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Medical Marijuana Update

The DEA strikes again in Los Angeles, and the feds are moving to eliminate dispensaries in downtown LA. But the pushback against the crackdown continues. Let's get to it:

California

Last Thursday, demonstrators gathered outside Obama campaign headquarters in Sacramento to protest the crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries. The demonstration was part of a series of protests at Obama campaign headquarters across the nation sponsored by Americans for Safe Access.

Also last Thursday, the two candidates for LA County DA said they would continue to go after  dispensaries. The remarks by Chief Deputy District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson differed came as the two engaged in their last public debate. Responding to a question from moderator Gene Maddaus of the LA Weekly both took roughly the same line. "It's my position that over-the-counter sales for money of marijuana are illegal," Lacey said. "Those folks are simple drug dealers," Jackson said.

Last Saturday, the Trinity County Sheriff's Office reported it had raided six medical marijuana grows, saying they were all illegal commercial grows hiding behind Proposition 215. The raids resulted in 14 arrests for cultivating and preparing marijuana for sale, and deputies seized $180,000 in cash, 406 plants, and 150 pounds of processed marijuana. The sheriff's office said the amount was far in excess of the personal use amounts for the 14 people, but acknowledged that some of them said they were members of cooperatives.

On Monday, initiative campaigns in San Diego County announced they had scored big endorsements in their bid to allow and regulate dispensaries in Lemon Grove, Del Mar and Solana Beach (Propositions T, H and W, respectively). The endorsements include the San Diego County Democratic Party, the San Diego County Libertarian Party and the San Diego County Green Party.

On Tuesday, the feds targeted 71 Los Angeles dispensaries, with the DEA raiding three.  Federal prosecutors filed asset forfeiture lawsuits against three properties housing dispensaries and sent threat letters to 68 other dispensaries. The feds are targeting every known dispensary in the Eagle Rock and downtown areas of the city, as well as the single store known to be operating in Huntington Park. The federal actions in Los Angeles were done with cooperation from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, and the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office. The three dispensaries hit by the DEA with help from the LAPD were the Happy Ending Collective, the Green Light Pharmacy, and Fountain of Wellbeing. Federal enforcement actions -- the asset forfeiture lawsuits and warning letters -- have now targeted more than 375 dispensaries in the Central District of California.

On Wednesday, the feds joined up with local law enforcement in Santa Rosa to swarm a southwest neighborhood in what was described as the region's largest ever mass residential grow bust. Participants included personnel from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, Probation Department and District Attorney’s Office, Santa Rosa Police Department, California Highway Patrol and federal departments of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A sheriff's spokesman said the operation was planned after authorities discovered that suspected pot cultivation in the neighborhood had become rampant. "We just looked into this neighborhood and, literally, probably every backyard but two or three have a (marijuana) grow," O'Leary said. "Our goal is to go in there to rid the neighborhood of these, what we think are probably illegal grows."

Michigan

Last Wednesday, a federal appeals court upheld the firing of a Walmart worker who was terminated after testing positive for marijuana even though he was a registered patient. Joseph Casias, who has an inoperable brain tumor, was fired by the Walmart store in Battle Creek after failing the drug test. He sued, but the case was thrown out in district court. The appeals court upheld the ruling of the lower court that the state's medical marijuana law does not regulate private employment, but merely provides protection from criminal prosecution or other adverse state action.

Montana

Last Friday, a federal judge hamstrung the defense of medical marijuana provider Chris Williams, a co-owner of the now-defunct Montana Cannabis. US District Court Judge Dana Christensen held that Williams cannot argue that government officials entrapped him into believing he would not be prosecuted and warned jurors that they must "disregard any statements or argument about the defendant or others purporting to comply or not to comply with state laws concerning marijuana." Williams is the only one of the people charged after a series of March 11 raids to go to trial. One of his partners in Montana Cannabis, Richard Flor, died in federal prison last month, while another, Tom Daubert, was sentenced to probation. The trial was still going on as of Tuesday night.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors' thresholds for prosecution were revealed. Cases involving less than 500 plants or 100 kilograms will be "disfavored for prosecution in federal court," according to a July memorandum from Montana US Attorney Michael Cotter that was obtained and published by The Independent. In their March 2011 raids, the feds in several instances targeted grows that contained fewer plants than that.

Washington

Last Thursday, protestors in Seattle denounced the federal crackdown on dispensaries there, holding a city hall news conference before rallying at the federal courthouse. In August, the DEA sent threat letters to 26 local dispensaries it said operated within 1,000 feet of a school zone, threatening forfeiture if the businesses didn't shut down within 30 days. The protest was one of a series called across the country by Americans for Safe Access.

Montana Medical Marijuana Restriction Initiative Trailing

An effort to undo a more restrictive medical marijuana law in Montana faces an uphill battle, according to a poll done last week. The Mason Dixon poll had the medical marijuana reform effort trailing 31% to 44%, with 25% undecided. The good news is that in order for the new, restrictive law to stay in effect, it must get 50% of the vote plus one.

This is a bit tricky for outside observers. The initiative, Initiative Referendum 124, asks voters if they want to approve Senate Bill 423, which was passed by the Republican-dominated legislature last year and eviscerated the state's then-thriving medical marijuana distribution industry. A "yes" vote means voters want to keep the new, more restrictive law, while a "no" vote means they want to return to the status quo embodied in the voter-approved 2004 medical marijuana initiative. SB 423 repealed large swathes of the 2004 law.

So, that's 44% saying yes, keep the new, more restrictive law and only 31% saying the original 2004 law should be put back in place.

Legislative Republicans cited a rapid increase in the number of medical marijuana cardholders, large grow operations, and the proliferation of dispensaries in first attempting to repeal the medical marijuana law outright. Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) vetoed that first effort, but when the legislature passed SB 423, he let it go into effect without his signature.

Calling the new law a travesty that gutted their program, medical marijuana supporters gathered more than 35,000 signatures and managed to qualify for the ballot late last year.

Now they have their work cut out for them. Republicans back the initiative by 52% to 31%, independents by 46% to 31%, and even Democrats back it 33% to 32%. Similarly, both men (46% to 37%) and women (42% to 25%) back endorsing the new, restrictive law.

Still, six weeks out from Election Day, there is not a majority in support of IR-124, and there are still a large number of undecideds. That means Patients for Reform Not Repeal and other supporters of the original law could still emerge victorious. IR-124 must get 50% plus one to win, and initiatives polling below that this late in the game are in danger of losing, as Bob Brigham, the group's campaign manager noted.

"Historically, ballot measures that don't start near 60% support are in danger of failing," he noted. "IR-124 doesn't even hit 50%. That's a bad sign for the legislature's proposal, especially if we do our job and explain to voters why they should vote against this 'godawful' law."

MT
United States

Initiative Watch

Three marijuana legalization initiatives, two medical marijuana initiatives, and one sentencing reform initiative are on state ballots this year. We'll be running a feature story on one of them each week between now and election day, but we've created this short-term feature to keep up with all of them. Here's what's happening:

Arkansas

Last Wednesday, supporters and foes of the medical marijuana initiative sparred in court over ballot summary language. Opponents are attempting to knock the initiative off the ballot by challenging the language, but supporters say it is fair and want the state Supreme Court to block the move. If it stays on the ballot and passes, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act would be the first such initiative passed in the South.

Colorado

Last Wednesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper came out in opposition to Amendment 64, the tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. He said that making marijuana legal would send the wrong message about drug use. "Colorado is known for many great things -- marijuana should not be one of them," Hickenlooper wrote.

That provoked an immediate, tart response from Mason Tvert of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Governor Hickenlooper's statement today ranks as one of the most hypocritical statements in the history of politics," said Tvert. "After building a personal fortune by selling alcohol to Coloradans, he is now basing his opposition to this measure on concerns about the health of his citizens and the message being sent to children. We certainly hope he is aware that alcohol actually kills people. Marijuana use does not. The public health costs of alcohol use overall are approximately eight times greater per person than those associated with marijuana. And alcohol use is associated with violent crime. Marijuana use is not."

Also last Wednesday, a Denver district judge allowed a state-issued voters' guide to proceed even though the Campaign had challenged it as grossly imbalanced after a legislative committee edited the wording. The voters' guide now contains 366 words opposing the measure and only 208 supporting it.

Also last Wednesday, the Colorado University Board of Regents formally opposed Amendment 64. "We are expressing to parents and future students that we oppose Amendment No. 64 because it's against state laws and federal laws and we're law abiding regents," regent Tillie Bishop explained. Following the vote, Bishop offered an open invitation to his fellow regents to attend the 21st annual Colorado Mountain Winefest, which began last Thursday in Palisade.

Last Saturday, the latest poll had Amendment 64 leading 51% to 40%, with 8% undecided. The average of all polls so far has Amendment 64 leading by 49.7% to 39.3%.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Education Association opposed Amendment 64, this after campaign organizers had included language directing funds to public school construction in a bid to at least have the group stay neutral.

"We're sorry to hear the Colorado Education Association has been convinced to embrace a position counter to the interests of students and parents," Mason Tvert responded. "In fact, it was CEA that suggested tax revenue raised through the initiative should benefit public school construction in Colorado. We agreed it would be a good use of new revenue, and we are proud to say that Amendment 64 would direct tens of millions of dollars per year toward improving Colorado schools. It's odd that our opponents are criticizing the idea of Amendment 64 directing new revenue toward public school construction, as it was embraced by the CEA when it contributed that very idea during the drafting process. In fact, when we consulted with CEA during the drafting of the initiative they indicated they would be remaining neutral on the issue, but that's politics for you. It's understandable that an organization like CEA would want to toe the line of the powers that be, but it's unfortunate that they are playing politics when the future of Colorado schools -- and the health and safety of our children -- are at stake."

Also on Wednesday, the campaign announced pending endorsements from national law enforcement groups and former law enforcement officials. The endorsing groups are the National Latino Officers Association and Blacks in Law Enforcement in America. They will hold a press conference Thursday.

Massachusetts

Last Tuesday, Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis announced he had given $465,000 to the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, the ballot committee behind Question 3, the medical marijuana initiative. The brings the total raised by the committee to $512,860, compared to $600 raised by the opposition Vote No on Question 3 committee.

Last Thursday, a spoof site ridiculing medical marijuana opponents grabbed the Vote No on Question 3 domain name, even though the opposition group had listed it on the state voters' guide. (They forgot to register it.) Now the address is home to a web page warning that medical marijuana is a gateway to "Twinkie addiction."

On Monday, the latest polling had Question 3 winning with 59% of the vote. The opposition was at 35%, with 6% undecided. The yes vote was a slight increase over the previous poll.

North Dakota

On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court ruled that the medical marijuana initiative will not be on the ballot. The secretary of state had blocked the initiative, saying there was ample evidence that University of North Dakota football players hired as signature gatherers had committed fraud by forging signatures. Proponents of the measure sought to get the court to overturn the secretary of state's decision, to no avail.

Oregon

On Monday, state Rep. Peter Buckley endorsed Measure 80, the state's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. "Overall, legalization would take the black market out of Oregon," said Buckley (D-Ashland) who has served as co-chairman of the Legislature's Ways and Means Committee for the past two sessions.

On Monday, a new political action committee was formed to raise funds for Measure 80. Oregonians for Law Reform co-director Sam Chapman said, "Ending prohibition is an idea whose time has come, again. We will urge voters to rally behind Measure 80, not get bogged down in the typical pro and con rhetoric around the details of an initiative. We must show our support for this measure to help build momentum for victory, either in November or some time soon."

On Tuesday, a new poll had Measure 80 trailing 41% to 37%, with 22% undecided.

Washington

Last Monday, the Children's Alliance endorsed Initiative 502, the state's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. The Children's Alliance is a Seattle-based advocacy group with more than 100 social-service agencies as members. "The status quo is not working for children, particularly children of color," said deputy director Don Gould. "Public policy ought to move us further toward racial equity and justice, and Initiative 502 is one step forward to that."

Last Wednesday, a new poll had I-502 winning with 57% of the vote and only 34% opposed. Support is up 3% over a June poll.

Medical Marijuana Update

Last issue, we reported that the DEA had taken the week off. Well, they're back, and so is the push-back. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, the Women's CannaBusiness Network held a press conference in Washington, DC, to call on President Obama to cease enforcement actions against medical cannabis providers while the administration reviews its policies to determine whether they are in the public interest. The group is a project of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

On Monday, Americans for Safe Access called for Thursday demonstrations at Obama campaign headquarters across the country "in an effort to draw attention to the Obama Administration's aggressive efforts to shut down legal medical marijuana dispensaries and obstruct the passage of laws that would regulate such activity." Demos are set for Washington, DC, as well as in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.

California

Last Wednesday, the DEA raided Green Heart Collective facilities in Anderson and Redding. "They broke all the windows, vandalized the inside of the building and took all of the medicine," owner Gina Munday said. "We were so surprised." No arrests have been made so far.

Also last Wednesday, the Encinitas city council approved a dispensary initiative for the 2014 ballot. Initiative backers the Patient Care Association had signatures verified by the registrar of voters on August 8, two days before the state deadline for the 2012 ballot, but the council would have had to have called a special meeting to place it on the ballot. It failed to do so.

Last Thursday, Harborside Health Center asked a federal judge to stop its landlord from trying to shut it down. Harborside and its landlords have been hit with threat letters from federal prosecutors, and its San Jose landlord had moved to force it out. But Harborside is fighting everything to do with the federal threats.

Last Friday, Vallejo police raided Nature's Love Collective for the second time. They arrested the operator, just as they did four months ago, the last time they raided it. Vallejo police have raided  nine dispensaries this year despite the city voting to tax and regulate them.

On Monday, an initiative to overturn the LA dispensary ban qualified for the ballot.  City Clerk June Lagmay said activists needed 27,425 valid signatures for their measure to qualify and that a statistical sampling of the signatures showed they had turned in 110% of the amount needed. The city council can now repeal its "gentle ban" ordinance, call a special election, or put the measure on the March 5 city election ballot. In the meantime, the ban is on hold, although LAPD has said it intends to continue busting dispensaries.

Oregon

On Tuesday, the DEA raided the High Hopes Farm grow operation outside Jacksonville. James Bowman, a longtime activist, owns the farm and went public about his activities last spring with a spread in the Oregonian newspaper. Bowman could be the single largest medical marijuana producer in the state. He wasn't arrested, but agents plowed under his crop.

Vermont

As of Sunday, the Vermont Department of Safety has granted conditional approval to two dispensary applicants. One applicant, the Champlain Valley Dispensary, has been approved for Burlington and hopes to be open and serving patients within six months. A second applicant, Patients First Inc., has been approved for Waterbury. The department received five applications this year, but three of them did not meet minimum standards. Under a 2011 law, the state can have four dispensaries and will accept more applications next year if that number isn't reached this year.

Colorado's Amendment 64 Heads for the Home Stretch [FEATURE]

With only a few weeks left until election day, Colorado's Amendment 64 tax and regulate marijuana initiative is well-positioned to win on November 6, and its supporters are doing everything they can to ensure it does. Opponents are gearing up as well, and the weeks leading up to the election are going to be critical.

Amendment 64 would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in an enclosed locked space. It also allows for the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp. And it would create a state-regulated marijuana cultivation, processing, and distribution system, including retail sales.

If the state fails to regulate marijuana commerce, localities could issue licenses. Localities would also have the right to ban marijuana businesses, either through their elected officials or via citizen-initiated ballot measures.  

If Amendment 64 passes, the legislature would be charged with enacting an excise tax of up to 15% on wholesale sales, with the first $40 million of revenue raised annually directed to the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund. In keeping with the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), such a tax increase would have to be approved by voters.

Amendment 64 does not change existing medical marijuana laws, but it does exempt medical marijuana from the proposed excise tax. For current patients, passage of Amendment 64 would enhance their privacy because no registration would be required -- just ID proving adulthood.

Amendment 64 does not increase or add penalties for any current pot law violations, nor does it change existing driving while impaired laws (although a bill reintroduced this year once again seeks to impose a per se DUID standard.)

The initiative's provisions appear to be broadly popular. According to the latest poll, released Saturday by SurveyUSA for the Denver Post, Amendment 64 is leading with 51%, with 40% opposed and 8% undecided.

While in line with other recent polls, the SurveyUSA/Denver Post poll marks the first time in recent months that support for the initiative has broken 50% except for an outlier June Rasmussen poll that had support at 61%. The Talking Points Memo's PollTracker Average, which includes this latest poll, currently shows 49.7% for Amendment 64, with 39.3% opposed.

That 10-point lead in the polls has initiative backers pleased, but not complacent.

"There has certainly been a nice positive trend in the past few polls, but we are not letting up in our efforts to build support," said Mason Tvert of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is leading the Amendment 64 effort.

"We've got a good feeling, but at the same time, we're redoubling our efforts to push this over the end line," said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, who is part of the campaign. "We haven't seen a tax and regulate measure pass anywhere yet. It's a heavy lift, but we're confident."

"It's looking good overall, the polling is good, and we're starting to make some hay within the progressive community," said Art Way, the Colorado point man for the Drug Policy Alliance's lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action Network.

The campaign has sufficient financial backing to go the distance, although it is of course always looking for more. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the main, but not the only funding mechanism, for the campaign, has taken in nearly a million dollars so far, according to the Secretary of State's Office. Related campaign committees have raised another $50,000 or so.

"We've seen a whole lot of support from around the state and the country and to see that continuing toward the election," said Tvert. "It's looking like it will come down to the wire, so late contributions will have a bigger impact than ever before."

With only $87,000 in the bank rank now, the campaign coffers may appear relatively bare, but that's deceiving, said Vicente.

"We've placed about $800,000 worth of ads that will air in October, and we bought that space months in advance because it's cheaper," he explained. "There are ungodly sums of presidential campaign money coming in now."

The only organized opposition so far, Smart Colorado, by contrast has raised only about $162,000, the bulk of it from long-time drug war zealot Mel Sembler of the Drug-Free America Foundation. And it has limited itself to the occasional press release and responses to reporters' queries. Still, it has more money than it had in 2006, when a similar initiative lost with 41% of the vote.

"I've never seen the opposition have so much money," said Tvert. "In 2006, they came up with maybe $50,000. Regardless, the fact is that our opponents will rely on scare tactics and fear-mongering and will partner with law enforcement and the drug treatment industry, who benefit from maintaining the prohibition status quo."

But other opposition is emerging, with a battle for supporters raging on both sides. The opposition has picked up the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), as well as the endorsements of numerous sheriffs, prosecutors, and elected officials.

Still, Amendment 64 has been impressive on this count too, picking up endorsements from the state Democratic, Green, and Libertarian parties, the NAACP, local elected officials, the ACLU of Colorado, as well as the Gary Johnson campaign and the drug reform movement, among others.

"Government officials have been standing in the way of marijuana policy reform for more than 80 years, and the public has come to realize their opposition is not based on evidence so much as politics and the fear of change," Tvert said. "We've seen public support grow significantly in the past 15 years despite the fact that we still largely see elected officials opposed, and now we're seeing things like Gov. Hickenlooper being ripped into by newspaper editorials after he came out against. There was a time when papers like the Denver Post would have paid him kudos for standing up against this, but now, they criticize him for being hypocritical."

One area where the campaign doesn't have to worry too much is the marijuana and medical marijuana community. While there has been some grumbling in the ranks from those in search of the perfect initiative, unlike the "Stoners Against Prop 19" movement in California in 2010 or the internecine warfare in Washington state this year, the friendly fire in Colorado has been fairly muted.

"We occasionally hear people complaining, but the back and forth has been focused almost entirely between us and the no campaign," Tvert said. "By and large, the people who support ending marijuana prohibition in Colorado have come together to support this initiative."

"We're not worried about losing the base," agreed Vicente. "We went to great efforts to involve lots of stakeholders, including lots of dispensary owners and activists, when drafting the language and formulating the campaign plans. People feel bought in win our initiative; it appeals to all Coloradans, but to our base as well."

Another reason Colorado hasn't seen the circular firing squad that is taking place this year in Washington is that Amendment 64 doesn't include some of the controversial provisions included in the Washington initiative, said Vicente.

"There are some key differences with Washington," he pointed out. "We allow adults to home grow and we don't dictate a DUID level. By steering clear of those issues, we help maintain our more traditional base."

If the base appears secure, another key demographic is definitely in play, and it's an uphill struggle for the campaign. The polling throughout suggest that parents with children at home and especially mothers remain a weak spot. The campaign is acutely aware of that and has created another campaign organization, Moms and Dads for Marijuana Regulation, to address it.

"One of the most powerful ways that parents are becoming educated about the benefits of the tax and regulate system is conversation with other parents," said Betty Aldworth of Moms and Dads. "Moms and dads are starting to recognize that taking it out of unregulated market and putting it behind the counter where we can tax and regulate it is a better model. We're encouraging moms and dads to talk to other moms and dads. We've tapped a lot of parents to be spokespeople and will be continuing to educate about why marijuana is safer."

Parents who are open to the conversation can be brought along, Aldsworth said.

"Marijuana is universally available," she said, explaining what she tells concerned parents. "And our options here are to place it behind the counter where a responsible businessperson is checking ID or to leave it in the hand of criminals. When you talk to parents about that specific scenario, which is the reality of marijuana in the world today, they understand that we can do the same thing with marijuana that we did with alcohol, only now we have the advantage of having programs to start rapidly reducing youth access."

"We knew 18 months ago that the soccer moms would be a crucial demographic, and we still have an issue with that area," said Way. "That's why Betty Aldworth is working on that, but we're also making inroads with Women for Medical Marijuana, and the League of Women Voters will be having an event. We're making inroads, but it's not showing up in the polling so far."

"We find that people's fallback position is 'How will it affect my kids?' and we've been trying to engage in a public discussion about how regulating and moving it off the streets is a more effective way to reduce teen use than the failed policy of prohibition," said Vicente. "We've been doing billboards and some TV, as well as the face-to-face," he said.

The Amendment 64 campaign is poised, practiced, and ready to roll to victory in November. It has identified weak spots in its support and is working to bolster them. It's up nine or 10 points a little more than six weeks out, but knowing how previous initiative campaigns have played out, expect that margin to shrink as election day draws near. Victory is within reach, but this is going to be a nailbiter.

CO
United States

Chronicle Film Review: Lynching Charlie Lynch

Lynching Charlie LynchA Film by Rick Ray (2012, Rick Rays Films, 1:40, $29.95 DVD)

Of all the various fronts of the war on drugs, the assault on medical marijuana patients and providers may not be the stupidest -- that distinction probably belongs to the ban on hemp farming -- but it is arguably the cruelest. No fair-minded observer can doubt that marijuana soothes many maladies, and there is an ever-increasing mountain of peer-reviewed scientific and medical research to back that up.

And no one can listen to the testimonials of patients suffering serious ailments about the relief they've found with marijuana without empathizing with their all-too-real suffering. My personal experience is only anecdotal, but I've been meeting bona fide patients for years now, people with multiple sclerosis, people undergoing chemotherapy, people debilitated by agonizing migraine headaches -- all of whom swear by the weed.

Sure, California's medical marijuana allows virtually anyone with $75 and the ability to say "chronic pain" to get a medical recommendation, and many people who arguably suffer no real infirmity take advantage of that, but the fact that some people are using medical marijuana recommendations as a "get out of jail free" card certainly does not negate the reality of marijuana's therapeutic value--it's just one more hypocritical artifact of prohibition.

But it's been nearly 16 years since voters in California passed Proposition 215, starting a social and political phenomenon that has now spread across the country, and the federal government remains intransigent. At times aided and abetted by recalcitrant local sheriffs, prosecutors, and other elected officials, the Justice Department right now is busily putting the screws to California's dispensaries. They've managed to run more than 400 of them out of business in the past year by the exercise of federal muscle: DEA raids, threats of federal criminal prosecution -- sometimes carried out -- and threats of asset forfeiture directed at dispensary landlords.

It seems so dry when you just type the words out on the page, but what we are talking about is the destroying of people's lives by their own government, a war waged against citizens by the people who are supposed to be serving them. Imagine what a DEA SWAT team raid is like, as a nonviolent dispensary operator who's targeted -- and that can be just the beginning. Then they take all your possessions, your computers, your bank accounts, leaving you penniless, probably car-less, possibly homeless -- if you're lucky. If you're not, you're then staring into the maw of the federal criminal prosecution machine, a particularly Kafkaesque prospect when it comes to federal medical marijuana prosecutions, where dispensary operators become "drug dealers" in trials where the words "medical marijuana" are not to be spoken.

Charlie Lynch's sad saga begins a few years earlier, back when George W. Bush was still president, but his tale is all too familiar by now. In his powerfully rendered Lynching Charlie Lynch, award-winning filmmaker, writer, and producer Rick Ray manages to illuminate the human reality (and the inhuman idiocy) of the war on medical marijuana distributors. As many Chronicle readers no doubt recall, Lynch operated the Central Coast Compassion Center in Morro Bay, California, until he was raided, arrested, and convicted on federal marijuana trafficking charges in federal court.

Through interviews with Lynch, his neighbors, his landlord, and local attorneys and politicians, interspersed with TV news accounts and surveillance videos, Ray portrays a socially awkward straight arrow of a man, whose most serious offense before his run-in with Uncle Sam was a speeding ticket (which his mother explains he got expunged by taking a defensive driving course). Lynch found his way to medical marijuana not out of any affinity for the weed or because he hung in stoner milieus (he didn't), but because he heard it might help with his excruciating migraine headaches (it did).

Lynch subsequently tired of driving miles to the nearest dispensary and decided he was interested in opening one in San Luis Obispo County, where he lived. The fastidious Lynch researched the laws, even asking the DEA what its policy on medical marijuana dispensaries was -- it was up to state and local law enforcement, they told him. He filled out his forms, got his business license, rented a property, and had a ribbon-cutting with the Chamber of Commerce in attendance. He had the support of the mayor and other town officials. He was operating within the mandates of state law. He thought he was doing everything right.

None of that mattered to Sheriff Pat Hedges, who like too many in law enforcement who cannot accept laws they don't believe in, and tried fruitlessly for a year to find some way to bring Lynch down. His deputies surveilled the premises, they followed workers and patients from the dispensary, they tried unsuccessfully to set up undercover buys, but they couldn't come up with enough evidence of any violation of state law to get a judge to sign a search warrant.

Then, in a betrayal of his community and out of a sense of frustration that he was unable to nail Lynch, Hedges sicced the feds on him. Hedges' deputies joined forces with DEA agents to raid the Compassion Center and Lynch's residence, where he was shoved to the floor naked with a rifle pointed to his head.

Lynching Charlie Lynch tells the story of his transformation from respected local businessman to convicted federal drug dealer, the sleazy legal machinations of the federal prosecutors turning his prosecution and trial into a sordid charade, a mockery of justice. But his story is bigger than one man. It is also a story about a healing plant and about a nation that can't seem to come to grips with it, a nation that somehow thinks it's justifiable or even sane to persecute people for growing plants for others.

Along the way, Rick Ray takes a few side-trips that only add to the documentary. He talks to University of California at San Francisco researcher Dr. Donald Abrams about how he recommends marijuana for a wide variety of ailments and he talks to Professor Lyle Craker, the Massachusetts plant scientist who has sought -- so far unsuccessfully -- permission from the DEA to grow marijuana for the purpose of conducting clinical trials of its medical efficacy. The stolid, white-haired researcher offers up a powerful indictment of a corrupted federal research process.

Ray also talks to some representatives of the other side, and I want to thank him for giving folks like California anti-drug activist Paul Chabot, anti-marijuana fanatic Dr. Eric Voth and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America's David Evans the opportunity to display their character with their own words. When confronted with Lynch's fate, the smarmy, sanctimonious Chabot, a self-described "Christian" who says there are no legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries, said that he would pray for him "and maybe he will come to terms with what he did and join our side some day."

Similarly, Evans does his best to appear to be a thoughtful, rational human being, but gives himself away when he goes on a rant about the dangers of growing pot."They endanger others by setting up these facilities when there is no proof there," the former prosecutor muttered darkly. "He could have harmed people, killed people, caused cancer, caused birth defects. If someone chooses to put other people at risk, they should be prepared to take the consequences."

Uh, we're talking about growing a plant here.

Charlie Lynch's story isn't over yet, although he's already lost most everything. One of the last scenes of the film shows him putting his remaining belongings into storage after his house went into foreclosure in the wake of his prosecution. And he is still waiting to find out if he will have to go to federal prison. He's already been sentenced, but is appealing.

Lynch may be appealing, but what happened to him at the hands of his own government is appalling. Rick Ray deserves major credit for bringing his compelling story to the screen with grace, tenderness, and just the right touch of righteous indignation.

Oregon Marijuana Initiative Trailing Slightly in Poll

The campaign behind an initiative that would legalize marijuana in Oregon has an uphill battle ahead, according to a new SurveyUSA poll. That poll has the initiative, known as Measure 80 on the ballot, trailing by a margin of 41% to 37%.

But SurveyUSA reported a margin of error on the poll of +/-4%, meaning that the contest is a virtual dead heat and, as Portland's KATU-TV, which paid for the poll, put it, "it could go either way."

Campaign supporters can also take some solace in the high number of undecided voters. More than one out of five (22%) of those surveyed had yet to make up their minds, meaning the Amendment 80 campaign still has time to attempt to bring them over to its side.

Paralleling polling date from the other 2012 marijuana legalization initiative states, the poll found a significant gap in support between men (42%) and women (33%). Likewise, among age groups, support was strongest among the 18-to-34 group (47%), followed by 50-to-64 (39%), 35-to-49 (36%), and then those over 65 (24%).

As in the other initiative states, the data appears to suggest that parents -- and especially mothers -- with children at home will be a crucial demographic to be won over if the initiative is to succeed. Compared with its brethren in Colorado and Washington, the Oregon campaign has been a low-budget affair, but these polling numbers suggest a healthy cash injection could be critical, especially in swaying the large undecided vote.

Colorado Marijuana Legalization Measure Polls 51%

The latest poll, released Saturday by SurveyUSA for the Denver Post, has Colorado's marijuana legalization initiative at 51%, with 40% opposed and 8% undecided. The initiative, Amendment 64, would legalize the possession of up to an ounce and six plants by adults 21 and over and allow for state-regulated commercial cultivation and sales.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is targeting its message toward wary parents. (regulatemarijuana.org)
While in line with other recent polls, the SurveyUSA/Denver Post poll marks the first time in recent months that support for the initiative has broken 50% except for an outlier June Rasmussen poll that had support at 61%. The Talking Points Memo's PollTracker Average, which includes this latest poll, currently shows 49.7% for Amendment 64, with 39.3% opposed.

The poll found stronger support among men (53%) than women (49%), with 12% of women saying they were still undecided compared to 5% of men.

When it came to support by age group, support was highest among the 18-to-34 group (61%), followed by the 50-to-64 group (58%). But support declined below 50% for the 35-to-49 group (44%) and those 65 and older (37%).

The numbers suggest that parents with young children and especially mothers remain a weak spot for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. In its early advertising, the campaign has been targeting that demographic.

While the poll numbers are good, they also suggest this will be a very close contest. In 2010, California's Proposition 19 was polling at 52% three months before the election, but it ended up losing with only 46% of the vote.

A similar measure was on the ballot in Colorado in 2006, but it lost 59% to 41%.

The SurveyUSA/Denver Post poll was conducted between September 9 and 12 and relied on automated calls. It has a margin of error of +/- 4%.

CO
United States

Drug Policy in the 2012 Elections II: The Parties and the Presidential Race [FEATURE]

As the 2012 election campaign enters its final weeks, all eyes are turning to the top of the ticket. While, according to the latest polls and electoral college projections, President Obama appears well-positioned to win reelection, the race is by no means a done deal, and there's a chance that marijuana policy could play a role -- especially in one key swing state, Colorado, where the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is running a popular and well-funded campaign to pass Amendment 64.

President Obama (wikimedia.org)
But other than that, marijuana policy in particular and drug policy in general do not appear likely to be big issues, at least between Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. That's because both candidates hold similar positions:

Both oppose marijuana legalization, which will also be on the ballot in Oregon, and Washington. Obama, while at least paying lip service to patient access to medical marijuana, which will be on the ballot in Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Montana, has presided over a Justice Department crackdown on medical marijuana distribution, while Romney appears irritated and uncomfortable even discussing the issue.

"With Obama, we've all been disappointed with the backtracking, although he also needs credit for the original Ogden memo and opening the gates to a wider proliferation of medical marijuana around the country," said Drug Policy Action head Ethan Nadelmann. "For the people most disappointed with that, the paradox is that Romney offers very little of promise."

That was illustrated by GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan's brief flirtation with medical marijuana. Last Friday, Ryan said medical marijuana was a states' rights issue. The comments came in Colorado, where the issue is hot.

"My personal positions on this issue have been let the states decide what to do with these things," he said in an interview with a local TV reporter. "This is something that is not a high priority of ours as to whether or not we go down the road on this issue. What I've always believed is the states should decideI personally don't agree with it, but this is something Coloradans have to decide for themselves."

But Ryan, who has a previous voting record opposing states rights to medical marijuana, did half a backtrack the next day, when one of his spokesmen explained that Ryan "agrees with Mitt Romney that marijuana should never be legalized."

Obama as president has supported increased drug war funding to Mexico and Central America, and Romney as candidate supports it as well. But his views are malleable. When running for the nomination in 2008, Romney suggested that spending on interdiction was a waste, and the money would be better spent on prevention here at home. Again, that is not so different from the Obama position which, rhetorically if not budgetarily, emphasizes treatment and prevention over interdiction and law enforcement.

The relative quiet around drug policy in the two campaigns is reflected in the Democratic platform and the Republican platform. There are only a handful of mentions of drugs or drug policy in the Democratic platform -- and the word "marijuana" doesn't appear at all -- all of them having to do with either combating international organized crime or touting the Obama administration's baby steps toward a slightly more progressive drug policy.

One of those progressive measures was overturning the federal ban on needle exchange funding, but the platform makes no mention or that or of the words "harm reduction." It does urge "supporting local prison-to-work programs and other initiatives to reduce recidivism, making citizens safer and saving the taxpayers money" and says the Democrats "will continue to fight inequalities in our criminal justice system," pointing to the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act as "reducing racial disparities in sentencing for drug crimes." The act actually addresses only crack cocaine sentencing.

While emphasizing their tough on crime positions, the Republican platform also takes some baby steps toward a more progressive drug policy. It calls for rehabilitation of prisoners and for drug courts, supporting state efforts to divert drug offenders to treatment, and it criticizes the federalization of criminal offenses. But the single most dramatic change in the Republican platform is that has eliminated what was in previous platforms an entire section on the war on drugs.

Just as with the candidates, the platforms give drug policy little time or space. In an election driven by the economy and the fires burning in the Middle East, the issue is going to get short shrift, especially when there is little daylight between the candidates on the platforms on the issue.

There are alternatives to the bipartisan drug policy consensus, but they remain on the margins. At least three third party candidates, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, are calling for an end to the drug war and marijuana legalization, but they are all but shut out of presidential debates and media interest.

Mitt Romney (mittromney.com)
Since there is little substantive difference in the drug policy positions of the two front-runners and since their positions on marijuana legalization put them at odds with half the country -- 50% now support legalization, according to the most recent Gallup poll -- neither candidate has much incentive to open his mouth on the issue. And they may be able to get away with it.

"Can the campaigns get away with not talking about marijuana?" Drug Policy Action head Ethan Nadelmann asked rhetorically. "That depends. First, will the question get popped at one of the debates? I don't know how to influence that. The second possibility will be if the candidates are obliged to answer a question somewhere, but I don't know how much they're taking questions -- their handlers are trying to keep them on message. The third possibility is that they will say something at private events, but who knows what gets said there?" he mused.

"They are certainly going to try not to talk about it," said Morgan Fox, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Given Romney's anger at a reporter for bringing up the issue and Obama's reluctance to address questions about marijuana policy in public forums, one can expect them to continue this behavior until forced to answer questions by the media or the public."

That leaves voters for whom marijuana reform is an important issue hanging out to dry.

"Unless one of the candidates sees an opportunity for a large boost in support by changing his position on marijuana policy, voters will be forced to choose between either third party candidates or the major party option that they think will do the least amount of damage to reform efforts going forward," said Fox. "If we consider Obama's behavior so far and Romney's staunch anti-marijuana statements (as well as the fact that he has never used it) it becomes a really difficult choice for voters."

Nadelmann begged to differ on that point.

"Romney has been more hostile on this issue than McCain or Bush or any Democratic candidates since Bush the Elder," he said. "He is visibly uncomfortable and even hostile regarding even the most modest drug policy reforms. Romney said if you want to legalize marijuana, you should vote for the other guy. That's very telling, with over 50% of independents and even more than 30% of Republicans supporting marijuana legalization. Why would Romney say that? The Obama campaign would have a hard time running with this, but someone else could."

Still, the lack of space between the major party candidates on the issue may leave an opening for Anderson or Johnson or Stein, Fox said.

"These candidates are the only ones offering real solutions to the quagmire of marijuana prohibition, or even taking definitive stances on the issue. The more they continue to draw public attention to marijuana reform while the major players stay silent, the more we can expect voters to pay attention to them and take them seriously," he predicted. "We can also expect their vocal support for reform to draw the attention of the major candidates and possibly elicit some sort of positive response from one or both of them. Whether that response will be sincere or simply lip-service to prevent third-party candidates from siphoning votes in key elections remains to be seen. However, even the latter would be a sign that the message is getting out and that politicians are at least starting to realize where the public stands on marijuana."

The one place where marijuana policy discussion may be unavoidable and where marijuana policy positions could influence the statewide electoral outcome is Colorado. Marijuana is a big issue in the state, not only because Amendment 64 is on the ballot, but also because of the ongoing war of attrition waged against dispensaries there by the DEA and the US Attorney. (The Colorado Patient Voters Project tracks federal activity against medical marijuana in the state, as does our own Medical Marijuana Update series, accessible with other relevant reporting in our medical marijuana archive section.)

Gary Johnson (garyjohnson2012.com)
And it's a tight race where one third party candidate in particular, Gary Johnson, is making a strong run and exploiting his popular legalization position on marijuana. While the Real Clear Politics average of Colorado polls has Obama up 48.7% to Romney's 45.3%, the race tightens up when Johnson is included in the polls.

"I think Colorado is key," said Nadelmann. "It has the initiative and it's a swing state, and there is the possibility that Gary Johnson or the Green candidate could make a difference. The polling has been split, and the question with Gary Johnson is whether he draws more from Obama or Romney."

One recent poll may hold a clue. Among the polls included in the Real Clear Politics average is a new Public Policy Polling survey, which had Obama beating Romney 49% to 46%. But when the pollsters added Johnson to the mix, he got 5%, taking three points away from Obama, but only two from Romney, and leaving Obama with only a two-point lead, 46% to 44%.

This year's election results from Colorado could mark a historic point for the marijuana reform movement, and not just because of Amendment 64, said Fox.

"This is a state where we are really going to see the power of this issue as it relates to elections," he said. "This is possibly the first time that marijuana policy could affect the outcome of a presidential election. That just goes to show how far reformers have come in just a few short years. As public opinion in support of ending prohibition continues to grow, the paradigm is going to shift from politicians avoiding the issue at all cost or being knee-jerk reactionaries who want to appear 'tough on crime' to candidates addressing marijuana policy in a rational manner as a way to build support."

We'll see in a few weeks how this all shakes out, but before then, we'll be taking an in-depth look at pot politics in Colorado in the context of Amendment 64. Stay tuned.

Please read our last week's feature, overviewing the various state ballot initiatives: Drug Policy in the 2012 Elections I: The Initiatives.

(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.)

Medical Marijuana Update

No DEA raids or federal threat letters to report this week, but the battles over medical marijuana continue on many fronts. Let's get to it:

National

Last Friday, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said medical marijuana was a states' rights issue. The comments came in Colorado, where the feds have been targeting medical marijuana dispensaries and where legalization is on the ballot. "My personal positions on this issue have been let the states decide what to do with these things," he said in an interview with a local TV reporter. "This is something that is not a high priority of ours as to whether or not we go down the road on this issue. What I've always believed is the states should decideI personally don't agree with it, but this is something Coloradans have to decide for themselves." But Ryan, who has a previous voting record opposing states rights to medical marijuana, did half a backtrack the next day, when one of his spokesmen explained that Ryan "agrees with Mitt Romney that marijuana should never be legalized."

California

As of last Tuesday, there were 472 dispensaries in Los Angeles, according to UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs professor Bridget Freisthler, who counted them. That's less than half the number suggested by anti-dispensary City Councilmember Jose Huizar, and about equal to the number of bars in the city or about 20% of the outlets that sell alcohol. Huizar's "gentle ban" on dispensaries has been blocked after advocates delivered petitions seeking a vote on the matter.

Last Tuesday, a state appeals court upheld the Riverside County ban on dispensaries in unincorporated parts of the county. The 4th District Court of Appeals in Riverside affirmed the county's power to ban in a case involving the Nature's Relief Group outside Murrieta and the MOSA Collective in Thousand Palms. Last November, the same appellate justices upheld the city of Riverside's blanket ban on cannabis dispensaries, bolstering the county's efforts to shutter more than 30 such storefront operations then in business.

Also last Tuesday, the Collins Collective sued the LAPD over threats made by police officers as the collective was in the process of constructing a building to operate in. Their lawsuit claims police last month threatened "severe repercussions" if the collective opened, and that they said they would forcibly shut it down and arrest the members. The lawsuit says LAPD then returned and reiterated those threats. The collective is seeking a temporary restraining order, followed by a preliminary injunction and ultimately a permanent injunction that would prevent the city and its employees from enforcing the city's ban against the plaintiff and its qualified patient members and a declaration that the city's actions are unconstitutional under state law.

On Monday, the Clovis city council introduced an ordinance to regulate indoor grows. The city already bans outdoor marijuana gardens, dispensaries and patient-to-patient sales. The city would ban all cultivation entirely if it could, said Mayor Jose Flores. Since it can't, it settled for restricting the growing of pot plants to a 32-square-foot indoor area that can't be seen from the outside. The ordinance gets a second and final vote next week.

Also on Monday, the Palo Alto city council voted to take a stand against a dispensary initiative that would legalize and tax up to three dispensaries in the city. The unanimous vote came after the council worried that dispensaries "can lead to 'secondary effects' in our neighborhoods, such as illicit drug sales, loitering and even criminal activity."

On Wednesday, San Jose city council members proposed an ordinance to target dispensaries that fail to pay city taxes. Council members Sam Liccardo, Rose Herrera and Pierluigi Oliverio cited "millions" in business taxes not being paid in the past year alone by marijuana clubs as required under the city's voter-approved Measure U. That measure allows the city to tax marijuana collectives up to 10% of their total sales, though the council later adjusted that to a maximum of 7%.

Colorado

As of last week, Boulder's medical marijuana industry has shrunk dramatically from its high point in 2010. There were more than 200 medical marijuana businesses operating in the city then; now there are just 26 dispensaries and 32 grow operations in the city. Dispensary operators say the city's strict approach to regulation has pushed even "good" operators out of business.

Montana

As of August, the number of medical marijuana card holders was on the rise again, for the first time since May 2011, in the wake of DEA raids across the state and an attack on medical marijuana by Republican state legislators. There are 8,849 card holders, up five people from the previous month. The number of Montana medical-marijuana cardholders peaked at 31,522 in May 2011.

Last Thursday, medical marijuana lobbyist Tom Daubert avoided federal prison time when he was sentenced to five years probation for his role in operating medical marijuana businesses, including Montana Cannabis. Daubert pleaded guilty in April to a charge of conspiracy to maintain drug-involved premises, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison. He formed Montana Cannabis with partners Richard Flor, Chris Lindsey and Chris Williams. Flor pleaded guilty in April to maintaining drug-involved premises and was sentenced to five years in prison, but he died in custody last month after being moved to Nevada from a private prison in Montana. Lindsey and Williams face trial later this year. Daubert had headed Patients and Citizens United, which led the fight for the successful 2004 medical marijuana initiative.

On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court overturned a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of part of the legislature's extremely restrictive rewrite of the voter-approved medical marijuana law. There is no fundamental right for patients to use any drug, particularly one like medical marijuana that’s illegal under federal law, the court held in reversing a lower court decision. "In pursuing one's health, an individual has a fundamental right to obtain and reject medical treatment," Justice Michael Wheat wrote for the majority. "But, this right does not extend to give a patient a fundamental right to use any drug, regardless of its legality." Last year, medical marijuana supporters obtained enough signatures to place the 2011 law on the ballot as a referendum. Voters on Nov. 6 will decide whether to keep or reject the law.

North Dakota

Last Tuesday, 11 people were charged with faking medical marijuana petition signatures in a scheme that helped keep the initiative off the November ballot. The eleven, including eight University of North Dakota football players, were paid $9 an hour to gather signatures for two initiatives, but Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said that many of the petition signatures were copied from phone books or fabricated.

Oregon

On Tuesday, police raided the 45th Parallel dispensary in Ontario. They alleged violations of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, but did not say what they seized, if anything. A local activist said police seized a small, legal, medical marijuana grow and that there was no usable marijuana on the premises. No arrests were made.

Washington

Last Wednesday, Tacoma ordered three medical marijuana businesses to shut down immediately. The city Finance Department hand-delivered letters to Emerald Pharms, T-Town Alternative Medicine and The Vape Bar, all in South Tacoma. More such letters could follow, a city spokesperson said. After nearly two years of deliberation and a long moratorium, the council decided last month to regulate medical marijuana under its nuisance code. Collective gardens, which are expressly permitted under state law, will be tolerated, but dispensaries will not.

Last Thursday, King County sheriff's detectives raided an Issaquah collective and seized some of the 536 plants and 65 pounds of processed marijuana. They left 135 plants and 15 pounds of pot. It's unclear if deputies knew they were raiding a collective when they went in, but they said they found expired paperwork for the garden and a registered felon in possession of a handgun. No arrests were made, but detectives forwarded the case to the King County Prosecutor's Office for review.

On Monday, Seattle proposed new rules for medical marijuana enterprises. While the city supports medical marijuana, the rules seek to limit "large-scale cannabis-related activity" in residential zones, tourism areas, and neighborhood commercial zones. In those areas, marijuana businesses would be limited to growing 45 plants and having six pounds of marijuana on hand.

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