Tag Archives: Federal
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.
A lawsuit says that New York City police officers routinely stop black and Latino men without cause and then charge them with low-level misdemeanors when small amounts of marijuana are found.
NYT > Marijuana and Medical Marijuana
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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That is when the men say police officers confronted them, sometimes violently, searched their clothing and discovered small amounts of marijuana, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit that is expected to be filed on Thursday in United States District Court for the Southern District, in Manhattan.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of five Bronx men, contends that New York City police officers routinely stop black and Latino men without cause and then charge them with low-level misdemeanors when their pockets are emptied and small amounts of marijuana are found.
In each of the cases, the amount of marijuana found on the men would have amounted to little more than noncriminal violations punishable by a fine of up to $ 100 for first-time offenders. But the lawsuit contends that the charging officers falsely claimed the marijuana was in public view, making it a low-level misdemeanor under Section 221.10 of the New York Penal Code, which allows for sentences of up to three months in jail.
Critics of the Police Department say the practice, which they call manufactured misdemeanors, is widespread. The arrests are often the outgrowth of the department’s stop-and-frisk program, which is being challenged in federal court for, among other things, disproportionately targeting black and Hispanic men.
The lawsuit names the city, the department and several officers and supervisors as defendants. It was filed by the Bronx Defenders, which represents low-income defendants, and the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady L.L.P. A similar lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society is pending in state court in Manhattan.
A spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department declined to comment on Wednesday, saying the city had not yet been served with the lawsuit.
The Police Department charged more than 50,000 people with marijuana misdemeanors in 2011. More than 84 percent were black or Hispanic, a disparity that is even more pronounced in the Bronx.
In an effort to limit these arrests, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in open view one of his top goals this legislative session. The Legislature failed to act on a similar measure last year, despite support from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly.
Though state law calls for misdemeanor cases to be tried within 60 days, the time limits are seldom met, the lawsuit contends. People arrested in the Bronx have it even worse; a recent series of articles in The New York Times revealed a dysfunctional justice system plagued by long delays that often make it all but impossible for people charged with misdemeanors to ever reach trial.
Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Francisco Zapata and Danilo Melendez, were featured in one of the articles. They endured long delays and made frequent court appearances waiting for trial before the charges against them were finally dropped.
A version of this article appeared in print on May 2, 2013, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: Federal Suit Claims Police Distorted Marijuana Searches to Create Misdemeanors.
The time is at hand for the Obama administration to stop dithering, to take a clear position on the rights of Washington state and Colorado — and by precedent all others — to experiment with legalized marijuana.
That’s what Govs. Jay Inslee of Washington and John Hickenlooper of Colorado are asking the Justice Department to do — even though they personally opposed the marijuana legalization measures their voters approved last November.
The governors insist they can make their states’ new laws work well through responsible regulations that license, regulate and tax the production and sale of marijuana. New state labeling laws, say supporters, will also remove confusion and dangerous use levels by showing the potency in terms of THC, the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, analogous to the labeling of alcoholic beverages.
Clearly it’s a direction the American people — who favor marijuana legalization 52 to 41 percent in recent polling — would approve.
A collaborative approach would be consistent with President Obama’s own marijuana history — a substance he tried himself as a youth. Asked last December about the Colorado and Washington legalization votes, he told Barbara Walters “It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal,” because “we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
But Mr. President, there are serious issues to resolve. As personal purchase and use of marijuana are permitted in some states, can the practice really be contained at state borders? Will television, Web and print advertising be allowed? Will the legalizing states allow many small or just a few large suppliers? How much marijuana will be eligible for sale at one time? How will “marijuana tourism” — out-of-state visitors coming just to stock up — be handled? Will retail outlets be allowed near a state’s borders?
And then questions that undecided states may want to hear answered: Will the big tax revenues that marijuana supporters predict actually come true? Will driving under the influence of marijuana prove a real problem — and if so, how will it be controlled? Or on the health front: Will freely available marijuana help returning veterans suffering from PTSD? And generally, will it lead to more or less use of a substance we know is clearly dangerous: alcohol?
Those are the types of intriguing questions that journalist-scholar Stuart Taylor Jr. probes in a newly released Brookings Institution policy paper — “Marijuana Policy and Presidential Leadership: How to Avoid a Federal-State Train Wreck.”
Central to his case: the argument for an early, upfront agreement by the Obama administration and the states. Because the opposite — a fierce federal crackdown on Colorado and Washington state’s licensed marijuana producers and sellers — could well “backfire by producing an atomized, anarchic, state-legalized but unregulated marijuana market that federal drug enforcers could neither contain nor force the states to contain.”
And back to Obama — what about the U.S. Justice Department? It could use threats of conspiracy prosecutions to scare off applicants for state licenses to grow and sell marijuana. But there are federalism barriers: Washington can’t directly force states to enforce federal law. And there are only 4,400 federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents — “nowhere near enough,” Taylor suggests, “to restrain the metastasis of the grow-your-own-and-share marijuana market” — with small-time criminals crowding in — “that state legalization without regulation would stimulate.”
The recent precedents aren’t good. Faced by 18 states’ laws already allowing marijuana for medical use, the Justice Department has swung back and forth from general permissiveness to cracking down unmercifully in individual cases.
A crux of the problem is the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which insists that marijuana has no medicinal properties — an assertion “on its face nonsensical,” says Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.
But the law’s criminal sanctions for cultivating, possessing or distributing marijuana aren’t alone, notes Taylor. The statute also instructs that the attorney general “shall cooperate” with states on controlled substances, with power “to enter into contractual agreements … to provide for cooperative enforcement and regulatory activities.”
This is the opening, Taylor argues, that the Obama administration should take to negotiate with the states legalizing marijuana use — a process that would lead them toward careful regulation and standards, and away from the threat of irrational federal prosecutions.
In a more sensible world, Congress would be rewriting the Controlled Substances Act to reclassify marijuana as the relatively low-risk drug it clearly is. But who’d expect this Congress to do anything so rational?
That leaves states to regulate carefully on their own. And a clear challenge for Obama. Here’s a president who’s been bold enough to jump ahead of Congress on issues ranging from gay marriage to amnesty for DREAM Act immigrants. So now, why not smooth the way to marijuana reform when states choose it?
Copyright: 2013 Washington Post Writers Group