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Medical Marijuana Rescheduling Lawsuit Moving

A decade after the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) filed its petition seeking to have marijuana moved from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the federal courts will finally review the scientific evidence regarding the therapeutic efficacy of marijuana. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals announced late last week that it will hear oral arguments in October in a lawsuit filed by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) to force the government to act.

The lawsuit, Americans for Safe Access vs. DEA, was filed in January after the DEA denied the CRC's rescheduling petition the previous July. The DEA took nine years to decide to do nothing about rescheduling marijuana.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I is reserved for drugs that "have a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision."

Patient advocates charge the DEA and other federal agencies have ignored an increasing mountain of evidence on marijuana's therapeutic efficacy and that marijuana is "currently accepted [for] medical use in treatment" in 17 states and the District of Columbia. They also charge that the rescheduling process for marijuana has been "encumbered by politics" and that federal agencies are throwing roadblocks in the way of scientific research on medical marijuana.

"Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court," said ASA chief counsel Joe Elford. "This is a rare opportunity for patients to confront politically motivated decision-making with scientific evidence of marijuana's medical efficacy. What's at stake in this case is nothing less than our country's scientific integrity and the imminent needs of millions of patients."

Oral arguments will take place Tuesday, October 16, at 9:30am at the E. Barrett Prettyman US Courthouse in downtown Washington.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The federal crackdown on medical marijuana continues in California, the first plants are now being grown in New Jersey, and there's lot's more medical marijuana news, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last Tuesday, the US Department of Agriculture warned states that they cannot allow food stamp applicants to deduct the cost of medical marijuana expenses. The department acted after Portland's Oregonian newspaper surveyed medical marijuana states and found three -- Oregon, New Mexico, and Maine -- that allowed the deduction. Now, all three will have to stop.

On Tuesday, Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) introduced the Truth in Trials Act, which would allow medical marijuana patients and providers facing federal criminal prosecution to present evidence that they were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. The bipartisan bill has 18 cosponsors, including Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX).

California

Last Wednesday, the DEA raided a Venice dispensary. The feds hit the Pacific Collective. The warrant remains under seal, so no further information is available, but it was the first federal action against Venice dispensaries since the state's US Attorneys announced a crackdown last fall.

Also last Wednesday, the Palm Springs City Council approved an urgency ordinance requiring city-approved dispensaries to visibly post that they are operating legally. While the city has numerous dispensaries, only three are legally approved by it. The ordinance also establishes an abatement process and fine program for dispensaries that do not comply with city mandates.

Last Thursday, Oakland officials ripped federal prosecutors for targeting the Harborside Health Center for closure. With 100,000 patients, Harborside is the world's largest dispensary. US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag filed asset forfeiture lawsuits against Harborside's two locations. The other one is in San Jose. At an early morning press conference, city and state officials lambasted the feds.The uproar will continue Monday, when President Obama visits the city. Protests are being planned now.

Also last Thursday, the former mayor and one-time city manager of Cudahy agreed to plead guilty to bribery charges for taking money to support the opening of a dispensary. Ex-Mayor David Silva and former City Manager Angel Perales will each plead guilty to one count of bribery and extortion. They solicited and received a $1,700 bribe from the would-be operator. Then they took $15,000 offered to them by a former dispensary operator turned FBI informant. They each face up to 30 years in prison.

On Monday, a Clovis dispensary operator was hit with federal money-laundering charges. Mark Bagdasarian owned the Buds 4 Life dispensaries in Tarpey Village and Friant. He already faced federal marijuana possession and distribution charges from an indictment filed last October, but now the feds have updated the indictment to include money laundering. They accuse Bagdasarian of laundering money through ATMs at his dispensaries.

Also on Monday, the San Leandro City Council moved to begin regulating dispensaries. The move came against the advice of city staff, who recommended a ban within city limits. Instead, the council directed staff to start work on regulating where and how such facilities could be located. The issue now moves to the council's rules committee, which will start work with city staff to determine how to begin the process of creating zoning and permitting rules.

On Tuesday, a dispensary sued the city of Victorville over its recently-passed ordinance banning dispensaries. High Desert Herbal Therapy opened in September and was cited for a city code violation and fined $400 in May for operating without a permit. The dispensary says the city refused to issue a permit and its ordinance conflicts with state law. It will seek a temporary restraining order next week.

Also on Tuesday, Lake County supervisors voted to disband the Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Board. The move followed the adoption of a 45-day urgency cultivation ordinance at a special BOS meeting July 9 and the filing of a request for a temporary restraining order and injunction against Sheriff Frank Rivero and the County of Lake last Thursday by an attorney on behalf of Don Merrill, who was a member of the committee.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA raided a Lake Elsinore dispensary for the second time in three months. The feds hit the Compassionate Patients Association and seized marijuana, but not cash or paperwork. The collective was first raided in April. Now, the new owner says she doesn't know if she will reopen.

Also on Tuesday,  the Lemon Grove City Council voted to study regulating dispensaries. The council ordered city staff to prepare a report on the legal, financial, economic, and land use impacts dispensaries would have on the town. The council acted after Citizens for Patient Rights gathered enough voter signatures to put the issue to a vote if the council fails to act. The council also voted to have a subcommittee look into placing a competing measure on the same ballot that might include a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.

As of month's end, the number of dispensaries in San Francisco will be at a 10-year low. The announced July 31 closures of HopeNet and the Vapor Room under federal threat will bring the number of dispensaries to fewer than 20. A year ago, there were 26 licensed dispensaries operating in San Francisco. US Attorney Melinda Haag's office has shut down six to date. A seventh dispensary was put out of commission by a house fire. There were as many as 40 dispensaries in the city in 2005, but the municipal Medical Cannabis Act limited the areas in which they could do business, leading some to close.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, a medical marijuana initiative campaign conceded it wouldn't make the ballot. The Committee for a Safer Michigan said it had collected only about 50,000 signatures while it needed 322,609 valid ones. The group is pledging to return in 2014.

Last Wednesday, Kalamazoo officials confirmed a dispensary initiative will be on the ballot this fall. Initiative backers had met the signature requirements, but city officials had concerns that medical marijuana court decisions in the state might affect its legal viability. Now, they are prepared to let the vote go forward.

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana rally was canceled because of a cease and desist order from Hayes Township, where it was to have been held. Donnie and Billie Jo Hogan, owners of the Mid-Michigan Caregiver's Club in Harrison, had planned the rally as a protest after being arrested for selling marijuana last month. But Hayes Township said it sought the order because the Hogan's didn’t have permits for food and camping. The Hogans canceled the rally on their attorney's advice.

Montana

Last Friday, a medical marijuana grower and provider was sentenced to seven years in federal prison in one of the harshest sentences yet related to last year's federal raids of large Montana medical pot operations. Christopher Ryan Durbin pleaded guilty in March to charges of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana and structuring or making bank deposits of less than $10,000 to avoid IRS reporting requirements. Durbin owned and operated several medical marijuana businesses in the Columbia Falls area and was in charge of the distribution network.

New Jersey

On Monday, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora called for hearings on delays in the state's medical marijuana program. The Trenton Democrat was one of the sponsors of the law, and he says the state's administration should explain the delays, but a schedule for his proposed hearings hasn't been announced. The state planned to have dispensaries open by July 2011. But the first one to operate legally now won't open until at least late August.

On Wednesday, the Greenleaf Compassion Center revealed it had been growing medical marijuana for the past few weeks. That marks the first time in decades that marijuana has been grown legally in the state. The first plants are about a foot high and the center's Montclair dispensary should be open and accepting patients by mid-September, said center president Joseph Stevens.

Washington

Last Tuesday, the Leavenworth City Council voted to ban collective gardens and dispensaries. The 5-2 vote confirmed a moratorium  enacted in June after a collective garden opened in the city. Leavenworth Mayor Cheri Kelley Farivar said the city worried about liability, legality, zoning and public safety.

On Monday, the Shoreline City Council voted to approve regulations for collective gardens. It passed an ordinance providing for the adoption of  permanent development code regulations for medical marijuana collective gardens. The 6-1 vote was met with cheers from a packed chamber.

Medical Marijuana Update

California continues to have conniptions over medical marijuana, a scientific review finds marijuana's Schedule I status "untenable," and much, much more:

National

On Monday, the Open Neurology Journal published a review of several recent clinical trials assessing the safety of medical marijuana that found marijuana's current placement as a Schedule I controlled substance with no medical value in not scientifically justified. "Based on evidence currently available, the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that marijuana has no medical use, or that information on safety is lacking," the authors wrote. The lead author is Dr. Igor Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. The review and its conclusions directly contradict the stance of the DEA and FDA.

California

Last Wednesday, the state Supreme Court declined to review a lower court decision that okayed the city of Los Angeles shutting down a Culver City dispensary. The city had used nuisance abatement measures to shut down the Organica dispensary, and the store had appealed, arguing that it was protected by state law allowing collectives.  LA city attorneys lauded the decision as vindicating their stance "dispensing and selling marijuana…remains illegal." Medical marijuana advocates beg to differ, and all are waiting on the Supreme Court to settle the issue when it decides another dispensary case later this year.

Last Thursday, Fresno banned outdoor grows within the city limits. The city council voted unanimously for the ban, which was recommended by Police Chief Jerry Dyer, who said outgrows promote violence in the city. A temporary ban had been in place since January. Under the new rule, cultivating the drug in an enclosed and secure structure, and in compliance with state marijuana law, is permitted.

Also last Thursday, a Santa Fe Springs councilman pleaded guilty in federal court to soliciting a bribe from a would-be medical marijuana dispensary operator. Councilman Joseph Serrano copped to the offense, then resigned his seat later that same day.

Last Friday, Rancho Mirage ordered a dispensary to close after city officials became aware of it when "residents in the area complained of smelling marijuana." The city is already being sued by two other dispensaries that have been forced out of business by the city's moratorium on dispensaries.

Also last Friday, a Sacramento ballot initiative signature-gathering effort came up short. Sponsored by the Committee for Safe Patient Access to Regulated Cannabis (CSPARC), the initiative sought to provide safe, regulated access for patients in the county. They needed 42,300 signatures by Monday and only had 25,000. While the measure will now not qualify for the November ballot, it could still qualify for a later election if it gets the necessary signatures by July 23.

On Monday, a state appeals court ruled that LA County's ban on dispensaries is illegal. "[… T]he County's complete ban on all 'medical marijuana dispensaries,' including collectives and cooperatives authorized under Health and Safety Code section 11362.775, conflicts with, and is thus preempted by, California's medical marijuana laws," wrote Judge P.J. Mallano in the unanimous decision handed down by the California Court of Appeals (2nd District) . The case is County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective, et al. The ruling is being seen as a major blow to arguments made in defense of the legality of dispensary bans.

Also on Monday, medical marijuana growers sued Yuba County over its new nuisance ordinance for marijuana cultivation. The lawsuit charges that the ordinance adopted by supervisors in May is overly restrictive and runs afoul of state law. Next week, the growers will file a request for a temporary restraining order to stop the ordinance from being enforced. The county's ordinance placed limits on the number of plants, the amount of ground the plants could be grown on, and the types of parcels where they could be grown. But the complaint states the ordinance doesn't address collectives, where one person might grow several plants on behalf of others, beyond the six-mature-plant limit stipulated in the ordinance.

Also on Monday, San Leandro put its plan to ban dispensaries on hold in the wake of the state appeals court ruling County of Los Angeles vs. Alternative Medical Cannabis Collective earlier the same day. That ruling invalidated LA County's ban on dispensaries. San Leandro has a temporary moratorium in place and had planned to make it permanent. That moratorium expires September 30.

On Wednesday, activists reported that a raid was underway at a Sacramento dispensary. The action, apparently undertaken by the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office was aimed at the First Amendment dispensary inside the Farmer's Market.

Colorado

Last Friday, a jury found medical marijuana patient Bob Crouse not guilty of possession with intent to distribute. Crouse, a leukemia sufferer argued that he needed large numbers of plants to ensure a steady supply of "phoenix tears," a slushy oil derives from marijuana plants. It takes a pound of marijuana to make an ounce of the oil. While state law limits patients to cultivating three plants, it also allows patients to possess as much as medically necessary. Crouse mounted an affirmative defense, and the jury agreed with him.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, a poll showed strong support for medical marijuana. The Public Policy Polling survey found that 57% of those polled said they would be okay with allowing patients to have access to medicinal pot, whereas 33% of voters were against it. The poll had a margin of error of +/- 3.3%.

On Monday, backers of a medical marijuana initiative said they had submitted enough signatures to make the November ballot. The Committee for Compassionate Medicine said it had more than the 11,000 additional signatures needed by Tuesday's deadline. The initiative would legalize marijuana for the treatment of certain illnesses and set up a dispensary system.

Michigan

Last Wednesday, an appeals court ruled patients can be arrested for marijuana possession if they don't have their state-issued paperwork or registry card. An appeals panel had earlier ruled that James Nicholson of Ottawa County could be immune from prosecution by producing his medical marijuana paperwork in court, but the full court disagreed, holding that medical marijuana registry cards and applications must be "reasonably accessible at the location" of an arrest for an individual to be immune from arrest.

Montana

Last Wednesday, medical marijuana entrepreneur Jason Christ filed a lawsuit against the Missoula Police Department, Missoula County Attorney’s Office, Missoula County 911, and other parties in US District Court. He is seeking $50 million in punitive damages, among other demands, for the defendants' "willful and malicious actions" that have caused him "emotional distress." Christ claims he is so harassed that it has "affected his bodily functions" and forced him to camp "down a vast network of unimproved dirt roads." The controversial Christ gained notoriety in 2009 and 2010 by helping thousands of people obtain physician recommendations for medical marijuana with his traveling one-day clinics, a move other medical marijuana advocates have criticized as providing fodder to foes, who successfully gutted the state law last year.

Nevada

On Monday, a legislator said he will introduce a medical marijuana bill next year that would allow registered patients a legal way to obtain their marijuana. Assemblyman Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) said Monday he requested the bill because the legislature has failed in its duty to create an appropriate way for legal users to acquire marijuana. Segerblom wants to establish certified marijuana dispensaries, licensed farms where marijuana may be grown and to allow patients to buy from California dispensaries. His bill also calls for this medical marijuana to be taxed, although a rate has not yet been established. Another medical marijuana bill is being introduced by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Details were not available.

New Jersey


Last Wednesday, a would-be dispensary operator sued the city of Camden over its rejection of his dispensary and cultivation application. Ilan Zaken, the owner of two vacant clothing stores, filed the lawsuit against the city, its zoning officer and its Zoning Board of Adjustments, alleging that they illegally rejected his application to use the buildings for the production of medical marijuana. Since New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act went into effect more than two years ago and since Gov. Chris Christie (R) cleared the way earlier this year, only two of the six nonprofits approved by the state to sell marijuana have won the necessary local permits.

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:

California

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.

Colorado

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.

Massachusetts

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.

Oregon

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."

Vermont                   

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.

Ahuas
Honduras

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.

Cartagena
Colombia

Medical Marijuana Update

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

National

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

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

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

Arizona

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

California

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

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

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

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

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


Colorado

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

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

Michigan

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

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

New Hampshire

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

New York

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

Oregon

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

Rhode Island

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

Washington

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

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

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

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