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Federal Medical Marijuana "Truth in Trials Act" Reintroduced [FEATURE]

US Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) Tuesday introduced House Resolution 6134, the Truth in Trials Act, which would allow defendants in federal criminal prosecutions the ability to use medical marijuana evidence at trial. The bipartisan legislation has 18 cosponsors so far, including Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX).

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Reps. Sam Farr and Barbara Lee, with Ashley Epis, daughter of medical marijuana prison Bryan Epis, 2003 (safeaccessnow.org)
This is not the first time around for the act -- a version was first introduced in 2003 and it has been introduced repeatedly since then -- but this time it comes as federal crackdowns in states like California, Colorado, and Montana are creating an increase in federal drug prosecutions against medical marijuana providers. Since the crackdowns began, at least 70 people who were medical marijuana patients or providers have been indicted on federal drug charges.

Currently in federal criminal cases, medical marijuana providers are not allowed to present evidence that they were operating under state medical marijuana laws. Federal prosecutors can exclude all evidence of medical use or state law compliance in federal trials, virtually guaranteeing the convictions of medical marijuana patients and providers.

"The federal government has tilted the scales of justice towards conviction by denying medical marijuana defendants the right to present all of the evidence at trial," said Congressman Farr. "My bill would restore due process rights to law-abiding citizens acting within the parameters of state and local laws. Juries should hear the entire story of a patient's medical marijuana use before choosing to convict, not the heavily edited version they currently hear."

Under the bill, people facing federal prosecution could "introduce evidence demonstrating that the marijuana-related activities for which the person stands accused were performed in compliance with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana."

The bill would also create an affirmative defense under federal law. "It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution or proceeding under any federal law for marijuana-related activities, which the proponent must establish by a preponderance of the evidence, that those activities comply with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana," the bill says.

And the bill would make it harder for the federal government to seize and destroy medical marijuana. "No plant may be seized under any federal law otherwise permitting such seizure if the plant is being grown or stored pursuant to a recommendation by a physician or an order of a state or municipal agency in accordance with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana," the bill says.

"The federal government should be leaving enforcement issues up to the local and state officials who designed the medical marijuana laws in the first place," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group and strong supporters of the legislation introduced today. "But, as long as the Justice Department is going to arrest and prosecute people in medical marijuana states, defendants ought to have a right to a fair trial. The 'Truth in Trials' Act will restore the balance of justice and bring fundamental fairness to federal medical marijuana trials."

Most federal medical marijuana cases result in plea bargains due to the denial of a defense at trial. But some defendants still choose to fight the charges -- and they lose. That was the case with Morro Bay, California, dispensary operator Charles Lynch, who was convicted and sentenced in 2008 after being unable to cite his compliance with state law.

Lynch is out on bail pending his appeal, which is currently before the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. He's doing better than Chico medical marijuana provider Bryan Epis, who is currently sitting in federal prison working on a 10-year sentence after fighting and losing his case and his appeals.

The bill could help -- not only with the immediate issue of medical marijuana legal defenses in federal court, but also in the broader ambit of marijuana law reform, advocates said.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction, even if it isn't as far-reaching as some of the other bills," said Marijuana Policy Project communications director Morgan Fox, alluding to the four other marijuana-related bills introduced in Congress this session. "If the administration is going to continue cracking down they way they have been, it would be nice to have an affirmative defense."

"This is the fifth marijuana bill this session," noted Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director Bill Piper. "That's a sign of momentum. It used to be a struggle to get one introduced, and now we have five and could see even more. When you look at issues that are moving, you see a lot of competing bills. This is a good sign," he said.

Piper held out little hope of any forward progress on the bill this year. "It's unlikely to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled House, but you never know about next year," Piper said.

But while the conventional wisdom is that marijuana reform legislation is unlikely to move in the House, Fox isn't so sure.

"The needle seems to be swinging, and it's possible House conservatives might try to use this in a symbolic way to go against the administration in an election period without having to significantly change their policies," he said, noting the low number of federal prosecutions it would actually effect. "It would be significant for the people getting arrested, of course, but that number is fairly small."

Allowing medical marijuana patients and providers to mount evidence that they are complying with state medical marijuana laws is the right thing to do, said Piper.

"It's just common sense to allow patients to tell juries the truth," Piper said. "It's not asking for much, just for defendants to be able to tell the truth."

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

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

National

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

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

California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan

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

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

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

Montana

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

New Jersey

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

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

Washington

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

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

Marijuana Initiative Sues Oregon over Signature Counts

There could yet be not one, but two marijuana initiatives on the Oregon ballot in November. The Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative (OMPI) filed a lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court last week against Secretary of State Kate Brown over her office's invalidation of tens of thousands of signatures on petitions for Initiative Petition 24 (IP-24), which would legalize personal possession and cultivation of marijuana for adults via a constitutional amendment.

The other Oregon legalization initiative, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), officially qualified on Friday. It will be known as Measure 80 on the ballot. OCTA needed only 84,000 signatures to make the ballot, but because the OMPI is a constitutional amendment it faces a higher hurdle.

The OMPI has handed in more than 175,000 signatures, far in excess of the 116,000 needed to qualify for the ballot, but the effort was hit hard when Brown's office invalidated nearly 48% of the 122,000 signatures handed in on May 25. That means almost 100% of the 53,000 signatures handed in after May 25 must be found valid if the measure is to make the ballot.

The lawsuit challenges a range of specific methods and reasons used by Brown's office to disqualify individual voter signatures and entire sheets of up to 10 voter signatures each in a sampling process conducted in June, before the final deadline for signatures on petitions on July 6. That sampling process invalidated resulted in a historically low validity rate and damaged the initiative's chance to make the ballot. Other measures submitted at the same time are suffering similarly low validation rates.

"Under the policies of Kate Brown, the Oregon Elections Division works hard to remove every possible signature from initiative petitions and for reasons that make no sense," said OMPI proponent Robert Wolfe. "Instead, they should be working to include as many signatures as possible, thus preserving citizen access to the ballot through the initiative system, as demanded by the Oregon Constitution."

The OMPI lawsuit seeks to reopen the state's validation work on IP-24 so that the measure can legitimately qualify the November ballot based a fair count of valid signatures from Oregon voters.

"The recently developed policies of the state and of Kate Brown reduce access to the initiative process and make it the province of only the wealthiest special interests," Wolfe said. "A win for IP-24 would help restore ballot access to all petition sponsors. It is time to shine a bright light on the undemocratic policies and actions of Oregon's Secretary of State."

Salem, OR
United States

Oregon OCTA Marijuana Legalization Initiative Makes Ballot

The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA) initiative has qualified for the November ballot, the Oregon Secretary of State Election Division's official Twitter feed announced last Friday evening. That means voters in three Western states will vote on versions of marijuana legalization this year. The other two are Colorado and Washington.

The OCTA campaign and allies were quick to react.

"Today is an historic day for Oregon and for the national movement for common-sense marijuana policy," Paul Stanford, chief petitioner said in press release the same night. "Oregon's long had an independent streak and led the nation on policies that benefit the public good. Regulating marijuana and restoring the hemp industry is in that tradition of independent, pragmatic governance. Whether you're liberal or conservative, urban or rural, young or old, regulating and taxing marijuana and hemp makes sense for Oregon."

OCTA now becomes Measure 80 on the November Oregon ballot. It would regulate marijuana for adults 21 and over, with commercial sales only through state-licensed stores. The state's general fund would receive 90% of tax revenues, estimated at more than $140 million annually. Another 7% would go to drug treatment programs, and the remaining 3% would go toward promoting Oregon’s hemp food, fiber and bio-fuel industries.

Regulating marijuana is a more rational approach to decreasing crime and improving youth and public safety, said Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which supports the initiative.

"When the voters of Oregon pass this commonsense initiative, it will take money right out of the pockets of violent gangs and cartels and put it into the state's tax coffers, where it can be spent on improving schools, roads and public safety," said the 34-year career law-enforcement officer and veteran of narcotics policing in Baltimore. "Plus, when cops like me are no longer charged with chasing down marijuana users, we will be able to fully focus on stopping and solving serious crimes like murders, rapes and robberies."

Parts of organized labor are taking an interest in the job potential of a legal marijuana commerce.

"We support Measure 80 because it'll get middle-class Oregonians back to work, it’s as simple as that," said Dan Clay, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555. "Whether it's hemp biofuel refineries on the Columbia River or pulp and paper mills in central Oregon, hemp makes sense and fits Oregon's renowned sustainability economy."

A hundred days out from election day, it looks like we've got us a possible marijuana legalization trifecta.

Salem, OR
United States

Book Review: "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know"

Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know by Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, and Mark Kleiman (2012, Oxford University Press, 266 pp., $16.95 PB)

(Note: You can now order "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know" and support StoptheDrugWar.org at the same time -- click here for details on our current membership offers.)

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Marijuana legalization in one form or another will be on the ballot in at least two states -- Colorado and Washington -- this fall, and maybe three, if one or both of the Oregon initiatives currently in the signature validation process actually qualifies. [Editor's Note: One did, Friday night.] Public opinion polls show a populace that is now evenly split on the subject, but with support for it trending rapidly upward in recent years. We could be on the cusp of the biggest changes in how we deal with marijuana since pot prohibition began to emerge in the states a century ago.

So, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know couldn't be more timely. A collaborative effort by four academic drug policy researchers, this tome is thoughtful, thorough, and balanced as it addresses the wide array of issues and disputes associated with changing pot policy. One can only hope that politicians charged with voting on marijuana policy reform would read it, or at least, that their staffs would do so and offer them up a nicely bullet-pointed précis.

Grappling with the topic of marijuana legalization is a surprisingly complicated affair. Marijuana use is so common, the impacts of marijuana prohibition so pervasive, that to talk about marijuana law reform involves disciplines ranging from botany and biochemistry to medicine and public health and diplomacy and international law, and more. One of the qualities that makes Marijuana Legalization so handy is the way it disaggregates the multi-sided issue into easily digestible, bite-sized chunks. The book is divided into two sections, one on marijuana itself and one on legalization, and subdivided into thematic chapters ("Who Uses Marijuana?" "What are the Risks of Using Marijuana?" "What if Marijuana Were Treated Like Alcohol?"), which in turn are further subdivided into one-to-two page questions and answers.

The answers to the questions are carefully based on the latest academic research and meta-analyses and appear, overall, to be fair representations of the state of knowledge in the fields in question. Sometimes, though, it appears the authors are striving so much for fairness that they risk pulling muscles from bending over backwards.

In the section on the gateway theory, for instance, the authors note that there is a correlation between teen pot use and an increased likelihood of moving on to other drug use, but that a causal relationship is more difficult to determine and that other underlying social, psychological, or physiological risk factors could be at play. Still, they feel compelled to note in language approaching the Rumsfeldian that "the fact that causal connections are not needed to explain the observed correlations does not mean there is no causal connection." Ummm, okay. And the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Actually, given the decades of efforts to establish the gateway theory, the paucity of evidence to support it is pretty good evidence.

All of the talk about marijuana dependency may grate on the nerves of advocates, some of whom may well qualify as dependent under the clinical criteria. But clearly, like any psychoactive substance, people can grow habituated to pot and it can have deleterious effects. For all the emphasis on marijuana dependency, though, the authors deserve credit for clearly and forthrightly stating that all dependencies are not created equal. It's one thing to be a skin-and-bones crack addict; quite another to smoke pot and be a couch potato every night.

The careful, balanced tone of Marijuana Legalization is something that legalization advocates might want to strive for. This holds doubly true for claims about the impacts of marijuana legalization that might not hold up to scrutiny. For instance, Proposition 19 advocates may have overstated the impact that legalization in California would have on Mexican drug cartels, only to have opponents come back and undercut those claims. Likewise, claims that our prisons are filled with pot-smokers are unsupported by the facts. That anyone is in prison for marijuana is bad enough -- and the authors say 40,000 people are -- but overstating the negatives of even some aspects of prohibition does not aid the cause in the long run.

Similarly, the authors make clear that there are some things we just don't -- and can't -- know. How much would use increase under various legalization schemes? Anyone who tells you they have a definitive answer is blowing smoke, and his credibility should be called into question. We can make educated guesses, but given the lack of laboratory conditions, that's all they are.

When it comes to legalization itself, the authors delineate several versions, from a free market scheme where marijuana is treated like any other commodity to one that that would see marijuana produced and sold with regulations and restrictions like alcohol or tobacco. There is also a medical model and a state monopoly model (similar to what Uruguay is now proposing). Given the "nightmare scenario" -- potential massive decreases in price along with powerful advertising campaigns by vendors leading to massive increase in use and dependency -- of the more open legalization approaches and the political opposition such fears can engender, that state liquor store model looks a little more attractive, even though it runs in the face of current ideological trends about the inability of the state to do anything as well as private enterprise can.

I have to give the authors kudos for one chapter in particular, "What is Known about the Non-Medical Benefits of Marijuana?" In our drug policy discourse in general, marijuana included, the emphasis is almost entirely on the negative results of drug use. That begs the question: If these drugs are so horrible, why does anyone use them in the first place, let alone get strung out on them? Drug use clearly does have positive benefits for users -- otherwise they wouldn't be using them -- and it's refreshing to actually hear some forthright talk about that when it comes to pot.

Marijuana Legalization doesn't advocate for or against legalization. At the very end of the book, each of the authors lays out his or her personal views. But I'm not going to be a spoiler. Read the book and find out for yourself. It's a most handy primer on the diverse and interrelated topics that constitute the universe of marijuana legalization issues, and its structure helps disentangle what can be an overwhelming array of concerns and issues.

Yes, the authors have undoubtedly reached some conclusions that will not be well-received by the drug reform community, but they have done so in a spirit of scholarship and fairness. If you don't like the conclusions they reach, rebut them or deal with them in the same manner. It'll do you and the cause good.

(Note: You can now order "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know" and support StoptheDrugWar.org at the same time -- click here for details on our current membership offers.)

(The author's have launched a web site associated with the book, http://www.marijuanalegalization.info.)

Chronicle Review Essay: Summer Marijuana Reads

Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup by Mark Haskell Smith (2012, Broadway Paperbacks, 235 pp., $14.00 PB)

Pot Farm by Matthew Gavin Frank (2012, University of Nebraska Press, 223 pp., $14.95 PB)

Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America's Most Outlaw Industry by Greg Campbell (2012, Sterling Publishers, 262 pp., $22.95 HB)

Marijuana is going mainstream. This year alone the weed and our relationship to it will be the subject of dozens of new titles ranging from dry policy discussions to zonked-out memoirs, and that's not even counting the unending stream of how-to-grow books, for which there appears to be an infinite appetite.

And while Drug War Chronicle is into the serious policy wonkery -- look for a review of Kleiman et al's Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know on Friday -- we also just enjoy good reads about one of our favorite subjects. And all three titles reviewed here provide that, each in its own way and each with its own emphasis.

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In Heart of Dankness, Mark Haskell Smith embarks on a smoke-filled quest for "the dank," that special weed possessing the superior smell, taste, appearance, and high that are the hallmarks of dankness. That quest leads from Amsterdam, where covering the Cannabis Cup for the Los Angeles Times led Smith into the underground world of pot cultivation, back to Los Angeles, as well as connoisseur pot grows in the Sierra Nevada, seed breeders in the San Fernando Valley, and activists in the Bay Area (hello, Debbie Goldsberry!) before ending where it all began, back in Amsterdam at the Cannabis Cup. 

Heart of Dankness is rollicking reefer romp through the marijuana demimonde, from thuggish medical marijuana dispensaries in Eagle Rock to pristine botanical labs where the pursuit of dankness is the end all and be all. Readers will not only have a good time with Smith's prose, they will also get a sense of the science (and art) behind those killer strains developed by the obsessed, sometimes egotistical, masters of the art.

Pot Farm is a little different, but still fascinating and educational. In it, Matthew Gavin Frank and his wife take a break after spending eight months helping his mother recover from a bout with cancer -- by going to work on an apparently industrial-scale medical marijuana grow in Mendocino County. They are there for the duration, living miles from civilization on a remote farm owned by Lady Wanda, the massive, elusive, wealthy, and well-armed businesswoman behind Weckman Farm and its massive grow operation. How massive? Well, Lady Wanda has tents for up to 60 people, she has a pair of chefs to feed the crew, she has an on-site, full-time masseuse (Frank's wife), she has a full-time maintenance man and a fleet of vehicles. It's a big operation.

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Who ends up working on a pot farm at the end of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere? Some pretty strange cats is who, Frank finds. Pseudo-hippie kids, ex-alcoholics and drug addicts, alternative healers, former soldiers perched high in the redwoods serving as armed guards and lookouts, all are among the eccentric cast of characters. All of them, Frank included, spend plenty of time stoned out of their minds on the product they're producing, too.

And then there are the patients. The ones Frank describes who work alongside him on Wanda's farm ring true to me. One patient couple, the woman desperately ill, the man a little crazed, become part of Frank's crew of close comrades, praising the healing power of the herb and denouncing the authorities, but seem to have only an addled idea of the nuts and bolts of the medical marijuana politics that fills their lives. The woman dies in a Sacramento motel room after she and her partner go there to lobby for a bill.

Or perhaps, it's not their idea of medical marijuana politics that is a bit addled, but Frank's. The process in California is complex and confusing; Frank doesn't help matters by referring to both propositions and legislative bills as propositions. Still, even if he gets a wonky detail or two wrong, he has succeeded in drawing an engrossing portrait of a real life medical marijuana farm, with all its sweat and smoke.

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Pot, Inc.'s Greg Campbell was a stereotypical Deadhead college student, stoned out of his mind all the time. But that was 20 years ago. Now, he's a middle-aged family man living in Denver who hadn't smoked in years, but noticed a couple of years ago that the medical marijuana industry was taking off in Colorado and decided to see just what it was all about. As the Great Green Rush exploded there in 2009 and 2010, Campbell signed up as a patient, went to pot school to learn how to grow, produced his own basement crop (replete with the requisite paranoia), then tried to sell it.

Campbell tells the tale of his adventures in the medical marijuana business, interspersing it along the way with forays into the roots of marijuana prohibition and the politics of pot in Colorado and the nation. Originally a skeptic about the health claims for marijuana, along the way he finds an entire subculture of patients and providers for whom recreational use is irrelevant and for whom the medical benefits cannot, in his estimation, be denied.

It's a sign of how far the conversation about marijuana has advanced that none of the authors of the books reviewed here are wondering whether pot should be legalized, but are instead wondering why the hell it hasn't been already. To varying degrees, all three books delve into the Reefer Madness and fear-mongering at the root of pot prohibition, but those are more attempts to explain the unexplainable than legalization manifestos.

One thing that's worth noting is how the actuality of medical marijuana opened the door to the marijuana subculture for all three authors. Sure, Smith was covering the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, but when he got serious about writing his book, the first thing he did was go to a pot doc and get a medical marijuana card. Frank worked on an actual medical marijuana farm. And Campbell, too, got the doctor's note.

I don't think they're unrepresentative in that respect. Medical marijuana in relatively wide-open states like California and Colorado has provided countless people entrée into the dank world of weed. (If I recall correctly, both Smith and Campbell went, with some trepidation, with the old standby "chronic pain," but easily got their recommendations.) All three authors agree that marijuana has medicinal applications that have eased the lives of thousands of patients. Whether that was really the case for them personally, or is the case for all those bong-pulling 20-something hacky sack players, I don't know or care. medical marijuana deserves to be legal in its own right, but if it ends up exposing more people to cannabis culture and allows more people to buy weed without fear of legal problems, more power to it.

If you're looking for some not-too-heavy pot-related reading this summer, we have three winners. Check 'em out.

Pelosi Suggests Movement Post-Election on Medical Marijuana

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told a bloggers' roundtable Wednesday that Democrats might be interested in making changes in federal law around medical marijuana after the November elections, Raw Story reported.

Pelosi and President Obama in happier times (wikimedia.org)
"I've been very clear on the subject of medical marijuana over time, in committee and on the floor as leader," Pelosi said. "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 nonviolent 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.

Federal law and the Justice Department do not recognize medical marijuana, but there are options short of revising the Controlled Substance Act that could bring relief. The Justice Department could be persuaded to go back to the policy it adopted early in the Obama administration of not going after providers in compliance with state laws, or the administration could reschedule marijuana.

Another possibility is a ban on federal spending for raids on state-sanctioned medical marijuana facilities. But a bill that would do that was defeated in the House in May. A third alternative is for the administration to simply use its executive authority to reschedule marijuana for prescription availability under the Controlled Substances Act.

"Medical marijuana is one of those issues where if you get enough states, where when you get enough then you get it," Farr told Raw Story. "California had already started that process because of cost concerns. That didn't cause any scandals or upheavals."

Whether Pelosi's words will lead to any real change remains to be seen, but the most powerful Democrat in the House has just put the administration on notice that she's not happy with its medical marijuana policies.

Washington, DC
United States

Feds Target California's Highest Profile Dispensary

Harborside Health Center, California's largest and most well-known medical marijuana dispensary, has been targeted for closure by federal prosecutors. Workers at the dispensary's home base in Oakland and at its second store in San Jose found complaints from US Attorney Melinda Haag's office taped to their doors when they came to work Monday morning.

The complaints inform Harborside that federal prosecutors have filed lawsuits seeking to seize the properties where it operates under federal asset forfeiture laws.

In the past year, federal prosecutors in California have undertaken a concerted campaign against dispensaries, sending out more than 300 letters to dispensaries or landlords threatening asset forfeiture or criminal prosecution or both. More than 400 dispensaries have closed their doors during that same period, many of them because of the federal threats.

If Harborside is going to join that list, it won't be without a fight.

"Harborside has nothing to hide or be ashamed of," said executive director Steve DeAngelo in a prepared statement. "We will contest the DOJ action openly and in public, and through all legal means at our disposal. We look forward to our day in court, and are confident that justice is on our side."

Harborside maintains that it has complied with all local and state laws and that it was not within 1,000 feet of a school, another rationale the Justice Department is using to target dispensaries even though state law is set at 600 feet.

Shutting down Harborside would be a major blow to Oakland. The dispensary employs over a hundred people there and is the city's second largest retail tax payer. Of more than $3 million in combined taxes paid by Harborside last year, more than a million went to the city.

"The claim by the Obama Administration that it's not undermining the laws of medical marijuana states like California is becoming less and less tenable," said Don Duncan, California Director of Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "The Attorney General and the president must be held accountable for actions by their U.S. Attorneys that are harming untold numbers of patients."

Harborside and its supporters are gathering their forces for what promises to be a long and bruising battle with the Justice Department. This story is just getting underway.

Oakland, CA
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

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