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Oakland 4/20: "Obama, You're Alienating Your Base" [FEATURE]

4/20 is supposed to be a day of cannabis celebration, but in Oakland last Friday it was a day of protest and demonstration. Angered by the ongoing federal crackdown on medical marijuana distribution and shocked and infuriated by the April 2 raids on Oaksterdam University and associated businesses, protestors gathered outside the federal building in downtown Oakland to denounce the administration before marching to President Obama's Northern California campaign headquarters to deliver a letter demanding the administration cease and desist.

Delivering a message to the Obama campaign: Back off!
"Terrorist Haag Wanted for War Crimes Against Humanity," read one hand-made sign, an expression of the widespread anger against the US Attorney for Northern California, who has targeted Northern California dispensaries as part of the ongoing federal offensive against medical marijuana distribution.

Printed green, white, and red "Cannabis medicine, let states regulate" sign waved among the crowd, as chants of "Obama, keep your promise!" and "Stop the lies, legalize!" echoed through the courtyard of the towering federal building.

But it's not just marijuana advocates who are angry. "What happened here two weeks ago with the raid of Oaksterdam was an attack on our local and our members," said Matt Witemyre, special project union representative for UFCW Local 5, which represents Northern California dispensary workers. "We're here to register our displeasure with the administration's actions and we're stopping by campaign headquarters to let them know we do not support these policies. We're here in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. They had good jobs and good benefits, and in the midst of the worst economic crisis in the country in decades, the administration is destroying these jobs. It makes no sense," he fumed.

Richard Lee addressing an admiring and supportive crowd.
"We're behind you 100%," said Bob Swanson, representing Oakland Supervisor Nate Miley. "We ask that President Obama back off and rein his people in. Marijuana is medicine; let the people have it. Leave Richard Lee alone -- he's a good man and had done wonders for Oakland."

Lee himself made an appearance. "This was supposed to be a day of celebration, but it's a day of protest," he said to loud cheers and cries of support.

There was also support from the other side of San Francisco Bay, with representatives of San Francisco United, a medical marijuana coalition opposing the federal attacks, standing in solidarity with their brethren in the East Bay.

"We are outraged and disgusted with what happened here two weeks ago," said SF United's Stephanie Tucker, referring to the Oaksterdam raids. "We won't be treated this way. Obama, you are alienating your voter base. Rein in the Department of Justice and the US Attorneys. They are going after a peaceful and well-regulated community," she said to more cheers.

The president isn't winning friends in Oakland...
"We're here to protest the outrageous use of federal resources and what our federal government has done, raiding Oaksterdam and many other well-respected and -loved cannabis establishments here in California," said California NORML executive director Dale Gieringer. "This is not the kind of change we were expecting from the Obama administration."

Friday was also Gieringer's birthday, and the crowd gave the veteran activist a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" to mark the occasion.

"They said they wouldn't waste Justice Department resources on medical marijuana, but we've seen DEA raids all up and down the state, we've seen Treasury attacking the banks, we've seen the IRS going after dispensaries, we've seen BATF saying that medical marijuana patients don't have the right to bear arms, we've seen the Justice Department deny that marijuana has any medical value," Gieringer continued.

"They've turned down a rescheduling petition after nine years of delay and ignored hundreds of studies to the contrary. This administration was supposed to respect science, but it's turned its back on it. This makes no sense at all, and we're going to deliver a message to the Obama administration," he said before leading the chanting, banner-waving crowd on the short march to Obama campaign headquarters.

Passing cars honked in support as the crowd gathered in front of Obama headquarters. Richard Lee's replacement as head of Oaksterdam, Dale Sky Jones, and UFCW representative Dan Rush hand-delivered a letter to campaign staffers demanding the administration cease and desist.

...and neither is US Attorney Melinda Haag.
"What advantages do we derive from continuing this failed policy of prohibition?" asked Jones. "They're committing robbery with a badge, empowering terrorists and cartels, and denying a proven medicine to patients in the guise of keeping it from our kids. We ended the first failed Prohibition. We can do it again, President Obama. We must repeal prohibition," she insisted.

After handing over the letter at the doorway to the campaign headquarters, the crowd lingered to chant and wave signs, making sure the campaign noticed their presence.

"The local staff has heard our cries, and they support us," said Jones. "They will take the letter we've written and deliver it straight to him."

The Obama campaign has gotten the letter, but has it gotten the message? Time will tell, but the demonstrators in Oakland Friday put the campaign on notice that the administration is losing friends in California with its attacks on medical marijuana.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Oakland, CA
United States

Oaksterdam University Will Carry On, But Without Richard Lee [FEATURE]

At an Oakland press conference Wednesday, Oaksterdam University announced that it would attempt to stay open in the wake of the April 2 federal raid on its campus and associated businesses, but that its founder, Richard Lee, would no longer be involved with the business. Lee, Oaksterdam representatives, and others also used the press conference to call for a national day of action Friday (4/20) and for people to barrage the Obama White House with phone calls demanding it end its policy of repression aimed at medical marijuana providers.

"My future is very uncertain," Lee said. "I'm waiting for a possible legal case. But I hope to be free to support marijuana legalization campaigns like in Colorado and Washington and medical marijuana campaigns like in Ohio. This is a big issue and getting bigger. If I can use my notoriety to help, I will do what I can."

Lee will be replaced at Oaksterdam University by Dale Sky Jones, who was the school's executive chancellor and who worked closely with Lee in 2010's Proposition 19 campaign. Jones and Oaksterdam will face some tough challenges. The federal raiders stripped the campus of all its equipment and computers, and the school has been unable to hold classes or pay staff. Instead, some 45 people are working on a volunteer basis to get it up and running again.

"The raid knocked the wind out of us," said Jones. "We will need help to get back on our feet in the short term, but in the long term, we will come back."

The school will have to move to a smaller, more affordable, space, Jones said.

"It's not sustainable in the current building," she explained. "We'll keep leasing the auditorium where we teach classes until further notice, and that will allow us to continue to enroll new students, which will allow us to buy new computers. But our office will move to a new location. We're staying in the heart of Oaksterdam, but with a much smaller office space. We've created a new parent company that will have the Oaksterdam trademark. Oaksterdam University will survive, just with a new parent company."

Some 15,000 people have taken courses at Oaksterdam, with a curriculum covering all aspects of the medical marijuana industry, from the basics of growing to how to run a business to how to navigate the maze of state, federal, and local laws and regulations. The school has been at the heart of the revitalization of Broadway in downtown Oakland, as well as at the heart of the East Bay medical marijuana community.

"In terms of public safety, I've been to downtown Oakland on numerous occasions, and if you think this will make it a safer community, it will do just the opposite," said Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore police commander in the city's Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement, and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Effective public safety is the result of healthy communities, not police action. When people come together, as they did in Oaksterdam, that's when crime is reduced. Now, we'll have patients forced back into the criminal market, funding organized crime. The public is trying to send a message to Washington, DC, that it's time to move away from these destructive prohibition policies."

"This cost the jobs of 100 union members, and those were good jobs with a decent wage," said Ron Lind, president of the UFCW's Local 5, which represents Bay area dispensary workers. "This misguided policy doesn't only impact patients; it also impacts workers. We will continue to support Oaksterdam and its reemergence. There is a huge potential for good middle-class jobs throughout this industry, and it's time for the federal government to stop undermining it."

"This administration is out of touch not only with the public, but with its own campaign pledges," said Franklin. "Obama won last time after forcefully pledging to back off from the federal attacks. Anyone who thinks this is a good electoral strategy needs to look at the polling," in which support for medical marijuana typically runs at 70% or higher.

Richard Lee surrounded by supporters in San Francisco a day after the April 2 raid
Given the ongoing federal crackdown, it is time for Oaksterdam University to broaden its mission, said Jones.

"Our focus has been on providing quality education to the cannabis community, but we need to start focusing on creating safer communities by controlling, taxing, and regulating cannabis," she said. "These days, it's more accessible than any other drugs. You're not getting it at the store, but behind the store. You don't see legal wine grape growers wielding machine guns."

"We want to thank Richard Lee and Oaksterdam for all you do," said Laura Thomas, interim state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, "both to increase access to medical cannabis and for Proposition 19. We join in calling on people to let the president know what you think of this raid and his drug policies in general. Obama has for the first time acknowledged that there needs to be debate on this topic. We need to let him know that legalization is something that should be talked about."

Oaksterdam supporters will gather at the campus Friday for a demonstration and march to the Oakland federal building. They are also urging sympathizers to sign a petition to President Obama urging him to stop the raids. It has more than 23,000 signatures so far.

"This is a big political issue," said Lee. "We're getting a lot of support right now, and the most recent polls show legalization with about a 5% lead across the country. The opponents of ending cannabis prohibition are fighting back. This issue is at the tipping point."

Oakland, CA
United States

New Hampshire Police Chief Killed in Drug Raid

Greenland, New Hampshire, Police Chief Michael Maloney was shot and killed and four other officers were shot and wounded during a drug raid last Thursday evening. Maloney becomes the 23rd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Greenland, NH, Police Chief Michael Maloney (Greenland PD)
According to state and local officials at a press conference that night, the male suspect in the shooting and a female remained barricaded inside his home along and surrounded by a SWAT team, which was called to the scene after shooting broke out. The resident at the address in the raid has been identified as Cullen Mutrie, 29, who was facing steroid possession charges after police who came to his home to confiscate guns after a 2010 domestic violence complaint found them in his living room.

[Update: Mutrie and the as yet unidentified woman were found dead inside the home after a police robot was sent in early last Friday morning. Police said it wasn't clear if it was a murder-suicide or a double suicide. They become the 24th and 25th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.]

It's not yet clear precisely why police were raiding his home Thursday. Police did confirm it was a drug raid and that the suspect had opened fire. Other than that, it is also unclear exactly what transpired, except that Maloney is dead and four officers are wounded. They have been identified as Det. Jeremiah Murphy of the Rochester Police Department, Det. Gregory Turner of the Dover Police Department, Det. Eric Kulberg of the University of New Hampshire Police Department and Det. Scott Kukesh of the Newmarket Police Department.

Two of the four were shot in the chest and were in intensive care early Friday. Two others were treated and released, one with a gunshot wound to the arm and the other with a gunshot wound to the shoulder. They were working as part of a drug task force.

Maloney, 48, was a 26-year law enforcement veteran and had been chief in Greenland for the past 12 years. He was due to retire in less than two weeks.

Greenland, NH
United States

Jacksonville Police Kill Armed Man in Drug Raid

A Jacksonville, Florida, narcotics detective shot and killed an armed man during a drug raid aimed at arresting a small-scale crack dealer last Thursday. Juan Montrice Lawrence, 40, becomes the 22nd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and the third in a one-week period.

According to the Florida Times-Union, citing Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokesman John Hartley, detectives had spent six weeks buying crack out of an apartment in the Casa del Rio St. Johns complex, and, after making one last purchase at the apartment door Thursday afternoon, a "take-down team" attempted to arrest their target, Nathaniel Phillip Hill, 39.

But Hill struggled, and the officers were pulled into the apartment as they took Hill to the floor. A second male, later identified as Hill's teen-age son, was also tackled. At that point, veteran narcotics Detective Valentino Demps saw Lawrence standing in a hallway with a gun in his hand. Demps ordered Lawrence to drop the gun, then shot him twice when he did not comply.

"He gave multiple commands for the suspect to drop the gun. He refused to obey the commands," Hartley said. "He was shot at least twice, once in the face, once in the hip."

Lawrence was taken to Shands Jacksonville Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Witnesses described seeing officers in black uniforms and ski masks gathered at the apartment complex.

By Friday, police had identified Lawrence as an "armed felon" whose previous convictions including carrying a concealed weapon and cocaine possession and were saying that the decision to shoot him had probably saved several officers' lives.

"If he'd let him get down that hallway, we could have three or four dead officers at the scene," Hartley said. "Certainly he [Lawrence] was ready to fire on them."

Nathaniel Hill was arrested and charges with distribution of cocaine and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. An ounce of cocaine, a pistol, and rounds of ammunition were seized at the apartment. Hill's teenage son was detained, but later released without charges.

Jacksonville, FL
United States

Two More Drug War Deaths

Two more people died last week in drug-related law enforcement actions, one in Colorado and one in Kentucky. The two men, an as yet unnamed Denver man and 46-year-old Brice Horne of Harned, Kentucky, become the 20th and 21st persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In the Colorado case, police told the Denver Post that a 35-year-old man was pulled over in an April 1traffic stop and then struggled with police before collapsing and dying.

He died after a "brief use of force" that was "very minor," Denver Police spokeswoman Raquel Lopez said. Force was used after the man became combative and tried to assault the officer, she said. He was then handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car, and shortly thereafter showed signs of "what appeared to be medical distress," she added.

The Office of the Medical Examiner reported that the man had "a large quantity of suspected narcotic" in his stomach.

"It appears one or more of the balloons burst or opened, releasing the content into the victim's system," Denver police said in a statement.

Denver police and the Denver District Attorney's Office are investigating.

In the Kentucky case, Kentucky State Police told media a Breckenridge County sheriff's deputy and a state police Drug Enforcement Special Investigations Task Force officer went to a Frankfort apartment last Tuesday morning to bust a methamphetamine lab.

Horne fled from the apartment and fled inside a nearby mobile home. The deputy didn't enter the mobile home, but the state agent did. Shots were fired and Horne was killed.

On Wednesday, police said the shooter was state police Detective Scott McMichael. They also said Horne confronted McMichael, threatened to kill himself, and fired his weapon before McMichael shot and killed him.

McMichael is on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Medical Marijuana Update

Monday's federal raid on Oaksterdam University in Oakland has ignited a firestorm of criticism of heavy-handed federal efforts to clamp down on medical marijuana distribution. Meanwhile, battles continue to be fought from Washington, DC, to local city halls.

National

On Monday, lawmakers from five states urged the Obama administration to back off from its policy of interference in state medical marijuana programs. The lawmakers are Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-CA), Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-WA), Rep. Antonio Maestas (D-NM), Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-NM), Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-CA), Rep. Deborah Sanderson (R-ME) and Sen. Pat Steadman (D-CO). They called on President Obama to live up to his campaign promise to leave the regulation of medical marijuana to the states, adding raids would only "force patients underground" into the illegal drug market. "Please respect our state laws," the lawmakers wrote. "And don't use our employees as pawns in your zealous and misguided war on medical marijuana."

On Tuesday, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson criticized the Oaksterdam raids, saying the Obama administration needs to "find better things to do with our tax dollars than raiding Richard Lee's home in selective enforcement of a bad law." Johnson, who governed as a Republican, is seeking the Libertarian Party presidential nomination this year.

On Wednesday, six national drug policy groups called on the Obama administration to end its assault on medical marijuana providers. They were the Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "You have turned your back as career law enforcement officials have run roughshod over some of the most professional and well-regulated medical marijuana providers," the groups said in a letter to President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and drug czar Gil Kerlikowske. "We simply cannot understand why you have reneged on your administration's earlier policy of respecting state medical marijuana laws… "We hope that you will immediately reconsider your drug control strategy and will work with, not against, states and organizations that are attempting to shift control of marijuana cultivation and sales, at least as it applies to medical marijuana, to a controlled and regulated market."

California

Last Monday, three San Francisco supervisors expressed concerns about the city Health Department's stance on medical marijuana. Supervisors David Campos, Scott Wiener, and Christina Olague signed on to a letter to the department questioning "some recent media statements" from the department, especially regarding its decision -- since rescinded -- to ban edible medical marijuana products.

Last Thursday, collective members in Murrieta said they were being targeted by police. The conservative Riverside County town is in an ongoing fight with the Green House Cannabis Collective, and collective members told Fox LA that police were pulling them over on pretexts to search their vehicles. One patient and volunteer showed Fox LA a GPS tracking device he found attached to his vehicle after being pulled over by police. The property owner of the collective said he was being fined $109,000, but that city officials offered to drop the fine if he would evict the collective. City officials had no comment, but one told the station off-camera that they don't want marijuana businesses in their city. Period.

Also last Thursday, an Arcata woman sued the city and the police over a raid at her home. Barbara Sage, 64, alleges that officers had an unlawful search warrant and used excessive force in investigating marijuana cultivation at the residence she shared with her husband. She argues that police didn't have sufficient probable cause for the search because they failed to present any evidence that the Sages' suspected marijuana cultivation fell outside the bounds of state and local medical marijuana laws and regulations. The Sages had grown medical marijuana in compliance with state law and local regulations, but were not growing any when police arrived. Aside from the probable cause issue, Sage argues that police violated the "knock-notice" rule, which requires them to announce their presence and that they are serving a warrant when entering someone's home, and that Hoffman failed to include a statement of expertise and qualifications to support the warrant. She also claims officers used unnecessary force when they came into her home with guns drawn, allegedly pulled her sick husband from bed -- tearing oxygen tubes from his nose -- and put him on the ground in handcuffs. "This rough treatment affected his mood drastically, and he went into a state of depression after the search that hastened his death," the suit claims.

Last Friday, an appeals court ruled that a dispensary does not owe the city of Dana Point $2.4 million. The city had shut down the Beach Cities Collective in January 2011, alleging violations of building codes and state law, and the two sides have been embroiled in lawsuits ever since. The city won the $2.4 million summary judgment from an Orange County Superior Court judge, but the 4th District Court of Appeals threw out the judgment, finding that it was improper because the facts in the case are still in dispute. The city has spent $400,000 trying similar tactics against two other dispensaries. Once there were six dispensaries in Dana Point; now, there are none.

Also last Friday, Vallejo police raided the same dispensary for the second time in a month. Police hit the Better Health Group and arrested owner Jorge Espinoza, 25, and three workers on suspicion of selling marijuana. That makes the fourth dispensary raid in the city since February 21. Better Health was raided the first time on February 29. The city has passed a measure to tax dispensaries, but its police continue to raid them anyway.

Also last Friday, medical marijuana regulation initiatives were announced in five cities in the San Diego area. The cities are Encinitas, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Lemon Grove and La Mesa. The proposed ballot measures largely mirror one planned for the city of San Diego. All are being coordinated by Citizens for Patient Rights in connection with the Patient Care Association, a trade organization of and for nonprofit dispensaries. None of the five cities currently allow medical marijuana dispensaries. A judge last year ordered the lone collective in Del Mar closed. A separate group of medical marijuana supporters has launched a citizen-initiated petition to reverse a dispensary ban in Imperial Beach.

On Saturday, San Francisco's HopeNet Cooperative stayed open in defiance of federal threats. US Attorney Melinda Haag had warned the dispensary's landlords it had to close by last Friday or the property could be seized and the owners imprisoned. Similar letters from Haag have led five other San Francisco dispensaries to shut down since October 7. The letters warn of 40-year prison terms and asset forfeitures if the "marijuana distribution" is not stopped.

On Monday, DEA and other federal agents raided Oaksterdam University, associated businesses, and the home of Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee. Lee was briefly detained, but later released without charges. DEA and IRS agents accompanied by US marshals seized seedlings, computers, and records, effectively shutting down the school, although it has vowed to reopen. Oakland police had to provide crowd control for the feds as angry emergency response protestors spilled onto Broadway.

On Tuesday, hundreds of medical marijuana supporters rallied in San Francisco. Although the rally had been planned in advance of Monday's Oaksterdam raids, the federal assault on the movement icon energized and outraged attendees, who marched from city hall to the federal building to tell US Attorney Melinda Haag to knock it off. The rally drew support from city supervisors, state legislators, and state officials.

Also on Tuesday, a Los Angeles judge denied a business license for a medical marijuana testing lab. Golden State Collective Cannabis Laboratories had sought the license, but was denied by city officials. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge upheld the city's decision.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles NORML director Bruce Margolin announced he is running for Congress. He is challenging veteran Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman in the newly created 33rd District. He emphasized ending the failed war on drugs in his announcement.

Also on Wednesday, a Butte County judge denied a motion to suppress the evidence in a medical marijuana case that is fueling outrage over the seizure of children from their parents. Daisy Jean Bram and Jayme Jeff Walsh are charged with marijuana cultivation and sales as well as child abuse charges -- apparently for nothing more than having children in a home where marijuana was being grown. Earlier, a judge had thrown out the child abuse charges, saying there wasn't sufficient evidence for them, but Butte County prosecutors refilled them. The children have since been returned to Bram's care.

Arizona

On Tuesday, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed a bill barring medical marijuana on college campuses. The law prohibits the possession or use of medical marijuana at public universities, community colleges, and child-care facilities. The bill was the brainchild of Rep. Amanda Reeve (R-Phoenix) and was supported by prosecutors. Medical marijuana advocates foresee a legal challenge on state constitutional grounds.

Colorado

On Tuesday, the state announced it is cutting its medical marijuana regulatory staff because the state isn't collecting enough revenues from licensing fees to pay for them. The Department of Revenue said it would lay off 20 of 37 staffers at the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. The department blamed the shortfall on a state moratorium on medical marijuana licenses, which is set to end this summer.

Maine

Last Wednesday, Portland saw its first dispensary open for business. The dispensary will eventually serve about 100 patients. It is the second Wellness Connection of Maine dispensary to open in the state.

Michigan

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee approved four medical marijuana bills that compromise patients' rights. The Marijuana Policy Project says it will absolutely oppose one and will oppose two more if not amended. Click the link above for details on the bills.

Montana

On Tuesday, four medical marijuana providers suing the federal government were arrested on federal drug charges. The attorney representing the four in their civil lawsuit over last year's raids on medical marijuana businesses across the state said they were indicted on Tuesday and last Thursday. The lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the searches of more than 26 homes, businesses and warehouses is before the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Their claim was rejected by a district judge in January.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, the Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment campaign held a press conference to kick start its signature-gathering effort. They have until July 4 to turn in 385,000 valid voter signatures in order to make the November ballot.

Washington, DC

Last Friday, DC officials selected six growers for the city's medical marijuana program. Later this summer, the city will select up to eight dispensary operators. By then, the chosen growers should have a crop to provide to the dispensaries, and the law approved by voters in 1998, but blocked by Congress until 2009 will finally be in effect.

Also on Friday, the weGrow medical marijuana superstore opened on Rhode Island Avenue NE. The supplier of lights, hydroponic equipment and other growers' goods advertises itself as "the one-stop-shop for the products and services one would need to grow plants indoors -- from tomatoes to medical marijuana."

Medical Marijuana Crackdown Sparks San Francisco Protest [FEATURE]

Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and representatives of the city attorney, state legislators, and state officials jointed hundreds of medical marijuana patients and supporters for an energized rally at City Hall Tuesday afternoon before marching to the nearby federal building to demand that US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag cease and desist in her attacks on the locally-regulated and -tolerated medical marijuana distribution in the city, the Bay area, and the state of California.

The crowd was large and outraged by Monday morning's federal raid on the movement's iconic Oaksterdam University, associated properties, and the home of Oaksterdam University founder and Proposition 19 funder Richard Lee. But that raid, which drew a heated reaction from activists who gathered in an emergency response to armed DEA, IRS, and US Marshals, went down after Tuesday's rallied had already been scheduled, and was only the latest in a recurring pattern of federal strikes against the movement and the industry going back to last fall.

Since October, when California's four US Attorneys jointly opened their campaign against the dispensaries, five have been forced to close because of federal threats in San Francisco alone, and others are under current threat. Across the state, the number of federally-induced shutdowns is in the dozens, including some of the state's most venerable and most regulated medical marijuana enterprises.

In San Francisco, patients, advocates, dispensary operators, the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access, and members of the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Task Force are launching a campaign, San Francisco United, to push city officials to take action to protect medical marijuana distribution in the city. It's not that they need a whole lot of pushing, given their recognition of the broad popularity of medical marijuana in the city where the movement was born.

Oaksterdam's Richard Lee made it to the rally after being detained Monday. He heard multiple expressions of support.
"By opposing federal interference, San Francisco officials are taking a stand for patients and for sensible public health policy," said ASA founder and Executive Director Steph Sherer. "The federal government must not be allowed to push patients into the illicit market without consequence."

Looking out at the crowd gathered around the steps of City Hall waving a sea of "Cannabis Is Medicine, Let States Regulate" signs, Sherer told her audience the movement is having an impact. "Haag and Holder are watching you. You're frightening them," she said to wild cheers.

"You're not alone; you have friends in city hall," Supervisor David Campos said as he stepped before the microphone. "This is a social justice issue; this is about safe access for patients," he said. "The voters have spoken, and we understand the importance of this issue. We need to expedite the permitting process so those closed dispensaries can reopen quickly."

Supervisor Christina Olague assailed Haag's campaign against the dispensaries. "This is absurd," she told the crowd, calling for solidarity. "When one of us is attacked, all of us are attacked," she said.

Cardboard cutouts of Haag's face on sticks allowed crowd members to wear "Haag masks" complete with blank speech balloons, on which protestors wrote "Quit vomiting and grow your own," "I love Romney," and similar witticisms.

Supervisor David Campos on the steps of city hall
"Melinda Haag didn't know what she was getting into," said Quintin Mecke, spokesman for drug reformer state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). "California is a sanctuary state, and California law is at stake. But this isn't just a San Francisco issue or a California issue, it's a national issue."

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws. In the past year, the DEA and other federal agencies have unleashed offensives against dispensaries in California, Colorado, and Montana, and have attempted to intimidate state officials in other medical marijuana states contemplating state-regulated distribution systems.

Mecke also announced that Ammiano's Assembly Bill 2312, which would set up a statewide system of regulated medical marijuana distribution, will get a first hearing next Tuesday in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

"I urge the federal government to halt its assault on dispensaries and cease its cruel attacks on patients and caregivers," said a spokesman for state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), another friend of drug reform in Sacramento. "Those federal dollars are better spent on programs that actually help people, and I'm concerned about this having a deleterious impact on the state's economy."

The "Haag mask"
Medical marijuana's contribution to the state economy is substantial, according to state Board of Equalization representative Allen Defazio. "The federal government needs to back off," he said. "The California system works, despite the federal government. Medical marijuana is generating $100 million a year in taxes."

Passing motorists honked frequently in support as protestors made the brief march down Golden Gate Avenue to the federal building, where US Attorney Haag has offices on the 19th floor. Stone-faced, uniformed federal police looked on as the crowd gathered on the building's plaza to chant and shake its fists at her towering aerie.

"This is an insult to San Francisco and California," fumed Dale Gieringer, longtime leader of California NORML. "The Department of Justice doesn't want patients to have safe, law-abiding access to medical marijuana. They want it to be criminal."

As the federal building action wound down, Americans for Safe Access national director Stephanie Sherer, who emceed the day's events, urged the crowd to chant loud enough for Haag to hear their voices on the 19th floor. There is no sign yet that she is hearing those voices, but the clamor is growing, and as long as she continues to go after dispensaries in Northern California, the racket there is just going to get louder and louder.

San Francisco, CA
United States

Feds Raid Oaksterdam University

Federal agents raided Oaksterdam University and associated businesses in downtown Oakland Monday morning shortly before 8:00am local time. The entire building was surrounded by yellow crime scene tape, and an hour later, agents were spotted carrying trash bags filled with unknown materials to a waiting van.

Also hit in the early morning raids were the nearby Oaksterdam Museum, the Oaksterdam gift shop, and the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club. None of those businesses actually distribute medical marijuana.

The Bay Citizen reported that Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee had been detained at his home and that four university plant tenders had been arrested. The Bay Citizen also reported that the former location of Lee's Blue Sky dispensary had been raided.

Oaksterdam University is the beating heart of the Oakland cannabis revival, which has helped revitalize the city's downtown core. Founded in 2007, it was the first institution in the country devoted to providing instruction in medical marijuana cultivation.

Owned and operated by Richard Lee, who put his personal fortune into getting 2010's Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana on the ballot, the university has trained thousands of people in how to grow their own medicine and other aspects of medical marijuana business. It has also served as an organizing center for the Bay area medical marijuana movement.

Medical marijuana defense groups, such as Americans for Safe Access, were mobilizing their members Monday morning and calling for supporters to head to the scene. They did so in large and angry numbers, shouting obscenities and imprecations at the federal agents. Oakland police were called in for crowd control after protestors spilled onto Broadway. Two people were arrested during the protest.

Federal officials were tight-lipped, with IRS spokeswoman Arlette Lee saying little more than that the raids were part of "an ongoing investigation."

Federal officials have been cracking down on California dispensaries for the past year, breaking with an earlier Obama administration stance that it would not bother operations that were in compliance with state law.

While in some cases, the federal crackdown has been assisted, or even instigated by, local officials, that is not the case in cannabis-friendly Oakland. The city has worked closely with medical marijuana providers and derives substantial tax revenues from them. It recently announced plans to double the number of dispensaries in the city from four to eight.

A previously scheduled press conference and protest march in San Francisco set for Tuesday should be even more energized after Monday's raids directed at what many see as the heart of the California medical marijuana scene.

Stay tuned.

Oakland , CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

More DEA raids in California, more threat letters in Colorado, plus action from the statehouse to the courthouse. Just another week in medical marijuana politics.

Arkansas

Signature gathering is underway for a proposed medical marijuana initiative sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care. The initiative would allow patients with serious or debilitating medical conditions to use and possess marijuana and to purchase it from state-regulated, nonprofit dispensaries. Patients could grow their own if they live more than five miles from a dispensary. The campaign needs to gather 65,000 valid voter signatures by July to make the November ballot.

California

Last Tuesday, the Richmond city council voted to double the number of dispensaries in the city. The council approved an ordinance allowing up to six dispensaries, or one for every 17,000 residents. Oakland, by contrast, only allows one for every 50,000 residents. Right now, though, even the three dispensaries already permitted haven't opened.

Last Wednesday, the LAPD raided the Nature's Answer dispensary in Reseda, seizing 50 pounds of pot and $17,000 in cash. Owner Annie Bishop was arrested for possession for sales of marijuana. They also raided her home in Van Nuys. LAPD is taking the position that medical marijuana sales are illegal.

Last Thursday, DEA and local police raided a Temecula dispensary, the Co-Op Social Club. The raid came just days after the DEA raided another Riverside County dispensary, the Greenhouse Cannabis Club in Murrieta. That same day, the DEA raided a Lake Elsinore medical marijuana grow-op, the Consolidated Container Nursery as part of the same investigation.

That same day, two men struck a plea bargain over their role in the North Bay Dispensary in Newark. The dispensary was raided by the DEA last year, but the pair copped to state charges and received jail sentences of one and five days, which they already served after being arrested. Charges against three dispensary employees were dropped. Meanwhile, a civil dispute between the NBD Collective and the city of Newark, which started almost as soon as the club opened in 2009, is still ongoing.

Also last Thursday, the UFCW announced it was unionizing Los Angeles dispensary workers. "This is the next step in professionalizing and stabilizing this new sector of the health care industry," said Local 770 president Rick Icaza in a press release. "Unionization and collective bargaining bring better training, less turnover, and more stability to the health care industry. This is a positive step towards successfully integrating compassionate care into our system of health care."

Last Friday, signature gathering began for an Imperial Beach initiative, the Safe Access Ordinance, which would overturn the city's current ban on dispensaries and replace it with zoning and other regulations for dispensing collectives and cooperatives wishing to operate in the city. The move comes after more than two years of tussles with the city, which has adopted an outright ban on dispensaries. The initiative is a joint effort of Canvass for a Cause, Americans for Safe Access, and concerned citizens in Imperial Beach. Organizers need 1,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot and hope to collect 2,000.

On Sunday, California NORML reported that Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose) had introduced a bill, Assembly Bill 2465, which would require all medical marijuana patients to register with the state. The bill is sponsored by the Police Officers' Research Association of California, which wants to make it easier for police to distinguish between illegal and legal marijuana users. California NORML strongly opposes the bill, saying it infringes on patients' right under Prop 215 to legally possess and cultivate marijuana given a physician's written OR oral recommendation.

On Tuesday, the Redding city council vote not to appeal a judge's ruling that rejected the city's request for a preliminary injunction on medical marijuana storefront collectives. That means dispensaries can continue to operate in the Shasta County community. Redding's elected officials have said they were surprised and confused by Shasta County Superior Court Judge Stephen Baker's decision, handed down late last Wednesday.

Also on Tuesday, the Daly City city council voted to ban dispensaries, with Councilman David Canepa saying he'd allow the clubs over his "dead body." Council members cited a report from Police Chief Manuel Martinez that noted the city has a problem with illegal indoor pot grows.

Also on Tuesday, a Santa Monica marijuana testing facility filed a lawsuit against the city to force it to give it a business license, which it has so far refused to do. Golden State Collective, the testing firm, applied for a business license in December, but was turned down even though it is not a dispensary. The facility opened this month, but closed again after being informed it could be fined.

Colorado

Last Friday, US Attorney John Walsh sent threat letters to 25 more dispensaries. In January, he sent out 23 threat letters, forcing those dispensaries to close. The latest targets have 45 days to close or face the seizure of their property. And there will be more to come, Walsh's office said.

Michigan

Last weekend, the second annual Detroit Medical Marijuana Expo took place, drawing more than 130 vendors and large crowds.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to decide a key issue in conflicts over the state's medical marijuana law: whether patients can sell marijuana to other patients. The case involves the Compassionate Apothecary in Mt. Pleasant, which was targeted by prosecutors in 2010. A lower court found that sales were permitted, but an appeals court disagreed, leading to the closing of the dispensary and many others around the state after the ruling.

Montana

Last Friday, medical marijuana providers targeted by the DEA in raids last year said they would appeal a federal district court ruling dismissing their challenge to those raids. More than a dozen providers, as well as the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, challenged the legality of the federal enforcement operations, but suffered a defeat in January, when US District Judge Donald Molloy, citing the 2005 Raich decision by the US Supreme Court, ruled that state law does not shield providers from federal prosecution. Their appeal goes to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

On Tuesday, another medical marijuana provider pleaded guilty in federal court to charges stemming from the DEA raids of March 2011. Christopher Ryan Durbin of Whitefish operated several medical marijuana businesses, including Good Medicine Providers and a pair of large warehouse grows. DEA agents made undercover buys at Good Medicine and seized more than 1,000 plants at the warehouses. Durbin copped to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana and structuring bank deposits to avoid IRS reporting requirements. He faces sentencing on June 29.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, sponsors of a medical marijuana bill held a press conference to try to drum up a veto-proof Senate majority for the bill. State Sen. Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford) and state Rep. Evalyn Merrick (D-Lancaster) worry that Gov. John Lynch will veto the bill because of his historical opposition to such measures.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill on a 13-11 vote. That's not enough to overcome a threatened veto, but the bill still has to go through the House, and that gives supporters time to try to pick up the handful of Senate votes they will need.

New Jersey

Last Friday, one of the nonprofit groups trying to set up a dispensary said it is giving up. The Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair is further along in the process than any of the other groups, but CEO Joe Stevens said he was put off by repeated delays and that he has no faith in state officials anymore. The state's law was passed more than two years ago, but none of the six dispensaries allowed by the law have opened, due to delays by the Christie administration and NIMBYism in local communities.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, lawmakers were set to consider compromise dispensary legislation, House Bill 7888, that would allow the three state-designated outlets to open. Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) blocked them last year after the state's US Attorney warned they could be prosecuted under federal law. The compromise would limit the amount of marijuana dispensaries could have, but that had advocates worried limits too low would make them economically unviable. Also getting a hearing Wednesday, are a pair of bills sponsored by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, Senate Bill 2783 and its companion, House Bill 7960, that would impose various restrictions on the state program. Some medical marijuana proponents are cosponsoring the bills in a bid to get a say in their final forms. As of late Wednesday evening, there were no reports back from Providence.

Tennessee

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill advanced in the House. A House Health subcommittee approved House Bill 294 on a voice vote. It now goes before the whole House Health Committee. The bill would allow patients with specified diseases or conditions to use medical marijuana and would set up a state-regulated and -licensed distribution system. Its companion measure, SB 251, remains stuck in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

Washington

Last Friday, city of Issaquah planners approved a permit for the GreenLink Collective to open for business. The facility will process and deliver medical marijuana to qualified patients, offer classes and information, and sell supplies for people to produce and consume marijuana under a framework established by state law. GreenLink does not intend to grow marijuana in the space. State law allows up to 10 qualifying patients to join together and form a collective garden of up to 45 plants, so long as the marijuana is not visible from public spaces. GreenLink operators must also install a security system and cameras onsite. The collective first opened in 2010, but city officials refused to give it a business license, then, in June 2011, the city council imposed a moratorium on collective gardens. The council adopted new rules governing collectives in December, and now GreenLink has its permit.

Washington, DC

On Friday, DC is set to announce who will get the five marijuana cultivation permits for the city's long-awaited medical marijuana dispensaries. The city has authorized up to ten sites, but only five will be announced Friday.

West Virginia

Last Wednesday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced that a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 4498 had been denied a hearing in the House Health and Human Resources Committee. The bill's sponsor, Del. Mike Manypenny (D-Grafton) will attempt to keep the issue alive by offering a resolution, HCR 144, calling for the legislature to study medical marijuana more thoroughly.

DEA Agent Kills Man in Cartel Murder-for-Hire Sting

An unnamed DEA agent in Laredo, Texas, Saturday shot and killed one of four men he and other agents were trying to arrest as they wrapped up an undercover operation in which DEA agents posed as Mexican cartel members seeking assassins. The dead man, Jerome Corley, becomes the 18th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to Reuters, citing court documents filed Monday, undercover DEA agents working the months-long sting sent in an arrest team to detain the four men. One of the agents shot Corley repeatedly, killing him. The court documents provided no other details on the circumstances of the shooting.

The sting operation began in January 2011, when undercover DEA agents posing as members of the Zetas, a notoriously violent cartel originally composed of US-trained former Mexican elite soldiers, were told by two men in South Carolina that Corley's cousin, Kevin Corley, a lieutenant in the US military until two weeks ago, could sell them automatic weapons and ammunition.

As the months ticked by, the DEA agents developed the relationship with Kevin Corley, who told them he was an Army officer who trained soldiers and said he could put together a murder-for-hire ring to raid a South Texas ranch, kill the owner, and recover 20 kilograms of stolen cocaine. He said he and his cousin would carry out the hit for $50,000 and five kilos of coke.

Earlier this month, Kevin Corley sold three assault rifles, five stolen bullet-proof vests, and other equipment to an undercover DEA agent in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for $10,000, the court documents said. At that meeting, Corley discussed the pending hit, saying he had purchased a knife to carve a "Z" in the victim's chest and a hatchet to dismember his body.

At that point, the DEA decided to wrap things up and sent in its arrest team. The surviving members of the wannabe hit squad, including one active duty member of the US Army, are now in federal custody in Laredo and facing federal drug conspiracy and weapons charges.

Laredo, TX
United States

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