Industrial hemp has backers in state legislator

Hemp, Hemp Hooray

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 01:08 PM PDT

Industrial hemp has backers in state legislator

By Stephen Lega

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 
http://www.lebanonenterprise.com/content/hemp-hemp-hooray

Terry Mills

Senator Joey Pendleton

Terry Mills normally asks questions during meetings of the Kentucky House of Representatives Agriculture Committee, but recently, he found himself on the other side of the table, answering questions about legalizing industrial hemp.
Mills and State Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, have introduced similar legislation in their respective houses in the hopes of making industrial hemp a legal cash crop again across the Bluegrass State.
"It’s not to promote marijuana," Mills stressed in his comments to the committee.
However, industrial hemp has been illegal to grow because it has been tied to its cousin in the plant kingdom.
Pendleton said hemp was used to make rope during the World Wars. After those wars, it faced competition from nylon rope makers, and the DuPont family was involved in producing nylon rope.
"They had enough clout at that time to get it declared illegal," Pendleton said.
Pendleton believes hemp could provide a boost to the Kentucky economy, but first, farmers have to be allowed to grow it.
"For once, I want Kentucky to be proactive instead of reactive," he said.
This isn’t a new issue for Pendleton. He said this year is the fourth time he has introduced legislation to allow industrial hemp to be grown in Kentucky.
He admits that the bill likely won’t be passed this year, but he is seeing more support for it on both sides of the aisle and across the state.
"It’s overwhelming the difference between this year and last year," he said.
Industrial hemp remains one of the most versatile plants in the world. It can be used to make a wide variety of products.
In addition to rope, hemp has been used to make paper for centuries. It’s fibers can be used to make clothing and paper. Its seeds and oil are used in manufacturing beauty products.
It’s also a good source of biodiesel and ethanol, according to Pendleton.
"It will make twice the ethanol per acre as corn will," he said.
This would also help address two issues. Pendleton said one of the concerns about using corn in alternative fuel is the effect that has on food prices by driving up the demand for corn. It could also help address the ongoing concern of the United States dependance on foreign oil for fuel.
Mills said two-thirds of the people in his district who responded to a survey said they supported industrial hemp as an agricultural product. As Kentucky farmers have lost revenue from tobacco, this could help replace some of that income.
"We need to educate the public all over the state about it," Mills said.
Pendleton has been doing what he can to do just that, giving presentations about industrial hemp across the state.
"Every time I do one, we have people that want us to do it somewhere else," he said.
He’s even planning to bring his presentation to Marion County in the near future, although a date has not yet been set.
A big part of the effort to educate the public is explaining the difference between hemp and marijuana. The marijuana plant is more bushy because growers want the leaves, according to Pendleton, while industrial hemp is a taller, more fibrous plant.
"To me, it’s like telling the difference between Johnson grass and corn," he said.
He’s hopeful that with more education, the bill will have a good chance of becoming law in 2013.
"We’re sitting on a gold mine here," Pendleton said.

Federal marijuana trial adjourned again

DETROIT —

A federal court trial date for three men charged in a Lenawee County marijuana growing operation has once again been adjourned.

No new date has been scheduled for a trial that was to begin March 27 for Barry Lee Fisher of Onsted, Todd Bacon of Kalamazoo and Lloyd Richard Smoke of Clayton.

A federal district court notice stated a March 19 plea deadline and the trial date were adjourned by agreement of all parties in the case. Hearing and trial dates have been adjourned several times, reportedly to allow plea negotiations to continue.

The three men were transferred from Lenawee County District Court to federal district court in Detroit a year ago. Fisher and Bacon were arrested after a Feb. 17, 2011, bust of a marijuana growing operation at the Oak City Antiques store in Clinton Township and a rented house in Tipton. The OMNI Team 3 drug enforcement unit reported seizing 345 marijuana plants. Fisher and Bacon face marijuana manufacturing and conspiracy charges. Smoke, the owner of the antique store, was charged with maintaining drug-involved premises.

CONTINUE READING…

Tennessee Representative proposes medical marijuana bill

By Kym Clark – bio | email

A proposal to legalize medical marijuana is once again advancing in the Tennessee House.

A proposal to legalize medical marijuana is once again advancing in the Tennessee House.

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MEMPHIS, TN –

(WMC-TV) – A proposal to legalize medical marijuana is once again advancing in the Tennessee House.
A companion bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Government Operations Committee.  The House Health Subcommittee approved the measure on a voice vote Tuesday.
A previous proposal to legalize medical marijuana made it through Tennessee House committees two years ago, but did not fare well in the Senate.  The sponsor of the latest bill, 89th District Representative Jeanne Richardson, thinks her bill might just pass.
"Medical cannabis is becoming more generally accepted in our society," said Richardson.
The democrat, representing part of midtown Memphis, points to Gallup Poll results for support.
"Over 80 percent of the American population feels that medical cannabis should be legalized," said Richardson.
Richardson said she believes her bill has a better chance of becoming law due to an increase in medical marijuana use around the country, legally or not, to treat chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
"It’s making people understand, mo matter which side of the political spectrum it’s on, that it is a compassionate way to treat certain illnesses," said Richardson.
Richardson claimed the proposed bill would create some of the toughest access standards among states that have already enacted medical cannabis laws.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have already passed bills legalizing medical marijuana.
Richardson said most legislators she has talked with in Nashville support the idea of legalizing medical marijuana in Tennessee but believe it would be political suicide back home in the ballot box to vote in favor of the measure.  She said she believes that would be the only reason a medical marijuana bill does not pass this time.

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Action Alert: Legalize Medical Marijuana in Kentucky

 

 

images

SENATE BILL 129

The Gatewood Galbraith Memorial Medical Marijuana Act

Legalize Medical Marijuana in Kentucky

· Changes Marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II

· Allows qualified patients to possess 5 ounces and to grow 5 plants

· Requires State Pharmacy board to set up rules for distribution

· Allows Physicians to prescribe without penalty

 

What to do

1) Find and Email your State Senator at www.lrc.ky.gov

Example: Dear Senator _______, I’m writing you today to ask you to support Senate Bill 129, The Gatewood Galbraith Memorial Medical Marijuana Act. Marijuana is clearly not a dangerous drug and it definitely has Medical value. Kentucky doctors and patients should decide appropriate medical care, not Washington Bureaucrats . Sixteen other states have passed similar legislation and I believe that Kentucky should join those states and protect citizens with illnesses from legal sanctions. Our veterans returning from war especially deserve access to marijuana for the physical and emotional trauma they’ve suffered. It’s the Christian thing to do! Note: Personalize your email and include examples of people who are in need.

2) Follow up with a call to the Legislature Message line @ 1 (800) 372-7181

You can also call your State Senator directly. Their contact Information is available on their webpage on the lrc website. You can use the above example, but be sure to personalize your call and include examples of people you know who have a medical need. Ask them to co-sponsor the legislation.

3) Repeat the above two steps with your State Representative

You have both a State Senator and a State Representative. This is a Senate bill. Ask your representative to write and sponsor a companion bill for the House of Representatives.

4) Make an appointment to meet them in Frankfort to discuss the bill

They are your voice in government. They can’t refuse to meet with you. If you have the courage to speak to them in person, be sure to dress and conduct yourself professionally. You will probably only get 15 minutes with them, so be prepared and bring this flyer or some other document that supports your position. You will enjoy the trip to Frankfort, it’s a beautiful place.

5) Copy this Flyer and share/post it everywhere!!!

Send a quick email to legalsmile2012@gmail.com so that I can get information to you rapidly. We will have to act quickly when the bill goes before committee. Please let me know your story and if you wish to testify before the committee (anyone can). It’s your government!!!

LINKS:

SB129 Ky Legislature

The Gatewood Galbraith Medical Marijuana Act of 2012

Kentucky Medical Marijuana/Cannabis Act

The White House – Resources

A medical marijuana primer Writer searches high and low for best weed.

New Jersey will open its first medical marijuana dispensary in the fall—nearly three years after a medical marijuana bill was signed into law—but according to writer Mark Haskell Smith, whose new book is a personal tour of the cannabis industry, the East Coast has a lot of catching up to do.

“The University of California put out an agricultural guide to California, and far and away, marijuana is the state’s biggest cash crop,” said the author of Heart of Dankness, which Broadway Books will publish next week. (The official pub date is April 20, also known as Weed Day.) “It’s [worth] $2 billion to $3 billion in L.A. County alone.”

Mr. Smith’s search for the perfect weed—which is described as “dank”—took him to Amsterdam and to dispensaries in the U.S. and Canada. Though liberal drug laws gave the Dutch a head start on cultivation, he believes American growers are now on the cutting edge.

“Colorado is going to be the [No. 1] place,” he said. “They’re more progressive with their medical laws. People who used to have shops in Amsterdam have moved there.”

He argues that medical marijuana is not a cover for overall legalization, which he supports. “There are hundreds of things it can treat,” he said.
—matthew flamm

Read more: http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20120325/SUB/120329922#ixzz1qBYmplQF

ACLU drops appeal over ordinance banning marijuana growing

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed papers Wednesday to end its battle against a Livonia ordinance that bans marijuana growing and other operations that violate federal law.

The ACLU filed suit in Wayne County Circuit Court in December 2010 on behalf of two plaintiffs, asking that Livonia’s zoning ordinance amendment be thrown out. They claimed the ordinance violated the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA).

Wayne County Circuit Judge Wendy Baxter ruled in Livonia’s favor July 22, 2011, upholding Livonia’s zoning ordinance and ruling the MMMA unconstitutional, as a violation of federal law. Baxter’s opinion also led to an injunction barring the two plaintiffs from violating Livonia’s ordinance.

The ACLU appealed the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals in August 2011. Now, that case has been dropped.

First to adopt ordinance

The City of Livonia was the first municipality in the state to adopt an ordinance that bans businesses, like medical marijuana dispensaries, that violate federal law. Since then, at least 20 other communities have enacted similar ordinances.

“Other states have found that medical marijuana growing operations and dispensaries attract crime,” said Livonia Mayor Jack Kirksey. “We are pleased that our effort to protect Livonia’s residents and businesses has been vindicated. It is apparent that other communities in Michigan have similar concerns about crime and believe this type of zoning ordinance is the right way to go.”

Kirksey added: “Despite claims by the ACLU, our approach was never aimed at preventing people with debilitating conditions from easing their pain. The City Council enacted this ordinance to prevent marijuana production or sales shops and other illegal operations, and the crime associated with them, from locating in our neighborhoods, across from schools, or next to the local pizza shop, gymnastics studio or hair salon.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette supported Livonia’ in the case, filing a brief in June 2011 to Livonia City Attorney Don Knapp said the ACLU recognizes it cannot risk losing again at the Court of Appeals because it would mean the end of the MMMA. “It is difficult to imagine anyone, especially the ACLU, dismissing an appeal that they believe they will win,” he said.

When the case was originally filed, the ACLU also named two Oakland County cities – Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills – as defendants in the Wayne County case because the plaintiffs, Robert and Linda Lott, lived in Birmingham and Linda Lott belonged to a private social club in Bloomfield Hills. Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills objected to their inclusion in the Wayne County case, accusing the ACLU of “forum shopping.” The Court of Appeals compelled the ACLU to pursue those defendants in Oakland County’s courts.

Birmingham case continuing

In November, the Oakland County Circuit Court also ruled against the ACLU, saying there was no need to strike down the Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills ordinances because the harm the Lotts claimed to fear was strictly hypothetical. The ACLU decided to take Birmingham’s portion of the case to the Court of Appeals, but did not file an appeal against Bloomfield Hills.

Linda Lott died Dec. 14. Nevertheless, Robert Lott and the ACLU continued the fight against Livonia and Birmingham, and filed motions to extend deadlines in the Livonia case in February and earlier this month. While the ACLU has dropped the case against Livonia, the case against Birmingham is apparently continuing.

The portion of Livonia’s zoning ordinance in question states that “Uses for enterprises or purposes that are contrary to federal, state or local laws or ordinances are prohibited.” The ACLU claimed this contradicted the MMMA because federal law prohibits activities which the MMMA permits.

Both Baxter’s decision and Livonia’s zoning ordinance are available at www.ci.livonia.mi.us .

The link for Baxter’s decision is https://www.ci.livonia.mi.us/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=aUNAA%2bVj6vU%3d&tabid=389 .
For Livonia’s zoning ordinance amendment, go to https://www.ci.livonia.mi.us/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=874AEShTGt0%3d&tabid=389 .

U.S. attorney breaks silence on medical-marijuana battle

U.S. attorney breaks silence on medical-marijuana battle

Details from last week’s Benjamin Wagner chat with press and pot advocates

By David Downs
Read 10 reader submitted comments

This article was published on 03.08.12.

Medical-cannabis patients and providers should expect ongoing persecution in California. However, media backlash due to the nearly half-year-old federal crackdown is affecting at least one prominent drug warrior: United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin Wagner.

Wagner broke the Department of Justice’s near silence with regard to the crackdown during a candid, hour-long talk and question-and-answer session last Tuesday at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon. The $30-a-plate affair took place on the 15th floor of 1201 K Street, and inside, Wagner admitted that the cannabis cleanup was the idea of the four U.S. Attorneys in California, not Washington, D.C.

The four were upset because of what Wagner called “flagrant” marijuana sales in the state. So they declared war on medical marijuana last October, sending out hundreds of forfeiture-warning letters to dispensaries across California. His office is in the process of seizing at least one dispensary in Sacramento, while officials have closed more or less every dispensary in Sacramento County.

He reiterated that they’re not going after patients and caregivers, rather interstate transporters, huge pot farmers and illicit dispensaries grossing tens of thousands of dollars per day in cash.

But the media critique of the war is wearing on Wagner, it seems. He said he counts on good press to create a “deterrent effect” in regard to cases of mortgage fraud, child exploitation, human trafficking and major gang violence. But he’s not getting any of that.

“I think that the members of the press would be forgiven for thinking that marijuana enforcement is all that we do,” he said. “It is far from the most important thing that we do. I have many other higher priorities that have a much bigger impact on public safety. I did not seek the position of U.S. attorney in order to launch a campaign against medical marijuana.”

Wagner was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 and has been with the DOJ since 1992, primarily in the Eastern District. When he and the other three U.S. attorneys took office at the end of 2009, “We found that we were in the middle of an explosion of marijuana cultivation and sales,” he said.

Federal policy didn’t change, rather “what we saw … was an unregulated free-for-all in California in which huge amounts of money was being made selling marijuana … to virtually anybody who wanted to get stoned.”

Wagner said that’s not what California voters approved. Stores marking up pot 200 percent is “not about sick people. That’s about money.”

His reaction has been “quite measured,” he said. Most dispensaries just got warning letters.

“In a few instances, after ample warnings, we’ve brought civil-enforcement actions while reserving criminal prosecution for the most flagrant violators of not only federal law but state law,” he said.

He referred to cases such as one where seven Roseville and Fresno suspects were indicted in February for growing pot with doctor’s recommendations and running a dispensary as a front to traffic it to seven states in the Midwest and South.

Wagner also warned that a season of raids in the Central Valley is coming in 2012, and that mega pot farmers are on notice that if they plant again this year, their land could be seized.

He tried to make the case that pot is just a fraction of what his office does, referring to 61 indictments on mortgage fraud last fiscal year.

During audience questions, activists asked why the federal government says marijuana has “no medical use,” yet the United States has patented its ingredient, cannabidiol, for treating strokes.

“What I know about marijuana as medicine you can probably put in a thimble,” he said.

But health policy is not his job, he said. “My advice to you is to write your congressman.”

Sacramento lawyer Alan Donato asked for guidelines for local dispensaries to avoid federal attention.

“I’m not in a position to be of much comfort,” Wagner said. “You don’t ask the CHP, ‘How many miles over the speed limit can I go before you pull me over?’”

Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, asked if the failed drug war would ever make Wagner say “Enough is enough” to his boss, Attorney General Eric Holder.

“That’s hard to say,” Wagner said. “I totally understand the debate over legalization as opposed to criminalizing narcotics.

“It really depends on what the cost-benefits are. Marijuana is obviously not nearly as destructive as [methamphetamine]. The risks in legalizing marijuana may be significantly less that meth.”

But prescription drugs “are the biggest, worst drug problem in terms of trends … [and] that’s a legal drug.”

SN&R news intern Matthew W. Urner got the biggest attention of the lunch, asking Wagner if he ever tried the second-most-commonly used mind-altering substance in America, and if so, what he thought.

“Uh,” said Wagner, “I’ll say that I went to college.”

CONTINUE READING…

The Real Facts About Marijuana DUI Laws

Submitted by NORML on Mar 21, 2012

By "Radical" Russ Belville

I was recently interviewed by Keegan Hamilton of the Seattle Weekly regarding my research posted here on per se DUID statutes and the effects they had on DUID arrest statistics, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports (see: Thirteen states have marijuana per se DUID statutes).  Keegan’s piece was fair and entitled “Marijuana DUI Law Impact Remains Unclear Despite Analysis of Arrest Statistics”, which is true.  His lede paragraph:

After Nevada enacted a strict “per se” law restricting the amount of THC motorists are allowed to have in their blood, drugged driving arrests increased a whopping 76 percent statewide. But when a similar policy took effect in Ohio, arrests there decreased by a modest 4.8 percent. Such is the conflicting data recently presented by NORML, which further muddies the debate about Washington’s proposal to legalize marijuana and start treating stoned drivers like drunks.

Keegan goes on to fairly report:

Taken with a sizable grain of salt, it makes interesting to look at how changes in arrest patterns were markedly different across the country. In addition the 76 percent spike in Nevada, Indiana drugged driving arrests shot up 33 percent after adopting a per se THC blood limit, while Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Iowa all saw modest single digit increases. Five states had single digit decreases in drugged driving arrests.

But for some people, all they had to see was that first sentence with “drugged driving arrests increased a whopping 76 percent statewide” to fire up the laptop for another round of Frighten The Patients!!! into voting against legalization of marijuana.  This from a blog post entitled “Marijuana DUIs Went Up 76% In Nevada With Per Se Limit

Numbers Put The Lie To Claims Washington’s I-502 Won’t Harm Patients

Well, if the message you’re sending them is “open season on medical marijuana patients,” then congratulations; mission accomplished!

After Nevada enacted a strict “per se” law restricting the amount of THC motorists are allowed to have in their blood, “drugged driving” arrests increased 76 percent statewide, reports Keegan Hamilton at Seattle Weekly.

What do you bet that a big portion of that 76 percent increase in cannabis DUIs came at the expense of medical marijuana patients — many of whom must medicate at a level such that they will show up over the limit any time they are tested?

As Keegan’s piece (if you bothered to read past the first sentence) pointed out, there is no way of knowing, since these law enforcement agencies haven’t been keeping separate track of marijuana DUIDs vs. other drug DUIDs vs. alcohol DUIDs.  Now here’s some differences between Nevada and Washington, the details the author of this piece is not telling you, facts one can easily glean from reading the entire piece Keegan wrote on Seattle Weekly, or by merely paying close attention to the graphic included on this post. I know facts get in the way of sensationalism and page hits, but let’s indulge:

— Nevada can bust you per se for 2ng/mL of THC in blood, a lower threshold than I-502′s 5ng/mL
— Nevada can bust you per se for 10ng/mL of THC in urine, a standard that I-502 does not include and Washington law currently does not have
— Nevada can bust you per se for 15ng/mL of THC metabolites in urine, a standard that I-502 does not include and Washington law currently does not have
— Nevada can set up a roadside sobriety checkpoint and sniff around every driver who passes through, which is unconstitutional in Washington.

Also, if the author would care to follow up on the DUID stats in Nevada (which, again, are not the stats of only-marijuana DUIDs; they include alcohol DUIDs as well), he’d find that since medical marijuana passed there in 2000:

2001 = 8,824 Nevada DUIDs
2002 = 5,186 Nevada DUIDs*
2003 = Incomplete Data*
2004 = 9,133 Nevada DUIDs
2005 = 9,746 Nevada DUIDs
2006 = 11,060 Nevada DUIDs
2007 = 12,538 Nevada DUIDs
2008 = 14,445 Nevada DUIDs
2009 = 15,234 Nevada DUIDs
2010 = 13,412 Nevada DUIDs

*Hmm, what’s going on there with 2002 & 2003?  Well, a little digging into the data (something I’m paid to do) and you find that unlike the rest of the years on this list, in 2002, the year before the per se DUID went into place, only 3 law enforcement agencies reported their arrest data to the FBI.  In the other years, there were 31 to 34 of Nevada’s law enforcement agencies reporting.  In 2003, the year the 2ng/mL per se DUID went into effect, Nevada’s data was so incomplete the FBI didn’t even bother reporting it in the Uniform Crime Report.

So, if we’re willing to concede a pattern of an upward trend in DUID arrests 2001-2009, then it’s safe to say 2002′s complete data would be at least 8,824, if not more DUID arrests.  So the actual increase 2002-2004 is more likely around +3.5% or lower, not +76%.  Also, interesting, is it not, that in 2010, DUID arrests dropped almost 12%!  This as applications to Nevada’s program were quadrupling and when new applications out-numbered renewals 2.3-to-1.

Now, I knew all this as I wrote my original piece, but I decided to publish it as-is lest anyone accuse me of ignoring facts that might color the outcome.  Here they are, the facts, number of DUIDs reported to the FBI the year before and the year after a per se DUID went into effect.  Like any researcher, you start with a hypothesis (“Passing a per se DUID will make DUIDs go way up”) and you collect data to support or disprove the hypothesis.  I contend, and Keegen pointed out, that this data is illustrative, but ultimately useless, since there are so many variables at play.  Most notably, none of these states have legalized marijuana.

But since we’re illustrating and bringing up “Nevada is a medical marijuana state…”, let’s take a look at the other significant medical marijuana state in the debate, Michigan.  Now, it’s true, Michigan’s per se passed in 2003 before its medical marijuana law did in 2008, but it isn’t like many of those medical marijuana patients in Michigan weren’t already toking before the law hit the books.  After their per se DUID law passed, DUID’s dropped almost 9% from 50,022 to 45,568.  What about after medical marijuana?

2008 = 35,534 Michigan DUIDs
2009 = 38,941 Michigan DUIDs
2010 = 34,882 Michigan DUIDs

So… there were 23% fewer DUID arrests in 2010 in Michigan than the year after per se DUID hit the books, even after registering 131,483 patients, even as the cops there can bust them per se for ANY ng/mL of THC in blood or urine.  Also of note – for those 2008 & 2009 numbers, cops could also bust tokers for any metabolite in urine as well, until in 2010 their Supreme Court ruled metabolites aren’t drugs.

Finally, the caption on my picture used without my permission that reads “NORML’s “Radical” Russ Belville thinks a “huge rash of DUIs” which might follow passage of I-502′s per se THC blood limits might really be a good thing” is disingenuous and unbecoming of an alleged professional journalist.  There is nothing good about anyone getting a DUI they don’t deserve; my quote clearly states that if such a thing happened, there would be public outrage.  Also, the concluding “Washington patients, how do you feel about becoming part a “huge rash of DUIs?” Radical Russ seems to think you should take one for the cause”, is insulting, especially considering I smoke more pot more often than most Washington patients, though I’m once again not surprised to find the author forgetting about the 90% of Washington’s pot smokers who currently don’t have protection from prosecution for possession of a pound and a half and fifteen mature plants.

I’m also embarrassed about the “Tool of the Town” quip I made once, off-handedly, on my show – that was uncalled for.  It also was so uncreative in comparison to the ad hominem attacks fostered by the author upon many of my readers who had visited his blog to offer comments.  From here on out, I strive to be civil and attack ideas only.  Foremost on my list: the idea that one should pass up the first opportunity one’s state has had in 40+ years of Drug War to finally begin dismantling prohibition because one fears they may smoke pot, drive, get pulled over, demonstrate impairment, fail a sobriety test, get taken for a blood draw, and have it come up >5ng/mL and be convicted of a DUID, which they’d be convicted of now if they went to court with >5ng/mL, unless they had $10-$15,000 to hire a really creative lawyer.

CONTINUE READING…

St. Petersburg marijuana grow house charges dropped; others may follow

St. Petersburg marijuana grow house charges dropped; others may follow

By Stephen Nohlgren, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Wednesday, March 21, 2012

LARGO — Amid allegations that narcotics deputies trespassed and lied to gather evidence, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that it is dismissing charges against an accused St. Petersburg marijuana grower and will reconsider dozens of similar cases.

The dropped case was against David Cole, 60, who said he was growing pot in his shed to treat his multiple sclerosis symptoms.

His attorneys were scheduled Tuesday to grill a key deputy under oath about possible misconduct within the narcotics unit. But that opportunity evaporated along with the case.

"Information came to light Friday that calls into question the veracity of those involved in making that case to the point where I believe the right thing to do is to have that case dismissed,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said on Tuesday.

Gualtieri would not give more details because his internal affairs office is now investigating how the Cole case and others stemming from the two-year surveillance of a Largo hydroponics store were handled.

Sworn search warrant applications by deputies Paul Giovannoni and Michael Sciarrino — the lead detectives in the grow house cases — said they could smell indoor pot farms from public sidewalks and neighbors’ yards. But defense attorneys think that the two deputies and at least one supervisor trespassed to get their information, which is illegal.

Neither Gualtieri nor Beverly Andringa, executive assistant state attorney, could pinpoint Tuesday how many grow house cases are in jeopardy, saying only that they number in the dozens.

"We need to look at them all,” Gualtieri said. "Because the information we have goes to general veracity. Once there is that allegation, then it touches anything that certain people may have touched.”

Giovannoni and Sciarrino declined to comment.

Cole said he was relieved to have the charges dropped. He was caught with 87 plants at varying stages of growth and acknowledges that medical marijuana is illegal in Florida. He had no criminal history in Florida and says his attorney advised that he probably could have plea bargained for nothing more than probation as punishment.

But when he heard the deputies might have trespassed and lied about it, Cole said, he told his attorney to reject any plea bargain and use his case to pressure the Sheriff’s Office for answers. He was particularly angered by concrete blocks stacked in stair-step fashion on his neighbor’s property next to his fence. Cole thinks officers might have put them there to vault his fence.

"We have to make sure that the people we employ for our protection acted appropriately,” Cole said Tuesday. "That’s more important to me than what happens to me.”

Cole’s case is where Tuesday’s canceled deposition of former narcotics deputy Kyle Alston came in.

Alston had already been deposed in February, in a Tarpon Springs grow house case. Defense lawyer Newt Hudson asked if Alston had ever seen Sciarrino and Giovannoni "climb over fences,” shorthand for trespassing.

Alston refused to answer.

Hudson is now trying to use this refusal, along with other information, to have his Tarpon Springs client’s search warrant thrown out, killing any prosecution.

Hudson also alerted other grow house lawyers, some of whom are sharing information and call themselves the Scent of Justice Gang in mocking reference to the marijuana sniffing.

Clearwater lawyer Douglas deVlaming scheduled Alston to give testimony in Cole’s case on Tuesday, this time with a judge standing by to rule on whether Alston had to answer questions.

"We believe Kyle Alston was going to come in and testify to the truth . . . that these guys were jumping fences,” deVlaming said Tuesday. "And I also believe Kyle Alston has told that to internal affairs.”

Alston declined to comment.

DeVlaming applauded the sheriff and the state attorney for re-evaluating all the grow house prosecutions but said defense lawyers will continue to subpoena Alston for testimony in other cases as long as any charges are pending.

DeVlaming also said State Attorney Bernie McCabe should convene a grand jury to examine the grow house cases, or federal prosecutors should weigh in.

"We want to have confidence that we can trust police officers,” deVlaming said, "and quite frankly, dropping cases and throwing a few underlings under the bus isn’t going to cut it with us.”

Gualtieri estimated it would take about three weeks to complete an internal affairs investigation.

"I met with my captain this morning. We are trying get it done fairly, but also as quickly as possible,” Gualtieri said. "I don’t want a rush to judgment.”

Besides re-evaluating pending grow house cases, both he and Andringa said they will also examine investigative techniques on cases recently resolved through plea bargains or convictions.

"Many (cases) may be involved before it is all said and done.” Gaultieri said. "Many may go.”

Information about alleged trespassing surfaced in the last few weeks, he said. Cole’s case was one of several under scrutiny when deVlaming subpoenaed Alston for deposition.

The timing of Tuesday’s scheduled deposition accelerated the decision to drop Cole’s charges, Gualtieri said.

"Depending on what questions are asked in deposition it could frustrate our investigation because (defense lawyers) don’t know what we know,” Gualtieri said. "They don’t know where we are going and what we need to do. That could cause information to get out and affect other witnesses in this investigation.”

That argument is not swaying defense attorneys to back off.

Clearwater lawyer Bjorn Brunvand said he will seek an expedited deposition in the next few days of Alston, Gualtieri and a Progress Energy Florida employee who helped officers find out how much power grow house suspects were using.

"I would not be surprised if the same thing happened in my case,” Brunvand said, referring to charges against Cole being dropped.

Largo lawyer John Trevena said complaints against the grow house deputies date back to 2008. One client was caught with 93 plants and sentenced to three years in prison after a detective secured a search warrant by stating that he could smell marijuana from a sidewalk.

Trevena said he had a National Weather Service meteorologist ready to testify that the wind was blowing away from the detective that night, but nobody in the court system would listen.

He will also seek depositions if his clients’ cases aren’t resolved, Trevena said. "I am not going to let my clients’ futures rely on (the sheriff’s) investigation. I am going to conduct my own investigation.”

Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at (727) 893-8442 or nohlgren@tampabay.com.

CONTINUE READING

“Jury Nullification”

If a juror feels that the statute involved in any criminal offense is unfair, or that it infringes upon the defendant’s natural God-given unalienable or Constitutional rights, then it is his duty to affirm that the offending statute is really no law at all and that the violation of it is no crime at all, for no one is bound to obey an unjust law.

“That juror must vote Not Guilty regardless of the pressures or abuses that may be heaped on him by any or all members of the jury with whom he may in good conscience disagree. He is voting on the justice of the law according to his own conscience and convictions and not someone else’s. The law itself is on trial quite as much as the case which is to be decided.”


U.S. Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone, 1941-1946.

FROM DEMOCRACY DEFINED – FOLLOW THIS LINK…

AND

The Jury’s Secret Power
JUDGES MAY NOT TELL YOU THIS, but when you sit on a jury, you have the right to vote according to your
conscience and to judge the law being applied to the case. As a juror, you are the final safeguard for justice.
It’s the judge’s obligation to give the jury the wording of the law being applied to the case. If the judge fails to
provide the wording of the law or you think the law he gives you is a bad or unconstitutional law or a good law
being improperly applied, or there are other factors that would make you regret a vote to convict someone, then
it is your right and duty as a juror to vote “Not Guilty” even if you are the only juror who does and you therefore
“hang” the jury. You cannot be punished for the way you vote.
Our lawmakers sometimes pass bad laws, and, at times, good laws have been misused. Throughout history
reasoning jurors have refused to convict fellow citizens who were accused of breaking the law: They freed tax
protesters during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, refused to convict those who aided runaway slaves in violation
of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, freed bootleggers charged during Prohibition 1920-30, and released Vietnam
War objectors 1960-70.
When our country was young, all jurors were told of their right to judge the law, as well as the facts of the case.
Then judges decided that juries should no longer be told of their power to act as a safeguard against bad laws or
unethical lawmakers. Now, all jurors are instructed to accept the law as it is given to them by the judge, even in
cases where the law is clearly unjust.
But now you know the secret: If you are selected as a juror, you have the right and duty to do the right thing:
to follow your conscience and to judge the law as well as the facts of the case. It is the only way to keep
government in the hands of the people.
“I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government
can be held to the principles of its constitution.” –Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, 1789.
For more information, please contact the Fully Informed Jury Association:
www.fija.org
Call 1-800-835-5879 for a free jury packet.

"Overgrowing the Government"

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