California’s New Medical Marijuana Legislation: Cue the Bad Lawsuits

By Alison Malsbury on November 1, 2015 Posted in Advocacy, California, Legal Issues, Litigation, Medical Cannabis

We’ve written extensively of late about both California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) and about the nationwide uptick in cannabis-related litigation (see here, here and here), so it comes as no surprise that there is already a lawsuit challenging the state constitutionality of California’s new marijuana legislation.

As I explain more fully below, this is not a good case for the cannabis industry. Not at all.

Please don't ask courts to declare all state legalization illegal.

Please don’t ask courts to declare all state legalization illegal.

Passage of the MMRSA signals California’s shift away from a loosely regulated, ambiguous grey marijuana market to a robust, state law regulated medical marijuana regime. For us as lawyers, that’s a great thing. And it’s a great thing for marijuana business owners too, since a solid state law regulatory scheme that meets the Federal Department of Justice’s requirement of “robust regulation” goes a long way towards keeping the Feds away.

But not everyone is celebrating California’s adoption of the MMRSA. Tight regulation inevitably means bad actors will be weeded out. It also means, in this case, that patient access will not be as loose and free as it has been under the current system. This is a tradeoff. The big benefit of a regulated system for California patients means things like product testing, safety and quality control requirements will be implemented and enforced.

Armstrong, plaintiff in the lawsuit against the State of California and operator of a medical cannabis collective in Santa Clara County, alleges that “the MMRSA violates the California Constitution because it amends a voter initiative without voter approval.” The complaint goes on to allege that the MMRSA “restricts the manner in which ill Californians are able to possess and grow marijuana for medical purposes and allows for criminal penalties and professional discipline for physicians who recommend marijuana under certain circumstances.”

Though we agree that the MMRSA does contemplate additional restrictions on cultivating and distributing marijuana in California, we do not believe that the intent of the voter initiative was to provide for unfettered and unregulated access to medical cannabis. The initiative and resulting regulations just did a poor job of creating a sufficient, logical regulatory framework. The MMRSA and the resulting implementation of a robust regulatory scheme is attempting to address the very real threat, caused by this insufficient framework, of federal intervention.

Putting aside, however, the main issue of the case involving violation of the California state constitution, the plaintiff in this case also raises the issue of federal preemption. Never have we seen a pro-pot plaintiff raise this issue in a lawsuit, though we have seen the issue raised in cases advocating for cities’ rights to ban state-legal commercial marijuana activity. In those cases, courts have punted the issue, deciding the case on the narrowest grounds possible. Though this case will likely be resolved on state law grounds, it is incomprehensible to us why the plaintiff in this case opted to raise the federal preemption issue. By doing so, they are essentially arguing that NO state can legalize in ANY manner because the federal government treats cannabis as illegal and federal law controls (preempts) state law.

We’ve said it before: Bringing a bad lawsuit in no way helps the cause.

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Foreign Investors in the U.S. Cannabis Industry Face Their Own Special Risks

By Dylan Moore on October 30, 2015 Posted in Federal law and policy, Legal Issues, Medical Cannabis, Recreational Marijuana

Foreign investment in the cannabis industry. It's complicated.

The cannabis industry has always been international. Our first cannabis client was actually a Dutch company that hired us years before either Colorado or Washington had legalized. This client hired us to figure out what it would need to do as a foreign company investing in a U.S. cannabis business in a cannabis industry which this company was certain would eventually be legal. That client was unique for years, but nowadays, many more of our cannabis clients come from outside the United States. So far, they are mostly coming from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, and Israel, with a smattering of clients from elsewhere in Europe, Latin America and Asia.

The foreign companies that contact us generally split fairly evenly between those seeking to get involved with ancillary companies and those seeking to get involved in the growing, processing or selling of cannabis. Invariably, they most want to know whether foreigners can invest in the U.S. cannabis industry and, if so, at what risk?

The short answer is a qualified yes for ancillary businesses and a qualified maybe for businesses directly involved with the plant. The immigration issues faced by foreign investors is just one of the many issues they face when investing into the US cannabis industry. But because we have been dealing with this issue frequently of late, we use it to illustrate how foreign involvement in US cannabis can be tricky.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services maintains broad authority to limit entry of foreigners into the United States. This includes the authority to bar entry (or deport) a foreign citizen who has committed a crime, including a mere misdemeanor. Since any business activity involving marijuana remains illegal under federal law, a foreigner doing business with a cannabis company – even one operating completely legally in a state with the robust regulations required by the Cole Memo – is technically committing a crime and therefore may be deported. The Cole Memo dictates federal enforcement policy by prioritizing prosecutorial discretion; it does not create a legal defense for marijuana related crimes, even in states with legal cannabis, and it therefore offers no help to a foreign citizen in a deportation proceeding. Marijuana related activity (including involvement with state-legal marijuana) can also constitute “moral turpitude” in the eyes of immigration authorities and this designation can bar entry into the U.S. and prevent any chance of gaining U.S. citizenship.

Immigration authorities have the power to deport foreigners without having to comply with many of the legal safeguards to which U.S. citizens are entitled. For example, when immigration authorities are determining whether to deport someone for alleged criminal activity, the mere admission of the crime can often be enough to warrant summary deportation, even absent a formal conviction. This means a foreigner can be deported without ever being able to tell his or her side of the story, to explain the extenuating circumstances, or to make any other argument before a judge as to why deportation is unwarranted.

Though we are not aware of any foreign investor being deported for investing in a business that provides ancillary services or products to the cannabis industry, it is always possible that a zealous prosecutor or the USCIS will seek deportation by asserting that even ancillary businesses violate U.S. law by acting as an accessory to businesses that violate the Federal Controlled Substances Act. The deportation risks are greater for foreign investors who put their money into businesses that grow, process or sell cannabis.

Foreign investors must also always be mindful of the laws in their own country as well. And again, though we are not aware of any such prosecution, it is possible that some countries will prosecute their own citizens for having gotten involved in the cannabis industry of another country.

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The Science of Toxicology and U.I. or "Under the Influence and/or Intoxication?" of Cannabis/Marijuana and D.O.A. Drug Testing

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The Official Court Documents that I present to you below here, {THIS ONE TIME, FOR FREE = this offer will not last and is for a limited amount of time = THIS SET OF DOCUMENTS WILL GO MISSING AND A FEE WILL BE CHARGED LATER FOR THIS INFORMATION} The following Documents were presented, accepted and registered by the Criminal or Courts as “Evidence” as they were listed by the Kentucky Courts in a case I recently Advocated in on behalf of James E. Coleman.
Are in fact, the PROOF, that Cannabis/Marijuana/Hemp or Unspecified levels of Cannabinoids are natural within the human body and that their presence or levels or “analytical threshold” combined with the fact that this test measures “no quantification of a specific compound” in the blood, are proof, there has been no measure of  intoxication, performed by this test where cannabiniods are concerned and that this test can not show toxicity.
According to this Expert Witness.
Therefore they are unable to test levels for intoxication as they claim is claimed by the manufacture of the test and/or Law Enforcement in U.I. charges or related cases. These documented facts apply to the Test it’s self given and the Cannabinoid levels… Therefore apply to all these D.O.A. = “Drug of Abuse” Blood Serum U.I. Test used by Law Enforcement and Not the Individual. As these facts apply to all humans and all these Test.

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PLEASE CONTINUE READING…

Colorado rolling out 30 new tests to regulate marijuana industry

 

 

By Katie Kuntz Rocky Mountain PBS I-News – • Updated: September 29, 2014 at 5:37 am • 1

Medical and retail marijuana dispensaries in Colorado will receive about 30 new rules related to almost every aspect of their businesses.

The state Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) released the new rules Thursday. They change such things as the start-up licensing fees, and rules for cultivation, production, edibles, sales, employee training and product testing. Right down to a hand-washing requirement.

2 photos Photo - A worker waves a sign to attract business to the "Canna Med Medical Clinic," a medical marijuana dispensary on Galley Road just east of Circle Thursday, January 26, 2012. Mark Reis, The Gazette + caption

Related Information

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State officials have contended that Colorado’s recreational marijuana industry is a work in progress, and these new standards underscore that fact.

“I think the new rules make a lot of sense,” said Mark Slaugh, CEO of iComply, a cannabis industry compliance and consulting firm. “We’re putting out consumer education and teaching business owners and workers how to be responsible vendors, from a business decision, it’s a no-brainer.”

Among the new rules is a revision of a proposal that caused an uproar at a hearing earlier this month, production caps on greenhouse or outdoor grows. The proposed rule would have allowed greenhouses to produce only half the amount of plants allowed at indoor or warehouse operations. The new rules do not make that distinction and allow the same number of plants, 3,600, for the first-level cultivation process.

“I think that the state really listened to the greenhouse workers and was responsive to the impassioned testimony,” said Meg Collins, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association, and a member of the work group committee writing the production rules.

The enforcement division also established minimum “responsible vendor training” requirements along with minimum public health and safety requirements for anyone manufacturing edible marijuana products. The state has issued 18,666 marijuana occupational licenses. Each individual with a license will be required to meet new minimum training standards if hired by a shop, cultivation center, testing facility or product manufacturer. There are 496 licensed medical shops and another 242 recreational stores in Colorado. The state has received 177 additional applications for recreational stores and grow operations that could be approved by Oct. 1.

“I believe it’s our responsibility to be as safe as we can be and make sure every bud tender and customer knows what to expect,” said Brian Ruden, a retail and medical marijuana store owner in Denver, Louisville and Colorado Springs. “It’s just better for the industry to err on the side of caution when the whole country is looking at the industry now.”

Aside from safety and health training, new rules will normalize the amount of marijuana found in any edible – ensuring that a single serving size has no more than 10 milligrams of active THC, the intoxicating chemical in marijuana. “So that could be something as small as a peanut butter cup or bonbon or as large as a soda,” said iComply’s Slaugh. “If there is more than one serving in the product, it has to be easily identified.”

The serving size rule is meant to ensure a more safe consumption of edible marijuana. Edibles have a greater risk for over consumption because the digestion of marijuana causes a later onset of the effects. Some people respond by eating more.

Testing requirements have also changed. MED will not only require testing for potency in edibles, but also for chemicals like pesticides and for the presence of fungi.

“I already spend a small fortune every month testing, and that is only going up because of all the other things they are testing,” Ruden said. “I’m excited for more responsible regulation, but frustrated with the expenses, the licensing fees, taxes and testing.”

Others expressed concern with what the new rules don’t include.

Marijuana testing facilities will only test product from licensed cultivation centers, not home growers or medical marijuana caregivers.

“We’re still not able to know how to dose,” said Ashley Weber, medical marijuana patient and caregiver advocate. “From a caregiver’s side, not being able to test means you don’t know what you’re giving your patient and you are never going to be able to be on a consistent level. And for parents with kids with epilepsy, (they) can’t know if they are overmedicating their children (or) when (to) give the medication.”

MED has not yet considered expanding testing services to caregivers.

Others were concerned that the mass of new regulations might mean more costs, and continuing competitions from the black or gray markets.

“The more rules you have the more challenging it is because we are driving up the price,” Slaugh said.

“We can offer a consistent, safe product and a wider variety and you don’t have to deal with a drug dealer – I think legitimate market will always drive away the black market – except for the price.”

__

The Gazette brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at rmpbs.org/news. Contact Katie Kuntz at [email protected]

Read more at http://gazette.com/colorado-rolling-out-30-new-tests-to-regulate-marijuana-industry/article/1538441#RihTWcE1DG3VEMAX.99

At least one owner of a Colorado medical marijuana business raided by federal agents last year has been arrested and another has been indicted.

Thumbnail image for kid in handcuffs.jpg

 

 

DENVER — At least one owner of a Colorado medical marijuana business raided by federal agents last year has been arrested and another has been indicted.

Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service and Diplomatic Security Service carried out several arrests on Friday, said a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Denver. But prosecutors wouldn’t release their names or describe the nature of the case, saying that was part of a sealed indictment that could become public Monday.

Federal authorities in November raided more than a dozen sites, many of them in medical marijuana dispensaries in Denver and Boulder, confiscating piles of marijuana plants and cartons of cannabis-infused drinks and edibles. Although prosecutors still haven’t disclosed the reasons for them, the raids sent a strong message to Colorado’s marijuana industry in the weeks before the state legalized recreational sales of the drug.

The arrests included that of Denver attorney and dispensary owner David Furtado, who on Friday was seen in video taken by KUSA-TV being led away by agents with his arms behind his back. Neither Furtado nor his lawyer returned calls seeking comment.

An attorney for another targeted dispensary owner, Gerardo Uribe, said his client had been indicted but it wasn’t immediately clear if he was arrested.

Attorney Sean McAllister said he did not know what charges Uribe could face.

“My client continues to assert he conducted his business in a way that was consistent with Colorado marijuana laws,” McAllister said. “He intends to vigorously defend himself.”

Court filings related to the case of Hector Diaz, a Colombian man arrested on a weapons charge during the raids, describe both Uribe and Furtado as “targets in a long-term investigation into marijuana distribution, money laundering and other offenses.” Uribe is further described in the documents as “the head of a marijuana drug distribution organization.”

Diaz had been staying at Uribe’s home in an upscale Denver suburb when he was arrested. Prosecutors said Uribe’s father, Gerardo Uribe Sr., confronted agents at the door “holding a firearm he was slow to relinquish.”

Investigators who searched the younger Uribe’s email found a photo they said shows Diaz posing with two semi-automatic rifles and two handguns while wearing a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency cap, according to the court filings. Diaz’s attorney has asked a judge to dismiss the case against him, saying among other arguments that prosecutors violated his Second Amendment rights.

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Look what FOX News did !

 

Published on Dec 6, 2012

Fox News created a news story with a test they designed to measure the accuracy of stoned drivers. I knew they would skew the truth of the test, so this video shows the undercover footage I took, to show how Fox News created this test to fail and reported false news to the state of Colorado on stoned drivers.

Rand Paul: Relax Marijuana Penalties, Allow States To Determine Pot Policy

 

 

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) continued to field questions this week about a possible entrance into the 2016 Republican presidential mix, reinforcing his views that legal penalties for marijuana offenses should be reduced and that states should be responsible for crafting their own laws regarding the plant.

In an interview with ABC, Paul said that while he did not personally support marijuana being legalized, or even used, for that matter, he did believe that punishments surrounding it were overly harsh.

"I think for example we should tell young people, ‘I’m not in favor of you smoking pot, but if you get caught smoking pot, I don’t want to put you in jail for 20 years,’" Paul said.

The senator went on to argue that states such as Washington and Colorado, which both voted to legalize and tax marijuana earlier this month, should be permitted to have their moves stand, despite running contrary to federal laws determining the drug to be an illegal substance.

"States should be allowed to make a lot of these decisions," Paul said. "I want things to be decided more at a local basis, with more compassion. I think it would make us as Republicans different."

He made similar comments in an earlier interview with Politico, saying that he planned to reach across the aisle to Senate Democrats in hopes of addressing his concerns with marijuana sentencing legislatively.

Both Paul and his father, retiring Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), have been outspoken proponents of states’ rights and compassion when it comes to marijuana laws. They’ve also both been avid supporters of legalizing the production of industrial hemp, a non-psychoactive relative of marijuana that has been caught up in the wider net of drug laws.

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Humboldt: Sheriff’s office seizes nearly a ton of dried marijuana, cash and weapons; 17 arrested

 

The Times-Standardwillitsnews.com

Posted: 10/12/2012 12:57:19 PM PDT

marijuana

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office seized a total of 718 marijuana plants at an estimated value of $4,000,000 after serving a search warrant on the 2000 block of Sunset Ridge Road in Blocksburg Thursday morning. (The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office)

The following is a list provided by the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office of those arrested and booked into the Humboldt County jail Thursday morning on suspicion of cultivation and possession for sale of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit a felony:

Elber Dejesus Ivonnet, male, 53, North Bergen, NJ, bailed

Geyler Melo-Pueyol, male, 22, Miami, FL, in custody, $75,000 bail

Richardo Mateos-Perez, male, 22,, from Homestead, FL, in custody, $75,000 bail

Fernando Olvera, male, 39, Santa Rosa, CA, bailed

Luis Manuel Sosa-Vega, male, 47, Santiago, Cuba, in custody, $75,000 bail

Jose Pulido, male, 42, Los Reva, Mexico, in custody, $75,000 bail, ICE hold

Hildegarde Safont-Arias, male, 42, Hialeah, FL, in custody, $75,000 bail

Disney Bolanos-Chacon, male, 41, Charlotte, N. C., in custody, $75,000 bail

Jonines Ibonnet, male, 42, Oakland, CA, bailed

Terrence Henderson, male, 43, Eureka, CA, in custody $75,000.00 bail

Pauline Ionie Barnes, female, 44, Green Island, Jamica, released on O.R.

Arlettis Rodriguez-Alverez, female, 22, Hileah, FL, released on O.R.

Dayana Isabel Padron, female, 19, Blocksburg, CA, released on O.R.

Elizabeth Enamorado De Padron, female, 40, Santiago, Cuba, released on O.R.

Hyacinth Hypatiae English, female, 48, Bridgeville, CA, released on O.R.

Idalmis Leyva Ivonnet, female, 62, Charlotte, N.C., released on O.R.

Michael Lewis Iverson Jr., 35, from Eureka, California was also arrested at the marijuana growing site, however he was only arrested on an outstanding probation violation warrant with a bail of $30,000.


posted 12:15 PM

Press release from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office:

On 10-11-2012, at approximately 9:30 a.m., the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office assisted by the Eureka Police Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Humboldt County Drug Task Force served a Humboldt County Superior Court Search Warrant on the 2000 block of Sunset Ridge Road, Blocksburg.

Upon serving the search warrant, deputies located and detained 17 suspects. As deputies arrived and announced their presence one of the suspects, identified as Johines Ibonnet, attempted to jump out the back window of the residence and broke his ankle. He was transported to a local hospital and treated for his injury prior to being booked into jail.

Upon searching the 45-acre parcel deputies found a very large, sophisticated marijuana growing and processing operation. The operation consisted of marijuana plants being grown in two large greenhouses estimated to be between 60 feet by 100 feet, along with marijuana plants being grown out in the open and inside the residence.

The residence and greenhouses were powered by two commercial sized 25 KW generators. The growing marijuana plants ranged in size from 6 feet to 8 feet tall and were budding.

Deputies estimated the growing plants to have at least one to two pounds of marijuana bud being produced on each plant. There were a total of 718 growing marijuana plants located and seized on the property. Inside a large drying shed, estimated to be approximately 60 feet by 40 feet, deputies located and seized approximately 900 lbs. of drying marijuana bud. Inside the residence deputies located two commercial marijuana trimming machines being used to trim the dried marijuana bud from the plants.

Deputies also located approximately 132 pounds of dried marijuana bud along with numerous drying racks and 261 sealed bags of marijuana bud ready to sell, estimated to weigh approximately one pound or more each, along with packaging material, scales, a Norinco AK-47 assault rifle with several loaded high capacity magazines, a money counter and approximately $9,500.00 cash.

A total of approximately 1,293 pounds of dried marijuana bud was located. Dried marijuana bud is being sold for approximately $2,000 a pound. The estimated value of the dried marijuana bud seized is $2,586,000.00 whole sale.

If the live marijuana plants had been harvested they would had yielded conservatively an additional 718 pounds of dried marijuana bud estimated to be $1,436,000.00 wholesale. The value of the marijuana seized is estimated to be at least $4 million dollars in just marijuana bud, not including the leaves.

Several of the suspects admitted to investigating officers they were hired to work at the marijuana grow as laborers.

Anyone with information for the Sheriffs Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriffs Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriffs Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.

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From the Whitehouse: “Why we can’t pardon Marc Emery”…(received 11/18/2011)

The White House

Why We Can’t Comment on Marc Emery

Thank you for signing the petition “Pardon Marc Emery.” We appreciate your participation in the We the People platform on WhiteHouse.gov.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution gives the President the authority to grant “Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States.” For more than 100 years, Presidents have relied on the Department of Justice and its Office of the Pardon Attorney for assistance in the exercise of this power. Requests for executive clemency for federal offenses should be directed to the Pardon Attorney, who conducts a review and investigation, and prepares the Department’s recommendation to the President. Additional information and application forms are available on the Pardon Attorney’s website.

The President takes his constitutional power to grant clemency very seriously, and recommendations from the Department of Justice are carefully considered before decisions are made. The White House does not comment, however, on individual pardon applications. In accordance with this policy and the We the People Terms of Participation–which explain that the White House may sometimes choose not to respond to petitions addressing certain matters—the White House declines to comment on the specific case addressed in this petition.

Check out this response on We the People.

Stay Connected

Stay connected to the White House by signing up for periodic email updates from President Obama and other senior administration officials.

San Francisco Supervisors, Oaksterdam official speak

By: Bay City News | 04/03/12 4:55 PM

An enthusiastic crowd of more than 200 medical marijuana patients and supporters rallied at San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday to hear six city supervisors and an Oaksterdam University official decry a recent federal crackdown on cannabis dispensaries.

The midday protest was planned five weeks ago, according to Americans for Safe Access Executive Director Steph Sherer, but coincidentally came the day after Monday’s federal searches of Oaksterdam University, a cannabis industry trade school in Oakland.

Oaksterdam Executive Chancellor Dale Jones, speaking from the steps of City Hall, evoked both the raids and the unrelated mass shooting that also occurred in Oakland on Monday and resulted in the deaths of seven people at Oikos University.

“Two universities were struck yesterday,” said Jones, who said police resources should be used to prevent violence and not to stop patients from obtaining medical marijuana.

“Why are law enforcement officers guarding a plant that hasn’t killed a person in human history?” she asked.

Jones told the crowd, “This raid was meant to demoralize us, but it did not cripple us, it merely galvanized us.”

Federal agents searched Oaksterdam’s headquarters and four other Oakland sites associated with Oaksterdam President Richard Lee on Monday. The school teaches courses on marijuana horticulture and dispensary management.

Joshua Eaton, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, said he could not comment on possible next steps in the investigation or on when the search warrants used in the raids will be unsealed.

Tuesday’s San Francisco rally was aimed at protesting a crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries announced in October by the four regional U.S. attorneys in California, including Haag, who is the chief federal prosecutor for Northern California.

The prosecutors said they planned to target large-scale commercial enterprises that operate under the guise of providing medical marijuana. Haag said her office would begin by concentrating on dispensaries near schools and parks.

California’s Compassionate Use Act, approved by state voters in 1996, allows seriously ill patients to use marijuana with a doctor’s permission, but federal laws criminalizing the drug make no exception for state medical marijuana laws.

Eaton said Haag had no comment onTuesday’s protest.

Six supervisors — a majority of the 11-member Board of Supervisors — told the crowd they opposed the crackdown, as audience members cheered and waved signs saying “Cannabis is medicine, let states regulate.”

They were Board President David Chiu and Supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim, Christina Olague and Scott Wiener.

“What people are asking for is something simple: they need access to their medicine,” Olague said.

“I hope that in a few short years, everyone in the United States will understand what we are fighting for,” Chiu said.

Several other legislators and officials, including San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma, and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, did not attend the rally in person, but sent representatives with messages of support.

Charley Pappas, a patient and the former operator of the now-closed Divinity Tree Patients Wellness Cooperative in the city, said, “We’re not a profit-making criminal organization. We are supplying medicine for those who need it.”

The dispensary on Geary Street at the edge of the Tenderloin District, which was near a small public playground, was forced to shut down after Haag’s office threatened Pappas’s landlord with forfeiture of his property.

After the speeches, the crowd marched two blocks to the Federal Building, which houses Haag’s office, and chanted “Shame, shame, shame” and “We’re patients, not criminals” at the building before dispersing.

Oaksterdam University Raided

 

 

Uploaded by on Apr 3, 2012

Students diligently studying for finals at Oaksterdam University, California?s unaccredited cannabis industry training school, are getting a lesson in Federal Law 101 this week, after agents raided the institution. The raid comes as DEA officials are increasing pressure on medical marijuana dispensaries, which they claim violate national restrictions.

University head Richard Lee, a prominent Oakland citizen and marijuana activist who was instrumental in pushing California legalization effort Proposition 19, was not arrested during the raid and his lawyers appear confident his school and coffee shops will reopen.

Absolute Asinine Laws

 

Life in Prison for Hemp

José Peña brought some roadside weeds home from Kansas. Cops decided it was reefer, and a Texas court sentenced him to life in prison – without the evidence. It took a decade for Peña to get back some of the pieces of his life.

By Jordan Smith, Fri., March 16, 2012

Life in Prison for Hemp

José Peña was tired as he drove south toward Houston on the morning of Sept. 27, 1998. Following a quick trip north to Kansas in a rented van – to pick up the brother of a distant cousin’s son – he was on his way home to Houston, where he lived with his wife and four children. It was the kind of favor Peña often did for friends and family, no matter how distant the relation – and the kind of favor that irritated his wife. "I was tired, and I was trying to get home," the 50-year-old recently recalled. "My wife was mad at me for doing favors for other people" when he could instead be home.

That morning, just before 8am, Peña was cruising south down I-45, a little more than two hours from home. He was driving in the right-hand lane through Leon County when he passed a state trooper sitting in his car on the grass median. He thought nothing of it – just another Texas trooper on a long and nondescript stretch of highway – until he noticed the trooper pull out onto the road and follow him. The officer, Mike Asby, a veteran member of the Texas Department of Public Safety, drove in the left lane until his car was parallel with Peña’s. Peña looked over at Asby. "He pulled up next to me, and I looked at him because I wasn’t not going to make eye contact" with an officer whom Peña thought was definitely checking him out for whatever reason.

Although Peña steadfastly maintains that he wasn’t doing anything wrong or unusual, Asby would later testify that Peña caught his attention because he was driving more slowly than the rest of traffic in a van caked with mud; when the van "weaved across the center stripe and also across the solid yellow line on the shoulder," Asby testified in January 2003, he had to take action. "You’re required to stay in a single lane of traffic," he said. He activated his lights and pulled Peña over.

Within the hour, Peña would be in handcuffs in the back of the trooper’s car, headed to the county jail in Centerville on a charge of marijuana possession. Nearly five years later, Peña would be convicted and sentenced to life in prison for possession of what the state said turned out to be 23.46 pounds of freshly cut marijuana that Peña was transporting in the back of the muddy blue van. Although Asby testified that this was not a normal highway drug bust – "normally," he testified, marijuana moves north from Houston, already "dried out, cured, and ready to be sold" – he was certain that what he found casually laid out in the back of the van was pot because it smelled like pot – and he knows pot when he smells it. "It’s something that you learned in [28] years of experience being on the road?" prosecutor Whitney Smith (now Leon Coun­ty’s elected D.A.) asked Asby.

"Yes, sir," Asby replied.

Just Trust Us

There are at least two problems with the official story of Peña’s arrest and prosecution. First, Peña is adamant – and has been since 1998 – that what he was transporting was not marijuana, but actually hemp, pot’s non-narcotic cousin. Peña says he found the plants growing wild in Kansas and cut them down, thinking that he could use the stems and leaves in the various craft projects he made with leather and wood in his garage workshop; there was no doubt in Peña’s mind that what he was transporting was not marijuana. The second, and eventually more decisive problem with the official story of the Peña bust, is that prior to his trial, officials with the Department of Public Safety lab in Waco, where the plants were taken for testing, completely destroyed all of the case evidence – all 23.46 pounds of plant material – and then also lost the case file with all of the original documentation of the lab’s work on the case. By the time Peña was finally tried – more than four years later – there was absolutely no evidence to show the jury; instead, the state relied completely on the "experience" of Asby and of Waco lab supervisor Charles Mott (now retired) to persuade jurors that what they say they saw and tested was actually marijuana.

It worked.

That is, it worked until late last year, when Peña’s conviction was finally overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, and Leon County subsequently dismissed the charges for good. In the intervening decade, however, Peña’s case became a political hot potato, catching the attention of judges and lawyers across the state who watched as the 10th Court of Appeals, based in Waco, played tug-of-war with the Austin-based CCA over the power of the Texas Constitution, and whether it affords citizens greater rights and protection against state power than does the U.S. Constitution.

It’s a conflict that has left the state of Texas divided and may mean – at least for the time being – that persons tried for crimes in one part of the state will be afforded greater protection from prosecutorial errors or malfeasance than are others. Frankly, says Keith Hampton, an Austin defense attorney who represented Peña just before his case was dismissed, you just "don’t see this happen very often." Ulti­mate­ly, whether the protections gleaned from the Texas Constitution by the 10th Court will remain in force and be applied to all Texans is still to be determined.

Weeds, Not Weed

Peña had a knack for creating handcrafted leather and wood items that sold like hotcakes, he says, at flea markets in and around Houston. He made personalized shellacked plaques and leather key chains with popular first names spelled out in tiny beads, and at a dollar a key chain, they sold well. So when he first saw the hemp plants growing on the roadside near Manhattan, Kan., they gave him an idea. He would take the plants – which, to an untrained eye, look exactly like marijuana plants – press the leaves, and then use them on plaques or affixed to the small leather wallets that he also had become expert at making. He recognized these as "volunteer" hemp plants – they grow wild across the country, reminders of the days when hemp farming was commonplace and even, during World War II, encouraged by the feds as supporting the war effort. By the Kansas roadside, they were scraggly and abundant. When he pulled into the Tuttle Creek State Park outside Manhattan, and saw the plants growing everywhere, he "loaded … up."

Indeed, Peña thought nothing of the fresh-cut plants that he’d laid out in the back of the blue van he was driving. He knew – partly from experience of having smoked pot when he was younger, and partly because he knew that hemp was once a major agricultural commodity – that the plants were nothing more than weeds that looked like weed.

However, that’s not how Asby saw it. To him, it was clear that one thing, and only one thing, was taking place. Peña was moving a large amount of marijuana to Houston – as unusual as that might be, Asby acknowledged.

Peña repeatedly told Asby that the plants were hemp, and his insistence clearly gave some pause to Asby and the two backup officers who soon joined him. The three men stood next to the van pondering the notion that a plant could look like, but not actually be, marijuana. "I … questioned them, I said, ‘Well, he says it’s not marijuana,’" Asby recalled in court. "I knew that there was a substance called hemp and I was asking them. … And I asked them, ‘You ever heard of something like marijuana, just hemp, that is legal to have?’" he continued. "I don’t know that there is a legal kind. That was the question I was asking the officers: ‘Have you ever heard of this … where marijuana was cut and it turns out to be legal?’"

In the end, Asby was unpersuaded. "I just know marijuana smells like marijuana," he testified in 2003. "And I have never found anything that I thought was marijuana that wasn’t." He cuffed Peña and hauled him off to jail.

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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
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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.”

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