Pages tagged "Truth in Trials Act"
Federal medical marijuana defendants and those who are particularly vulnerable to federal prosecution can now breathe a little bit easier. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in the case of Alleyne v. United States, which has put juries more in control of mandatory minimum sentencing decisions. The Alleyne Court held that because mandatory minimum sentences increase the penalty for a crime, any fact that is necessary to impose the mandatory minimum must be proven to the jury. This decision will not impact every federal medical marijuana case, but it will raise the burden of proof the federal government must bear in order to impose mandatory minimum sentence on patients and providers.
Previously, in Apprendi vs. New Jersey (2000), the Supreme Court ruled that under the Sixth Amendment, any fact which could increase the maximum sentence must fact proven to the jury beyond a reasonable amount. However, Apprendi only applied to statutory maximums rather than mandatory minimum sentences.
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.
One of the least reported stories coming out of this year's Election Day results was the strong showing that medical cannabis champions had in their reelection bids this year. Even better for medical cannabis patients, 2013 will mark the first time that the public supporters of safe access will be joining United States Senate. Overall, the 40 strongest safe access champion candidates received 66.7% percent of the vote! What makes these victories more impressive is that they came in an election season when President Obama refused to come to terms with his current anti-safe access policy on medical cannabis.
In the US House of Representatives, ASA had 37 champions running for reelection to Congress in 2013. When we refer to a Member of Congress as a "champion," this means that ASA has developed a relationship these offices and they are reliably the voices on the Hill that not only speak out, but take action on behalf of safe access, by introducing, cosponsoring, or working behind the scenes to get other reps on board. Of these champion candidates, 35 will be returning to DC! Having a strong base of support like this coming into the new conference is going to be especially important in February, when ASA and its members will descend upon the Capitol for a lobbying day following our national conference. In fact, we hope to grow our list of champions when patients and safe access activists come to the Hill to engage in citizen lobbying.
Some of the most exciting news for safe access on Election Day came in the US Senate races. While there are a handful of current US Senators who are sympathetic to the issue of safe access, they support, grateful as we are to have it, has largely been silent. Tuesday night's result changes all of that. When the new Senate is sworn in this January, two incoming senators have publicly embraced safe access. In Wisconsin, one of ASA's strongest champions in the House, Tammy Baldwin, won her bid to become not only the first openly gay member of the Senate, but also the first senator who has cosponsored safe access federal legislation in the past. Over in Massachusetts, where the electorate gave landslide approval to the state's medical cannabis ballot measure, Question 3, voters elected Elizabeth Warren to the replace Scott Brown. Warren spoke during the campaign about her father's struggle with cancer and how she strongly feels patients in that position need access to medicine that works.
Unfortunately, not all of the news on Election Day was so fortunate. Two of ASA's long-time champions in California lost their reelection bids. Congressman Pete Stark, one of ASA's strongest and most determined champions on the Hill was unsuccessful, losing to a fellow Democrat, thanks to California's bizarre top-two election process. Congressman Stark and his staff were extremely helpful and important this summer when ASA was working with Congresswoman Lee's office to help introduce HR 6335. Another champion fell victim to political circumstance when Howard Berman was forced to run against fellow champion incumbent Ben Sherman in a hotly contested race that was the result of redistricting. While Sherman's record has been slightly stronger than Berman's, his and Stark's voices will be sorely missed.
Additionally, several of ASA's longtime champions will not be returning in 2013 due to retirement. Four of the greatest champions for safe access in Congressional history, Barney Frank, Ron Paul, Maurice Hinchey, and Denis Kucinich will not be returning. These four greats introduced and cosponsored much of the safe access legislation in the past decade and their incoming members have large shoes to fill. Will it's a bit soon to tell how their replacements will be, we have confidence other incoming members to Congress, such Beto O'Rourke, will help fill the void. Additionally, new leaders such as Jared Polis and Justin Amash are emerging, and other champions such as Steve Cohen and Jerrold Nadler (to name just a few) are speaking out louder and more forcefully with each Congressional session.
President Obama may not have come reconciled his 2008 promised to end the federal war on safe access, but the 113th Congress may perhaps turn out to be the federal agent of change for medical cannabis patients. If that is going to happen, we need citizen lobbyists to be speaking with their members of Congress to make safe access to medical cannabis a top priority in 2013.
Mike Liszewski is ASA's Policy Director.
- Federal Judge Orders Defendant to Stop Taking Marinol - Toke of the Town
- University of Saskatchewan researchers have discovered the chemical pathway that Cannabis sativa uses to create bioactive compounds called cannabinoids - Phys.org
- Obama’s Pot Problem - Salon.com
- Most Active Constitutional Cannabis Lawyer - East Bay Express
- Truth In Trials Act, Medical Marijuana Protection Bill, Proposed By Bipartisan Group Of Lawmakers - The Huffington Post
- One in eight with fibromyalgia uses cannabis as medicine - Reuters
- Obama's Attorney Has Come Unhinged: Melinda Haag's Crusade Against Medical Pot Jeopardizes California's Safety - Steph Sherer in the Huffington Post
The federal government indicted three people yesterday in Montana, continuing its campaign to undermine medical marijuana laws across the country. The indictment against Jason Burns, Joshua Schultz, and Jesse Leland who were providing medical marijuana to state-qualified patients in Montana, is a result of 26 raids executed in March by no less than 8 federal agencies and an array of local law enforcement.
Despite an October 2009 Justice Department memorandum de-emphasizing federal enforcement against medical marijuana, President Obama has been responsible for more than 100 aggressive SWAT-style federal raids in at least 7 states since taking office. Yesterday’s indictment is added to a list of more than 2-dozen similar medical marijuana-related indictments in the past 2 years.
Whether or not you agree that medical marijuana patients and providers accused of local or state law violations should be tried in state court – we certainly do – they should be given a chance to defend themselves. Unfortunately, patients and providers prosecuted in federal court are prevented from using a medical or state law defense. U.S. Attorneys know this and use it to their advantage to unfairly try medical marijuana defendants like Burns, Schultz, and Leland. Whether they are accused of making a profit or somehow violating state law matters not in federal court and it will never be raised as an issue at trial. In fact, federal prosecutors will even object to the words “medical marijuana” being used in front of the jury.
Let’s call a spade, a spade. The federal government goes after medical marijuana providers because it’s easy. People bold enough to commit federal civil disobedience every day to bring medical marijuana to patients who need it and are qualified to use it do not hide in the shadows. Many are listed in the phone book or on other public lists. They often run storefront businesses and some even advertise. Federal enforcement against medical marijuana providers is like picking low hanging fruit.
Once in federal court, U.S. Attorneys need only to show that marijuana was present and that it was being provided to another person and, presto, you can convict anyone on an array of federal felonies. If the provider places his or her proceeds in a bank, you can add money laundering and other financial offenses to the list of felonies.
The problem is that the federal government isn’t just racking up more points in its insatiable “war on drugs,” it’s also, and more importantly, playing with people’s lives. In a letter sent earlier this week to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Congressional members Barney Frank (D-MA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) explain that targeting medical marijuana providers:
harms the people whose major goal is to seek relief from pain wholly caused by illness.
Holder would do well to heed the Congressmen’s words and let local and state officials enforce their own medical marijuana laws. It makes economic sense and it brings this country closer to addressing medical marijuana as the public health issue that it is.