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Another Trio of Drug War Deaths

Colorado and Washington may have legalized marijuana, but the drug war continues apace. We here record two more deaths in the name of drug prohibition. The two who died in separate incidents become the 57th and 58th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In Cartersville, Georgia, an as yet unidentified 66-year-old woman was shot and killed in her home by drug task force members executing a search warrant there, according to local press reports. Police said members of the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force were executing the search warrant after dusk last Thursday evening when they encountered an "armed assailant" and opened fire.

A member of the woman's family said police entered with a "no-knock" warrant, meaning they were allowed to legally burst into the home without notifying the residents beforehand.

Police said the two shooters have been placed on administrative leave pending an inquiry by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

"That was my aunt and she has never ever hurt anyone," wrote someone identifying herself as Tina Bunn in the comments section of the article linked to above. "She had a heart like no one I ever seen, but her being shot by cops, I don't even know what to say, but what is our world coming to today? You will be so missed and we will think about you every day. I hope your afterlife is what you thought it would be, and say hi to all our family that left before you, and one day we will all be back together. RIP and God be with us to help us with this pain of saying good bye."

"This was a good woman, had a heart of gold that lived alone with her two dogs!" added a commenter identified only as Brandon. "She didn't deserve to be shot down like that! She had to be scared and couldn't have known what was going on! I hope the police officers that pulled the triggers feel real good and powerful about what they did! We will always love and miss you, Miss Jean! RIP."

In Tucson, Arizona, Vladimir Cardenas, 23, was shot and killed by a Pima County deputy sheriff during a traffic stop Friday as he traveled with drugs and weapons in his car, according to a Pima County Sheriff's Department press release. Police said a deputy pulled over Cardenas' vehicle in north Tucson, and while the two men talked, Cardenas pointed a gun at the deputy, who then shot him. He died soon after at a local hospital.

The deputy who shot Cardenas was identified as Nicholas Norris. He has been placed on routine administrative leave while the shooting is probed.

As part of the investigation conducted at the scene Friday night, detectives with the Sheriff's Criminal Investigation Division obtained a search warrant for Cardenas' vehicle. They found different types of drugs, drug paraphernalia, and a variety of weapons. Cardenas was also wanted on a misdemeanor warrant from Tucson.
 

Georgia Man Holding Pepper Spray Killed in Drug Raid

Georgia police executing a drug search warrant shot and killed the 60-year-old home owner holding a canister of pepper spray of during a confrontation last Wednesday. Daniel John Thomas Hammett becomes the 51st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Paulding County Sheriff's Office, agents with the Haralson Paulding Narcotics Task Force had been investigating the home's occupants for selling drugs and had made several drug purchases, as well as getting complaints from neighbors.

Sheriff's spokesman Cpl. Ashley Henson said before the shooting, officers knocked on the door of the residence in Hiram and announced who they were. They then entered the home -- although Henson didn't make clear how they did so -- and encountered Hammett in a darkened hallway.

"It was very dark because the windows in the front portion of the residence had been covered and were blacked out," Henson said. "When agents first made contact with Hammett, they instructed him to show his hands and he initially did not comply. Hammett then raised his hands up in an aggressive manner while he was holding a black shiny object which was pointed toward agents," Henson said.

"It was then that agents opened fire on Mr. Hammett, fatally striking him once," Henson explained. "It was later determined that Hammett had raised a canister of pepper spray toward the agents."

Hammett was airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where he died later that afternoon.

Hammett's son Clyde challenged the police version of events in an interview with WSB TV later that same day. His father was arthritic and unarmed, and there was nothing in his hands or next to him after he fell to the floor, he said. Clyde Hammett also said there would be no drugs found at the house.

"They killed him. They killed an innocent man and that's all there is to say to it," Clyde Hammett said. "They say he was armed. They can search all they want, there's no guns in that house."

Cpl. Henson said evidence related to drug trafficking was later found in the home, but didn't specifiy exactly what had been found.

The officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave pending the results of a review by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Hiram, GA
United States

Two More Drug War Deaths -- Border Patrol Involved in Both

A San Diego housewife and an Arizona Border Patrol agent were both killed in recent separate incidents involving drug law enforcement. Housewife Valeria Tachiquin-Alvarado and Border Patrol agent Nicholas Ivie become the 48th and 49th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Tachiquin-Alvarado, a 32-year-old mother of five and a US citizen, was shot and killed September 31 by an as yet unidentified Border Patrol agent as she attempted to leave the scene of a raid, according to Chula Vista police, who are investigating the killing. She was on probation for a 2011 drug conviction at the time.

The fatal encounter began when a group of plain clothes Border Patrol agents went to an apartment to arrest a previously deported felon at an apartment where there had been prior complaints of drug activity. Tachiquin-Alvarado answered the door, was questioned and released, then walked to her car nearby.

Other Border Patrol agents then "contacted" her as she prepared to drive away. She then allegedly pulled away from the curb, striking one of the agents. The agents then told her she was under arrest for vehicular assault and tried to grab her car keys from the ignition. But Tachiquin-Alvarado instead pulled away, striking the first agent again and leaving him perched on the hood of her car.

She drove off at speeds of around 25 mph as the agent yelled at her to stop the car. After driving about 200 yards, Tachiquin-Alvarado began to make a turn, and the agent on her hood drew his gun and fired repeatedly into the windshield, killing her.

Police said they have witnesses to confirm their version, but other witnesses gave a different account.

"I just witnessed the officer walking toward the female's car. She was backing up and then he discharged, his weapon started firing," said Prince Watson, a witness.

Chula Vista police are continuing to investigate and will forward the results to the District Attorney's Office for a ruling on whether the shooting was justified. But Tachiquin-Alvarado's family is not waiting for the investigation to be completed. They held a tearful news conference and candlelight vigil near the scene of the shooting last Monday, and a family attorney has vowed that a civil suit will be filed.

Oh, and the guy the Border Patrol was looking for? They didn't find him.

Then, in the pre-dawn hours last Tuesday, Border Patrol Agent Ivie was shot and killed and a second agent wounded in what federal investigators are now calling a friendly fire incident. According to the FBI, which is investigating the case, Ivie and other agents responded to a tripped sensor that indicated movement in a remote border area "described as a drug-trafficking corridor used by the Sinaloa cartel to smuggle marijuana and other drugs into the US."

Three agents approached the area of the tripped sensor from different directions, perhaps without knowing the others were so close, lost radio contact with each other, then "Ivie got spooked and started to shoot" and "another agent shot back and those bullets killed Ivie," according to an Arizona law enforcement source.

The FBI would only go as far saying there were "strong preliminary indications" that Ivie's death and the wounding of the other agent were "the result of an accidental shooting involving only the agents."

But Arizona law enforcement sources said there was no evidence of illegal border crossers in the area, that the motion sensors sometimes give false indications, and that shell casings on the scene suggested a "blue on blue, friendly-fire event."

Medical Marijuana Update

Last issue, we reported that the DEA had taken the week off. Well, they're back, and so is the push-back. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, the Women's CannaBusiness Network held a press conference in Washington, DC, to call on President Obama to cease enforcement actions against medical cannabis providers while the administration reviews its policies to determine whether they are in the public interest. The group is a project of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

On Monday, Americans for Safe Access called for Thursday demonstrations at Obama campaign headquarters across the country "in an effort to draw attention to the Obama Administration's aggressive efforts to shut down legal medical marijuana dispensaries and obstruct the passage of laws that would regulate such activity." Demos are set for Washington, DC, as well as in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.

California

Last Wednesday, the DEA raided Green Heart Collective facilities in Anderson and Redding. "They broke all the windows, vandalized the inside of the building and took all of the medicine," owner Gina Munday said. "We were so surprised." No arrests have been made so far.

Also last Wednesday, the Encinitas city council approved a dispensary initiative for the 2014 ballot. Initiative backers the Patient Care Association had signatures verified by the registrar of voters on August 8, two days before the state deadline for the 2012 ballot, but the council would have had to have called a special meeting to place it on the ballot. It failed to do so.

Last Thursday, Harborside Health Center asked a federal judge to stop its landlord from trying to shut it down. Harborside and its landlords have been hit with threat letters from federal prosecutors, and its San Jose landlord had moved to force it out. But Harborside is fighting everything to do with the federal threats.

Last Friday, Vallejo police raided Nature's Love Collective for the second time. They arrested the operator, just as they did four months ago, the last time they raided it. Vallejo police have raided  nine dispensaries this year despite the city voting to tax and regulate them.

On Monday, an initiative to overturn the LA dispensary ban qualified for the ballot.  City Clerk June Lagmay said activists needed 27,425 valid signatures for their measure to qualify and that a statistical sampling of the signatures showed they had turned in 110% of the amount needed. The city council can now repeal its "gentle ban" ordinance, call a special election, or put the measure on the March 5 city election ballot. In the meantime, the ban is on hold, although LAPD has said it intends to continue busting dispensaries.

Oregon

On Tuesday, the DEA raided the High Hopes Farm grow operation outside Jacksonville. James Bowman, a longtime activist, owns the farm and went public about his activities last spring with a spread in the Oregonian newspaper. Bowman could be the single largest medical marijuana producer in the state. He wasn't arrested, but agents plowed under his crop.

Vermont

As of Sunday, the Vermont Department of Safety has granted conditional approval to two dispensary applicants. One applicant, the Champlain Valley Dispensary, has been approved for Burlington and hopes to be open and serving patients within six months. A second applicant, Patients First Inc., has been approved for Waterbury. The department received five applications this year, but three of them did not meet minimum standards. Under a 2011 law, the state can have four dispensaries and will accept more applications next year if that number isn't reached this year.

New Orleans Police Officer Indicted in Drug Raid Killing

In an unusual step, the New Orleans police officer who shot and killed an unarmed young man during a March drug raid aimed at small-time marijuana distribution has been indicted on manslaughter charges. Officer Joshua Colclough was indicted last Thursday and turned himself in for booking the following day.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/wendell-allen-200px.jpg
Wendell Allen (family photo)
Colclough shot and killed Wendell Allen, 20, as he served a search warrant at Allen's Gentilly residence. Colclough encountered Allen at the top of a stairway in the house and shot him once in the chest. No weapon was found.

Allen was the 15th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. The death toll is now at 42 and will go to 43 later today when we post an article about the latest drug war killing, this one in an Iowa City drug raid late last week.

No officers have been indicted in any of those deaths. And despite drug war deaths at the rate of more than one a week in recent years, no police officers have been indicted in any of those incidents since an Ohio police officer was indicted in the killing of an unarmed woman and the wounding of the baby she was holding during a January 2008 SWAT raid. That officer was indicted on two misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide and negligent injury, but later acquitted.

The unusual indictment in the Allen killing came after the shooting generated outrage in the city, including threats from the Louisiana Justice Institute to sue the city if it did not release information about the case and take it to a grand jury. It also comes at a police department that just last month agreed to comprehensive reforms under the eye of the US Justice Department as a result of a pattern of misconduct in the department.

Officer Colclough spent the weekend in jail under a $300,000 bond. A bail reduction hearing was set for Monday.

New Orleans, LA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The end of dispensaries in LA looms, more federal threat letters in Colorado, and a medical marijuana initiative in North Dakota!? That's just some of the news. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and eight initial cosponsors introduced HR 6335, the States' Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act, in an attempt to stop the seizure of property from landlords of state law-compliant medical marijuana businesses. The bill would prohibit the federal government from using the civil asset forfeiture statue to go after real property owners if their tenants are in compliance with state medical marijuana law. The bill is a response to the use of threat of asset forfeiture by US Attorneys in California in their campaign to shut down dispensaries, including the state's largest dispensary, Harborside, last month.

Arizona

On Monday, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said the state should not authorize dispensaries because they could violate federal law. His advice came in the form of an official opinion crafted by lawyers in Horne's office, following requests for the opinion by law enforcement officials. He also wrote that he expected the courts to settle the matter and that he would not seek to block Tuesday's lottery for dispensary applicants.

On Tuesday, state officials conducted the lottery, awarding applicants in 68 dispensary districts preliminary approval to move forward with the permitting process. More than 400 applications had come in for those districts. In another 29 districts, there was only one applicant. State officials say some dispensaries could open within weeks if they are already well along in their planning processes.

California

Last Wednesday, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed the ordinance banning dispensaries. The measure, approved by the City Council a week earlier on a 14-0 vote, will take effect within 30 days. The so-called "gentle ban" will still allow patients and caregivers to grow their own, but is designed to eliminate the estimated 500 dispensaries in the city. Organizers from the UFCW Local 77 were already discussing plans for a referendum asking voters to allow some dispensaries.

Also last Wednesday, LAPD raided a Woodland Hills dispensary and an associated private residence, seizing 50 pounds of marijuana and arresting one person. The dispensary was West Valley Caregivers on Ventura Boulevard. Police said to report that they were working their way east on Ventura "so hopefully some of these will shut down without us having to do all this work."

Last Thursday, Lake County officials are using nuisance abatement procedures adopted a month ago under an interim urgency ordinance to shut down large grows in the county. As of last Thursday, 19 grows had been shut down, 2,000 plants removed, and seven people arrested. The enforcement actions come as a local judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping them from being inflicted on the four plaintiffs in the case, but only them.

Last Friday, a Riverside County judge ruled that the county cannot ban dispensaries in unincorporated areas. Judge Ronald L. Taylor said the county's outright ban on dispensaries leaves no room for dispensaries to operate legally under state law. A county attorney vowed to appeal.

Also last Friday, the Tax Court ruled a dispensary operator could not deduct business expenses. The ruling came after the IRS went after Martin Olive, owner of the Vapor Room Herbal Center in San Francisco, which was forced out of business at the end of July after its landlord received letters threatening asset forfeiture from US Attorney Melinda Haag. The federal tax code precludes a deduction of any amount for a trade or business where the "trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances… which is prohibited by federal law." Olive argued unsuccessfully that the provision did not apply because his business was not the illegal trafficking of a controlled substance, but was operating legally under state law.

Colorado

Last Friday, US Attorney John Walsh sent threat letters to 10 more dispensaries. This is the third batch of letters containing threats of prosecution or asset forfeiture directed at dispensaries. The first two rounds led to the closing of 47 of them. The letter said all of the targeted dispensaries were within 1,000 feet of schools. They have 45 days to shut down or face asset forfeiture actions.

Also last Friday, the DEA claimed medical marijuana is being diverted into illegal trafficking. It cited some 70 cases of Colorado medical marijuana ending up in 23 different states. Medical marijuana defenders responded that 70 cases wasn't that many, that the state's industry is tightly-regulated, and that there was marijuana in those states before Colorado had a medical marijuana program.

New Jersey

Patients in the Garden State will be able to register for medical marijuana cards beginning Thursday of this week, according to NBC New York. "It's the first time the department will be interacting directly with potential patients and their caregivers," state Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd told the Associated Press. Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair has begun to grow marijuana and will open its doors to patients in the fall.

North Dakota

On Monday, proponents of a statewide medical marijuana initiative handed in signatures. They need 13,500 valid signatures to make the November ballot. They handed in 20,000. State officials have about a month to validate signatures and see if the initiative made it.

Washington

On Tuesday, the state Health Department charged two naturopaths with unprofessional conduct for running "an assembly line" for medical marijuana approvals at last year's Hempfest. The pair, who were featured in a Seattle Times story last August, saw 216 potential patients and approved 214 of them after cursory exams. The charges are believed to be the first against any medical professional in the state over medical marijuana recommendations.

Arizona SWAT Team Kills Man in Drug Raid Shootout

A Phoenix-area SWAT team shot and killed one man during a "dynamic entry" (break the door down) drug raid early last Thursday morning after the raiders were met with gunfire. The as yet unidentified man becomes the 39th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and the third one in the past week.

Police told ABC 15 News the raid in a Phoenix neighborhood was undertaken by the Surprise, Arizona, police SWAT team. Team members were met with gunfire from multiple sources as they attempted to make entry into the residence. They responded with gunfire of their own, killing one of the men in the house.

ABC 15 News reported that the purpose of the raid was unclear, but Policemag.com, which bills itself as a "community for cops," reported that police were serving a drug search warrant. It was also Policemag.com that described the raid as a dynamic entry raid.

There is no word yet on what happened to the other alleged shooters in the house, nor have police mentioned what, if anything, they found in the house. No police were injured in the raid.

Phoenix, AZ
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds continue to play hardball in California and local elected officials across the state are grappling with the issues. Meanwhile, Vermont moves ahead on dispensaries while New Hampshire's medical marijuana bill can't overcome a gubernatorial veto, and that's not all. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Monday, an applicant for a dispensary and grow site sued Maricopa County, accusing the county of purposefully stalling action on its application to prevent it from seeking a state operating license. The lawsuit by White Mountain Health Center Inc. charges the county would not certify or reject its registration certificate, one of the Arizona Department of Health Services' first requirements for obtaining a dispensary license. Maricopa County last year decided to not allow employees to accept, process, or issue permits for dispensaries or grows until marijuana becomes a federally approved drug, but that puts the county at odds with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which only allows local jurisdictions to impose "reasonable" zoning restrictions for dispensaries, and requires local zoning approval before a permit is processed by the state.

California

Last Tuesday, the Del Mar City Council opted to hear a report on a ballot initiative that seeks to improve access to medical marijuana in the city. The move came after activists handed in almost double the number of signatures required to place the initiative on the November ballot. The council could have adopted the initiative as written, put the issue on the ballot, or ordered a report, and it chose the latter. The proposed ordinance would allow dispensaries in the city and tax and regulate them. The council will have 10 days after receiving the report to either adopt the ordinance or order an election. The report is due by July 13.

Also last Tuesday, the Roseville City Council voted to ban outdoor grows. The council voted 4-1 to ban the grows after some residents complained about odors. The ordinance will take effect November 1, at the end of the outdoor growing season. The ordinance also limits indoor grows to fewer than 50 square feet in the grower's primary residence. Opponents of the ordinance argued to no avail that because Roseville doesn't allow dispensaries, patients must grow their own, and that indoor grows will cost patients money for equipment and operating costs.

Also last Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council held a contentious meeting as it considered whether to completely ban dispensaries later this summer. No votes were taken, but discussion was heated at times as the council revisited its ban on dispensaries and the temporary exemptions for 18 of them, which are slated to terminate on August 12.

Last Wednesday, Malibu's only two dispensaries announced they were closing, saying they had been hit with letters from federal prosecutors threatening prosecution and forfeiture. The letters to the Malibu dispensaries were among 34 sent to what the feds called "illegal marijuana operations" in Los Angeles County. The warning letters targeted all known dispensaries in the communities of Santa Fe Springs, Whittier, South El Monte, La Mirada, Diamond Bar, Artesia, Paramount, South Gate, City of Commerce, Agoura Hills and Malibu.

Last Thursday, Imperial Beach officials approved an initiative to repeal the city's ban on dispensaries and replace it with reasonable regulations. The county registrar said petitioners from Americans for Safe Access and the LGBT nonprofit Canvass for a Cause turned in enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The city could vitiate the need for a special election on the issue by approving the initiative at the City Council, which will be discussing the matter at its July 18 meeting.

Also last Thursday, Fresno made permanent its ban on outdoor marijuana grows. The city council in January approved a temporary ban, and last week decided to join the rest of Kern County in banning outdoor grows. Police said indoor grows were less likely to attract criminals, but medical marijuana advocates countered that instead of thieves jumping fences to steal plants, there will now be home invasion robberies. Advocates also complained that indoor grows require expensive equipment and waste energy.

Last Friday, Lake County's Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Committee met to hear an update about an urgency measure to adopt an interim law for marijuana growth but was precluded from directly discussing the merits of the proposal on Friday. The committee chair charged with making recommendations said it would be improper for the panel to discuss the ordinance at that meeting. The proposed temporary law would ban commercial medical marijuana cultivation as well as all growing on vacant properties and ban any grows within 600 feet of a school. It would also limit outdoor cultivation to three mature female or six immature marijuana plants on parcels smaller than half an acre, and six mature female or 12 immature plants on lands half an acre or larger, accessory to an approved residential use. Collective or cooperative organizations consisting of qualified patients and primary caregivers could grow as many as 36 mature female plants on parcels of at least five acres. Those groups would have to adhere to several rules, including that their site must contain a permitted residence and that their growing area must be screened from public view with a wooden fence.

Also last Friday, Vallejo police raided the Better Health Group Collective for the third time in the last three months. Better Health is one of at least five Vallejo dispensaries targeted in recent raids. Local prosecutors have charged six operators with felony drug charges, but dismissed charges against one.

Also last Friday, the mayor of Cudahy and two other city officials were arrested on federal charges they took bribes to support the opening of a dispensary in the city. Mayor David Silva and two city council members are accused of accepting $15,000 in cash from an informant working with the FBI. They're looking at up to 10 years in prison each. The city has a temporary moratorium on dispensaries, which will probably be renewed later this year.

On Monday, a bill to regulate and tax medical marijuana statewide died in Sacramento. Sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Assembly Bill 2312, would have created a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement to license and regulate industry enterprises. But the bill ran into opposition from some legislators over its provision requiring localities to allow dispensaries unless they are voted down in a referendum. When Ammiano amended the bill to allow local officials to ban dispensaries, the bill began to lose favor among some medical marijuana advocates. Ammiano said he didn't have the votes to get it out of committee, but that a committee will study the bill this summer and he will reintroduce it next year.

On Tuesday, Yuba County supervisors approved the introduction of amendments to the county's public nuisance ordinance for medical marijuana. But while the county is still fine-tuning its ordinance, local growers said it is ignoring critical issues, such as a collective grows and are threatening legal action if the county doesn't move faster. The amendments are supposed to be voted on at the board's July 10 meeting, but that may not happen after one supervisor said more work was needed.

Also on Tuesday, hundreds of unhappy medical marijuana advocates piled into the Lake County supervisors' meeting to protest a pending medical marijuana ordinance. The multitude created a log-jam at the Lakeport courthouse security station, causing the hearing to be delayed until July. The crowd cheered when they learned the hearing was rescheduled for a larger venue. The hearing will be held July 9 in the fairgrounds' theater in Lakeport.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Fort Collins officials announced that an initiative to repeal a ban on dispensaries had qualified for the November ballot. Organizers needed 4,214 valid voter signatures, and election officials stopped counting at 4,302 with 743 more signatures unchecked. They had turned in more than 9,000 signatures last week. The city attorney's office will now draft language for the initiative at the next meeting of the city council on July 17. Last year, voters in the city approved the ban; this year, they will now have a chance to change their minds.

Montana

Last Friday, Montana Republicans approved a resolution calling for regulated medical marijuana. Republicans in the state legislature were responsible for gutting the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law last year, but the new position is that state Republicans would "support action by the next legislature to create a workable and realistic regulatory structure." Montana Democrats a week earlier approved a change in their platform saying they supported access for those who need medical marijuana.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, the state Senate fell short in a bid to override a veto of the medical marijuana bill passed earlier by the legislature. As he did in 2009, Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed it, and as in 2009, proponents were unable to get enough votes to override.

Vermont

Last Friday, state officials received four applications from potential dispensary operators. State officials are not revealing who the applicants are and where they want to operate, saying they consider that information confidential. The first dispensaries could be operating by the end of the year, but their locations and identities would be revealed when they seek local approvals.

Washington

On Tuesday, the Tacoma City Council heard testimony about a proposal to allow dispensaries and collective grows to operate in the city. Nearly 11 months after the council issued a moratorium on business licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries, Tuesday's hearing gave the public a chance to weigh in on a zoning framework that since has been formulated to allow such businesses, but regulate them. About a dozen people spoke, most in favor of the proposal. The proposal would allow collective gardens in the city's industrial zones and in certain downtown and mixed-use zones. That essentially would concentrate such operations in Tacoma’s port area and along South Tacoma Way. Dispensaries would be allowed in city zoning districts where commercial uses now are allowed.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's mainly news from California this week, with DEA and LAPD raids leading the way, but also snippets from Colorado and Montana, and the DEA head on the hot seat. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, DEA administrator Michelle Leonhardt ran into tough questioning (go to 47:15) at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on DEA oversight. After Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) repeatedly and fruitlessly asked her whether meth or heroin is worse than marijuana, the best she could come up with was "all illegal drugs are bad." Nor would she concede under repeated questioning from Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) that marijuana causes less harm than meth. Cohen also went after Leonhardt on medical marijuana.

"Have you ever seen a person who had cancer and used marijuana to alleviate their condition?" Cohen asked. "I have, and would you agree it has some benefit for somebody who is dying, that marijuana is the only thing that makes him eat and smile according to his 80-year-old mother?"

"That's between him and his doctor," Leonhardt replied.

"Then why does the DEA take the position that medical marijuana is wrong?" Cohen asked before Leonhardt got a reprieve because his time was up.

California

Last Thursday, the DEA raided the G3 Holistic dispensary in Upland and federal prosecutors issued indictments for six people in connection with the raid.The folks behind G3 had operated three dispensaries, but shut down two after being warned to close by the feds eight months ago. Three operators of the chain as well as three workers involved in an Ontario grow warehouse that supplied it were taken into custody. All are charged with  conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, possession of pot with intent to distribute it, and maintaining a drug location. They all face up to life in prison if convicted. The defendants were due in court in Riverside today.

As of last Thursday, there are no more dispensaries in Whittier. Whittier Hope Collective shut its doors after receiving a threat letter from federal prosecutors June 5. The Whittier City Council on a 3-2 vote in October 2009 approved a conditional-use permit allowing Whittier Hope Collective to operate. Nearly a year later the dispensary opened. The collective even joined the Whittier Area Chamber of Commerce. Now, its 5,000 members will have to go elsewhere.

Last Tuesday, Lake County supervisors directed county staff to draft an interim urgency ordinance restricting medical marijuana cultivation in unincorporated areas of the county. Staff will take under consideration comments from the Board of Supervisors, the public, and the Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Board. The supervisors are expected to consider the draft ordinance next week.

Last Friday, the IRS announced it had seized the bank accounts of a Sacramento dispensary. The DEA had raided the El Camino Wellness Center earlier in the week. The IRS said it seized $870,000 from bank accounts in what it described as a money-laundering investigation. The seizures underscore efforts by federal authorities to crack down on dispensaries by employing laws traditionally used to target money transfers by narcotics traffickers. The IRS referred to the dispensary as an "illegal marijuana store." El Camino opened in 2008 and last year became the first Sacramento dispensary issued a permit under a city regulatory program for medical marijuana outlets. The city is still collecting voter-approved taxes on local dispensaries, amounting to $1.1 million between July 2011 and March of this year.

Also last Friday, a Shasta County medical marijuana collective threatened to sue the county over its ban on dispensaries. The Medicine Man Collective Spiritual Center Corporation filed a claim earlier in the week saying the ban will have robbed them of $17.2 million by 2013. It is demanding a meeting with county officials to revise the rules, and says it will seek that amount in court if the county doesn't comply. The collective claims it had served some 20,000 patients in the past. County supervisors passed an ordinance banning pot collectives indefinitely in the unincorporated part of the county in December, and they also passed the county's first-ever ordinance limiting growing. The county counsel has 45 days from the date the claim was filed to accept or reject it.

On Monday, a San Diego initiative to regulate dispensaries failed to make the ballot. Citizens for Patient Rights and the Patient Care Association needed to gather 62,000 valid signatures to qualify, but collected fewer than 20,000. Proponents said the federal crackdown and prosecutions by San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis had depleted dispensary ranks and impeded the flow of money needed to raise the signatures. The same groups last year collected more than 40,000 signatures to successfully repeal a city ordinance that medical marijuana dispensary directors and patients believed was too restrictive. They plan to pursue another initiative or to work with the new city council and mayor to pass regulations after the fall election.

Also on Monday, activists in Del Mar asked the city council to adopt a dispensary ordinance after collecting signatures from well over 10% of Del Mar voters. The Patient Care Association led the signature drive and hopes the council will immediately pass the Compassionate Use Dispensary Regulation and Taxation Ordinance in order to serve medical pot patients in Del Mar sooner rather than possibly later. But Del Mar officials opted to instead receive a report on the measure. By doing so, the council will have the choice to either adopt the ordinance within 10 days of receiving the report, to be issued by mid-July, or order an election. The Patient Care Association expects to qualify ballot measures in Solana Beach and Lemon Grove by the end of the week and in Encinitas by the end of the month. The proposed compassionate use dispensary ordinance would impose a 2.5 percent sales tax on medical pot to benefit the city's general fund.

Also on Monday, the Oaksterdam Cannabis and Hemp Museum announced plans to relocate. The museum, which is affiliated with Oaksterdam University, is being forced out of its present location by the April DEA and IRS raids on Oaksterdam properties, and must relocate by the end of the month. The relocation is a result of concerns raised by the City of Oakland about having the publicly accessible museum in a shared space with a downtown Oakland medical cannabis dispensary. The museum has been closed since the raids.

Also on Monday, the San Francisco City Attorney filed a brief defending the rights of local governments in California to issue permits authorizing medical cannabis collectives to serve their patients, urging the state Supreme Court to reverse a Court of Appeal holding that such regulation is substantially preempted by federal law. The amicus brief authored by Dennis Herrera and joined by Santa Cruz County Counsel Dana McRae argues that discretionary permitting, an integral element in planning and land use policy, is particularly essential for local regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries. The appellate court's October 4, 2011 ruling in Pack v. Long Beach, Herrera and McRae contend, wrongly hinders the ability of local governments to protect public health and safety effectively, and to enact policy innovations tailored to local needs.

Also on Monday, the San Leandro City Council again punted on regulating dispensaries and grows. The council agreed to take up the issue again next month. A moratorium is in effect until September 30, but city staff has warned the council it should have an ordinance in place before then. The council has been hesitating, waiting to see what happens with a dispensary regulation bill in Sacramento.

On Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors voted to oppose a statewide dispensary regulation bill over fears the regulations could limit local control of marijuana dispensaries and grow sites. The bill, Assembly Bill 2312, sponsored by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would require commercial marijuana growers to register with a new Board of Medical Marijuana Enforcement, and counties and cities could tax marijuana if local voters agree. It passed the Assembly last month, and is set for a Senate committee hearing next week.

Also on Tuesday, the LAPD raided two dispensaries in Woodland Hills because of "illegal sales" of marijuana. Witnesses identified the dispensaries as Green Joy and Green Magic, both on Ventura Boulevard. The raids were carried out by the Topanga Narcotics Division. The LAPD has been busy in the San Fernando Valley, with the department claiming that it had wiped out all cannabis stores in its Devonshire Division.

Also on Tuesday, Long Beach police raided a downtown dispensary just hours before the city council was to hear a report on enforcement of its four-month-old dispensary ban. Hit was THC Downtown, which had applied for a permit through a lottery process (while the city still handed out permits), failed to win the lottery, but opened anyway. Police said three employees and two security guards would face misdemeanor charges of violating the city's ban on dispensaries that were not permitted.

On Wednesday, patients and activists rallied in Sacramento to protest last week's raid on the El Camino Wellness Center. "The Obama administration is betraying patients and lying to the public," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), one of the groups organizing Wednesday's protest. "The president and the attorney general have said publicly that the Justice Department is not targeting state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries, but that's exactly what it's doing." Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the House Judiciary committee that, "We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity with state law." However, by all accounts, El Camino was acting in full conformity with local and state laws.

Colorado

On Monday, the Commerce City City Council approved regulations under which medical marijuana businesses must apply for a conditional permit, and then for a business license. The program goes into effect July 1. License applicants must sign waivers that release the city from any liability for injuries or damages if state or federal agencies seek arrest or prosecution. The ordinance creates rules for regulating dispensaries, cultivation facilities, production and manufacturing of medical marijuana products.

Montana

Earlier this month, state Democrats added support for medical marijuana to their party platform. The new plank says that, because voters approved the use of medical marijuana, the Democratic Party supports "the right of qualified patients with a medical condition where marijuana is appropriate (to) have safe access to medical marijuana." Party spokesmen said the measure didn't spark much debate at the party convention. Some 61% of voters approved the Montana Medical Marijuana Act in 2004, but a combination of federal raids and changes by the Republican-led state legislature have left the program in tatters.

AG Holder Accused of Lying About Medical Marijuana Crackdown [FEATURE]

US Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday and defended his Justice Department's crackdown on medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. Holder told committee members the agency was only targeting only those medical marijuana businesses that were "acting out of conformity… with state law."

Eric Holder
That had medical marijuana defenders up in arms at what they called his falsehoods. Advocates pointed to numerous dispensaries and other medical marijuana-related enterprises that were operating in compliance with state laws and with the support of local elected officials that have been raided by the DEA or subjected to other federal enforcement actions.

Holder's comments came in response to questioning from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who pointed out that during his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama had promised that he wouldn't use "Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue."

Holder agreed that the Justice Department had broken with Bush administration policy and promised not to go after people operating in compliance with state laws. But large-scale growers and dispensaries have "come up with ways in which they are taking advantage of these state laws and going beyond that which the states have authorized," Holder added. "Those are the only cases we've being going after."

Nadler pointed out that since 2009, the DEA and federal prosecutors have raided almost 200 dispensaries and growers and indicted more than 60 medical marijuana providers on federal drug charges and again asked Holder to clarify.

Holder responded that the Justice Department is only going after "those individuals (and) organizations that are acting out of conformity... with state laws."

Holder added, however, that in some cases, mainly in Colorado, the department was also targeting dispensaries located "too close" to schools. Those enforcement actions were taken not because the dispensaries were violating state laws, but because they were inside the 1,000-foot range specified by an enhanced federal sentencing statute.

Holder "lied to the House Judiciary Committee" in saying the Justice Department was only going after dispensaries and growers that were not in compliance with state laws," California NORML (CANORML) retorted bluntly. "The Justice Department's bad faith seriously impugns the credibility and competence of Attorney General Holder and his administration."

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), was only slightly more politic.

"What he said to our congressional representatives should be alarming not only to medical cannabis patients, but also to policymakers and the general public, because, based on all of the available information we have, it surely must be a lie," she wrote on the Huffington Post.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) was a bit more diplomatic.

"The problem with Holder's statements is that the federal government's determination of compliance with state law is still fairly ambiguous, even arbitrary," MPP spokesman Morgan Fox told the Chronicle. "This makes it difficult for medical marijuana providers to know if they are safe, creating a chilling effect on the entire industry and resulting in pain, suffering, and potential danger for patients forced to resort to the illicit market."

The states should decide whether a dispensary is violating state law, he added.

"At the end of the day, it should be state authorities who determine if operators are in compliance with state law, not federal prosecutors who view the entire industry through a filter of illegality," Fox said. "Beyond that, using any federal resources to interfere with medical marijuana in states where it is legal is an inexcusable waste when there are far more serious problems that need attention."

CANORML was quick to point to a long list of California medical marijuana facilities that had been raided, threatened, or driven out of business by federal enforcers despite having sterling reputations, local official support, and complying with state laws and local regulations. Among them are many well-known and -respected operations including the Berkeley Patients Group, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, Richard Lee's Oaksterdam University and Blue Sky Coffee Shop, Mendocino County's Northstone Organics, and at least five San Francisco dispensaries, including  the Vapor Room, Hope Net, Divinity Tree, Shambhala, and Medithrive.

CANORML noted that in all of those cases, local officials denounced the Justice Department enforcement actions, "but US Attorneys have insolently disregarded community sentiment."

And that's just in Northern California. US Attorneys in other parts of the state have been equally -- if not more -- active in going after medical marijuana providers. Just one day before Holder addressed the committee, federal prosecutors in Southern California announced a crackdown on Los Angeles County dispensaries, with the DEA raiding two dispensaries and federal prosecutors sending threat letters to 34 more.

The statewide crackdown has been ongoing since last October, when the state's four US Attorneys jointly announced their campaign to rein in the industry. According to ASA, the federal actions have forced more than 300 medical marijuana operations to shut down.

"It's simply not believable that all of these taxpaying businesses were operating in violation of state law," Sherer noted, before asking a series of pointed questions. "If they were, why didn't the state take part in the raids? Why didn't the state or local authorities issue arrest warrants? Why would state and local politicians stand up for businesses breaking state and local laws?"

And stand up they have. Local elected officials, state representatives, state officials, even California Attorney General Kamala Harris have all urged the feds to butt out. Harris wrote to all four US Attorneys in December, telling them the federal government was "ill-equipped" to interpret and enforce state medical marijuana laws.

The fight continues. On Wednesday, the same day the feds announced a new phase of their offensive in Southern California and the same day President Obama visited the Bay Area on a fundraising trip, three San Francisco supervisors wrote an op-ed asking him to "keep the commitment he made to stop the federal government's attacks on medical cannabis."

For medical marijuana advocates, listening to Attorney General Holder saying he is only targeting operations in violation of state laws is bringing back memories of that old country and western music song: "Who are You Gonna Believe? Me or Your Lying Eyes?"

Washington, DC
United States

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