Friday, June 15, 2012

Dr. Bonner's Magic Soaps Exec Stages Hemp Protest in D.C., Arrested

While you may know Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps as whimsically-labelled castile cleaners, the company imports more than 20 tons of hemp oil a year from Canada. Due to current drug laws, hemp cannot be cultivated domestically for agricultural use — despite the fact that its low THC content renders it unusable for medical or recreational drug purposes.

David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, publicly processed and pressed 10 hemp plants for their oil within view of the White House. Bronner wanted to place a friendly beer bet with President Obama that the plants had as much drug value as poppy seeds on a bagel, reported.

Bronner, who is affiliated with he pro-pot organization Vote Hemp, was arrested by Washington D.C. police. Vote Hemp sued the DEA in federal court in 2010 to allow domestic production of industrial hemp. They prevailed, but hemp production was never authorized. After seven months, they received the following platitude from the Office of Drug Control Policy:

America’s farmers deserve our Nation’s help and support to ensure rural America’s prosperity and vitality. Federal law prohibits human consumption, distribution, and possession of Schedule I controlled substances. Hemp and marijuana are part of the same species of cannabis plant. While most of the THC in cannabis plants is concentrated in the marijuana, all parts of the plant, including hemp, can contain THC, a Schedule I controlled substance. The administration will continue looking for innovative ways to support farmers across the country while balancing the need to protect public health and safety.

Over a hundred thousand dollars of hemp oil is imported into the US each year because of the laws. As a state senator in Illinois, President Obama voted for hemp cultivation twice.

Federal Judge Throws out Evidence in Medical Pot Case

A federal judge ruled against law enforcement in a Spokane case, prohibiting prosecutors from using evidence gathered sized during a sheriff's raid, The Spokesman-Review reports.

Attorney Richard Wall, who represents a man charged by a federal grand jury on drug charges, moved the evidence against him be suppressed because law enforcement did not take into consideration Washington state's new medical marijuana laws when obtaining the warrant.

Wall said, "In this case they simply just did what they'd always done."

Current medical marijuana laws in Washington allows the cultivation and distribution of marijuana if its in compliance of those laws.

Law enforcement, predictably, claims the ruling will tie their hands when they need to investigate drug cases. An anonymous "drug detective" said the difficulty of establishing whether or not a suspect was following medical marijuana laws would hamper their pot investigations.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Are City, State Employees At-Risk Over Medical Cannabis Laws?

Last year, as the Washington State Legislature pushed a medical cannabis reform bill through both chambers, the US Department of Justice was pushing on another track. The bill, SB 5073, contained provisions legalizing state licensed medical cannabis dispensaries and producers much along the lines of regulations passed in Colorado in 2010.  Apparently, DOJ was alarmed by what it saw in Colorado: state-licensed dispensaries popping up across the state and all under the purview of Colorado's Department of Revenue.  At the same time, loosely-regulated dispensaries were cropping up all over California (some regulated locally, some not).  All while cannabis remained on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.  The feds had remained silent while Colorado enacted its new medical cannabis law and here was Washington set to go down the same path.

As 5073 cleared both the State Senate and State House, Governor Christine Gregoire wrote to the DOJ in Washington, D.C. seeking guidance as to the effect of the bill's implementation as regards federal law.  Someone—and to this day, no one knows who—put the Governor up to making this query.  Two days later, the two US Attorneys for Washington State responded in a letter and told Gov.Gregoire that the feds remained committed to vigorously enforcing the federal CSA on cannabis regardless of any state laws.  Most of their emphasis was upon potential prosecutions of licensees under the proposed state law.

But then came a new tack in what was about to become a wide-ranging federal push-back on medical cannabis: the feds threatened to prosecute state employees who would implement the program.At least that's how media reports at the time read the letter.  So it is instructive to review what the US Attorneys actually wrote in their joint letter:

State employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability under the CSA.

Soon after, the Governor stated at a press conference that she would veto any portion of the bill that she felt put state employees at-risk.  This was an important statement for her to make, as the bill was already slated for a State Senate concurrence vote on the House version of the bill.  Gov.Gregoire was deluged with phone calls and emails asking her to ignore what many called a bluff by the feds.In the then 15-year history of medical cannabis in the US, not a single state or local official had been prosecuted or found liable for violating the CSA while implementing any provision of a state medical cannabis law.  Both Colorado and New Mexico had some form of state licensing of medical cannabis dispensers or growers at that time—and the feds had not threatened to go after either state or its employees or any local officials in those states.

Most prominently, Gov.Gregoire received a letter from Hugh Spitzer, a Seattle attorney and University of Washington School of Law professor.  Spitzer is also an expert on federal-state conflicts. He told the Governor she could safely ignore the US Attorneys' letter, because:

I am not aware of any situations in the last sixty years, and perhaps not since the Civil War, where state officials were personally prosecuted for carrying out ministerial functions under state law.

Spitzer is correct: since the Civil War, which was in the 1860s, the feds have not prosecuted a single state or local government employee for carrying out their duties under a state law of any kind where there was a conflict with federal law, despite America's deeply-contentious history of federal-state conflicts, especially during the Civil Rights era.

Gov. Gregoire ignored such advice and, on April 29, 2011, she vetoed significant portions of 5073, including sections of the bill creating state-licensed dispensaries and producers. She did leave intact, however, provisions creating collective gardens and allowing for local regulatory control.

Around the same time, US Attorneys in states with medical cannabis laws sent letters to the Governors of these states making similar threats.  In Maine and Vermont, officials there ignored the implied threats of prosecution and implemented state-licensed dispensaries, notably without any federal blow-back.  In Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island, Governors in those states put the brakes on state-licensing programs for a time before later allowing full or partial implementation of state-licensing programs (again, notably without federal interference).

Meanwhile, the State of Arizona was on the verge of implementing a voter-approved medical cannabis system that created state-licensed dispensaries.  The US Attorney there sent a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer and made threats similar to the Washington State letter.  Gov. Brewer, a conservative and no fan of medical cannabis, took the unusual step of having Arizona sue the federal government over its inability to begin state licensing of dispensaries (in an even more unusual step, the State claimed standing as both plaintiff and defendant).  The State claimed that it couldn't implement its medical cannabis program due to threats to prosecute state employees or others who worked to put the law into effect.

But that argument did not pass muster with a federal court judge. This past January, US District Court Judge Susan Bolton tossed out Arizona's lawsuit arguing that federal prosecutors had not threatened to prosecute state or local government employees for following state law. Specifically, the judge wrote:

Plaintiffs do not challenge any specific action taken by any defendant....Plaintiffs also do not describe any actions by state employees that were in violation of (the Controlled Substances Act) or any threat of prosecution for any reason by federal officials....These issues, as presented, are not appropriate for judicial review.

The short story of her ruling is that there is no threat to state or local employees from the feds and that Arizona and similar states are free to implement medical cannabis licensing systems.

The State of Arizona has not filed an appeal to this ruling, nor did it file an amended complaint, as the judge offered to allow.  Instead, Arizona has begun issuing licenses for medical cannabis dispensaries. Arizona is the Ninth Circuit of the Federal Courts system along with Washington State, so Judge Bolton's ruling does stand as a precedent in both states as well as other states in the Circuit with medical cannabis laws and state licensing programs.

The ruling also means that Gov. Gregoire was in error when she gave in to threats from Washington State's US Attorneys.
Philip Dawdy

With a Ban on Dispensaries Seemingly Imminent, L.A. City Council Displays a Dedication to 'Do-Nothing' Politics

Now that the pending Los Angeles dispensary ban has been heard by two committees, clouds are gathering over the medical marijuana industry in one of the most progressive cities in the country.

This is despite the passioned testimony that can only be described as pleas by the sick to do something to preserve their supply of medical marijuana. The L.A. Daily News reported Michael Olivares, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, telling the Los Angeles City Council's Public Safety Committee, "I am 28 years old and am 6-feet-1 and weigh 84 pounds. I almost died when I was 21 because of the drugs they had me on. The one plant that helps and keeps me alive is medical marijuana."

If Councilmen Jose Huizar and Mitch Englander have their way, all dispensaries in the city will be closed until the matter is resolved by the California Supreme Court — effectively kicking the can down the road, while denying those that need medical pot the most. According to their plan, those eligible for medical marijuana could still grow their own plants — though clearly, Olivares is not in any condition to cultivate pot. Also, learning to grow medical grade cannabis is a skill that takes years to learn.

An alternative by Councilmen Paul Koretz and Herb Wesson would leave 100 dispensaries open. Dispensaries that could service people like Olivares.

If anything Huizar and Englander's plan is the worst example of lawmaking and confirms the fears of Angelinos that their politicians are too scared, too entrenched in the status quo or just too uninterested to be bold and do the right thing.

As Scott Stenholm, a staffer on "Real Time with Bill Maher" wrote, "The resistance by some politicians to accept the decriminalization of marijuana (at the very least the medical kind) is a testament to the lack of insight and education in our leaders that gives them such a bad reputation in this age of 'do-nothing' politics."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Reuters Examines Fed's Assault on Medical Marijuana, Finds it is an Unpopular Policy

Reuters posted an analysis of the federal government's efforts to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries through coercive "landlord letters" and threats to financial institutions.

Interestingly, the article comes to the conclusion that the U.S. Attorneys — particularly in California, which has been identified as "the number-one marijuana producing state in the country" — is pursuing action through the civil courts rather than the criminal courts because of the change of attitude regarding medical marijuana.

"Rather than try and get these criminal convictions, which they know the public does not support and which will only make an unpopular enforcement effort even more unpopular, they’re taking the softest route possible and that is definitely the administrative civil justice route of trying to get these landlords scared enough to stop that commerce from happening," said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

While the landlord letters work because property owners are unwilling to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend a single tenant, the dispensaries will move next door and the process will repeat.

While banks have also been threatened with seizure of assets if they work with dispensaries, owners have gotten around this by using personal accounts, using business fronts to open accounts or just moving to a cash-only model of business.

If federal prosecutors won't try "criminals" as such, are they really enforcing the law, or bullying legitimate businesses?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Another Study Finds Dispensaries do not Impact Area Crime

Despite the factors that would lead one to believe that medical marijuana dispensaries breed lawbreaking, yet another study raised questions with regards to the link between crime and the establishments, the L.A. Times reports.

Nancy Kepple and Bridget Freisthler from UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs published a study in the July issue of Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The pair studied Sacramento in 2009, mapping all 40 dispensaries in the city.

While traditional factors — such as unemployment, commercial zoning and a high proportion of young adults — correlated with higher crime rates, pot shops did not. Kepple and Freisthler seem to not want to believe the findings of their own data.

They stated: "the density of medical marijuana dispensaries may not be associated with neighborhood-level crime rates."

This is not the first time a report with findings contrary to the conventional wisdom that medical marijuana shops equal rampant crime. A report drafted by the RAND Corporation, a think tank that tackles issues as far ranging as international policy, retracted a report that studied Los Angeles dispensaries in Oct. 2011 with similar conclusions.

Like all wars, one of the casualties in the drug war is truth.