Pages tagged "dispensary"
Mayors from across the United States gathered in Las Vegas this past weekend for the 81st annual U.S. Conference of Mayors. In a watershed moment, mayors voted unanimously yesterday to adopt a resolution "in support of states setting their own marijuana policies without federal interference." The resolution was introduced in advance of the conference by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and co-sponsored by 17 other mayors from across the country. Yesterday's passage of the resolution came just days after medical marijuana advocates issued an alarming report detailing how the Obama Justice Department has spent nearly $300 million to undermine medical marijuana laws in the U.S.
"Ultimately, this is about whether local and state governments can develop, adopt, and implement public health laws without heavy-handed interference by the federal government," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, which authored "What's the Cost?" an extensive report issued earlier this month on the economic and social costs of the federal government's war on medical marijuana. "This resolution is emblematic of the frustration experienced by local and state officials, which will continue until the federal government ends its attacks on medical marijuana." More than 100 million people, or 34 percent of Americans, currently live in states with medical marijuana laws.
Last week, Kal Penn, who plays Kumar in the “stoner” film franchise Harold & Kumar, spoke to Huffington Post Live about President Obama’s marijuana policies. During the April 26th interview, Penn defended recent Justice Department attacks on dispensaries in medical marijuana states like California, citing articles he read from a Google search.
Unfortunately, we cannot always rely on a pliant mainstream media -- that too often quotes Justice Department officials without any counterpoint -- to provide consistently factual information.
Take, for example, the rationale that forms the basis for the Obama Administration’s most sweeping closures of dispensaries in California, Colorado and Washington State: they’re within 1,000 feet of a school. Using threats of asset forfeiture and criminal prosecution, the Justice Department has succeeded in shuttering hundreds of dispensaries in the past couple of years.
However, if Penn had done his homework, he would have found out that in California, where well over 500 dispensaries have closed for fear of retaliation by federal drug enforcement officials, dispensaries are only required to be at least 600 feet from schools:
No medical marijuana cooperative, collective, dispensary, operator establishment, or provider who possesses, cultivates, or distributes medical marijuana pursuant to this article shall be located within a 600-foot radius of a school.
Also glossed over by Penn was the Obama Administration’s callous attitude about the impact of these dispensary closures. Each of the shuttered dispensaries provided medical marijuana to hundreds, often thousands of qualified patients who are now left with little option to find a medicine that’s legal under state law.
And, believe it or not, the dispensary operators and their landlords who are warned with letters of imminent legal action are the lucky ones. The dispensaries that are targeted with aggressive SWAT-style raids stand to lose much more. At minimum, those dispensary operators can expect seized bank accounts, computers, patient records, and other property.
However, if there are arrests, federal defendants can expect 5-10 years in prison. Over the past few months, several state-compliant dispensary operators and cultivators have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, including California dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky (10 years), Michigan Cultivators Jeremy and Jerry Duval (5 years and 10 years, respectively), and John Marcinkewciz (5 years), as well as Montana cultivator Chris Williams (5 years). Another Montana cultivator, Richard Flor, died in federal custody last August while serving a 5-year sentence.
Indeed, Penn’s failure to understand the impact of the Obama Administration’s policies on medical marijuana is symptomatic of the lies being told to the American public and the impunity with which it’s being done. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have both claimed that they are not targeting those in compliance with state law, but refuse to confront the evidence that belies such pronouncements.
It’s about time that the federal government admits that the devastating and costly effects of its enforcement policies in medical marijuana states are unnecessary and unproductive. All patients are asking for is a compassionate and even-handed policy that treats medical marijuana like a public health issue.
San Diego Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Chris Lindberg decided this week to try Jackson for a third time in as many years. Jackson, who operated the San Diego dispensary Answerdam Alternative Care Collective (AACC), was raided by a multi-agency law enforcement task force in 2008 and again in 2009. Jackson was tried the first time on possession and distribution charges, but was acquitted by a jury in 2009.
Unsatisfied with that result, ADA Lindberg, likely at the behest of San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, tried Jackson a second time on charges levied after the 2009 raid on AACC. The second trial was not considered “double jeopardy” by the court because the prosecution was based on a different raid. During Jackson’s second trial in 2010, Lindberg prevented him from using a medical marijuana defense and, as a result, was convicted this time on the same charges of possession and distribution.
Outraged by this official persecution of a law-abiding dispensary operator and the waste of taxpayer dollars, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) appealed Jackson’s conviction in late 2011. In a unanimous landmark decision by California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, Jackson’s conviction was overturned in October 2012. The court also held that Jackson should have been entitled to a medical marijuana defense, rejecting arguments made by both Lindberg and the Attorney General that patients must take part in the cultivation used to supply dispensaries.
Although the Attorney General decided not to appeal the 2012 ruling overturning Jackson’s conviction, in an unusual move Lindberg appealed to the California Supreme Court. Clearly disappointed by the High Court’s decision earlier this year not to review the case, Lindberg is seeking to try Jackson again. This time, however, Jackson is ensured a defense at trial.
The new trial, which has been set for May 1st in San Diego County Superior Court, is clearly a waste of taxpayer dollars in a time of fiscal crisis, but is also a futile attempt to undermine patients’ rights to safely and legally obtain their medication from storefront dispensaries.
Since the landmark appellate ruling, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has indicated his disinterest in prosecuting state-compliant dispensary operators in the city. Mayor Filner has also promised to help pass an ordinance that would establish local dispensary regulations, thereby making Jackson’s third trial that much more superfluous, yet still injurious for Jackson.
It seems doubtful to say the least that Jackson could now be convicted by a jury. It’s long past time for law enforcement in San Diego to abandon its hostile stance toward medical marijuana and allow California law to be implemented without further interference.
According to Matt Taibbi, in his latest Rolling Stone exposé on the banking and financial industry “Too Big to Jail,” HSBC “helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars for drug mobs, including Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel,” and also “moved money for organizations linked to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and for Russian gangsters; helped countries like Iran, the Sudan and North Korea evade sanctions.”
Yet, as outrageous as these transgressions are, the Justice Department refuses to criminally prosecute the bankers committing federal crimes right under the nose of the U.S. government.
At a press conference where the Justice Department announced a settlement between the government and HSBC, in which the bank was forced to pay $1.9 billion, but without any individual being fined or prosecuted, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer had this to say:
Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges, HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.
So, the lesson we’re supposed to take from that is this:
if you’re a banker you can commit federal felonies and all you have to endure is a slap on the wrist. However, if you’re in any other line of business and you commit federal felonies, all bets are off.
If you’re a medical marijuana provider, for example, the Justice Department will not just look the other way as it did for years with HSBC. Instead, you can expect the government to come after you with the full force of the law.
Over the past four years, the Obama Administration has spent millions of taxpayer dollars criminally prosecuting scores of people, arguably in compliance with their state’s medical marijuana laws. Montana medical marijuana cultivator Chris Williams was most recently sentenced to 5 years in federal prison. California-based dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky was sentenced a few weeks earlier to 10 years. Michigan cultivators and medical marijuana patients Jeremy and Jerry Duval were sentenced late last year to 5 and 10 years in prison, respectively. All four of these defendants were convicted at trial after being denied a medical marijuana defense.
In medical marijuana-related cases, the government goes out of its way to stack the legal deck against defendants. It’s bad enough that the Justice Department expends significant resources to prosecute those trying to comply with state law, but to also deny them a defense is shameful.
Two bills currently in Congress would attempt to change that dynamic. HR689, the “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act” would reclassify the drug for more widespread use and research, while HR710, the “Truth in Trials Act” would grant an affirmative defense in federal court cases. Passage of these bills would go a long way in bringing fairness to our country’s public health policy.
However, much more needs to be done before our skewed approach to medical marijuana is corrected. For example, some of the same banks that were at least partly responsible for our recent economic crash -- like Wells Fargo and Bank of America -- are in collusion with the federal government to deny financial services to legally compliant medical marijuana businesses.
Just in case you missed it: the Justice Department looks the other way when large banks launder foreign drug cartel money in our own country, but works with large banks to deny services to legally compliant medical marijuana businesses. And that’s if they’re lucky. If the Justice Department decides to target such businesses, as it has with hundreds of them, the owners could spend years in prison.
Justice in America has often been selective, though rarely has it been starker than this.
Until roughly four years ago, I knew virtually nothing of medical marijuana. I must say that I was somewhat skeptical of the claim for its medicinal properties. My knowledge of marijuana originated from two places, my experimentation as a teen in 1975 and from an enforcement perspective throughout my lengthy law enforcement career. Neither provided any meaningful insight to the medicinal properties or benefits of marijuana.
One of the first people I met when I assumed the role of LEAP’s executive director was ASA’s executive director, Steph Sherer. People had told me of ASA and Steph, but it wasn’t until I met with Steph that I began to educate myself regarding all there is to learn of medical marijuana (properties, policies and patients). My interaction with ASA encouraged me to visit medical marijuana dispensaries in California where I met dispensary owners like Steve De Angelo and Debby Goldsberry. I toured Oaksterdam University where I met Richard Lee and Dale Sky-Jones. Educationally, I benefitted tremendously from my firsthand experience.
The quality of the dispensaries, the marijuana and the people managing them is exceptional, but it was my interaction with patients that gave me the best insight. Hearing patients speak of the benefits was truly eye opening. They spoke of their weaning from debilitating opiate based prescription drugs and the quality of life returning once again. I heard of marijuana’s effectiveness in combating many illnesses with virtually no side effects. And to this day I continue learning.
This is why I am attending the ASA conference this month in Washington DC. Do you know any law enforcement types in need of an education? Do you know of anyone in need of a medical marijuana education? If so, invite them to the conference and let’s open some minds. Education and public policy changes are so desperately needed in acquiring safe and legal access.
After years of struggling over the issue, the Court of Appeal held that storefront dispensaries are legal under California law, so long as they operate on a not for profit basis and adhere to certain corporate forms. This decision establishes that storefront dispensaries are unquestionably legal under California law and that localities cannot continue to rely on their now-discredited view that all sales of medical marijuana are illegal in order to support their ongoing attacks on medical marijuana dispensaries.
Another important impact of the appellate court ruling is providing medical marijuana providers with a clear defense to state criminal charges. Specifically, the ruling held that in mounting a defense at trial:
Jackson was only required to produce evidence which would create a reasonable doubt as to whether the defense provided by the [Medical Marijuana Program Act] had been established.
The court further held that:
[T]he collective or cooperative association required by the act need not include active participation by all members in the cultivation process but may be limited to financial support by way of marijuana purchases from the organization. Thus, contrary to the trial court's ruling, the large membership of Jackson's collective, very few of whom participated in the actual cultivation process, did not, as a matter of law, prevent Jackson from presenting an MMPA defense.
California Supreme Court picks February 5th for oral arguments to decide whether municipalities can ban local distribution of medical marijuana
Oral arguments in the Riverside case will be held in a special session of the California Supreme Court on Tuesday, February 5th at 10:15am at the University of San Francisco (USF) School of Law.
In addition to the Riverside case, a number of other appellate court rulings from southern California focusing on the same issues were granted review by the Court, including County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective, 420 Caregivers v. City of Los Angeles, City of Lake Forest v. Evergreen Holistic Collective, and People v. G3 Holistic.
Notably, two of these appellate rulings held that local officials may not ban distribution and must develop regulations instead. Specifically, the County of Los Angeles decision from July 2012 overturned a local ban on dispensaries, reversing the lower court’s preliminary injunction from the previous year. The appellate court in County of Los Angeles held that “medical marijuana collectives…are permitted by state law to perform a dispensary function,” and that “[Los Angeles] County’s total, per se nuisance ban against medical marijuana dispensaries directly contradicts the Legislature's intent.” The Court further concluded that, a “complete ban” on medical marijuana is “preempted” by state law and, therefore, void.
Yet, other appellate court decisions have sided with municipal governments in their cynical effort to push out any form of safe and legal access to medical marijuana.
Rest assured, however, that Americans for Safe Access will work with the lawyers in the Riverside case to obtain a ruling from the California Supreme Court favorable to patients across the state. Just as with its amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief filed last year in the Riverside case, ASA will continue to fight for safe access. “While municipalities may pass reasonable regulations over the location and operation of medical marijuana collectives, they cannot ban them absolutely,” read ASA’s amicus brief. “These bans thwart the Legislature’s stated objectives of ensuring access to marijuana for the seriously ill persons who need it in a uniform manner throughout the state.”
See you at USF next month!
Last Friday, patient advocates Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed an amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center to convey the urgent need for safe and legal access to medical marijuana. In what is possibly the most important issue currently facing hundreds of thousands of patients in California, ASA urged the State Supreme Court to reject the notion that municipalities can ban local distribution of medical marijuana, thereby cutting off access. Specifically, ASA argued in its brief that:
While municipalities may pass reasonable regulations over the location and operation of medical marijuana collectives, they cannot ban them absolutely. These bans thwart the Legislature’s stated objectives of ensuring access to marijuana for the seriously ill persons who need it in a uniform manner throughout the state.
In addition to the Riverside case, the State Supreme Court is reviewing the Pack v. City of Long Beach decision, which involves issues of federal preemption. Adding even more appellate decisions to the mix, last week the Second District issued two conflicting rulings. One of the rulings in County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective held that dispensaries were legal under state law and that municipalities could not ban them.
At the time, ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford said in a prepared statement that:
The court of appeal could not have been clearer in expressing that medical marijuana dispensaries are legal under state law, and that municipalities have no right to ban them. This landmark decision should have a considerable impact on how the California Supreme Court rules in the various dispensary cases it’s currently reviewing.
There are a staggering 178 cities in California that have completely ignored the needs of patients in their community by adopting bans against medical marijuana dispensaries. However, there are more than 50 municipalities, which have adopted regulatory ordinances that have safely and legally accommodated for the needs of their patients, as well as other members of their communities. An increasing number of studies also show that regulating dispensaries will decrease crime and increase the quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods.
Patient advocates are not putting all their eggs in the California Supreme Court basket. There is still an effort afoot to pass legislation next year to regulate medical marijuana at the state level. The statewide ballot initiative process is yet another option available to patient advocates and one that will definitely be considered in the months ahead.
As we find ourselves, yet again, under attack by the federal government, a new medical marijuana documentary tells the story of a dispensary operator arrested in 2007 by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Five years later, the story of Charles C. Lynch has not died out and, in fact, is more relevant than ever.
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Rick Ray teamed up with Brainstorm Media to release "Lynching Charlie Lynch" this past Friday. A press release issued at the time described the film this way:
Controversial and provocative, Lynching Charlie Lynch explores the conflict between the state-permitted medical marijuana business and Federal drug law in America, and the human cost of the arbitrary and inconsistent application of the law. Through in-depth interviews with experts and advocates across the country and on all sides of the issue, Lynching Charlie Lynch finds many answers, and raises even more questions.
Lynch was one of more than 200 Californians raided by the DEA during President Bush's 8 years in office. Yet, the Obama Justice Department has conducted more than 200 raids in at least 9 medical marijuana states in just 3 1/2 years, far surpassing his predecessor. Despite President Obama's pledge to do otherwise, he's waged an all-out assault on medical marijuana patients, the breadth and intensity of which is unprecedented in this country's history.
President Obama must be made to answer for the stark and harmful contradiction between his medical marijuana policy and his law enforcement practices. Please help keep President Obama accountable and help us pursue a sensible public health policy for medical marijuana.
Second District Court of Appeal rejects Attorney General’s argument that all collective members must participate in cultivation
The California Court of Appeal issued a landmark published decision last week affirming the legality of storefront dispensaries and rejecting the argument that every member of a collective or cooperative must participate in the cultivation. Didn’t hear about the ruling? Maybe because the decision came from the Second Appellate District in Los Angeles, the domain of District Attorney Steve Cooley and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, famously intolerant to medical marijuana dispensaries. It would be an understatement to say that the ruling jabs a large thorn into both of their sides. You’ll certainly see no publicity from their corner.
The case People v. Colvin involves William Frank Colvin, the operator of Hollywood Holistic Inc., who was arrested while lawfully transporting a pound of medical marijuana from one collective he operates to another. Even while acknowledging that Colvin was operating a legitimate dispensary, the trial court denied him a defense on the grounds that transportation of medical marijuana was illegal under state law. After being denied a defense, Colvin was convicted.
On appeal, California Attorney General Kamala Harris advanced the view that under state law all members of a collective must somehow participate in the cultivation process and “come together” in “some way” for this purpose. In characterizing Attorney General Harris’s argument, the Court said:
The Attorney General does not specify how many members must participate or in what way or ways they must do so, except to imply that Holistic, with its 5,000 members and 14 growers, is simply too big to allow any ‘meaningful’ participation in the cooperative process; hence, it cannot be a ‘cooperative’ or a ‘collective’ [in compliance with state law].
The Court then compared medical marijuana cooperatives with food cooperatives:
[The Attorney General’s interpretation of state law] would impose on medical marijuana cooperatives requirements not imposed on other cooperatives. A grocery cooperative, for example, may have members who grow and sell the food and run a store out of which the cooperative's products are sold. But not everyone who pays a fee to become a member participates in the cooperative other than to shop at it.
However, the Court of Appeal unanimously rejected the stringent requirement that an “unspecified number of members to engage in unspecified ‘united action or participation’ to qualify for the protection of [state law].” Perhaps most importantly, the Court said that the “logical conclusion” of such requirements would likely “limit drastically the size of medical marijuana establishments.” Furthermore, the Court said that:
[T]he Attorney General’s vague qualifier provides little direction or guidance to, among others, qualified patients, primary caregivers, law enforcement, and trial courts. Rather, imposing the Attorney General’s requirement would, it seems to us, contravene the intent of [state law] by limiting patients’ access to medical marijuana and leading to inconsistent applications of the law.
It should be no surprise why Cooley, Trutanich and the other opponents of medical marijuana would want to downplay such a landmark decision. However, at a time when trial courts are denying a defense to medical marijuana dispensary operators, the Court’s decision is a welcome one that is long overdue.