Tag Archives: Crackdown
If American society’s tolerance for marijuana is now growing, then what happened in Montana illustrates just what can happen when the government decides things have gone too far. Pot advocates were running caravans, helping hundreds of residents in a day get medical marijuana user cards. Some doctors who conducted cursory exams on scores of people were fined. As the number of users quickly grew, so did a retail industry that led some to dub the state “Big High Country.”
Today, thousands of medical pot providers have gone out of business, and a health department survey showed that the number of registered users have fallen to less than a quarter of their 2011 numbers.
The drop was driven in part by a tougher 2011 law on medical marijuana use and distribution. But more than anything, marijuana advocates say, the demise of the once-booming medical pot industry was the result of the largest federal drug-trafficking investigation in the state’s industry.
The three-year investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies wrapped up last week when the last of 33 convicted defendants was sentenced. That allowed its architect, U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter, to speak publicly for the first time on the crackdown.
“For a long time, we were hearing complaints from local law enforcement and from citizens … that they were tired of marijuana and they were tired of it next to schools, to churches, people smoking it openly on the streets,” Cotter said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“It was just something that had to be done,” he said. “And the result of doing it the way that we did, it was a strong statement that marijuana wasn’t going to be tolerated in Montana.”
Cotter said he believes he is on the right side of history, regardless of what is happening in the country. Last fall, voters in Colorado and Washington state passed laws to legalize recreational pot use, and a Pew Research Center poll released last month found 52 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal.
The Justice Department has yet to decide whether to sue in federal court to block Colorado and Washington’s laws under the legal argument that federal laws outlawing any use, possession or distribution of marijuana prevail over state laws.
In Montana, what started out as a system to provide marijuana to those with health problems turned the state into a source for drug trafficking, Cotter said. The industry had ballooned so much and so quickly that drug traffickers were operating under the guise of medicinal caregivers, and the pot was being sent to users in New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado and other states, he said.
Now, marijuana is still in Montana, but it’s manageable, he said.
The investigations were split geographically into three parts: Operation Smokejumper, Operation Weed Be Gone and Operation Noxious Weed. They targeted medical marijuana providers dealing in more than 100 plants and came away with 34 indictments, from a longtime state lobbyist to a former University of Montana quarterback.
Most of those arrested argued at first that they were following the state’s medical marijuana law. When federal prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard, successfully squelched that argument in court, all but three of the providers made plea deals.
The federal Controlled Substances Act, which bans any distribution or use of marijuana, trumps state law, Thaggard said. Besides, the investigation found that none of the defendants was following state law, he added.
“I think that we were confident that if we had to go down that road, we would show just how out of compliance these people were,” Thaggard said.
The final scorecard: 33 convictions. Thirty-one made plea deals, two went to trial and lost and the case against the accountant of a provider was dismissed.
Federal prosecutors in other states watched closely as the probe unfolded in Montana, and was widely seen as a success and possibly a model for others, Cotter said.
“Speaking through enforcement action does have the deterrent effect that is needed,” Cotter said. “It had the effect that we were looking for, and that was to deter the trafficking of marijuana.”
Montana Cannabis Information Association spokesman and Marijuana Policy Project lobbyist Chris Lindsey — who also was one of the 33 providers convicted in the probe — agreed the federal investigation was the main driver in changing the shape of the industry.
But a federal crackdown won’t stem the tide of the public will, he said.
Montana residents are increasingly in favor of improving the medical marijuana laws so there is better regulation and better access for those who need it, Lindsey said. “In Montana, it seems our options have only been the wild, wild West or no activity at all. Ultimately, we will be in the middle,” Lindsey said.
Cotter and DEA Agent in Charge Brady MacKay, who led much of the investigation, dispute that medical marijuana is beneficial for the seriously ill. They say patients who need the relief that marijuana provides should get it from Marinol, a prescription drug that contains some of the properties of marijuana.
“I think it’s Madison Avenue marketing, the person who dreamed up tying medical and marijuana together,” Cotter said. “It’s a powerful marketing tool. But the fact of the matter remains that marijuana is a dangerous drug and it’s harmful to people,” Cotter said.
Apparently the Drug Enforcement Administration didn’t get the invite to President Obama’s Federal Fish Fry, because they have just ordered 11 medical marijuana dispensaries in the Seattle area to shut down within 30 days.
The 11 dispensaries landlords recently received a letter from United States Attorney Melinda Haag warning them that the manufacturing process, distribution and retailing of a controlled substance are illegal under federal law.
The letter’s warned of property seizures and prison sentences if the dispensaries in question were not shut down within the 30 day grace period.
Kathleen Capetti, operator of The Hemp Center, is one of the dispensaries that received Haag’s notice’s to close her doors after being in operation for approximately 14 years.
The primary justification for the closure letters is apparently the fact that the targeted dispensaries are too close to parks or schools.
Capetti’s letter cites a park that is located within 900 feet of her establishment as the reason for her order to close up shop.
“This is a very small park — I haven’t even seen it,” Capetti proclaimed. “I think it’s just any excuse they can find.”
She goes on to declare that she’s not quite sure exactly what action the dispensary will take, but that “we’re going to fight it.”
“I don’t understand why bars are in every hotel, and up and down every street of every town are liquor stores and bars where people can drink themselves into oblivion — and that’s okay, that’s a good, social time,” Capetti avowed. “Obama promised they wouldn’t go after the clubs that are in compliance… now they’re just going after people willy-nilly.”
The United States Attorney’s office isn’t offering any explanations as to why they are employing the letter sending technique, but they had reportedly stated in the past that they only intend on going after businesses that are in non-compliance with their state’s marijuana laws and those that are operating near parks or schools.
The reign of federal terrorism won’t come to an end until we can find a way to legalize this plant on a federal level. Become actively involved and help bring an end to the insanity that is the war on tokers.
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MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian monument to a bottle of vodka has been toppled over fears that it could be seen as an illegal advert for the country’s favorite tipple.
The three-meter metal sculpture had become a local landmark in the Urals town of Glazov, 1,000 km (600 miles) east of Moscow. But residents woke up one morning last week to discover it had disappeared, leaving only an empty plinth.
The bottle’s fall reflects a new, sober spirit of the age in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, a judo blackbelt who rides, flies and dives for the TV cameras but is rarely seen raising a glass – unless to toast a billion-dollar oil deal.
Putin signed a ban on all alcohol advertising in July last year, while other laws have banned sales of alcohol from street kiosks or after 11 p.m. at night.
Initial reports suggested that local authorities were behind the disappearance of the memorial, erected 13 years ago to mark the centenary of the local Glazovskiy spirits factory.
But factory bosses later told local media they had decided to remove the monument from public view over fears that it could fall foul of the strict new advertising laws.
“The bottle monument…might be considered as an advert for our products. For this reason, a decision was taken to remove it,” Dmitry Pozdeev, the head of the factory’s legal department, told local media. The sculpture was moved into the factory.
Russian media suggested anti-drinking campaigners might have more work left to do in the region. They pointed out another sculpture to meat dumplings – a popular Russian drinking snack – is still standing in the regional city of Izhevsk.
(Reporting by Sonia Elks; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Oliver Holmes)
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The battle over the legality of operating a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles continues to escalate this week, leaving shop owners, patients and law enforcement officials without a clear picture of how to operate on the right side of the law.
In recent weeks, federal officials have perpetuated the confusion surrounding the medical marijuana industry in Los Angeles, issuing warning letters demanding that select dispensaries shutdown. This comes on the heels of the withdrawal of a citywide ban on dispensaries, which was passed and didn’t even get a chance to go into effect before being rescinded.
“The bottom line is that the state of California provides for the existence of collectives and dispensaries,” said Adam Bierman of MedMen, an L.A.-based consulting group that specializes in industry-specific branding, marketing and legal and financial consulting. “And as all the politics play themselves out in the media, well-intentioned operators are inevitably distracted.”
Under California law, licensed medical marijuana patients are allowed safe access to medicine through legally compliant dispensaries. However, Federal laws differ, creating unnecessary confusion, fear and uncertainty among patients and business owners.
“The biggest problem the industry has isn’t the legality, it’s the fact that there is still little professionalism or legitimacy in the manner in which most dispensaries are run,” Bierman said. “We are now seeing more operators who truly want to run clean, professional dispensaries with trained staff, real accounting systems and organized, compassionate marketing, with the same goal: provide relief to those suffering from severe, painful and debilitating medical conditions.”
The Medmen last week hosted what they claimed is the country’s first ever budtending course. Conducted in Phoenix, Arizona, the course educated workers on the history of cannabis and the effects that different types of cannabis have on different ailments, as well as on industry specific customer service. Subsequent courses are being held on November 3 and 4 in Irvine and Santa Monica, California.