Tag Archives: illegal marijuana

Marijuana Possession Played Key Role in Police Shooting of Keith Scott

By Daniel Politi

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Possession of marijuana played a significant role in the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Kerry Putney said during a news conference that officers were trying to serve a warrant for someone else when they spotted Scott rolling “what they believed to be a marijuana ‘blunt’" in his car. At first they allegedly didn’t think much of it, until they saw Scott had a weapon and thought, “uh oh, this is a safety issue for us and the public,” Putney said.

Putney spoke at a news conference in which he announced police would release body cam and dash cam videos of the encounter.

Along with the videos, the police also released a statement on what is known about the case. Although at first “officers did not consider Mr. Scott’s drug activity to be a priority” that changed once they saw him hold up a gun. “Because of that, the officers had probable cause to arrest him for the drug violation and to further investigate Mr. Scott being in possession of the gun.”

The police released photographs of the gun, ankle holster and joint he had on him at the time of the shooting.

“It was not lawful for [Scott] to possess a firearm. There was a crime he committed and the gun exacerbated the situation,” Putney said. The press conference marked the first time law enforcement had mentioned the detail about the marijuana.

“Due to the combination of illegal drugs and the gun Mr. Scott had in his possession, officers decided to take enforcement action for public safety concerns,” notes the statement.

Putney continued to insist that Scott “absolutely” had a gun, although he acknowledged that wouldn’t be clear from the released video. He also stood by earlier statements that the shooting was justified and officers acted lawfully. “Officers are absolutely not being charged by me at this point,” he said.

The official police statement says officers “gave clear, loud and repeated verbal commands to drop the gun” but Scott “refused to follow the officers repeated verbal commands.” And then Scott “exited the vehicle with the gun and backed away from the vehicle while continuing to ignore officers’ repeated loud verbal commands to drop the gun.” That was seen as “an imminent physical threat” and an officer opened fire. A lab analysis “revealed the presence of Mr. Scott’s DNA and his fingerprints” on the gun that was loaded, notes the police statement.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today’s Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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Three Individuals Growing Medical Marijuana In WA State Convicted And Sent To Prison

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Entreating the Godfather

Nearly a year and a half ago we featured a story describing the plight of the “Kettle Falls Five” who were arrested by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency on charges relating to marijuana cultivation and firearms violations.  I am reprinting here portions of my previous article which has many details of the original case. Now, three of these defendants were sentenced to federal prison.

The confusion as to what constitutes lawful medical marijuana grows with federal deference and ten year punishments for doing so, the United States Department of Justice prosecuted five rural Eastern Washington residents accused of growing seventy-four medical marijuana plants in a private collective. Washington State is a Medical Marijuana State. The accused include a seventy year old man who states he uses the medicine to treat pain from a job related injury, his wife for her arthritis, and their son.  The patriarch of the family, the accused Larry Harvey, had the charges dropped but has since died of cancer.

While state law at the time permitted the cultivation of up to forty-five plants, federal law prohibits any cultivation.  Originally confusion of the numbers of plants that might be permissible under state law (in aggregate) should take into consideration that multiple individuals had separate grows and this led to a misunderstanding.  While the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office told the accused to remove those plants in excess of the amounts allowed, the DEA later arrived and raided their farms.

What compounds the severity for these five individuals is that within the thirty-three acre property, two of the defendants’ residence had inside several firearms, including rifles which are used by the family to hunt and for protection from wild animals. Firearms are very common in residences in rural Eastern Washington. Yet, the firearms in relation to the marijuana grow add an additional five year minimum sentence, adding to the defendants’ minimum of ten years imprisonment, something the senior defendant claimed to be a “death sentence.”

What is rather extraordinary in this effort by the department of justice, despite guidelines in not allocating resources to prosecute medical marijuana patients, the defendants claim it was a misunderstanding of Washington’s medical marijuana laws that caused them to go from legal users to being potentially imprisoned for ten years.  Many viewed this case as necessitating jury nullification.

At the federal trial, the defendants were not permitted to mention that medical treatment was the reason for these grows, though it was allowed during closing arguments.

Federal prosecutors alleged the five were conspiring to manufacture and distribute marijuana and possession of firearms in relation to drug trafficking. The defendants deny they intended to distribute the marijuana and claim they grow the marijuana for their own usage. They faced a minimum of ten years imprisonment if convicted on all charges.  Though the prosecution attempted to convince the jury that one hundred plants were being grown, and therefore necessitating a greater penalty, the jury did not agree yet found them however guilty in the growing of less than one hundred.

Larry Harvey

Larry Harvey

According to Americans for Safe Access, a group that advocates cannabis for medicinal and research use, 100,000 Washingtonians use medical marijuana. Presently there are about thirty state licensed retail marijuana growers who are permitted under state law to grow thousands of plants for distribution to eventually several hundred licensed marijuana retailers.

But there has been irregular enforcement and ambiguity with regard to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Office of the US Attorney. The office posted guidelines in August of 2013 listing priorities and what resources the federal government would consider in whether to prosecute marijuana grows or uses. A copy of this guideline can be found HERE

Within this memorandum one of the guidelines seems to be permissive on this incident:

The Department’s previous memoranda specifically addressed the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in states with laws authorizing marijuana cultivation and distribution for medical use. In those contexts, the Department advised that it is likely was not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals, or on their individual caregivers. In doing so, the previous guidance drew a distinction between the seriously ill and their caregivers, on the one hand, and large-scale, for-profit commercial enterprises, on the other, and advised that the latter continued to be appropriate targets for federal enforcement and prosecution. In drawing this distinction, the Department relied on the common-sense judgment that the size of a marijuana operation was a reasonable proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the federal enforcement priorities set forth above.

The memorandum does not confer any rights or defenses, according to its wording, but purports itself to be a guide to prosecutions and delegation of federal resources.

The underlying incident that brought about this prosecution, reportedly ready for trial in June, allegedly happened in August of 2012 when a sheriff’s deputy arrived at the home of 70 year old Larry Harvey to cut down SOME of his marijuana plants, telling the patients state law only allows forty five plants among a collective grow. The plants originally were alleged to have been sixty eight in number. Mr. Harvey stated he believed he was in compliance because under Washington’s Medical Marijuana Laws, a medical marijuana patient is permitted to grow fifteen plants themselves and among the five of them, they should have been permitted to grow seventy five plants.

Apparently, the sheriff’s office then notified the federal DEA which then arrived at Larry’s home, seized his marijuana plants along with eight of his firearms.

Larry Harvey

Essentially Larry was put into this jeopardy of his freedom because of numbers. According to Washington Law he could not have more than forty five plants in one collective but if he had instead divided the garden into three areas, perhaps leasing the land to the other defendants, he would have been in compliance. But, since he was allegedly out of compliance the DEA went after them. If the deputy in this case would have recognized this was simply a misinterpretation of the law, according to Larry, a teachable moment might have corrected the matter. Why the DEA was called is unknown. But along with this alleged numbers game, the DEA drew in to the firearms issue to rack up another potential five year penalty. There is a strong possibility the government will seize their farmland.

Here are the sentences of the remaining defendants as handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice:

  • Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, One year and one day in federal prison
  • Rolland Gregg, Thirty-three months imprisonment
  • Michelle Gregg, One year and one day imprisonment

Scapegoats of the empire

By Darren Smith

Sources:

USNews
KREM News
KXLY
NextNewsNetwork
US Department of Justice

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

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Sorry, high rollers: Marijuana is nowhere legal in these United States

Kevin Coe

February 27, 2015

 

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I hate to be the party pooper but I feel there is a need to point out that the possession, transportation, processing and use of marijuana is still illegal. It is not legal in Alaska, nor Colorado, nor Washington, nor Oregon. It’s not legal in your house, nor in a car, or on a train, or in a plane. No Charlo Green I am; it’s not legal to grow pot in this here land.

There is this thing called the Controlled Substances Act. You can find it in Title 21, Section 800 or so of the U.S. Code. Section 812 lists marihuana (with an h) as a schedule I substance. The rest of the sections talk about how the federal government can punish (or, cough, deter) you from doing things with marihuana and other substances. By the way, the Controlled Substances Act was passed by Congress. Remember that high-school U.S. government class you kept falling asleep in? Quick refresher: The U.S. Constitution says if Congress passes a law, it trumps any state law.

What about my right to use marijuana? Didn’t Alaska legalize it? Can’t I have 4 ounces in my home after that Ptarmigan or Raven decision? No. Uncle Sam said no, and he couldn’t care less what Colorado’s constitution reads or what the Supreme Court of Alaska said. Ravin was a decision regarding the right to "privacy" provided by the Alaska Constitution. The recent ballot initiative was a voter initiative that changed Alaska state law. Neither gave anyone a legal right to marijuana. A state cannot grant a legal right to do something that the federal government has declared illegal. Just ask Angel Raich and Dian Monson of California; they thought they had a medical right under California law. The SCOTUS said no: Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 7 (2005).

What about Ballot Measure 2 in Alaska, and the Colorado amendment, and Washington’s and Oregon’s laws? All that these states have done is decide that they will no longer enforce criminal penalties for various acts involving marijuana. So once again, marijuana is not legal in Alaska; it’s just not criminal under Alaska law, and won’t be punished by law enforcement or courts of Alaska (within the limits set by Ballot Measure 2). 
OK, semantics, right? Except these are important semantics that the general public doesn’t quite understand. Semantics that legislators should be wary of when they enact legislation, lest they have their laws pre-empted. Semantics that public administrators should ensure to get correct to properly inform the public. Semantics that, if used properly in and by the media, could help further a national debate that we should be having about drug policies in the United States.

No matter how many times Sam I Am, or Charlene Egbe, or Charlo Greene tell you it’s legal now in Alaska, it isn’t. It’s not legal recreationally and it’s not legal medically. A doctor technically can’t prescribe pot (although they can “recommend” it under their First Amendment right to free speech — again, important semantics for policymakers and interested parties). In a way, I guess that’s a good thing for people like Ms. Egbe; they can go on treating “their patients” and not fear being prosecuted for the unauthorized practice of medicine (and yes, I ran her name through the Professional License search on the Alaska Department of Commerce’s website. She is not a doctor, or a pharmacist, or a nurse, or a lawyer (different search website)). But they still need to watch out for Uncle Sam. It’s not legal to sell it, and you face stiff penalties for doing so under federal laws. Oh, you think it’s just pot, no big deal, the feds won’t bust me for it and if they do, how bad could it be? Ask Weldon Angelos when he gets out of the Mendota Federal Correctional Institute in 2051 how serious $350 worth of pot can get.

OK, so before you get your pitchforks and torches and string me up in tar and feathers for blasphemy against the almighty Matanuska Thunder #@!*, I need to clarify the point of my rant. I truly believe our nation, not just our state, needs to rethink our policies on drugs, crime and punishment. As a society, we have a knee-jerk reaction to throw people in jail thinking it will solve everything, which it hasn’t. Reform with our current Congress isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, so reform at the state level is the next best thing — a thing that can help begin national change.

But what I would hate to see is more good people imprisoned under the current severe federal drug penalties because of mistaken beliefs of their “right” to use marijuana. I would also hate to see the national debate be ignored by complacent individuals with the misguided perception that “it’s legal in my state so who cares what the feds think.” So please, when people tell you how it’s legal to smoke pot in Alaska, or Colorado, or anywhere else, remind them of what they missed when they slept through that high school government class, and tell them more change is still needed.

Kevin Coe lives in Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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Federal reports target Colo. marijuana money

The federal government is stockpiling hundreds of “suspicious activity reports” that could provide federal agents with sufficient evidence to shut down any state-legalized marijuana business.

While it may appear that federal authorities have taken a wait-and-see approach to marijuana legalization in the 23 states that now allow medical or recreational use, these reports are poised like a blade over the budding industry should federal laws be enforced.

This risk of federal prosecution has led some cannabis companies to literally launder their money.

“You used to be able to just smell it,” said Jennifer Waller, vice president of the Colorado Bankers Association, speaking of the cash from marijuana shops. “But now they are using Febreze a lot, putting the money in dryers, a lot of different things to try to disguise the scent because marijuana has such a distinct odor.”

That distinct odor is considered a red flag by federal authorities who require banks to file a suspicious activity report for every transaction that might be associated with illegal activity, including selling marijuana, even for state licensed businesses.

“It’s because of the illegal nature of it,” Waller said. “In banking, if you are accepting the funds from a marijuana company and you are aware of it … you can be charged with money laundering yourself.”

Banks fear the repercussions of holding deposits related to marijuana, still a Schedule I illegal drug under federal law. That could mean prison time for tellers, fines for the bank, and even the bank losing its federal deposit insurance.

If a marijuana store is charged with money laundering, it could lose everything.

“Even before a conviction, the feds could freeze your assets,” said Chris Myklebust, commissioner of the Colorado Division of Financial Services. “And if there is a money laundering conviction, the feds can seize the assets, too.”

The federal government has already collected more than 1,100 reports that implicate different cannabis companies in financial crimes nationwide.

“Just in a moment’s notice, the U.S. Justice Department could literally take down every single dispensary in Colorado, probably within about a day.” said Rob Corry, a Denver attorney and marijuana advocate. Corry has worked on several cases where federal agents have seized assets — cars, cash, bank accounts — though many of the records are sealed and it’s hard to gauge just how often this occurs.

More often, banks simply shut down marijuana-related accounts. Between February and August 2014, banks filed more than 475 “Marijuana Termination” suspicious activity reports — indicating they closed hundreds of accounts because of possible criminal activity.

“I’ve lost my personal bank account, my brothers have lost their personal bank accounts,” said Sally Vander Veer, operator of Medicine Man dispensary in Denver. The dispensary also lost its account in August. She says that without a bank account, all Medicine Man employees are paid in cash.

“I can’t protect them. They walk out of here with a pocket full of cash and, in essence, they become another target and a potential victim of not having banking in the marijuana industry,” Vander Veer said.

The dilemma has resulted in marijuana dispensaries hiring private businesses like Blue Line Protection Group that employ former military or law-enforcement officers equipped with handguns, bulletproof vests, tactical training and armored trucks to transport cash and product to undisclosed locations for safekeeping.

“When we started, the clients we were picking up had a manager taking (cash) in a Honda Civic or some kind of Subaru, unarmed, no vests, no tactics, no skills,” said Dominic Powelson, who works for Blue Line Protection Group.

State regulators in Colorado and Washington have also tried to ease access to banking. Mycklebust, the Colorado financial services commissioner, issued a charter to the first ever marijuana-focused credit union in November. The new credit union will not immediately have federal credit insurance, although it has applied.

Mycklebust said the new credit union must also file suspicious activity reports.

The so called “SARs” stem from guidelines set forth by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department. The guidelines were meant to ease access to banks.

“Banks are required by law to report when they think that a business is making money from something illegal, and marijuana is still federally illegal,” said Steve Hudak, spokesman for FinCEN. “We attempted to provide guidance that would help to get cash off the streets and some of the public danger that is associated with that, so we went about as far as we could.”

But the guidelines didn’t actually legalize banking for marijuana businesses — only Congress can do that. So far, Congressional leaders have been opposed.

“(FinCEN’s) guidance is dangerously misleading,” wrote U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in a letter of reprimand to the agency. “Indeed, following the guidance may expose financial institutions to civil or criminal liability.”

Still, some U.S. representatives from Colorado and other states have introduced legislation to federally legalize state-approved marijuana, or at least legalize the industry’s access to banking. But those bills have not advanced, and state-approved marijuana businesses operate solely as a matter of federal discretion.

That could change at any time.

The Coloradoan brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at rmpbs.org/news. Contact Katie Kuntz at katiekuntz@rmpbs.org

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