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Medical Marijuana Update

The Florida initiative is in a close fight, hearings are coming in Hawaii, draft regulations are coming in Maryland, Illinois begins taking medical marijuana business applications, and more. Let's get to it:

California

Last Thursday, a federal judge denied a request from Lake County patients for a temporary restraining order barring the county from carrying out searches and eradications under its Measure N grow rules. US District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that the claims did not meet the legal standard required for a temporary restraining order, but held that plaintiffs could still seek a preliminary injunction.

Florida

Last Thursday, a new poll had the state medical marijuana initiative coming up just short. A new Florida Decides poll has a majority in favor of the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative, but not the super-majority needed to pass a constitutional amendment. The poll had support at 57%, but 60% is needed. But the poll also had 17% undecided, and if only a fraction of the undecided break in favor of the initiative, it could win. Another poll earlier this week had support at 64%.

Hawaii

Last Friday, officials announced public hearings on dispensaries. A task force created by the state legislature to address dispensary issues will hold public hearings this week in Hilo and on September 24 in Honolulu. Click on the link for more details and information about how to submit public comments.

Illinois

On Monday, the state began accepting applications for medical marijuana businesses. The state Agriculture Department is now taking applications from people who want to open dispensaries or cultivation centers. There are 22 licenses available for growers and 60 for dispensaries.

Maryland

On Wednesday, the state was waiting for new draft medical marijuana regulations. The Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission was expected to release a second draft of regulations for the state's medical marijuana program today. The first draft came under public criticism last month for, among other things, language that would have barred grows or dispensaries within the Baltimore city limits. That language has been removed. Stay tuned for the actual draft.

New Jersey

Last Friday, a Princeton employee was put on paid leave over his medical marijuana use. Princeton University campus dining manager Don DeZarn, who had been told to choose between his job and his medicine after he began legally using medical marijuana this summer, is now on paid leave as the school attempts to resolve the issue. The problem arose after DeZarn said he might use the drug while at work and school public safety officials raised concerns he could be impaired and might accidentally give a student with food allergies the wrong item (or something).

For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Initiatives, CT SWAT Lawsuit, ISIS Burns Syria Pot Fields, More (8/27/14)

Local marijuana initiatives move forward, the Oregon initiative is set to get a high-profile endorsement, a lot of people want to start medical marijuana businesses in Nevada, ISIS is burning pot fields in Syria, there's a harm reduction pre-event ahead of NYC's Electronic Zoo festival this weekend, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

City Club of Portland Draft Report Endorses Oregon Legalization Initiative. The influential City Club of Portland has issued a draft report in support of Measure 91, the legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach Oregon. If approved by City Club members, the recommendation will be a powerful, high-profile endorsement of the measure. It picked up the endorsement of the state's largest newspaper, The Oregonian, on Sunday.

Santa Fe County Commission Approves Decriminalization Initiative, But…. The commission voted Tuesday to put the initiative on the November ballot, but questions remain about whether there is enough room on a crowded ballot to add the measure to it. State officials have outlined their concerns, but County Clerk Geraldine Salazar said she is confident those issues can be overcome. Stay tuned.

York, Maine, Activists Hand in Initiative Signatures. Citizens for Safer Maine is handing in more than 900 signatures today for its initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The initiative needs 641 valid voter signatures to qualify. The signature turn-in comes after town selectmen voted against putting the measure on the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Medical Marijuana Rules Come Under Fire. The state commission charged with writing the rules for medical marijuana in the state heard an earful from physicians, patients, advocates, and potential growers at a hearing Tuesday. They criticized the proposed rules as too burdensome and vague, and said they would preclude a dispensary from operating anywhere in the city of Baltimore. The commission has three weeks to finalize the rules, and the hearing in Annapolis was the first public hearing.

More Than 500 Apply for Nevada Medical Marijuana Business Licenses. The state has received applications from more than 500 people to run dispensaries, grows, testing labs, and edible and infused product companies. Under a new state law, up to 66 medical marijuana businesses will be licensed. State officials will score the applications and announce their selections in November, with the first medical marijuana sales expected early next year.

Harm Reduction

DanceSafe to Do Harm Reduction Event Ahead of NYC Electronic Zoo Music Festival. The rave culture harm reduction group DanceSafe is hosting a "Surviving Zoo" event tomorrow night ahead of this weekend's Electric Zoo music festival. They will be giving away gift bags containing drug information cards, earplugs, and condoms, and will be offering personal drug testing kits for sale. Click on the link for more details. Last year, two people died from drug use at Electronic Zoo, and festival organizers have responded by adding more law enforcement and making attendees watch an anti-drug PSA before entering.

Drug Policy

British Drug Reform Group Transform Publishes Drug Debater's Guide. The Transform Drug Policy Foundation today made available Debating Drugs: How to Make the Case for Legal Regulation. "This is a guide to making the case for the legal regulation of drugs from a position of confidence and authority. Organized into 12 key subject areas, it provides an at-a-glance summary of the arguments for legal regulation, followed by commonly heard concerns and effective responses to them. It is the product of Transform's extensive experience debating the issues around legal regulation, and running workshops to equip supporters of reform with the arguments and nuanced messaging needed to win over a range of audiences." Check it out.

Drug Reform Funder John Sperling Dies. John Sperling, best known as the founder of the University of Phoenix, has died at age 93. Along with George Soros and Peter Lewis, Sperling was one of the troika of deep-pocketed funders whose financial support helped secure the passage of California's medical marijuana and sentencing reform initiatives (Prop 215 and Prop 36, respectively). He also helped fund Arizona's medical marijuana initiative, Prop 200.

Law Enforcement

Federal Court Says Lawsuit Over Fatal Connecticut SWAT Drug Raid Can Continue. A US federal appeals court has ruled that police cannot claim immunity to quash lawsuits filed in the wake of a botched 2008 raid that left one man dead and the homeowner wounded. In the raid, a heavily armed SWAT team shot and killed Gonzalo Guizan and wounded Ronald Terebesi as the two men were watching television. The ruling said that because police responded with unnecessary and inappropriate force, they are not protected by "qualified immunity." Police were responding to a claim by a stripper that she had seen a small amount of cocaine in Terebisi's home. They found only a personal use quantity of the drug and no weapon.

International

ISIS Burns Syrian Marijuana Fields. As if we didn't have enough reasons not to like these guys. Amateur video posted on the internet reportedly filmed recently in Akhtarin, near Aleppo, purportedly shows ISIS members burning a marijuana field. Syrian human rights observers reported that ISIS had captured the village from rival Islamists weeks ago. Click on the link to see the video.

Australia's Victoria Labor Party Vows Harsh New Laws Against Meth. The opposition Labor Party is hoping to gin up votes ahead of November's elections by vowing to crack down on meth if elected. Leader Daniel Andrews is calling for new criminal offenses to be enacted and penalties of up to 25 years in prison for sales to minors. New offenses would include writing or circulating meth "cookbooks" and owning or operating properties that "turn a blind eye" to meth production, as well as selling meth near a school.

Chronicle AM: AR Initiative Rejected, SWAT Lobby Gears Up, Israel Bans New Synthetics, More (8/22/14)

It's back to the drawing board for an Arkansas legalization initiative, we have a pair of Minnesota court cases, the Michael Brown killing starts bleeding into drug-policy related areas, Israel bans new synthetics, and more. Let's get to it:

history repeats itself (image is of and infamous 1914 NYT editorial)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Wording for Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the proposed wording for a prospective 2016 legalization initiative, the Cultivate Hemp and Regulate Marijuana Amendment. The name and ballot title are ambiguous and have "misleading tendencies," McDaniel wrote. Read the opinion here.

Fewer Than One in Five New Yorkers Oppose Marijuana Reform. According to a new Quinnipiac Poll, only 19% of New Yorkers oppose legalizing marijuana for personal or medical use, while 44% say it should be available for medical purposes and another 35% say it should be legal for personal use.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Supreme Court Rules Evidence from Illegal Search Can't Be Used in Asset Forfeiture Proceedings. The state high court ruled Wednesday that evidence derived from a traffic stop that was determined to be unlawful cannot be used to seize someone's property. The court held that Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unlawful search and seizure apply to civil cases as well. The case is Daniel Garcia-Mendoza v. 2003 Chevy Tahoe.

Drug Testing

Minnesota Drug Testing Law's Worker Protections Don't Extend Outside State, Federal Court Rules. The state's Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace ACT (DATWA) doesn't apply to state residents working or applying to work outside the state, a federal court has ruled. DATWA provides employees with the right to challenge positive drug test results and to try to seek treatment before being fired, but in Olson v. Push, Inc, the court ruled that those protections did not apply to drug tests taken for employment outside Minnesota.

Law Enforcement

SWAT Lobby Gears Up to Keep Access to Surplus Military Equipment. In the wake of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown, the practice of equipping local law enforcement with surplus military equipment has come under significant criticism. Now the "SWAT lobby," in the form of the National Tactical Officers Association, is moving to ensure that access to military hardware remains unimpeded. It sent a mass email to all congressional offices lamenting the situation in Ferguson, but the bottom line was that police need that surplus military equipment.

Race

The Return of the Drug Crazed Negro. Reason magazine's Jacob Sullum has penned a piece noting the revival of a century-old racist trope -- that of the drug-crazed black man -- in the wake of the police shooting of 18-year-old black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Sullum notes that conservative commentators have been quick to speculate that he was hopped up on PCP or some other drug that made him crazy enough to attack a cop. Autopsy results say he had smoked marijuana.

International

Young Europeans Split on Marijuana Legalization. The European Union's polling arm Eurobarometer has found Europeans 15 to 24 divided on legalization. According to its poll of 13,000 respondents, 45% favored marijuana legalization, with 53% opposed. European youth was much more unified when it came to other drugs -- more than 90% said drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin should be illegal.

Israel Bans 10 New Synthetic Drugs. Health officials in Israel have banned 10 new synthetic drugs, or "kiosk drugs," as they are known there. They include synthetic cannabinoids, stimulants, and hallucinogens.

Chronicle AM -- August 13, 2014

A key California sentencing reform bill gets a final Assembly vote tomorrow, the Oregon legalization initiative gets some organized oppositions, Delaware gets a step closer to its first dispensary, Marc Emery gets to go home, and more.

Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery is reunited with wife Jodie after spending five years in US prison. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legalization Initiative Gets Organized Opposition. The Oregon District Attorneys Association and the Oregon State Sheriff's Association are gearing up to do combat against Measure 91, the state legalization initiative. The two groups say they are deciding right now how much money to spend trying to defeat the initiative, which has already raised more than a million dollars.

Federal Judge Throws Out Case Challenging Washington's Authority to Tax Marijuana. US District Judge Marsha Pechman has dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the federal courts lacked jurisdiction. Dispensary operator Martin Nickerson, who was being prosecuted on federal marijuana charges filed the suit, arguing that he couldn't pay the state tax without incriminating himself. His attorney, Douglas Hiatt, said he will refile the lawsuit in state court.

Wichita City Council Votes Against Putting Decriminalization on November Ballot, But Maybe in April. After a decriminalization initiative signature drive came up short, the city council declined last night to put the measure on the November ballot, but said it would work with organizers to put it on ballot next April.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Officials Sign Contract for First Dispensary in the First State. Finally, a dispensary is coming to Delaware. Officials have signed a two-year contract with First State Compassion Center. A growing operation for it will begin this fall, and sales should commence sometime early next year. Delaware passed a medical marijuana law in 2011, but Gov. Jack Markell (D) balked at allowing dispensaries, fearing federal intervention. Last year, he decided to move forward with one dispensary, instead of the three called for in the state law.

Oklahoma Governor Says She Supports Limited CBD Cannabis Oil Access. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) today asked lawmakers to support the legalization of high-CBD cannabis oil, but only for limited trials. She says CBD could be "potentially life-saving" for some children.

Harm Reduction

With New Law in Effect, Minnesota Cops Start Carrying Overdose Reversal Drug. Sheriff's deputies in Hennepin County (Minneapolis) have become the first in the state to start carrying the overdose reversal drug naloxone after a new law went into effect August 1. The law also contains a 911 Good Samaritan provision providing limited immunity for people who seek medical assistance for those suffering drug overdoses. Last year, 56 people died of heroin overdoses in the county and another 29 died in the first six months of this year.

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act Gets Assembly Floor Vote Tomorrow. The bill, Senate Bill 1010, would eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. It has already passed the state Senate. Click here to contact state legislators; click the title link for more bill information.

International

Marc Emery is Now Back Home in Canada. Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery is now back home in Canada after serving nearly five years in US federal prison for selling marijuana seeds. He landed in Windsor, Ontario, right around 4:20pm yesterday after leaving a private US deportation detention facility where he had been held after being released from US prison last month. He has vowed to wreak political vengeance on the Conservatives, who allowed him to be extradited to the US.

Algeria Has Seized More Than 95 Tons of Moroccan Hash so Far This Year. That's up over the same period last year by about 25 tons. Morocco is the world's largest hash producer, with most of its product headed for European markets.

Will Supreme Court Cell Phone Search Ruling Apply Retroactively? [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by investigative reporter Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

On June 25, the US Supreme Court handed down a resounding landmark ruling in two separate high profile criminal cases, requiring police to first get a warrant to search a person's cell phone. The ruling is a major victory for the privacy rights of millions of cell phone users, with the Supreme Court working to update Fourth Amendment search and seizure law to keep pace with technological advances.

According to a January Pew survey, 90% of American adults have cell phones and 58% have smart phones.

Cell phones are "such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion. "Cell phones and smart phones with extensive memory can store millions of pages of personal texts, hundreds of photos and videos, which can form a revealing biography of a person's life, and that the Fourth Amendment must protect personal, private possessions. A cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the exhaustive search of a house."

In its unanimous decision, the court rejected the Obama administration's argument that "cell phones are no different from anything else a person may be carrying when arrested, and that cell phones are now critical to tools in the commission of a crime."

The decision came in two separate cases, US v. David Riley, a California man serving 15 years on charges of attempted murder and a gun charge, and US v. Brima Wurie, a Boston area man sentenced to federal pen for 22 1/2 years on drug related charges. The court consolidated the two cases in reaching its opinion.

The question now becomes whether the decision will be applied retroactively to thousands of similar prosecutions where defendants were convicted as result of warrantless evidence used against them that were taken from their cell phones or mobile devices. If retroactivity is granted, thousands of inmates could either go free, be granted a new trial, or face resentencing.

Attorney Orrin Kerr (gwu.edu)
Writing a commentary in the Washington Post, lawyer Orin Kerr, who serves as a professor at George Washington Law School, explained why the decision in the Wurie and Riley cases may not be made retroactive.

"The culprit is the continued expansion of the good faith exception in Davis v. US, where the Supreme Court ruled that the exclusionary rule is not available if a search was authorized by binding appellant precedent at the time the search occurred," he argued. "Lower courts have interpreted Davis to apply broadly even when no binding appellate precedent authorized the search. Therefore, under these cases, relatively few defendants will get the benefits of the Riley-Wurie rule."

In an interview with the Chronicle, San Diego appellate attorney Charles Sevilla largely agreed.

"The court seldom states whether its rulings are retroactive," he told the Chronicle. "And even if the reversals in Wurie's and Riley's cell phone convictions were applied retroactively to cases not yet final on appeal, the defendants must face a 'good faith' argument to request a new trial. A 'good faith' argument can be made, for example, when a police officer, relying on a warrant, finds incriminating evidence during a search, but the search warrant is later found to be invalid. The 'good faith' doctrine allows the use of that evidence if it were unlawfully obtained because the officer was acting in 'good faith,'" he explained.

"Evidence should be suppressed only if it can be said that the law enforcement officer had knowledge a search was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment," Sevilla added, citing Herring v. US. "If the police, during prior cell phone searches, acted on case law allowing warrantless searches, then an officer's 'good faith' conduct will doom a suppression motion," Seville argued.

Of course, police usually deny knowingly conducting unlawful searches.

Sevilla also cited Davis v. US as another obstacle to retroactivity in cell phone search cases. In that case, Illinois police arrested Willie Gene Davis for providing a false name, then searched his car and found an illegal weapon. An appeals court refused to throw out the warrantless search of Davis's car because the police only searched the immediate area.

Meanwhile Brima Wurie is scheduled to be resentenced on the drug charge that took his case to the Supreme Court. Because of the court's ruling in his case, the drugs and weapon found in his home after police searched Wurie's cell phone will not be considered, but he's still facing serious time.

"As a repeat offender, Mr. Wurie will still face 20 years from the feds on the original drug case," Wurie's appellate public defender, Ian Gold, told the Chronicle. "So the reversal of Wurie's conviction is largely symbolic without much benefit."

The Supreme Court minced no words in separating such devices from other property a person might have on them when detained by police.

"Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse," Chief Justice Roberts wrote. "The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure."

The ruling will certainly apply to searches of tablets, laptop computers, and may even apply to digital information held by third parties like phone companies.

"The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hands does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought," Roberts wrote. "Our answers to the question of what police must do before searching a (cell phone seized incident to an arrest) is accordingly simple -- get a warrant."

"I believe the court got it right," said Lewis Rice, a retired DEA Special Agent in Charge of the agency's New York Office. "The court must balance our right of privacy against law enforcement's ability to aggressively investigate criminal organizations."

Attorney Charles Sevilla (charlessevilla.com)
Rice points out the vital fact that although law enforcement generally needs a warrant, the Supreme Court ruling does allow a warrantless search of a mobile device depending on the immediate situation.

"The court left open the option for law enforcement, under exigent circumstances, to search a cell phone without a warrant," he told the Chronicle.

Still, the decision in Wurie and Riley is already having an impact.

In Michigan, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Mark Trusock tossed felony drug charges against 29-year-old Matthew Macnaughton on July 16 after Macnaughton's attorney successfully brought up the Wurie and Riley decision.

Grand Rapids police had stopped Macnaughton for running a red light, and the officer decided to arrest him for driving without a license. While Macnaughton sat in the rear seat of the patrol car, the officer examined Macnaughton's smart phone just when a text message from a person came across the screen asking to buy drugs.

"What kind of phone is this?" the cop asked. "You must be a drug dealer."

Macnaughton's attorney, Chris Wirth, argued that per the Supreme Court decision, digital contents of a cell phone cannot be searched in the course of a routine arrest, and that there were no circumstances requiring immediate action. Prosecutor argued that Macnaughton's case didn't apply to the Wurie-Riley decision because Macnaughton's arrest ocurred in February -- prior to the high court handing down the cell phone decision -- but that didn't stop Judge Trusock from tossing the case.

Still, while Macnaughton may have beaten the drug rap, the state still got its pound of flesh. The prosecutor's office seized his 2005 Lincoln Aviator and over $3,000 dollars the police took off him during the arrest.

The DEA appears resigned to live with the Supreme Court ruling, a Justice Department spokeswoman's remarks seem to indicate.

"The Department will work with its law enforcement agencies to ensure full compliance with this Supreme Court decision," spokeswoman Ellen Canales told the Chronicle. "We will make use of whatever technology is available to preserve evidence on cell phones while seeking a warrant, and we will assist our agents in determining when exigent circumstances or another applicable exception to the warrant requirement will permit them to search the phone immediately without a warrant."

But while the DEA is looking forward, defendants and defense attorneys are looking back -- and wondering whether they decision won't bring some relief.

Chief Justice John Roberts (supremecourt.gov)
State and federal courts expect to review tons of motions for new trials from numerous lawyers representing defendants already convicted on crimes related to warrantless cell phone evidence, now that the Supreme Court has ruled the practice violates search and seizure law.

"There probably will be a good deal of litigation over whether this decision can be applied retroactively," San Francisco attorney Dennis Riordan told the Los Angeles Times.

Privacy advocates and civil libertarians are also hoping the Supreme Court ruling in Wurie and Riley will have a role in deciding controversial cases making their way through the lower courts, whether it's cell phone location data tracking or the Obama administration's NSA spy surveillance program.

"When it comes to the Fourth Amendment, we want courts to ensure this important legal protection survives the rapid technological changes of the 21st Century," Hanni Fakoury, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation told the Chronicle.

The cell phone rulings in the Wurie and Riley cases are only the latest landmark decisions to strike a balance between privacy protections and the evolving role. In Kyllo v. US, the high court ruled that police must obtain a warrant before using thermal imaging devices on homes, while in US v. Jones, the high court overturned the life-without-parole drug conspiracy conviction against Antoine Jones, in which FBI agents and Maryland narcotics officers placed a GPS tracking device on his vehicle for nearly a month without obtaining a search warrant.

Still, while Jones won the case, he didn't win his freedom. After three federal prosecution, including two hung juries and one with the conviction overturned, Jones chose to agree to a plea deal with federal prosecutors rather than face another chance at life in prison with yet another trial.

In a letter from prison, where he is working on a book about his experiences, Jones had something to say about the cell phone decisions.

"The courts are constantly sending a message to police that they're not willing to give them that much power and control. This is a good thing because the police need to be governed by the courts, and the courts should maintain the power to determine when a search warrant is necessary," he wrote. "The police are being either lazy, or they try to circumvent the law when courts rules in favor of protecting constitutional rights."

It is ironic indeed that, as the US government grapples with the NSA and Edward Snowden spying scandals, it took the case of two convicted felons to get the Supreme Court to protect the privacy of millions of Americans who use cell phones containing reams of data about their private lives. The irony is only deepened when we consider that Brima Wurie and David Riley won't benefit much from this historic ruling.

Washington, DC
United States

Cops Need Warrants to Search Cell Phones, Supreme Court Rules

In an unusual unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court Wednesday ruled that police in almost all cases must obtain a search warrant before searching cell phones or other mobile devices. The ruling brings the huge amounts of data Americans store on cellphones, smartphones, and other mobile devices under the umbrella of constitutional privacy protections.

The decision came in two cases, one involving a drug bust and the other a weapons charge. The two cases were consolidated in the court's opinion in Riley v. California.

In ruling in favor of Americans' privacy, the high court rejected law enforcement arguments that cell phone searches did not require a warrant under an exception that allows police to search the contents of arrested people's pockets to ensure that they are not armed or do not destroy evidence. While that may be convenient for law enforcement, the court held, constitutional rights trump convenience.

The court was clearly aware that modern hand-held devices contain both the quality and quantity of information deserving protection as much as that afforded to people's personal property and effects in their homes.

"Modern cellphones aren't a technological convenience," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the unanimous opinion "With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life,'" he wrote.

As for law enforcement concerns that the court's ruling would prove an obstacle to some police investigations, Roberts had a pithy retort: "Privacy comes at a cost," he wrote.

And if police have reason to believe such devices may contain relevant evidence, they have recourse, Roberts wrote.

"Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cellphone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple -- get a warrant."

Of course, that means police must convince a magistrate they have probable cause to seek a search warrant.

The American Civil Liberties Union liked what it saw in the decision.

"By recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today's decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans," said ACLU legal director Steven R. Shapiro in a Wednesday statement. "We have entered a new world but, as the court today recognized, our old values still apply and limit the government's ability to rummage through the intimate details of our private lives."

Washington, DC
United States

ATF's Operation Gideon Raises Questions of Fairness, Justice, and Race [FEATURE]

Special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part I of a series on the ATF's Operation Gideon, targeting inner city "bad guys" with drug house robbery stings

Early in May, a panel of judges from California's 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied petitions for an "en banc" hearing that would have allowed the full court to consider overturning long prison sentences for four would-be robbers seduced by an informant into believing they were about to rip-off a stash house loaded with drugs.

The stash house was fictional, those drugs never existed, and the brains behind the plot were not criminals, but federal agents.

The denial of the petition was not a unanimous decision, and it revealed deep fissures on the appeals court. Dissenting judges argued that the practice of enticing poor young men into robbing stash houses raised questions not only of fair play, but also of constitutionality. The dissenters were particularly concerned that federal agents targeted primarily minority neighborhoods filled with desperate, unemployed young men tempted by the lure of fast cash.

"The sting poses questions of whether the government intentionally targets poor minority neighborhoods, and thus, seeks to tempt their residents to commit crimes that might well result in their escape from poverty," Justice Stephen Reinhardt wrote in a blistering dissent. He also called it "a profoundly disturbing use of government power that directly imperils some of our most fundamental constitutional values."

The case involved four Phoenix men -- Cordae Black, Kemford Alexander, Angel Mahon and Terrance Timmons -- who were convicted in 2010 on charges of conspiracy to distribute more than five pounds of cocaine, as well as federal firearms charges, for a fake drug rip scheme set up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). All four are now serving prison sentences of 13 to 15 years.

Even though federal appeals court judges have joined defense attorneys in calling the ATF drug rip schemes "outrageous conduct," they are not an anomaly, but are instead part and parcel of ATF's Operation Gideon, a nationwide program. The ATF, federal prosecutors, and the Phoenix police said a press release announcing a pilot sweep that rolled up 70 people, including Cordae Black and his crew, that Gideon "involved the deployment of some of ATF's most experienced undercover operatives to team with local agents and police investigators by conducting sting investigations involving violent home invasion crews."

According to a USA Today investigative report, as of last year, the feds had already locked up more than a thousand people who its agents had enticed into conspiracies to rob fake drug stash houses. And it's not just the AFT. The DEA often uses the fake drug rip-off schemes, as well.

US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt
The argument at the 9th Circuit in the Phoenix case centered on entrapment and whether ATF agents illegally enticed the defendants into the crime through "outrageous government conduct" beyond that allowed by entrapment doctrine.

Relying on the US Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in US v. Russell, where the court upheld such schemes if the defendant showed a predisposition to commit the offense, 9th Circuit Judges Susan Graeber and Raymond Fisher rejected claims of entrapment and outrageous conduct by the agents, and argued that the reverse sting was within legal boundaries of law enforcement tactics, which includes officers working undercover to infiltrate criminal organizations.

Fisher and Graeber said the agents' actions were reasonable when they offered the men the opportunity to make money by committing a drug robbery. The pair also held the defendants failed to show they lacked "predisposition to commit the offense."

That provoked a sharp retort from a second dissenter as well, Judge John T. Noonan.

"Today our court gives approval to the government tempting people in the population at large currently engaged in innocent activity, and leading them into the commission of a crime, which the government will then prosecute," he wrote.

It's not just the 9th Circuit. Fake drug stash operations that only target inner-cities have ignited a firestorm of controversy, including other caustic remarks from the federal bench.

"There is a strong showing of potential bias in the robbery stings," US District Court Judge Rueben Castillo wrote in an order last year. Castillo noted that since 2011, federal agents have used such stings to lock up at least 26 people in the Chicago area -- and that all of them were either black or Hispanic.

Federal officials retort that they are not engaging in selective prosecution based on race, but are going where known felons often commit violent home invasion-type drug robberies.

But defense attorneys argue that the operations target people who weren't doing anything, entice them with visions of easy wealth, set them up, and then throw the book at them.

"What the ATF is doing is basically targeting low-level criminals for high-level crimes," said attorney Tara Loveland, who is representing Cordae Black on appeal.

The case against Black and his codefendants raises serious questions about racial profiling. According to evidence introduced at the original trial -- and subsequently heard again at the re-hearing (via the appellate brief) -- ATF Agent Richard Zayas had a paid informant travel from Miami to Arizona to find "bad guys" in a "bad part of town."

That prompted Judge Reinhardt to say that Zavas' instructions obviously meant the informant should recruit people from minority communities. The targeting of the fake drug house robbery scheme was a practice "that creates the appearance of selective prosecution based on race and wealth inequality," he said.

"It is a tragedy when ATF has to drum up a crime that didn't exist," attorney Eugene Marquez, who represented Cordae Black at trial, told the Chronicle.

Chicago Operation Gideon suspect William Alexander just before his arrest (atf.gov)
Defense attorneys who represented the defendants on appeal argued that "fake drug stings initiated by ATF amount to entrapment because there were no drugs -- and none of the defendants would have agreed to participate had it not been for a paid snitch and the ATF's scheme of enticing the men to arm themselves with weapons to rip-off a large quantity of drugs that automatically brings severe mandatory prison sentences."

"Our defense was outrageous conduct and sentencing entrapment," Marquez explained.

But 9th Circuit majorities weren't listening to the defense attorneys. In a separate ruling, they reiterated their original decision denying defense counsel's motion to overturn the original convictions.

"There is no bright line dictating when laws enforcement conduct crosses the line between acceptable and outrageous," Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote for the majority. Outrageous government conduct can only occur when government agents engineer and direct a "criminal enterprise from start to finish -- or creating new crimes merely for the sake of pressing criminal charges," he argued.

Judge Reinhardt again dissented.

"In this era of mass incarceration, in which we already lock up more of our population than any other nation on earth, it is especially curious that the government feels compelled to invent fake crimes and imprison people for long periods of time for agreeing to participate in them -- people who but for the government's scheme might not have ever entered the world of major felonies," Reinhardt wrote.

If getting set up and convicted in a sting weren't bad enough, the defendants also got hit with longer sentences based on the imaginary amounts of drugs that were going to rob. Marquez explained that his client, Cordae Black, was hit a 10-year mandatory minimum because the ATF pretended the imaginary drug house had more than five kilos of cocaine in it.

But while jurists and defense attorneys grumbled, the ATF was pleased with its handiwork.

Arizona ATF agent Thomas Mangan welcomed the convictions of Black and his partners, as well as appeals court rulings upholding them. The stings had resulted in over 70 Arizona arrests, and the crew had "ample opportunity to back out, but had remained committed to carry out the robbery until they were arrested," he said in the Operation Gideon press release.

While court-approved enticement has a lengthy pedigree in this country, so does "outrageous government conduct" that can take it over the line into entrapment. A classic case is that of legendary automaker John Delorean, who was acquitted of cocaine conspiracy charges in 1984, even though prosecutors had Delorean on videotape wisecracking and saying that the cocaine stuffed inside a suitcase was "good as gold."

But Delorean's attorney was able to convince the jury that the FBI had leaned on a convicted drug smuggler, James Hoffman, to draw Delorean into a trap, complete with thinly-veiled threats if Delorean backed out of the sting.

"Without the government there would be no crime," Delorean's attorney told the jury.

Taking Down the Phoenix Crew

Putting together a fake drug robbery stings is like assembling the cast of a gritty crime drama. The Phoenix reverse sting worked against Cordae Black and his eager crew in typical take-down fashion. ATF agent Richard Zayas recruited a paid informant to frequent seedy bars and diffferent places in the "bad part" of town -- to find receptive players to rip-off a drug house. Zayas's informant met Shaver "Bullet" Simpson, a big-talking guy ready to play.

Zayas's informant duped Simpson into believing he had a friend with information on a stash house filled with drugs worth thousands of dollars. Simpson boasted he could find some tough-ass homies to do the job. Agent Zayas reminded Simpson that everyone involved with the plot must keep their mouths shut, and not talk about what goes down.

"My people straight," Simpson replied. "I hate snitchers."

Following the informant's meeting with Shaver Simpson, he introduced "Bullet" to undercover ATF Agent Richard Zayas, who fronted himself off as a disgruntled drug courier interested in having someone rob a dope house owned by Zayas's supposed cartel's connections. Zayas informed Simpson that Simpson's homeboys would need the "balls to do it because this ain't no easy lick."

Simpson then posed a question to Zayas: "My goons want to know whether they need to kill the people in the house."

Zayas responded nonchalantly that he "didn't care what they did as long as they took care of business."

Hooked like a fish, Simpson swallowed the bait, "Don't worry Daddy," he told Zavas. You got a real Jamaican (expletive), that's my family business; it's where I worked; I got this shit down to a science, man."

The beat goes on. Press conference announcing latest round of Operation Gideon busts, Stockton, CA, 2014 (atf.gov)
The trap was set. Shaver Simpson, the braggart, strangely, didn't show up for the showdown. But the work crew did. Once Cordae Black, Terrence Timmons, Kemford Alexander and Angel Mahon showed up at the designated meeting spot, the ATF agents and local police took the hapless crew down with guns drawn. A search of their vehicles produced four loaded weapons (which, according to the appellate brief, Zava insisted the crew have with them).

Despite Simpson's bravado about not being a snitch and hating such creatures, he pounced on the first opportunity to become one by testifying against his four homies. Still, at trial, Simpson accused ATF agent Richard Zayas of pressuring him to quickly find as many guys he could find to pull off the robbery.

Same Sorts of Cases, Different Results

In another Operation Gideon case, Chicago native William Alexander, a street-level crack dealer and beauty school dropout, got stung in a fake drug robbery on February 23 2011, along with his cohorts Hugh Midderhoff and David Saunders. All three were convicted of possession with intent to deliver five or more kilos of cocaine, along with firearms charges. To win a new trial, Alexander's lawyer argued on appeal that ATF's systematic strategy of sending informants into "bad parts of town" to recruit "bad people" meant that racial profiling played a vital role in Alexander's case.

His appeal brief noted that in the 17 stash house robbery stings prosecuted in the Northern Illinois Federal District since 2004, blacks were disproportionately represented. Of the 57 defendants, 42 were black, eight Hispanic, and seven white.

His appeal was denied -- because he couldn't show that the ATF and prosecutors intended racially disparate outcomes.

"To establish discriminatory intent, Alexander failed to show the decision makers in (his) case acted with discriminatory purposes -- and that the Attorney General and US Attorneys has broad discretion to enforce federal criminal laws," the appeals court held.

Antuan Dunlap and his heavily-armed posse-mates, Cedrick Hudson and Joseph Cornell Whitfield, had better luck. They were released from jail in an ATF drug house rip-off scheme when California US District Court Judge Otis Wright ruled the ATF crossed the line into entrapment.

Prosecutors had argued that Dunlap "manifested his propensity to commit robberies" by claiming to have engaged in similar activities in the past, and thus, "the defendant's words justified the reverse sting."

But in a 24-page stinging rebuke, the angry judge said the ATF engaged in "outrageous conduct" by enlisting people in "made-up crime" just so they could bust eager volunteers in drug stings. "Society does not win when the government stoops to the same level as the defendants it seeks to prosecute -- especially when the government has acted solely to achieve a conviction for a 'made-up' crime, Wright wrote. He also noted that such tactics "haven't brought down the crime rate nor taken drugs off the streets."

But the ATF and DEA fake drug rip-off schemes remain in full-swing across the nation despite the brewing controversy over tactics some defense attorneys and jurists regard with loathing. If the Justice Department will investigate whether the stings are aimed disproportionately at minority communities remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Phoenix crew sits in federal prison, while their attorneys plan an appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Next in the series: ATF's Deadly Takedown in Fake Drug Robberies.

Kentucky Gets its Hemp Seed as DEA Backs Off

It's a done deal. A UPS truck delivered more than 250 pounds of hemp seed to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture this afternoon. It took a lawsuit and a lot of political pressure on DEA head Michele Leonhart, but the agency has backed away from its initial refusal to allow the seeds to be imported.

Hemp seeds will soon be sprouting in Kentucky (votehemp.org)
As the Associated Press reported this afternoon, the seeds arrived at the department's headquarters in Frankfort, the state capital. They had been being held hostage at a US Customs warehouse in Louisville after being imported from Italy. At the last minute, the DEA had refused to issue an import license for the seed, which was destined for research authorized under the omnibus farm bill passed earlier this year.

That prompted an intense and angry reaction from state officials, who promptly sued the DEA, the Justice Department, and Customs in federal court, and from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who just happens to be from Kentucky. It's not clear exactly what went down, but after two Wednesday meetings, the DEA started singing a different tune.

One meeting brought together lawyers for the federal government and the state of Kentucky before a federal judge; the other was face-to-face between McConnell and Leonhart. By the end of the day Wednesday, the DEA had backed down.

The DEA just ain't getting no respect these days. Leonhart was recently chastised by her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, over her remarks before Congress dissing the administration's moves to reduce the reliance on mandatory minimum sentencing, the Drug Policy Alliance is calling for her head, and drug expert Mark Kleiman is  suggesting maybe it's time to disband the agency. Couldn't happen to a more deserving set of folks. 

Location: 
Frankfort, KY
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 12, 2014

Elderly senators grumble about new-fangled rules allowing legal marijuana businesses to use the financial system, there are more legalization polls, an Oklahoma US Senate candidate is talking marijuana reform, there is medical marijuana initiative news, Minnesota passes asset forfeiture reform and the governor signs it, and more. Let's get to it:

Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson (D) is running for the US Senate and talking marijuana reform. (oksenate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Feinstein, Grassley Try to Thwart Normalized Marijuana Banking. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) aren't happy with the Obama administration's efforts to find a way to let marijuana businesses in states where it is legal have access to the financial system. They sent a letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) complaining about the guidance it was offering banks "on providing financial services for drug traffickers," in Grassley's words. FinCen responded here, but that wasn't good enough for the crusty drug warriors. Now, Grassley has responded to the response, maintaining that "unless federal law is changed, selling marijuana, laundering marijuana proceeds, and aiding and abetting those activities all remain illegal" and that "FinCEN's guidance to financial institutions is absolutely contrary to the mission of the agency." Click on the title link to read the rest.

Connecticut Poll Has 52% for Legalization. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday has support for marijuana legalization at 52% among Connecticut voters, who also said overwhelmingly that alcohol was a bigger health problem than pot. A whopping 80% of voters under 30 supported legalization. Voters also supported having medical marijuana dispensaries in their towns by a margin of more than two-to-one. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2012.

New Mexico Poll Has Only 40% for Legalization, But… an Albuquerque Journal flash poll had support for marijuana legalization at 40%, with 47% opposed. The poll only asked only if marijuana should be legalized, however, without specifying what legalization might look like. A poll done last year for the Drug Policy Alliance got 53% support for legalization when it asked whether marijuana should be legalized for adults so that it could be taxed and regulated, like alcohol, with restrictions on where it could be bought and consumed.

Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenues Top $20 Million So Far This Year. The state Department of Revenue released figures last Thursday showing that revenues from adult and medical marijuana taxes, licenses, and fees were at nearly $22 million for the first three months of the year. The state reported that March adult marijuana sales hit $19 million, up $5 million over February, while medical marijuana sales were about $34 million.

Push Underway to Decriminalize Toledo. A petition drive is underway for a municipal initiative to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession in the Northwest Ohio city. The initiative is sponsored by the Toledo NORML chapter, which says it has already collected 2,800 signatures. It needs 3,800 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Oklahoma's Leading Democratic US Senate Candidate Pushes Marijuana Law Reform. State Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City), the leading candidate for the state's Democratic Party US Senate nomination, is the author of repeated failed medical marijuana bills in the state legislature and is currently working to get a legalization initiative on the November ballot. A Democrat winning a Senate seat in Oklahoma is a long shot, but Johnson says she hopes marijuana will drive voters to the polls. "This whole issue, to me, is not about smoking marijuana. It's about criminalizing it. That's where these young people stand to be hurt the most. They get that," said Johnson. "Unless we change who's voting, things will stay the same," she said. "It's time to send a message -- not only to the policymakers... but to the people -- that we can change this." You can do that by putting marijuana on the ballot, she said.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Says He Will Sign House Bill. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) sent a letter Friday to lawmakers saying he could sign the medical marijuana bill passed by the House. Senate File 2470 was filed by Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) after her earlier, full-fledged medical marijuana bill, House File 1818 was blocked by law enforcement and the governor. A stronger bill, Senate File 1641, has passed the Senate, but Dayton didn't say he could sign that one. Now, the Senate must accept the House version or try to reach a compromise in conference committee.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign in Midst of Signature-Gathering. The Ohio Rights Group is leading a signature-gathering campaign to put a medical marijuana (and hemp) initiative on the November ballot. They need to collect 385,000 valid voter signatures by July 5. They had 50,000 signatures on March 1 and haven't reported any more recent figures, but the campaign has been ramping up this month.

Arkansas Attorney General Again Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has once again rejected the proposed wording for a medical marijuana initiative from Arkansans for Medical Cannabis. This is about the sixth time he has rejected proposals from the group. Meanwhile, another initiative, this one from Arkansans for Compassionate Care, is in the signature-gathering phase. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act needs some 65,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) signed into law Senate File 874, which forces authorities to actually convict someone of a criminal offense or get a guilty plea before seizing his property. The bill also forces the government to prove the property was the instrument or proceeds of crime. Previously, it had been up to the victim of the seizure to prove it was not connected to crimes.

Drug Testing

Federal Judge Rejects City of Key West Prospective Employee Drug Testing. A US district court judge has ruled that Key West's policy of drug-testing prospective employees is illegal. The ACLU of Florida had brought suit on behalf of a woman who was offered a job as the city's recycling coordinator, but had the job offer rescinded after she refused a drug test. The city failed to demonstrate "a special need or important government interest which justifies the policy's Fourth Amendment intrusion," Judge James Lawrence King held. And while the city argued that the tests should be allowed because job applicants were forewarned, King wasn't buying it. The law doesn't allow a government entity "to violate a person's rights under the Fourth Amendment so long as prior notice of the impending violation is given," he ruled.

International

Heroin Maintenance Coming to Norway? The Norwegian city of Bergen has proposed undertaking a program of heroin maintenance, or heroin-assisted treatment (HAT). Norway has long been skeptical of opioid maintenance therapies, allowing the use of methadone only in 1998. Dr. Ola Josendal, director of addiction medicine at Haukeland University Hospital proposed HAT clinical trials in December, but the national health minister rejected them. Now, however, the Labor Party, the largest bloc in parliament, is in favor, so it could happen. Stay tuned.

Bermuda Cannabis Reform Collaborative Says Decriminalize It. A panel tasked with examining Bermuda's marijuana laws issued its report last Friday, and it calling for the decriminalization of small-time pot possession, allowing people to grow a small number of plants, and allowing the medical use of the plant on the island. Marijuana prohibition is not working, the report said.

Mexico's Plan to Demobilize Anti-Cartel Vigilantes Hits Snags. Anti-cartel vigilantes in the state of Michoacan were supposed to begin laying down their arms and integrating into a new rural police force Saturday, but The Washington Post reports that the process isn't exactly going smoothly. The vigilante groups formed more than a year ago with an apparent wink and nod from the government and managed to drive the Knights Templar cartel out of parts of the state, but now, the government fears they may get out of control. Click the link for a full report.

(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.)

Medical Marijuana Update

A bid to ease access to medical marijuana for vets failed in Congress, but not by much; California continues to grapple with local regulation issues, limited CBD medical marijuana bills continue to prove popular, a Washington state family can't use a medical marijuana defense for growing medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Wednesday, the US House narrowly defeated an amendment to allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana. Nearly 200 members of Congress, including 22 Republicans, voted in favor of an amendment Wednesday intended to allow physicians within the Veterans Affairs system to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states that allow it. The bipartisan-sponsored amendment failed 195-222. The amendment, sponsored by Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO), was the first of its kind to be introduced on the House floor. It would have become part of House Resolution 4486, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

California

Last Thursday, backers of an initiative to allow and regulate dispensaries in Riverside handed in signatures. The group, Riverside Safe Access, turned in about 20,000 signatures. They need about 12,000 to qualify for the next regular city election in June 2015 and about 15,000 signatures to call a special election sooner.

Last Friday, a Fresno County judge put fines for medical marijuana growers on hold. Superior Court Judge Bruce M. Smith ruled that county officials can't start collecting fines from two property owners who appealed the new medical marijuana cultivation ban. One grower caught with 43 plants faces a $43,000 fine under rules adopted by the county. The board of supervisors was set to hear an appeal from another property owner Tuesday. In that case, the property owner was hit with a fine because his tenant grew 30 plants on his property.

Also last Friday, activists sued the city of San Diego to block recently passed dispensary regulations. The Union of Medical Marijuana Patients Inc. filed the lawsuit charging that the city's regulations are too restrictive, will result in few dispensaries in the city, and will result in dispensaries being concentrated in certain areas of the city.

On Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo city council rejected a ban on outdoor grows. After more than three hours of public comment, the city council voted 4-1 to reject an ordinance banning outdoor medical marijuana grows. The ordinance was brought before the council after neighbors complained of a large outdoor grow operation in the backyard of residence near Leff and Nipomo Street. Neighbors complained of a constant stench of weed, increased traffic, and the fear of crime. But the city council said the ordinance went too far in penalizing medical marijuana growers who are not a problem for neighbors.

Also on Tuesday, the Healdsburg city council approved the outdoor cultivation of up to three plants. Patients, or their caregivers, will be allowed to grow three plants in their backyard or sideyard only, and also be able to cultivate up to six plants indoors. In response to perennial complaints about backyard marijuana gardens, Police Chief Kevin Burke last year proposed guidelines that would allow only indoor cultivation, with grow lights. But the proposal met with opposition from medical cannabis users, who said being forced to grow indoors is a significant expense, especially for low-income patients who need it.

On Wednesday, activists handed in signatures for a Butte County initiative that would strip supervisors of the right to regulate medical marijuana grows. The initiative proposes to do two things: re-establish a previous version of medical marijuana growing regulations in the county.It would also prohibit the supervisors from amending cultivation rules without putting up for a vote of the people. Activists handed in more than 10,000 signatures; they need 7,600 of those to be valid to qualify for the November ballot.

Florida

On Monday, the legislature approved a limited CBD medical marijuana bill and Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he would sign it. Senate Bill 1030 allows the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures.

Iowa

Last Thursday, the senate passed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill. After an emotion-charged debate, senators voted 36-12 to pass Senate File 2360, a bill that legalizes the possession and medical use under certain conditions of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that backers say possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits. Ten Republicans joined 26 Democrats in passing the bill. Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) is the sponsor.

On Monday, Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said he was unsure if he would sign it. He said he hadn't read the Senate File 2360 yet and noted that he has 30 days to take action. "This is not something that's been approved by the (Food and Drug Administration)," Branstad said in response to questions from reporters during his weekly news conference.

Louisiana

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill died in committee. There will be no medical marijuana legislation passing through the Louisiana legislature this year. Senate Bill 541, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills (R-New Iberia) was defeated in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on a vote of 6-2.

Minnesota

On Tuesday, the Senate approved a medical marijuana bill. The Senate approved Senate File 1641, which would allow for up to 55 dispensaries statewide and allow patients suffering from a list of approved medical conditions to use the plant -- but not to smoke it. A companion measure in the House is even more restrictive. It could be up for debate as early as Friday.

New York

On Tuesday, a long-stalled medical marijuana bill got is first Republican sponsor. Sen. Joseph Robach (R-Rochester) added his name this week to the Compassionate Care Act, joining 17 other Democratic senators who have co-sponsored the measure. The bill's primary sponsor is Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat. Republican Senate leaders have held up the bill. Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos said Tuesday there was a "good possibility" some sort of bill would be approved this session, but that he would only support a limited CBD bill.

Oregon

Last Wednesday, the Oregon Health Authority released a list of localities that have dispensary moratoriums. According to the state, 131 cities and 25 counties enacted moratoriums on dispensaries. Oregon has 242 incorporated cities and 36 counties. Oregon passed a law regulating dispensaries, but localities could enact moratoriums until yesterday. Those moratoriums can only extend through May 2015.

Pennsylvania

Last Thursday, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) said he now supports a limited CBD medical marijuana bill. He remains opposed to legalizing marijuana for medical use but now makes one exception: the use of a marijuana extract to treat severe seizures in children, his office said. Corbett's office first confirmed to The Associated Press that the Republican governor had met with several parents to tell them in person about his decision. The move came a day before patients and their families had vowed to stage at a sit-in at his office.

Washington

On Tuesday, a federal judge denied a medical marijuana defense for a family accused of growing medical marijuana. A federal judge won't allow a family of a medical marijuana patients from Washington state to defend themselves against drug trafficking charges by arguing their pot plants were for medical purposes. US District Judge Fred Van Sickle of the Eastern District of Washington on Tuesday rejected the planned medical marijuana defense of Larry Harvey, 70, his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, and three others facing trial next week, saying they could not argue that growing marijuana was for medical purposes and legal under Washington state law. "The intent of the defendants is not relevant to the issues," Van Sickle said. "There's this concept of reliance on state law and the like. That's not relevant either." Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, federal courts generally don't allow evidence that the drug may have been used for medical purposes, even when medical marijuana is legal under a state's law, as it is in Washington. The Harveys, their son, Rolland Gregg, 33; Gregg's wife Michelle, 35; and family friend Jason Zucker, 38, sought to describe their doctor-recommended medical marijuana cultivation at their upcoming trial on federal drug charges.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

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