2009, the DEA and federal prosecutors have raided almost 200 dispensaries and growers and indicted more than 60 medical marijuana providers on federal drug charges and again asked Holder to clarify.

Holder responded that the Justice Department is only going after "those individuals (and) organizations that are acting out of conformity... with state laws."

Holder added, however, that in some cases, mainly in Colorado, the department was also targeting dispensaries located "too close" to schools. Those enforcement actions were taken not because the dispensaries were violating state laws, but because they were inside the 1,000-foot range specified by an enhanced federal sentencing statute.

Holder "lied to the House Judiciary Committee" in saying the Justice Department was only going after dispensaries and growers that were not in compliance with state laws," California NORML (CANORML) retorted bluntly. "The Justice Department's bad faith seriously impugns the credibility and competence of Attorney General Holder and his administration."

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), was only slightly more politic.

"What he said to our congressional representatives should be alarming not only to medical cannabis patients, but also to policymakers and the general public, because, based on all of the available information we have, it surely must be a lie," she wrote on the Huffington Post.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) was a bit more diplomatic.

"The problem with Holder's statements is that the federal government's determination of compliance with state law is still fairly ambiguous, even arbitrary," MPP spokesman Morgan Fox told the Chronicle. "This makes it difficult for medical marijuana providers to know if they are safe, creating a chilling effect on the entire industry and resulting in pain, suffering, and potential danger for patients forced to resort to the illicit market."

The states should decide whether a dispensary is violating state law, he added.

"At the end of the day, it should be state authorities who determine if operators are in compliance with state law, not federal prosecutors who view the entire industry through a filter of illegality," Fox said. "Beyond that, using any federal resources to interfere with medical marijuana in states where it is legal is an inexcusable waste when there are far more serious problems that need attention."

CANORML was quick to point to a long list of California medical marijuana facilities that had been raided, threatened, or driven out of business by federal enforcers despite having sterling reputations, local official support, and complying with state laws and local regulations. Among them are many well-known and -respected operations including the Berkeley Patients Group, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, Richard Lee's Oaksterdam University and Blue Sky Coffee Shop, Mendocino County's Northstone Organics, and at least five San Francisco dispensaries, including  the Vapor Room, Hope Net, Divinity Tree, Shambhala, and Medithrive.

CANORML noted that in all of those cases, local officials denounced the Justice Department enforcement actions, "but US Attorneys have insolently disregarded community sentiment."

And that's just in Northern California. US Attorneys in other parts of the state have been equally -- if not more -- active in going after medical marijuana providers. Just one day before Holder addressed the committee, federal prosecutors in Southern California announced a crackdown on Los Angeles County dispensaries, with the DEA raiding two dispensaries and federal prosecutors sending threat letters to 34 more.

The statewide crackdown has been ongoing since last October, when the state's four US Attorneys jointly announced their campaign to rein in the industry. According to ASA, the federal actions have forced more than 300 medical marijuana operations to shut down.

"It's simply not believable that all of these taxpaying businesses were operating in violation of state law," Sherer noted, before asking a series of pointed questions. "If they were, why didn't the state take part in the raids? Why didn't the state or local authorities issue arrest warrants? Why would state and local politicians stand up for businesses breaking state and local laws?"

And stand up they have. Local elected officials, state representatives, state officials, even California Attorney General Kamala Harris have all urged the feds to butt out. Harris wrote to all four US Attorneys in December, telling them the federal government was "ill-equipped" to interpret and enforce state medical marijuana laws.

The fight continues. On Wednesday, the same day the feds announced a new phase of their offensive in Southern California and the same day President Obama visited the Bay Area on a fundraising trip, three San Francisco supervisors wrote an op-ed asking him to "keep the commitment he made to stop the federal government's attacks on medical cannabis."

For medical marijuana advocates, listening to Attorney General Holder saying he is only targeting operations in violation of state laws is bringing back memories of that old country and western music song: "Who are You Gonna Believe? Me or Your Lying Eyes?"

Washington, DC
United States

US Senate Passes Synthetic Drug Ban, Without Mandatory Minimums [FEATURE]

The Senate has passed House Resolution 1254, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011, which would federally criminalize the possession, distribution, and manufacture of synthetic cannabinoids ("fake marijuana") and synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"). The measure has already passed the House, and President Obama is expected to quickly sign it into law.

The synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as "herbal incense" and sold under brand names such as K2 and Spice, while the synthetic stimulants are marketed as "bath salts" and sold under a variety of names, including Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky. Poison control centers and emergency rooms around the country have reported a sharp increase in synthetic drug incidents in the past two years, with Spice users reporting adverse effects similar to those sometimes reported with marijuana, while bath salts users have suffered more serious adverse effects, including hallucinations, psychotic breaks, and death.

Fake pot or bath salts or both are already banned in a number of states, and more states are considering criminalizing them. Both types of drugs have already been subject to emergency bans by the DEA while its legislatively mandated process for evaluating new drugs proceeds.

A widely publicized incident over the weekend in which a man chewed off parts of another man's face before being shot and killed by police has heightened concerns about the new synthetics, generating headlines like "Miami cannibal zombie-like attack linked to powerful 'bath salts' drug," but at this point, such claims are pure speculation. Police in the case have also posited "a new form of LSD" and "cocaine psychosis" to explain the attack, but any real information will have to await a toxicologist's report.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) had single-handedly blocked passage of the bill for months by placing a senatorial hold on it. Paul objected to harsh mandatory minimum sentences in the bill, as well as to further broadening of the federal war on drugs.

But bill supporters, led by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), resorted to a parliamentary maneuver to get it passed. They quietly attached it to an FDA regulatory bill, which the Senate passed last Wednesday.

Sen. Rand Paul got mandatory minimums removed
Still, Sen. Paul was able to insert language into the bill specifying that the Controlled Substance Act's mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for anyone supplying a drug that causes severe bodily harm or death to a user does not apply to the newly banned synthetics. That's because in order to get the FDA bill approved by Memorial Day, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who actually sponsored the amendment adding the synthetics to the FDA bill, had to win unanimous consent for his amendment. Paul agreed not to object after Portman inserted the language about the mandatory minimums.

The bill still contains draconian sentencing provisions, including sentences of up to 20 years for a first sale or manufacturing offense and up to 30 years for a subsequent offense.

The bill's sponsors said after the vote that its passage would strike a strong blow against the new synthetics, but industry advocates and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) disagree.

"Let this be a warning to those who make a profit manufacturing and selling killer chemical components to our teens and children: the jig is up," Schumer said in a statement. "This bill closes loopholes that have allowed manufacturers to circumvent local and state bans and ensures that you cannot simply cross state lines to find these deadly synthetic drugs."

"These new designer drugs can kill, and if we don't take action, they are going to become more and more prevalent and put more and more people at risk," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), another sponsor of the bill said in a statement. "Today's action is good news for this critical legislation to give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on synthetic drugs before they put more lives in danger, and I will continue to work to ensure these provisions are signed into law."

But the Retail Compliance Association (RCA), which represents smoke shop and convenience store operators and which opposed the bill, pointed out that the bill only bans five chemical families and only names 15 synthetic cannabinoids. Many of those compounds are already off the market, the RCA said, adding that the bill does not include hundreds of additional compounds unrelated to the chemical families banned under it.

"This bill will be touted as banning what law enforcement has deemed 'fake pot,' but it does no such thing; it actually only bans a few of the potential ingredients of these products, by no means the products themselves," said RCA spokesman Dan Francis. "The bill's range of enforcement may well be limited to the specifically named compounds because labs cannot test for chemical families, nor can the police or retailers. The products are tested by many different levels of this industry, and no lab I have spoken with has a test to determine the chemical family," Francis added.

The CBO, for its part, published a cost analysis of the bill in November that found its impact would be minimal.

"Based on information from industry and law enforcement experts, CBO expects that, by the date of the legislation's enactment, most vendors will have largely replaced the banned substances with new products because many states have already passed legislation banning some or all of the compounds listed in the bill and because the DEA has already issued emergency rules temporarily banning five cannabimimetic agents and three synthetic stimulants," the analysis found.

Still, Congress can pat itself on the back for "doing something" about the new synthetic drugs -- whether or not it actually does anything good.

Washington, DC
United States

DEA Facing Fallout from Deadly Honduras Raid

In the Honduran village where four residents were killed last week by gunfire from a helicopter on a US-backed anti-drug operation complete with DEA agents on board the chopper, feelings continue to run high. On Monday, they told the Associated Press that DEA agents also accompanied Honduran commandos who stormed into homes and mistreated residents after the raid, but the agency denies that.

In the predawn hours of May 11, Honduran National Police and DEA agents were searching for a boat supposedly carrying a load of cocaine when they said they came under fire from the river. The Hondurans opened fire, but the boat they attacked was a small fishing vessel, not a smuggling craft, and the attack left two pregnant women and two others dead and four other people wounded.

The helicopter is owned by the US State Department and was one of four being used in the operation, which had already resulted in the seizure of cocaine from the banks of the river. Police on the ground and the door-gunner for one helicopter opened up on the boat.

The DEA said its agents did not open fire and did not participate in heavy-handed raids in the immediate aftermath. But villagers in the town of Ahuas said masked agents then landed in their community and broke down doors, looking for a trafficker they called "El Renco." The witnesses referred to some of the agents as "gringos" and said they were speaking English.

After the commandos left, angry villagers formed a machete-wielding mob and burned government installations and four homes belonging to families associated with El Renco. Police Chief Filiberto Pravia Rodriguez said he tried to stop the mob, but had to run for his life.

The incident comes as the US is ramping up its support of Honduran anti-drug efforts. The Obama administration is increasing the amount of anti-drug assistance and is working with the Honduran military to create forward operating bases to fight the cocaine traffic from Colombia en route to North America.

Human Rights watch has called for an investigation into the killings.

"It is critical that both Honduran and US authorities ensure that the killings are thoroughly investigated to determine whether the use of lethal force was justified," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for the group. "If evidence demonstrates that security forces violated international standards, they must be held accountable."

At least one congressman, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) is calling for a review of US military assistance to Honduras, where the Honduran military took part in a coup in 2009 and where continuing human rights violations are alleged to be taking place.

"I have consistently expressed deep concerns regarding the danger of pouring US security assistance into a situation where Honduran security forces are involved in serious human rights violations," he told National Public Radio last week. "The problems are getting worse, not better, making such a review all the more urgent."

Local leaders aren't waiting for investigations or reviews. They want the DEA out now.

"For centuries we have been a peaceful people who live in harmony with nature, but today we declared these Americans to be persona non grata in our territory," the leaders of five indigenous groups said in a press statement last week picked up by the AP.


DEA Now Ensnared in Colombia Prostitute Scandal

First it was Secret Service agents and members of the military who were part of President Obama's security detail during his trip to the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, last month. Now, allegations of dalliances with prostitutes there have spread to the DEA.

The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General is investigating possible misconduct by at least two DEA agents, federal officials told the Associated Press Monday. ABC News reported the same day that at least three agents are involved.

The alleged misconduct is unrelated to the Secret Service scandal, but evidence of it developed as the Secret Service investigated.  The DEA said it was making its employees available to be interviewed by investigators.

"The Drug Enforcement Administration was provided information from the Secret Service unrelated to the Cartagena hotel Secret Service incident, which DEA immediately followed up on, making DEA employees available to be interviewed by the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General," a DEA spokesperson said in a statement. "DEA takes allegations of misconduct very seriously and will take appropriate personnel action, if warranted, upon the conclusion of the OIG investigation," the statement said.

Sen. Susan Collins, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee said in a statement Tuesday that she had been informed of the allegations against the DEA agents on May 4, but had been asked to stay quiet until the agents involved could be returned to the US and questioned.

"It's disturbing that we may be uncovering a troubling culture that spans more than one law enforcement agency," Collins said. "In addition to the Secret Service scandal, we now learn that at least two DEA agents apparently entertained female foreign national masseuses in the Cartagena apartment of one of the agents. The evidence uncovered thus far indicates that this likely was not just a one-time incident."

Twelve Secret Service agents have been fired or disciplined in the prostitution scandal, and 12 military personnel have also been implicated. Whether any DEA agents will take a fall remains to be seen.


Medical Marijuana Update

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

New Hampshire

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

New York

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


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

Rhode Island

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


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

(This article was published by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

House of Representatives Votes Down Defunding Medical Marijuana Raids [FEATURE]

Four US representatives introduced an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill, House Resolution 5326, which would bar the agency from spending funds to attack medical marijuana operations in states where it is legal. The bill was being considered Wednesday, before failing on a voice vote Wednesday evening.

A roll call vote was taken later, with the amendment failing 163-262 -- 50 Democrats opposed it and 28 Republicans supported it. While the total number of "ayes" was almost identical to the last time the amendment was offered several years ago, that reflects the larger number of Republicans in the House. Both Democrats and Republicans voted for the amendment in greater percentages than in the past. [Ed: We will publish analysis of the voting breakdown this week.]

Rep. Hinchey addresses a 2005 press conference on medical marijuana, as Montel Williams awaits his turn at the podium.
The House heard Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jerold Nadler (D-NY), and Steve Cohen (D-TN) speak in favor of the amendment, while the most notable opposition came from committee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA).

Hinchey was a cosponsor of the amendment, as was Rohrabacher, of Huntington Beach, and his California colleagues Reps. amie Farr (D-Carmel) and Tom McClintock (R-Auburn).

As a presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama said his administration would not use its resources to undermine state medical marijuana laws, especially if people were following their state’s law. At first, the administration lived up to his word. Shortly after he was elected president, the Department of Justice issued a memorandum to US Attorneys urging them not to waste taxpayer dollars and law enforcement resources arresting and prosecuting people following their state’s medical marijuana law.

But according to the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access, the DEA has undertaken more than 200 raids against medical marijuana dispensaries and associated businesses since it took office in 2009, with most of them coming in the past year. Beginning in March 2011 with raids on dispensaries across Montana, the Justice Department has shifted its stance on medical marijuana, becoming much more aggressive in enforcing federal law.

It's not just the DEA. Federal prosecutors in dispensary states, such as California, Colorado, and Montana, have also been aggressively targeting medical marijuana operations. They typically try to intimidate dispensary operators and/or their landlords in voluntarily closing their doors by issuing threat letters in which they warn that operators and/or landlords could face civil asset forfeiture or even criminal prosecution if they do not comply.

The threat letters are based on arbitrary standards having nothing to do with state medical marijuana laws. Instead, federal prosecutors typically allege that targeted dispensaries are within 1,000 feet of a school or playground. There is no federal law disallowing dispensaries in those areas, but there is a federal sentencing enhancement for drug law violations within them, and federal prosecutors are using that statute as a measuring rod for deciding which dispensaries to pick on.

The federal crackdown has, to some extent, worked. The Montana medical marijuana distribution scene was all but wiped out by federal raids and prosecutions, dozens of dispensaries have been forced out of business in Colorado, and more than 200 have closed in California.

But medical marijuana supporters and advocates have been mobilizing their forces, too. The crackdown has been criticized by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and drug reform friend Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), as well as elected officials in all three states and local Democratic Party organizations in the San Francisco Bay area.

And this week, the fight came to the House.

"It is time for the federal government to stop targeting the legal vendors that are providing safe access to this treatment, and instead focus limited resources on those who sell illicit drugs," Farr said in a statement. "The amendment I will offer with my colleagues will work to assure funds under the Department of Justice do not target the safe access to treatment patients need."

A plethora of medical marijuana and drug reform groups and even labor unions were mobilizing their members to contact Congress this week in a bid to show popular support for reining in the feds. Among them was the Drug Policy Alliance.

"Both Democrats and Republicans are telling the Obama administration: enough is enough, stop wasting taxpayer money to undermine state medical marijuana laws, said Bill Piper, the group's director of national affairs. "President Obama needs to realize his assault on patient access is not just immoral -- but a serious political miscalculation. For more than a decade, polling has consistently shown that 70% to 80% of Americans support medical marijuana."

For the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents dispensary workers in California and Colorado, smothering the federal crackdown is not just about compassion, it's about jobs and the economy.

"The UFCW supports the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment," the group said in a statement Wednesday. "Medical marijuana laws have been enacted to allow patients safe and legal access to appropriately produced and compliantly dispensed medical marijuana in the safest possible environment and UFCW members in the medical cannabis industry work in accordance with state laws to provide safe and effective medical treatment for persons suffering from cancer and other serious medical conditions.

"At a time when millions of hardworking Americans are out of work and still struggling to make ends meet, the use of taxpayer money for the misguided targeting and prosecution of an industry that provides Americans with good middle class jobs with benefits is counterproductive. The US Justice Department should not use the fewer resources it has to focus on targeting patients and dispensaries abiding by state law. That is a problem that the Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment will solve and the UFCW wholeheartedly supports it," the union said.

The political calculus behind the Obama administration's crackdown on medical marijuana is unclear. What is certain is that the opposition to it is broad and cuts across party lines.

"History is calling on President Obama to protect terminally ill patients from suffering, and he is dangerously close to falling on the wrong side," said Piper. "He will continue to pay a political price as long as his administration continues to waste taxpayer money undermining state law."

The Obama administration may have won a victory Wednesday night, but even victories come with a cost.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

Rhode Island

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


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

DEA Forgets Student in Cell, Pols Want Answers

The DEA and its parent agency, the Justice Department, have come under increasing criticism over the case of a University of California-San Diego student who was swept up in a drug raid, placed in a holding cell, and forgotten. When 23-year-old Daniel Chong was finally discovered five days later, his condition was so poor he was hospitalized for three days in intensive care.

The DEA has since apologized for the incident, but US representatives and senators from California are demanding answers, and Chong and his attorney have filed a $20 million lawsuit against the agency.

Chong was one of nine people swept up in a raid targeting Ecstasy traffickers early in the morning of April 21. Chong said that he had gone to the residence the night before -- the marijuana holiday of 4/20 -- "to get high" and was arrested along with the others the next morning. DEA agents booked all nine, then transported seven to local jails, released one person, and apparently forgot all about Chong.

In an interview with the Associated Press last Wednesday, Chong said that after waiting hours in the cell, which had no toilet or running water, he screamed and kicked the door, to no avail. As the days dragged on, he said he realized he was trapped. On day three, he began to hallucinate. He urinated on a metal bench so he could drink his urine to quench his thirst. He eventually began to accept that he would die in the cell. He bit into his glasses to break them and used a shard of glass to carve "Sorry, Mom" on his arm as a farewell, but only got as far as the letter "S".

He said he was considering using the glass to kill himself and end his suffering. "I pretty much lost my mind," he said. He also admitted ingesting some methamphetamine that had been left hidden in a mattress in the cell by a previous occupant.

Then, on day five, a DEA agent opened the door to find the still handcuffed Chong covered in his own feces. "Where did you come from?" the agent asked.

The engineering student for taken to a local hospital, where he was treated for dehydration, kidney failure, cramps and a perforated esophagus. He had lost 15 pounds. He spent three days in intensive care and two more days at the hospital before being released.

San Diego DEA Special Agent in Charge William Sherman apologized to Chong, though not directly, and said in a statement he was "deeply troubled" by the incident. Sherman said he had ordered an extensive review of policies and procedures at the office.

That wasn't good enough several members of the state's congressional delegation, who have demanded answers from the DEA and the Justice Department.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) last Wednesday called on US Attorney General Eric Holder to begin an "immediate and thorough" Justice Department investigation into the matter. "After the investigation is completed, I ask that you please provide me with the results and the actions the department will take to make sure those responsible are held accountable and that no one in DEA custody will ever again be forced to endure such treatment," she wrote.

On Thursday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-San Diego), head of the House Government Oversight Committee, called for in investigation, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-San Diego County) sent a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart asking for a full accounting of Chong's detention, processes in place for accounting for detained individuals, and the steps the DEA is taking to ensure it doesn't happen again.

"The situation involving Chong may in fact be an isolated incident," Hunter wrote. "Regardless, my concern is that this situation could also be a symptom of a bigger problem, with errors in procedure and oversight possibly extending to the division's law enforcement function."

Chong is "still recovering" from his ordeal, San Diego attorney Gene Iredale, who is representing him, said at a press conference last Wednesday. "He thought he was going insane," Iredale added.

Iredeale filed preliminary papers for the $20 million law suit last Wednesday. The suit alleges Chong was treated in a way that constitutes torture under US and international law.

"He is glad to be alive," Iredale said of Chong. "He wants to make sure that what happened to him doesn't happen to anyone else."

San Diego, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

More DEA raids in California and Montana, and more action in the legislature in Connecticut and New Hampshire, among other medical marijuana news, and the president addresses the medical marijuana crackdown. Let's get to it:


In an interview with Rolling Stone published Wednesday, President Obama addressed the federal crackdown on medical marijuana distribution. The questioner is Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner. Here is the exchange:

Rolling Stone: Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not "use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana." Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What's up with that?

President Obama: Here's what's up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it's against federal law. I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, "Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books." What I can say is, "Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage." As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

"The only tension that's come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we're telling them, "This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way." That's not something we're going to do. I do think it's important and useful to have a broader debate about our drug laws. One of the things we've done over the past three years was to make a sensible change when it came to the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. We've had a discussion about how to focus on treatment, taking a public-health approach to drugs and lessening the overwhelming emphasis on criminal laws as a tool to deal with this issue. I think that's an appropriate debate that we should have.


Last Thursday, Assemblywoman Norma Torres amended her drugged driving bill, AB 2552, to remove criminal penalties for driving with the residue of marijuana or other drugs. The bill originally would have made the presence of any level of marijuana metabolites per se evidence of impairment, but will now simply divide the driving under the influence law to distinguish between drugged and drunk driving.

Also last Thursday, DEA agents raided a Murrieta dispensary for the second time in a month. Volunteers at the Greenhouse Cannabis Club were handcuffed as agents searched the building. They scored an ounce of medical marijuana, some vaporizing equipment, a computer, and some baked goods ("fake edibles") left by volunteers as a joke after the first raid. The federal raid came two days after the dispensary filed a $3 million lawsuit against the city alleging it was invading the privacy of patients. The lawsuit seeks to stop police patrols around the store and nullify the city's moratorium on collectives.

On Friday, 4/20, more than 100 demonstrators marched to Obama campaign headquarters in Oakland to protest the ongoing federal crackdown on dispensaries and the raids earlier this month on Oaksterdam University and associated businesses in particular. The marchers hand delivered a letter to campaign headquarters demanding that the federal government cease and desist.

Also on Friday, Vallejo police made their fourth dispensary raid in two months. This time they hit Life Enhancement Services and arrested its operator on marijuana distribution charges. Police are raiding dispensaries even as the city has begun taxing them with voter approval. Friday evening, a local radio station held a benefit for the Greenwell Co-op, which was raided in February.

Also on Friday, Los Angeles police raided a Topanga Canyon dispensary. Three staff members were temporarily detained at Topanga Caregivers, which was supplying a large number of patients after LAPD almost wiped out dispensaries in its Devonshire division. Police seized electronics, records, and cash in what activists called "a smash and grab" operation. It's unclear if anyone has been charged.

On Saturday, San Francisco saw an anti-dispensary rally. The unusual event was led by labor organizer Leon Chow, who is challenging incumbent Supervisor John Avalos in the November election. Chow led about 100 mostly Chinese men, women, and children on a mile-long march in opposition to three proposed medical cannabis dispensaries down the main drag of Mission Street in the Excelsior. They were met by medical marijuana advocates mobilized by the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access.

On Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee approved SB 1182, which expands the list of those exempt from penalties under state law for possession, possession for sale, and transportation of medical marijuana to include cooperatives, collectives, and other business entities. The idea is to clarify that reimbursements paid to cooperatives and collectives are just as legal as those paid by patients to primary caregivers. The bill is sponsored by drug reform friend Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). It now heads for a Senate floor vote.


On Tuesday, medical marijuana businesses and supporters held a press conference to urge President Obama to protect jobs in the state by calling off the federal crackdown on dispensaries. The press conference was organized by the National Cannabis Industry Association and was prompted by Obama's visit to Boulder on a campaign swing. Boulder has seen three dispensaries shut down after receiving threat letters from US Attorney John Walsh.


Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill passed a General Assembly committee vote. The bill, House Bill 5389 was approved by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on a 36-14 vote after fending off hostile amendments from medical marijuana foe state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-Wilton).

On Tuesday, the bill passed the Public Assembly committee on a 19-6 vote. It now goes before the House for a floor vote. Gov. Dan Malloy has reportedly said he will sign it if it passes. The session ends May 9.


Last Wednesday, a state appeals court ruled against medical marijuana patients who face drugged driving charges after using their medicine. Their status as medical marijuana patients is no defense against the state's zero-tolerance drugged driving law, the court held. There are 130,000 state-registered patients in the state.

Also last Wednesday, the ACLU asked that a wrongful firing lawsuit against Walmart be reinstated. The ACLU told the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that its lawsuit against Walmart for firing a medical marijuana patient who used it outside of work was wrongfully dismissed by a federal district court judge. The ACLU argued that the case should be reinstated because it belonged in state court, where the group originally filed it, and because the lower court ignored the text of the state law, which prohibiting such firings.


Last Thursday, three members of a Miles City family were sentenced to federal prison for operating dispensaries. Richard Flor, 68, and reportedly suffering from dementia and depression, was sentenced to five years as a co-owner of Montana Cannabis, one of the state's largest providers. His wife, Sherry, who did the books for the operation and tended plants in the back yard, was sentenced to two years, and his son, Justin, who worked the dispensary, was sentenced to five years. Those were the harshest sentences so far in the federal prosecutions after the DEA swept the state in a series of March 2011. The sentencing judge is US District Judge Charles Lovell. Oh, wait -- there's more: The Flors must also give up their home, six vehicles, and 28 weapons, and they must pay the feds $288,000 in money they made selling medical marijuana.

Also last Thursday, US Attorney Michael Cotter issued a statement bragging that 25 people have been indicted on federal drug charges stemming from the March 2011 raids and 12 convicted and sentenced. He also promised that prosecutions will continue. His office "will continue to support investigations and prosecutions of significant traffickers of all illegal drugs, including marijuana, in an effort to disrupt and dismantle illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks in Montana and elsewhere," he said.

Last Friday, 4/20, DEA agents raided a Billings medical marijuana operation. Agents and local police seized an undisclosed amount of marijuana and growing equipment from the unnamed business. There was no word on any arrests. The number of medical marijuana providers in Montana has declined by more than 90% since the DEA swept the state with raids a year ago.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana bill passed a House committee vote. The bill, Senate Bill 409, passed the Republican-controlled House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee on a 12-4 vote. It would allow patients to legally possess or grow up to six ounces of marijuana. A similar measure passed the House last year, but died in the Senate, where it did not have enough support to overcome a threatened veto by Gov. John Lynch (D). A slightly different version of this year's bill earlier passed the Senate.

On Tuesday, Gov. Lynch vowed to veto the bill if it passes. Lynch spokesman James Richardson said Tuesday that Lynch will veto the bill if it reaches his desk. Richardson said Lynch has compassion for people who believe in marijuana's benefits but is concerned about a lack of control over its distribution.

On Wednesday, the House voted 236-96 to pass the bill despite Gov. Lynch's veto threat. The bill is now expected to be referred to a second House committee for further consideration before returning to the Senate for a concurrence vote. The Senate passed SB 409 March 28 in a 13-11 vote, so support from three additional senators will be necessary to override the expected veto.

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