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Now They're Trying to Ban... Kratom? [FEATURE]

The prohibitionist impulse is strong. When confronted with a newly encountered psychoactive substance, there are always special pleaders to sound the alarm and politicians willing to reflexively resort to the power of the ban. Whether it is something with serious potential dangers, like the "bath salts" drugs, or something much more innocuous, like khat, the mild stimulant from the Horn of Africa, doesn't seem to matter; the prohibitionist impulse is strong.

mitragyna speciosa (kratom) tree (photo by Gringobonk, courtesy Erowid.org)
Kratom is a substance that falls on the more innocuous side of the psychoactive spectrum. It is the leaves of the kratom tree, mitragyna speciosa, which is native to Thailand and Indonesia, where the leaves have been chewed or brewed into a tea and used for therapeutic and social purposes for years. According to the online repository of psychoactive knowledge, the Vaults of Erowid, kratom acts as both a mild stimulant and a mild sedative, creates feelings of empathy and euphoria, is useful for labor, and is relatively short-acting.

Of course, any psychoactive substance has its good and its bad sides, but kratom's downside doesn't seem very severe. Erowid lists its negatives as including a bitter taste, dizziness and nausea at higher doses, mild depression coming down, feeling hot and sweaty, and hangovers similar to alcohol. There is no mention of potential for addiction, and while fatal overdoses are theoretically possible, especially with its methanol and alkaloid extracts, in the real world, ODing on kratom doesn't appear to be an issue. No fatal overdoses are known to have actually occurred.

On the other hand, some of kratom's alkaloids bind to opioid receptors in the brain, making it an opioid agonist, and it is now being sold in the West and used to treat pain, depression, anxiety, and opiate withdrawal. Sold in smoke shops, herbal supplement emporia, and on the Internet, it is now apparently being lumped in with synthetic cannabinoids and the "bath salts" drugs by treatment professionals, law enforcement, and others who make a habit of searching for scary new drugs.

Kratom is not listed as a banned substance in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or its successor treaty, and has been banned in only a handful of countries, most ironically in Thailand itself. It was banned there in 1943, when then Thai government was taxing the opium trade and opium users were switching to kratom to aid in withdrawals and as a substitute.

Arrests for kratom possession have jumped in recent years, from more than 1,200 in 2005 to more than 7,000 in 2009, even though the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board recommended to the Justice Department in 2010 that it be decriminalized because of the lack of any perceivable social harms.

In the US, the DEA added kratom to its list of drugs of concern in 2010, although that doesn't mean that a federal ban is necessarily imminent. Salvia divinorum, for example, has been a drug of concern for more than a decade now, with no action taken. But while the feds haven't acted, there were efforts to ban kratom in several states in the US this year, although only Indiana actually succeeding in outlawing it. In Louisiana, age restrictions were placed on its purchase.

The experience of Iowa, where legislation to ban kratom is still pending, is illustrative of how bans are created. The Iowa effort happened after state Rep. Clel Baudler (R) heard about kratom on a radio program. Within two hours, he was moving to ban it.

"Kratom is a hallucinogen, addictive, and can be life threatening," he said at the time, in complete contradiction of all that is actually known about kratom.

It's not just states that are considering bans on kratom. Pinellas County, Florida, was about to enact one this week, but the prohibitionist bandwagon hit a bump in the road in the form of perennial drug war gadfly Randy Heine, owner of Rockin' Cards and Gifts in Pinellas Park, who told the Chronicle he had been selling kratom in his store since 1981.

Seeing what was coming down the pike, Heine alerted the Kratom Association, a group of users, producers, and vendors dedicated to keeping kratom legal, who flooded county commissioners with emails. He also addressed the commission itself.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/randy-heine-201px.jpg
Randy Heine
"I have been selling kratom for over 30 years out of my store on Park Blvd. I challenge anyone to find any problem originating from my store selling kratom," he wrote in a letter made available to the Chronicle. "Do not lump in synthetic chemicals with an organic plant material. This is like comparing apples to oranges. I would like to see kratom be sold only to persons over the age of 18, similar to the proposal being made in our sister state of Louisiana."

In the conservative county, Heine also appealed to the ghost of Ronald Reagan in his letter to commissioners. What riles up the Reagan in him, Heine wrote, is "growing the bureaucracy by creating another board to regulate what I and others do in privacy of our own homes."

"I got letters back from two of the commissioners," said Heine. "They read my Ronald Reagan letter out loud, and one of the GOP commissioners thanked me for sharing my thoughts. The commission has now deferred this item so we can take a closer look at the issues involved."

Many of his kratom customers are using it as an opiate substitute, he said.

"We have a drug rehab place here, and my feeling is that a lot of their clients are purchasing kratom instead of methadone. It's competition; I'm taking away money," he said. "Some of my customers say methadone is worse than heroin and keeps you addicted. Kratom weans them off heroin. A lot of them say they just do less and less kratom until the craving stops. I have a couple of senior women who say they're tired of taking prescription pills, that they make them nutty, and kratom works for them."

Chronicle readers may recall that Pinellas County is where a drug reform-minded upstart Democratic candidate for sheriff is taking on either the scandal-plagued Republican incumbent sheriff or his challenger and predecessor, former Sheriff Everett Rice (the GOP primary is next week), whose supporters on the council were pushing the kratom ban. That Democrat, Scott Swope, is so good on drug policy that his candidacy persuaded Heine to drop his own bid for the sheriff's office.

"This looks like another unconstitutional intrusion into the lives of Pinellas citizens who aren't harming anyone," Swope said. "I've researched kratom and although there doesn't seem to be as much research available as cannabis, it appears to me to be a plant product that should not be banned. I think the purchase or possession of any of these things (cannabis, kratom, bath salts) by minors should not be allowed. Adults, however, should be free to do what they want as long as they aren't harming anyone else."

While Heine is currently bedeviled by the effort to ban kratom, as well as an associated effort to force smoke shops to put large signs on their doors saying they sell drug paraphernalia, the Swope candidacy has him hoping for better times ahead. 

"Swope can win," he exulted. "We finally have a candidate who is talking about marijuana. Even the Republican candidates are now saying they wouldn't bust people for marijuana. When I was still a candidate, I went to many forums to talk about pot, and the media started asking these guys about it. Scott won't arrest people for personal use."

Whether it's relatively unknown substances like kratom or now familiar substances like marijuana, the battle lines are drawn in what is ultimately a culture war. On one hand, the forces of fear and authoritarianism; on the other, the forces of free inquiry and personal liberty. It's been a long war, and it isn't going to end anytime soon, but perhaps now there are hints that the correlation of forces is changing.

Stopping unnecessary prohibitions before they get started is part of the struggle; undoing entrenched prohibitions with powerful interests behind them is another part of the struggle, but even though the substances are different, it's the same struggle.

(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.)

Pinellas County
FL
United States

DOJ to Sentencing Commission: Fewer Prisoners, Please

In a congressionally mandated annual report to the US Sentencing Commission on the operation of federal sentencing guidelines, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said continuing increases in the federal prison populations and spending are "unsustainable" and called on the commission to work with other stakeholders to reduce federal corrections costs. But the report failed to address the single largest factor driving the growth in the federal prison population: the huge increase in the number of federal prisoners doing time for drug offenses.

Even the feds can no longer sustain current mass incarceration policies. (US Supreme Court)
According to data compiled by Drug War Facts and based on Bureau of Justice Statistics reports, in 1980, there were some 19,000 federal prisoners, with some 4,500 having a drug offense as their most serious offense. By 2010, the number of federal prisoners had increased tenfold to more than 190,000, and a whopping 97,000 were doing time for drug offenses, also a tenfold increase. The percentage of drug offenders increased during that period from roughly 25% of all federal prisoners in 1980 to 51.7% in 2010.

As DOJ noted in its letter, the first decade of that period corresponded to the end of decades of increases in crime and violent crime, leading to record high crime rates, which had generated a number of policy responses, including more police, harsher sentencing, and an increased emphasis on illegal drugs. But as DOJ also noted, beginning in 1992, violent crime has dropped consistently, and the US is now safer than it has been in decades.

All that costs money. The DOJ report noted that state, local, and federal criminal justice expenditures jumped nearly six-fold between 1984 and 2006, from $32.6 billion to $186.2 billion. State and local spending continued to rise until 2009, when the financial crisis and subsequent economic recession took hold, while federal criminal justice spending rose nearly ten-fold, from $4.5 billion to $41 billion.

But even though the federal government is more cosseted from economic hard time than the states, even it can no longer spend freely. As the DOJ letter noted, "The Budget Control Act of 2011 sent a clear signal that the steady growth in the budgets of the Department of Justice, other federal enforcement agencies, and the federal courts experienced over the past 15 years has come to an end."

While federal criminal justice budgets have been relatively flat in the last few years, the costs of imprisoning an ever-increasing number of people has not, and that means fewer resources for other criminal justice spending, including aid to state and local law enforcement and prevention and intervention programs. Within DOJ, the core law enforcement functions (policing, prosecution, prisons) have increased from 75% of the budget in 2002 to 91% this year.

"The question our country faces today is how can we continue to build on our success in combating crime and ensuring the fair and effective administration of justice in a time of limited criminal justice resources at all levels of government?" the DOJ noted. "In other words, how will the country ensure sufficient investments in public safety, and how will those involved in crime policy ensure that every dollar invested in public safety is spent in the most productive way possible?"

With budgets flat, criminal justice spending has to get more bang for the buck, the DOJ letter said.

"We must ensure that our federal sentencing and corrections system is strong but smart; credible, productive and just; and budgetarily sound," the letter said. "But maximizing public safety can be achieved without maximizing prison spending. The federal prison population -- and prison expenditures -- have been increasing for years. In this period of austerity, these increases are incompatible with a balanced crime policy and are unsustainable.

"We believe federal sentencing policy should be reviewed -- both systemically and on a crime-by-crime basis -- through the lens of public safety spending productivity. Adopting that perspective, we think it is clear that there are many areas of sentencing policy that call be improved," the letter continued. "We have identified many of the crime-specific areas over the last several years that warrant substantive reexamination. And we have also put forward legislative proposals to make systemic changes that would help control prison costs in a responsible way that furthers public safety. As to the guidelines process itself, we think reforms -- including some simplification of the guidelines and some limits on sentencing appeals -- are worth fully considering."

It is clear what is driving the growth in the federal prison population and the federal corrections budget: drug war prisoners. While the Obama administration DOJ is to be credited with taking some steps that move in the direction of reducing the number of prisoners and the corrections budget, such as supporting the partial reform of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, its failure to directly address the consequences of policies of mass imprisonment of drug offenders means that it is missing the elephant in the room.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Last week's middle of the week holiday made things fairly quiet on the medical marijuana front--at least until Wednesday--but it looks like Massachusetts voters will have a chance to join the ranks of the medical marijuana states in November, and other efforts are underway in some surprising places. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested possible post-election action on medical marijuana."I've been very clear on the subject of medical marijuana over time, in committee and on the floor as leader," Pelosi said to a roundtable of bloggers, Raw Story reported. "I think that it would be really important to do that," she said. "It would be hard for anyone to agree with the fact that someone who has HIV/AIDS or has cancer and they find relief from pain in medicinal marijuana that should be something that should be a priority to raid on the part of the Justice Department. Going along with that, we need to address some of the penalties for any non-violent crimes that are out there." Pelosi has previously attacked the Obama administration for the Justice Department's campaign of raids and threats against California medical marijuana providers, but this is her strongest statement yet on the topic.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, petitioners handed in signatures for a medical marijuana initiative. The group Arkansans for Compassionate Care needs 62,507 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. They handed in 67,885 last Thursday. State election officials will do a "rough count" of the signatures to ensure that proponents have handed in at least the minimum number necessary to qualify for the ballot. While officials validate the signatures, proponents can continue to collect new signatures up to a 30 day deadline. They say they hope to gather another 40,000 or so just to be on the safe side.

California

Last Monday, petitioners for a Solana Beach dispensary initiative handed in signatures. The group Citizens for Patients' Rights handed in 1,600 signatures, almost ensuring the measure will qualify for the ballot. They only need 807 valid signatures. Once the measure is qualified, the city council will vote on whether to enact it directly or put it to a vote of the people. The council must act by August 10 for the measure to make the November ballot. Proponents have formally requested a special election if that deadline is not met. The proposal would allow nonprofit dispensaries in the municipality of Solana Beach, providing they are in full compliance with the zoning, licensing and operating standards included in the initiative.

Last Thursday, an effort to recall Redding City Council members failed. Medical marijuana advocate Rob McDonald undertook the effort in response to the city's ban on dispensaries, but came up far short of the 9,000 signatures needed to force a recall. Still, he said he was sending a message to politicians that their actions can have repercussions.

Last Saturday, Kern County's Measure G restricting dispensaries went into effect. The voter-approved measure will regulate how and when dispensaries can operate. It will even limit what a pot shop can sell. Dispensaries in unincorporated parts of the county will have to be located in a heavy or light industrial area and can't be within a mile of another dispensary, a church, school, or park. They can only be open from 10:00am to 8:00pm, and they can't sell edibles, pipes, or other marijuana-related products. The measure will affect 26 dispensaries, but it's not clear yet just how.

On Monday, Harborside Health Center announced it had been targeted for closure by federal prosecutors. Harborside is probably the largest dispensary on the planet and is well-respected locally, but had already been the target of the feds via an Internal Revenue Service investigation. This time, US Attorney Melinda Haag has threatened to seize the Harborside home base in Oakland as well as its sister store in San Jose. Employees found complaints taped to the front doors of the two locations Monday.

Also on Monday, Lake County supervisors adopted a compromise medical marijuana ordinance after a contentious day-long hearing before a crowd of hundreds. The ordinance is an interim measure while the county hammers out long-term rules. Growers responded in force to an earlier proposal for restrictive pot limits, developed in response to a spike in marijuana cultivation and complaints from non-growing residents about the stench from the plants, scary guard dogs and armed growers. The board compromised and loosened the restrictions. As adopted, the temporary ordinance allows up to six mature plants on parcels smaller than a half acre. The amount increases with the acreage and is capped at 48 plants for cooperatives with access to more than 40 acres.

On Tuesday, Yuba County supervisors suspended an ad hoc committee formed to discuss issues with medical marijuana growers. The move came after growers last week filed a lawsuit challenging the ordinance approved by supervisors earlier this year. Plaintiffs filed a civil complaint asking the ordinance to be thrown out, claiming, among other things, a lack of clarity on collective and cooperative grows could deny some users their prescriptions. The plaintiffs have also said they plan to file for a temporary injunction today in Yuba County Superior Court to prevent the ordinance from being enforced. Supervisors announced they had voted 5-0 during their closed session to refer the suit to outside counsel. Under the ordinance, medical marijuana cardholders are limited in how many plants they can grow by the size of the parcel on which they live, with additional requirements to shield the plants from public view.

Also on Tuesday, Americans for Safe Access filed a friend of the court brief in the Charlie Lynch case. Lynch ran the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers dispensary in Morro Bay that had support from local officials, but was raided by the DEA in 2007. He was convicted in federal court of marijuana trafficking and sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison in 2009. His appeal should get a hearing later this year.

Colorado

Last week, two Colorado Springs dispensary operators filed a lawsuit against the state charging that the Department of Revenue has failed to clarify a key rule about when dispensaries can begin growing for patients. In the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Michael Kopta and Alvida Hillery, the plaintiffs ask that the department be ordered to clarify when in a patient's state approval process designated caregivers can begin growing for them. Kopta and Hillery were arrested on marijuana cultivation charges earlier this year, but said they thought they were acting in accordance with the law.

Delaware

Last Thursday, the Department of Health and Social Services began accepting applications for medical marijuana ID cards. The move came after the department finally finalized regulations for the program. While the regulations do not contain specific rules for dispensaries, there is space for them to be drafted in the future. Gov. Jack Markell (D) suspended implementation of the dispensary program after getting a threat letter from the US Attorney for Delaware, Charles Oberly III.

Kentucky

Last Thursday, a state senator said he would reintroduce a medical marijuana bill and name it in honor of longtime Kentucky hemp and marijuana activist Gatewood Galbraith, who died in January. Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) had introduced a similar bill last year. It went nowhere then, and Clark said he doesn't expect much different next year.

Massachusetts

Last Tuesday, a spokesman for the secretary of state said a medical marijuana initiative had qualified for the ballot. Advocates had earlier gathered 80,000 signatures, putting the issue before the legislature. When the legislature failed to act, advocates needed to gather an additional 11,000 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot. Sponsored by the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, the initiative allows patients with specified medical conditions "and other conditions" to possess up to a 60-day supply of marijuana. Patients or their caregivers would have to obtain their medicine from one of up to 35 non-profit dispensaries or "medical marijuana treatment centers" and would not be able to grow their own unless they qualified under a hardship provision. Patients, caregivers, and dispensaries would be registered with the state.

Montana

As of the end of June, medical marijuana patient numbers were stabilizing. The number of cardholders was at 8,681, down only slightly from 8,734 at the end of May. The numbers had been in a free-fall after peaking at 30,036 in June 2011. That month, the legislature essentially gutted the medical marijuana program, making it much more difficult to buy and sell it. Federal raids also played a role. The number of caregivers also declined slightly from 400 in May to 390 in June. That's less than 10% of the number of caregivers in March 2011, when the figure stood at 4,848.

Nevada

As of the end of June, the number of medical marijuana patients was increasing dramatically. The state Health Division reported that 3,430 held medical marijuana cards, up by nearly a third over last year. That number could go even higher if the legislature next year passes a bill to allow dispensaries to operate in the state.

Narc Scandal Front and Center in Florida Sheriff Race [FEATURE]

Scandal has been brewing in the Pinellas County, Florida, Sheriff's Office over the possibly criminal misbehavior of some of its narcotics detectives, and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, a Republican, has been trying to keep it from spinning out of control. But with his job on the line in November, his challengers, Republicans and Democrats alike, are making the scandal -- and the department's emphasis on busting marijuana grows -- issues with which to wound him in the campaign.

Narcotics deputies went above and beyond in their efforts to bust indoor marijuana grows (wikimedia.org)
Pinellas County sits on Florida's Gulf Coast and includes the city of St. Petersburg. For the last few years, it has been an epicenter of the state's prescription opioid epidemic, but despite the county leading the state in Oxycontin overdose deaths, some Pinellas County narcs were more interested in pot growers than pill mill merchants.[Editor's Note: At least one candidate for sheriff is challenging the conventional law enforcement narrative regarding opioid pain medications; see Scott Swope's comments on the topic at the end of this article.]

It all began when narcotics detectives with the sheriff's office hit on the bright idea of spying on a legal business -- a Largo hydroponics grow shop -- and taking down the license plate numbers of customers, and then snooping around to see what they could find. At least four detectives were involved in surveillance that apparently crossed the line into illegality by trespassing on private property without a warrant, by disguising themselves as utility company workers, and by subsequently falsifying search warrant affidavits (they would claim to have smelled marijuana from the street, when they had actually trespassed to find evidence).

They would have gotten away with it if not for tenacious defense attorneys. But things began to unravel last year, when the attorney for Allen Underwood, who had been arrested in a grow-op bust, filed a complaint saying that Underwood's surveillance cameras had recorded one of the detectives hopping over his fence. The detective ordered the surveillance video deleted, and the sheriff's office found no evidence of wrongdoing by its man.

Next, Largo defense attorney John Trevena charged in a case that one of the detectives had donned a Progress Energy shirt and cap to gain warrantless access to a private property. The detective first denied it under oath, then admitted it. At the time, Gualtieri attributed the deception to "over-exuberance" by a young detective.

Then, in February, Tarpon Springs attorney Newt Hudson questioned one of the detectives under oath about whether he ever saw his dope squad colleagues trespass. Under questioning, the detective admitted that he and one of the other detectives had once broken down a fence to enter a yard of interest.

"That was the game changer," Sheriff Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times last month as he announced he was launching a criminal investigation of the four detectives. "Misconduct will not be tolerated and we will hold accountable any member of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office who acts contrary to the law," Gualtieri said. "The ends never justify the means."

Embattled Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (bobforsheriff.com)
Three of the detectives have resigned, and Gualtieri fired the fourth, but it might be too late to undo the damage to local law enforcement and to Gualtieri's own political prospects. At least 18 pending marijuana grow prosecutions have been halted, and Gualtieri and Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said they also will review charges against about two dozen other defendants who previously pleaded guilty, were convicted or accepted plea bargains.

And Gualtieri has been repeatedly pummeled by challengers over the scandal. Not only the sole Democrat in the race, Palm Harbor attorney Scott Swope, but Gualtieri's Republican challengers, most notably former Sheriff Everett Rice, have criticized his handling of the affair. The Republican primary, which Gualtieri hopes to survive, is set for August 14.

"They shouldn't have been investigating the store to begin with," Swope told the Chronicle. "As far as criminal activity is concerned, we have bigger fish to fry than trying to catch people who are purchasing grow lamps. It was absolutely ridiculous."

Especially given that the sheriff's office had had to cut $100 million from its budget and eliminate 600 positions, including the cold case unit and sexual predator tracking, Swope said, alluding to the severe financial straits in which the department and the county found themselves.

"When I'm at a campaign presentation and tell people that they had detectives for surveilling this business selling legal equipment, but not for human trafficking or cold cases, everyone hears that and goes 'wow,'" Swope said. "It's an argument that has some traction."

Swope also criticized the leisurely pace of Gualtieri's internal investigation.

"The internal investigation took way too long," said Swope. "When you have an assertion that one of your detectives is trespassing to obtain evidence, falsifying ID to obtain evidence, falsifying affidavits, then destroying evidence, that needs to take precedence over every other internal investigation, and it didn't. When Gualtieri first went on the record, he said he didn't believe it; he just dismissed it, at least initially."

For Rice, who served as sheriff for 16 years until 2004, the pot grow scandal was an indication of misplaced priorities in Gualtieri's department.

"How is it that Pinellas and Pasco County became the pill-mill capital of the world in the last three or four years," Rice asked at a candidates' forum this spring, "and meanwhile we're spying on people who have hydroponic materials?"

Rice was still on the attack last month, telling the Tampa Bay Times that problems in the department are not limited to the pot grow scandal, but also include reports of slipshod internal investigations, narcotics sergeants claiming pay while monitoring detectives from home, and possible thefts.

"The question is,'' said Rice, "how did that culture come about in the first place? I think people realize that a Sheriff Rice wouldn't put up with such things,'' Rice said.

Except that he did. During his time in office, one of Rice's narcotics detectives gathered evidence of a pot grow illegally and lied about it under oath. He also fabricated evidence for a search warrant by calling in his own "anonymous tip." In another case, deputies used an informant to get a search warrant without revealing that the informant's wife was having an affair with the suspect. Pinellas judges tossed a number of pot grow cases over police misconduct during Rice's reign, and one detective was prosecuted for perjury.

One of the cases tossed was against Randy Heine, a Pinellas Park smoke shop owner. In that 1997 bust, deputies raided Heine's home and seized two pounds of pot, but a judge threw out the case, finding that deputies had resorted to "gross, material misrepresentation of the facts'' in their search warrant application.

Heine, a perennial gadfly on the local scene, has also become a harsh critic of Pinellas-style drug law enforcement. He was briefly a candidate in the sheriff's face before dropping out after failing to pay a filing fee. That leaves Swope, Gualtieri, and Rice.

Democratic challenger Scott Swope (swopeforsheriff.com)
For Swope, Gualtieri and Rice are birds of a feather -- traditional lawmen who don't think twice about the futility and expense of continuing to fight the war on marijuana. He offers a different vision, one that includes marijuana decriminalization and, eventually, legalization and regulation.

"Florida should go the way of more than a dozen other states and decriminalize," he said. "Then the sheriff's office wouldn’t have to expend limited resources trying to catch people in possession of small amounts. That would make it so those young people don't have a criminal record, they're still eligible for student loans, they can get jobs. It's a bit of a shocker for some of my audiences, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense to save tax dollars by not investigating and prosecuting possession of small amounts."

A marijuana bust of 20 grams or less is a misdemeanor in Florida, but it means a trip to jail, booking, and waiting to get bonded out. It also uses up law enforcement man-hours during arrest, booking, detention, and prosecution. Florida should and will decriminalize eventually, Swope said, but he wouldn't wait for the legislature to act if elected.

"As sheriff, I can't tell the legislature what to do, but I would have some influence over the county commission. I could lobby them to enact an ordinance making possession of less than 20 grams an ordinance violation," he explained. "That way, instead of deputies having to arrest people and put them in the criminal justice system, they could just issue an ordinance violation ticket, and the fines would go to Pinellas County.

Swope was philosophically open to legal, regulated marijuana sales, but wasn't pushing it as a campaign position. First things first, he said.

"From the perspective of this campaign, the majority of the population believes medical marijuana should be legal, and I do, too," he explained. "Decriminalization and regulation similar to alcohol and cigarettes, well, that's a bit more of a progressive position. I think it's going to be a two-step process: Make medical marijuana legal, and after enough time, and people realize these folks aren't committing crimes, then it's time for step two."

Swope also had an interesting perspective on the pain pill and pill mill issue.

"Pinellas County had a very serious problem with pain pills, we led the state four straight years in Oxycontin deaths, and it's still a serious problem, but unfortunately, when they really ramp up the pain pill mill enforcement, the pendulum can swing too far the other way," he noted. "There is a potentially serious negative impact on doctors and pharmacies trying to help people who need the help. If Florida were a little more progressive and had a medical marijuana law, perhaps many could treat themselves with that instead of narcotics."

The one-time deputy's drug war positions are winning him support outside of traditional Democratic constituencies, including Libertarian Party figures ranging from county stalwarts to presidential nominee Gary Johnson.

"I have the endorsement of the Libertarian Party here, and that has some of the Democrats scratching their heads. I just explain that I'm a lawyer familiar with the Constitution, I'm progressive-thinking and understand and appreciate the value of personal liberty and what the Constitution means and I will make damned sure the sheriff's office abides by the Constitution."

Pinellas County has 3,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, but most county offices, including the sheriff's, have been in Republican hands for decades. A victory for Democratic challenger Scott Swope in November would not only break the GOP's stranglehold on elected office in Pinellas, it could also bring a fresh new perspective to Florida law enforcement.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Gualtieri has just unleashed an offensive against "fake pot."

(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.)

St. Petersburg, FL
United States

Drug War Snapshot: Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City, Maryland, is a popular East Coast beach vacation destination, but it's also the scene of a major push for marijuana arrests, according to the Bethany Beach Wave. Police there have made 615 drug possession arrests there so far this year, and a whopping 85% of them are for pot possession.

Ocean City boardwalk (wikimedia.org)
Police said they didn't want such a high level of drug busts, but then said they were a high priority.

"Nobody wants to see all those drugs arrests, but it ultimately makes Ocean City a safer place to get those drugs off the street," police spokeswoman Jessica Waters said. "Drug arrests have been high on the priority list for officers, whether it be on a traffic stop or on the Boardwalk."

The arrests run in tandem with the high season for tourism, when tens of thousands of people flood into the seaside resort to escape the summer heat. Last year, according to the department's annual report, police made 160 drug possession arrests between January and May, but the number skyrocketed to 473 in the month of June 2011, declined to 284 in July and 154 in August before falling to the double or single digits for the rest of the year.

Ocean City police made a total of 3,829 arrests last year, 1,166 on drug charges. The department doesn't specify, but the majority of those were presumably for pot possession. The number of drug arrests has climbed rather remarkably in recent years, averaging under 800 for 2005 through 2008, before climbing to 839 in 2009, 933 in 2010, and more than 1,100 last year.

Ocean City has about five times the number of police per capita as other Maryland departments, at least in part because of its high number of visitors, but it also has a higher crime index than the US national average. While police have prioritized drug arrests in general and marijuana arrests in particular, they have apparently not been able to get a handle on their real crime problems.

And for marijuana consumers, well, there are other beaches on the East Coast.

Ocean City, MD
United States

Drug War Snapshot: Corpus Christi and Nueces County, Texas

Nueces County, Texas (pop. 340,000), sits on the Gulf Coast halfway between Houston and the Mexican border, astride drug trafficking corridors headed from Mexico to the central and eastern US. Its leading newspaper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported Saturday that drug offenses were the single leading reason people appeared in felony court there over the past decade.

Of 32,000 felony cases analyzed by the Caller-Times, 10,300, or 32% were drug offenses. The newspaper did not provide a breakdown between possession and sales charges. Texas treats simple drug possession as a felony.

About two-thirds, or 6,790, of all the felony drug crimes were for cocaine offenses, followed by more than a thousand meth cases, and about 600 cases each of heroin and marijuana charges.

The number of felony drug charges over the past decade was greater than the 8,700 property crime felonies charged. The newspaper did not provide numbers on violent felonies charged, but insisted that drug offenses were the leading charge.

"It's not surprising that South Texas has a significant drug traffic issue with its proximity to the border," said Corpus Christi Police Capt. David Cook, who is with the department's Narcotics Vice Investigations. "We get a lot coming through here," he told the Caller-Times.

State District Judge Sandra Watts told the Caller-Times that about half of her daily docket consists of drug-related cases. She said she would rather sentence addicts to places like the Substance Abuse Felony Punishment facility instead of prison so offenders can get treatment and the state can save money. A supervised drug treatment program costs $2.46 a day, compared to $50 a day for prison, she said.

"Very often we see repeat offenders because an addict is an addict," she said."If someone is addicted to drugs we will see them again until we get a handle on the addiction," she said. "And we don't have enough prisons to put everyone in jail for possession of controlled substances."

For the past decade at least, Nueces County has been arresting its citizens at a rate of more than 1,000 a year for offenses in which the most serious charge is a drug charge. Perhaps it might want to offer treatment on demand instead of treatment by court order, or simply decriminalizing drug possession, for a start.

But local law enforcement isn't thinking like that. Captain David Cook of the Narcotics Vice investigations squad had an old-fashioned answer: more cops. He said the department's 22 narcotics officers aren't enough.

"The drugs go north, and the currency comes south," he said. "I see everything that happens here and we try to keep a lid on it but it's difficult. You could give me 50 or 60 narcotics officers and maybe we could keep up."

They could no doubt keep up, or even increase, their drug arrests numbers with triple the narcotics officers, but can the good people of Corpus Christi afford to just pay for more of the same, year after year after year?

Corpus Christi, TX
United States

Drug War Snapshot: Volusia County, Florida

Volusia County, Florida, situated midway up the state's Atlantic Coast, has just under half a million people, and if its July 6 county jail bookings are any indication, it has one heck of a drug problem -- or is it an elective policing problem?

Volusia County Courthouse (volusia.org)
Of the 67 people booked into the Volusia County Branch Jail on the Friday after the 4th of July, only seven were charged with violent crimes, while people charged with drug offenses made up more than half of all bookings. At least 35 people were charged with drug offenses, mostly small-time trafficking, while three more were charged with drug possession while arrested for another crime.

The most common drug charges were sale of cocaine (11), followed by sale/trafficking in controlled substances (10), violation of drug court rules (4), possession of a controlled substance (3), and possession of cocaine (2). The day also saw single counts of possession of meth, sale of meth, manufacture of meth, sale of marijuana, and possession of marijuana.

Six people were arrested on unspecified probation violation or failure to appear charges. Some unknown portion of those were likely originally arrested on drug charges.

Only three people arrested on drug charges were also arresting on other criminal charges at the same time, one for burglary and drug possession, one for solicitation to commit prostitution and drug possession, and one for hindering a firefighter and drug possession. While drug use could be a factor in other charges filed, such as the five accused burglars below, they apparently weren't carrying drugs when committing those crimes.

Of the 23 people charged with other than drug offenses, only seven were charged with crimes of violence. Four faced charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, one was charged with strong-arm robbery, one with robbery by assault, and one with intimidating a witness.

Three people were charges with status offenses -- acts that would not be a crime except for their having previous criminal convictions. One was charged with failure to register as a sex offender and two with felon in possession of a firearm.

The most common non-drug charge was burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, with five people being booked into the jail on that charge. The remaining eight people were charged with offenses ranging from solicitation to commit prostitution to child neglect and child porn possession to possession of counterfeit notes, fleeing and eluding, and grand theft.

Last Friday in Volusia County, prosecuting the drug war took up more than half of the county's law enforcement, prosecutorial, judicial, and correctional resources. The decisions about how to allocate law enforcement resources (or whether to even reduce them given the paucity of non-drug crimes) is something the good people of Volusia may want to ponder.

Daytona Beach, FL
United States

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

The feds continue to play hardball in California and local elected officials across the state are grappling with the issues. Meanwhile, Vermont moves ahead on dispensaries while New Hampshire's medical marijuana bill can't overcome a gubernatorial veto, and that's not all. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Monday, an applicant for a dispensary and grow site sued Maricopa County, accusing the county of purposefully stalling action on its application to prevent it from seeking a state operating license. The lawsuit by White Mountain Health Center Inc. charges the county would not certify or reject its registration certificate, one of the Arizona Department of Health Services' first requirements for obtaining a dispensary license. Maricopa County last year decided to not allow employees to accept, process, or issue permits for dispensaries or grows until marijuana becomes a federally approved drug, but that puts the county at odds with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which only allows local jurisdictions to impose "reasonable" zoning restrictions for dispensaries, and requires local zoning approval before a permit is processed by the state.

California

Last Tuesday, the Del Mar City Council opted to hear a report on a ballot initiative that seeks to improve access to medical marijuana in the city. The move came after activists handed in almost double the number of signatures required to place the initiative on the November ballot. The council could have adopted the initiative as written, put the issue on the ballot, or ordered a report, and it chose the latter. The proposed ordinance would allow dispensaries in the city and tax and regulate them. The council will have 10 days after receiving the report to either adopt the ordinance or order an election. The report is due by July 13.

Also last Tuesday, the Roseville City Council voted to ban outdoor grows. The council voted 4-1 to ban the grows after some residents complained about odors. The ordinance will take effect November 1, at the end of the outdoor growing season. The ordinance also limits indoor grows to fewer than 50 square feet in the grower's primary residence. Opponents of the ordinance argued to no avail that because Roseville doesn't allow dispensaries, patients must grow their own, and that indoor grows will cost patients money for equipment and operating costs.

Also last Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council held a contentious meeting as it considered whether to completely ban dispensaries later this summer. No votes were taken, but discussion was heated at times as the council revisited its ban on dispensaries and the temporary exemptions for 18 of them, which are slated to terminate on August 12.

Last Wednesday, Malibu's only two dispensaries announced they were closing, saying they had been hit with letters from federal prosecutors threatening prosecution and forfeiture. The letters to the Malibu dispensaries were among 34 sent to what the feds called "illegal marijuana operations" in Los Angeles County. The warning letters targeted all known dispensaries in the communities of Santa Fe Springs, Whittier, South El Monte, La Mirada, Diamond Bar, Artesia, Paramount, South Gate, City of Commerce, Agoura Hills and Malibu.

Last Thursday, Imperial Beach officials approved an initiative to repeal the city's ban on dispensaries and replace it with reasonable regulations. The county registrar said petitioners from Americans for Safe Access and the LGBT nonprofit Canvass for a Cause turned in enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The city could vitiate the need for a special election on the issue by approving the initiative at the City Council, which will be discussing the matter at its July 18 meeting.

Also last Thursday, Fresno made permanent its ban on outdoor marijuana grows. The city council in January approved a temporary ban, and last week decided to join the rest of Kern County in banning outdoor grows. Police said indoor grows were less likely to attract criminals, but medical marijuana advocates countered that instead of thieves jumping fences to steal plants, there will now be home invasion robberies. Advocates also complained that indoor grows require expensive equipment and waste energy.

Last Friday, Lake County's Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Committee met to hear an update about an urgency measure to adopt an interim law for marijuana growth but was precluded from directly discussing the merits of the proposal on Friday. The committee chair charged with making recommendations said it would be improper for the panel to discuss the ordinance at that meeting. The proposed temporary law would ban commercial medical marijuana cultivation as well as all growing on vacant properties and ban any grows within 600 feet of a school. It would also limit outdoor cultivation to three mature female or six immature marijuana plants on parcels smaller than half an acre, and six mature female or 12 immature plants on lands half an acre or larger, accessory to an approved residential use. Collective or cooperative organizations consisting of qualified patients and primary caregivers could grow as many as 36 mature female plants on parcels of at least five acres. Those groups would have to adhere to several rules, including that their site must contain a permitted residence and that their growing area must be screened from public view with a wooden fence.

Also last Friday, Vallejo police raided the Better Health Group Collective for the third time in the last three months. Better Health is one of at least five Vallejo dispensaries targeted in recent raids. Local prosecutors have charged six operators with felony drug charges, but dismissed charges against one.

Also last Friday, the mayor of Cudahy and two other city officials were arrested on federal charges they took bribes to support the opening of a dispensary in the city. Mayor David Silva and two city council members are accused of accepting $15,000 in cash from an informant working with the FBI. They're looking at up to 10 years in prison each. The city has a temporary moratorium on dispensaries, which will probably be renewed later this year.

On Monday, a bill to regulate and tax medical marijuana statewide died in Sacramento. Sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Assembly Bill 2312, would have created a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement to license and regulate industry enterprises. But the bill ran into opposition from some legislators over its provision requiring localities to allow dispensaries unless they are voted down in a referendum. When Ammiano amended the bill to allow local officials to ban dispensaries, the bill began to lose favor among some medical marijuana advocates. Ammiano said he didn't have the votes to get it out of committee, but that a committee will study the bill this summer and he will reintroduce it next year.

On Tuesday, Yuba County supervisors approved the introduction of amendments to the county's public nuisance ordinance for medical marijuana. But while the county is still fine-tuning its ordinance, local growers said it is ignoring critical issues, such as a collective grows and are threatening legal action if the county doesn't move faster. The amendments are supposed to be voted on at the board's July 10 meeting, but that may not happen after one supervisor said more work was needed.

Also on Tuesday, hundreds of unhappy medical marijuana advocates piled into the Lake County supervisors' meeting to protest a pending medical marijuana ordinance. The multitude created a log-jam at the Lakeport courthouse security station, causing the hearing to be delayed until July. The crowd cheered when they learned the hearing was rescheduled for a larger venue. The hearing will be held July 9 in the fairgrounds' theater in Lakeport.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Fort Collins officials announced that an initiative to repeal a ban on dispensaries had qualified for the November ballot. Organizers needed 4,214 valid voter signatures, and election officials stopped counting at 4,302 with 743 more signatures unchecked. They had turned in more than 9,000 signatures last week. The city attorney's office will now draft language for the initiative at the next meeting of the city council on July 17. Last year, voters in the city approved the ban; this year, they will now have a chance to change their minds.

Montana

Last Friday, Montana Republicans approved a resolution calling for regulated medical marijuana. Republicans in the state legislature were responsible for gutting the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law last year, but the new position is that state Republicans would "support action by the next legislature to create a workable and realistic regulatory structure." Montana Democrats a week earlier approved a change in their platform saying they supported access for those who need medical marijuana.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, the state Senate fell short in a bid to override a veto of the medical marijuana bill passed earlier by the legislature. As he did in 2009, Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed it, and as in 2009, proponents were unable to get enough votes to override.

Vermont

Last Friday, state officials received four applications from potential dispensary operators. State officials are not revealing who the applicants are and where they want to operate, saying they consider that information confidential. The first dispensaries could be operating by the end of the year, but their locations and identities would be revealed when they seek local approvals.

Washington

On Tuesday, the Tacoma City Council heard testimony about a proposal to allow dispensaries and collective grows to operate in the city. Nearly 11 months after the council issued a moratorium on business licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries, Tuesday's hearing gave the public a chance to weigh in on a zoning framework that since has been formulated to allow such businesses, but regulate them. About a dozen people spoke, most in favor of the proposal. The proposal would allow collective gardens in the city's industrial zones and in certain downtown and mixed-use zones. That essentially would concentrate such operations in Tacoma’s port area and along South Tacoma Way. Dispensaries would be allowed in city zoning districts where commercial uses now are allowed.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's mainly news from California this week, with DEA and LAPD raids leading the way, but also snippets from Colorado and Montana, and the DEA head on the hot seat. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, DEA administrator Michelle Leonhardt ran into tough questioning (go to 47:15) at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on DEA oversight. After Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) repeatedly and fruitlessly asked her whether meth or heroin is worse than marijuana, the best she could come up with was "all illegal drugs are bad." Nor would she concede under repeated questioning from Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) that marijuana causes less harm than meth. Cohen also went after Leonhardt on medical marijuana.

"Have you ever seen a person who had cancer and used marijuana to alleviate their condition?" Cohen asked. "I have, and would you agree it has some benefit for somebody who is dying, that marijuana is the only thing that makes him eat and smile according to his 80-year-old mother?"

"That's between him and his doctor," Leonhardt replied.

"Then why does the DEA take the position that medical marijuana is wrong?" Cohen asked before Leonhardt got a reprieve because his time was up.

California

Last Thursday, the DEA raided the G3 Holistic dispensary in Upland and federal prosecutors issued indictments for six people in connection with the raid.The folks behind G3 had operated three dispensaries, but shut down two after being warned to close by the feds eight months ago. Three operators of the chain as well as three workers involved in an Ontario grow warehouse that supplied it were taken into custody. All are charged with  conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, possession of pot with intent to distribute it, and maintaining a drug location. They all face up to life in prison if convicted. The defendants were due in court in Riverside today.

As of last Thursday, there are no more dispensaries in Whittier. Whittier Hope Collective shut its doors after receiving a threat letter from federal prosecutors June 5. The Whittier City Council on a 3-2 vote in October 2009 approved a conditional-use permit allowing Whittier Hope Collective to operate. Nearly a year later the dispensary opened. The collective even joined the Whittier Area Chamber of Commerce. Now, its 5,000 members will have to go elsewhere.

Last Tuesday, Lake County supervisors directed county staff to draft an interim urgency ordinance restricting medical marijuana cultivation in unincorporated areas of the county. Staff will take under consideration comments from the Board of Supervisors, the public, and the Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Board. The supervisors are expected to consider the draft ordinance next week.

Last Friday, the IRS announced it had seized the bank accounts of a Sacramento dispensary. The DEA had raided the El Camino Wellness Center earlier in the week. The IRS said it seized $870,000 from bank accounts in what it described as a money-laundering investigation. The seizures underscore efforts by federal authorities to crack down on dispensaries by employing laws traditionally used to target money transfers by narcotics traffickers. The IRS referred to the dispensary as an "illegal marijuana store." El Camino opened in 2008 and last year became the first Sacramento dispensary issued a permit under a city regulatory program for medical marijuana outlets. The city is still collecting voter-approved taxes on local dispensaries, amounting to $1.1 million between July 2011 and March of this year.

Also last Friday, a Shasta County medical marijuana collective threatened to sue the county over its ban on dispensaries. The Medicine Man Collective Spiritual Center Corporation filed a claim earlier in the week saying the ban will have robbed them of $17.2 million by 2013. It is demanding a meeting with county officials to revise the rules, and says it will seek that amount in court if the county doesn't comply. The collective claims it had served some 20,000 patients in the past. County supervisors passed an ordinance banning pot collectives indefinitely in the unincorporated part of the county in December, and they also passed the county's first-ever ordinance limiting growing. The county counsel has 45 days from the date the claim was filed to accept or reject it.

On Monday, a San Diego initiative to regulate dispensaries failed to make the ballot. Citizens for Patient Rights and the Patient Care Association needed to gather 62,000 valid signatures to qualify, but collected fewer than 20,000. Proponents said the federal crackdown and prosecutions by San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis had depleted dispensary ranks and impeded the flow of money needed to raise the signatures. The same groups last year collected more than 40,000 signatures to successfully repeal a city ordinance that medical marijuana dispensary directors and patients believed was too restrictive. They plan to pursue another initiative or to work with the new city council and mayor to pass regulations after the fall election.

Also on Monday, activists in Del Mar asked the city council to adopt a dispensary ordinance after collecting signatures from well over 10% of Del Mar voters. The Patient Care Association led the signature drive and hopes the council will immediately pass the Compassionate Use Dispensary Regulation and Taxation Ordinance in order to serve medical pot patients in Del Mar sooner rather than possibly later. But Del Mar officials opted to instead receive a report on the measure. By doing so, the council will have the choice to either adopt the ordinance within 10 days of receiving the report, to be issued by mid-July, or order an election. The Patient Care Association expects to qualify ballot measures in Solana Beach and Lemon Grove by the end of the week and in Encinitas by the end of the month. The proposed compassionate use dispensary ordinance would impose a 2.5 percent sales tax on medical pot to benefit the city's general fund.

Also on Monday, the Oaksterdam Cannabis and Hemp Museum announced plans to relocate. The museum, which is affiliated with Oaksterdam University, is being forced out of its present location by the April DEA and IRS raids on Oaksterdam properties, and must relocate by the end of the month. The relocation is a result of concerns raised by the City of Oakland about having the publicly accessible museum in a shared space with a downtown Oakland medical cannabis dispensary. The museum has been closed since the raids.

Also on Monday, the San Francisco City Attorney filed a brief defending the rights of local governments in California to issue permits authorizing medical cannabis collectives to serve their patients, urging the state Supreme Court to reverse a Court of Appeal holding that such regulation is substantially preempted by federal law. The amicus brief authored by Dennis Herrera and joined by Santa Cruz County Counsel Dana McRae argues that discretionary permitting, an integral element in planning and land use policy, is particularly essential for local regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries. The appellate court's October 4, 2011 ruling in Pack v. Long Beach, Herrera and McRae contend, wrongly hinders the ability of local governments to protect public health and safety effectively, and to enact policy innovations tailored to local needs.

Also on Monday, the San Leandro City Council again punted on regulating dispensaries and grows. The council agreed to take up the issue again next month. A moratorium is in effect until September 30, but city staff has warned the council it should have an ordinance in place before then. The council has been hesitating, waiting to see what happens with a dispensary regulation bill in Sacramento.

On Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors voted to oppose a statewide dispensary regulation bill over fears the regulations could limit local control of marijuana dispensaries and grow sites. The bill, Assembly Bill 2312, sponsored by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would require commercial marijuana growers to register with a new Board of Medical Marijuana Enforcement, and counties and cities could tax marijuana if local voters agree. It passed the Assembly last month, and is set for a Senate committee hearing next week.

Also on Tuesday, the LAPD raided two dispensaries in Woodland Hills because of "illegal sales" of marijuana. Witnesses identified the dispensaries as Green Joy and Green Magic, both on Ventura Boulevard. The raids were carried out by the Topanga Narcotics Division. The LAPD has been busy in the San Fernando Valley, with the department claiming that it had wiped out all cannabis stores in its Devonshire Division.

Also on Tuesday, Long Beach police raided a downtown dispensary just hours before the city council was to hear a report on enforcement of its four-month-old dispensary ban. Hit was THC Downtown, which had applied for a permit through a lottery process (while the city still handed out permits), failed to win the lottery, but opened anyway. Police said three employees and two security guards would face misdemeanor charges of violating the city's ban on dispensaries that were not permitted.

On Wednesday, patients and activists rallied in Sacramento to protest last week's raid on the El Camino Wellness Center. "The Obama administration is betraying patients and lying to the public," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), one of the groups organizing Wednesday's protest. "The president and the attorney general have said publicly that the Justice Department is not targeting state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries, but that's exactly what it's doing." Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the House Judiciary committee that, "We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity with state law." However, by all accounts, El Camino was acting in full conformity with local and state laws.

Colorado

On Monday, the Commerce City City Council approved regulations under which medical marijuana businesses must apply for a conditional permit, and then for a business license. The program goes into effect July 1. License applicants must sign waivers that release the city from any liability for injuries or damages if state or federal agencies seek arrest or prosecution. The ordinance creates rules for regulating dispensaries, cultivation facilities, production and manufacturing of medical marijuana products.

Montana

Earlier this month, state Democrats added support for medical marijuana to their party platform. The new plank says that, because voters approved the use of medical marijuana, the Democratic Party supports "the right of qualified patients with a medical condition where marijuana is appropriate (to) have safe access to medical marijuana." Party spokesmen said the measure didn't spark much debate at the party convention. Some 61% of voters approved the Montana Medical Marijuana Act in 2004, but a combination of federal raids and changes by the Republican-led state legislature have left the program in tatters.

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