Archive for the ‘LITIGATION’ category

Washington, DC: District Officials Move Forward To Enact Municipal Depenalization Initiative

January 15th, 2015

District of Columbia city officials this week moved forward with their intentions to implement a voter-approved municipal initiative depenalizing marijuana possession and cultivation offenses.

On Tuesday, city officials confirmed that Initiative 71 was transmitted to Congress for review. Under federal law, all District laws are subject to a 30-day review process by Congress, during which time members may take action to halt the law’s implementation.

Speaking to Roll Call this week, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said that language previously adopted by Congress in a December 2014 spending bill already prohibits DC officials from implementing I-71 and, thus, no further action by Congress is necessary. However, several District officials – including DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson – said that the federal provision in question in no way blocks city officials from enacting the new law.

“The District’s examination agrees with our analysis that the initiative was enacted when voters approved it and will take effect at the end of the 30-day congressional review period,” Del. Norton said in a statement.

Chairman Mendelson agreed, saying, “I happen to believe that the initiative was enacted so I think there’s no question that after the 30-day review it will be law.”

The District of Columbia Attorney General’s office has not yet commented in regard to how the District will respond if Congress does not address the initiative during the review process, Roll Call reported.

In November, 70 percent of District voters approved I-71, which removes criminal and civil penalties regarding the adult possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to six plants.

Separate DC municipal legislation – ‘The Marijuana Legalization and regulation Act’ – which seeks to regulate commercial cannabis production and retail sales, is also pending before the Council. If enacted, this legislation would also go before lawmakers for Congressional review and likely would force a federal challenge.

2014: The Year In Review — NORML’s Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana Policy

December 30th, 2014

2014: The Year In Review - NORML's Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana PolicyNORML reviews the top news stories of 2014.

#1 Marijuana Legalization Measures Win Big On Election Day
Voters in Oregon and Alaska decided on Election Day in favor of statewide initiatives legalizing the commercial production and sale of marijuana for adults, while voters in the nation’s capitol and in numerous other cities nationwide similarly decided on local measures to eliminate marijuana possession penalties.

#2 Colorado And Washington Begin Regulating Retail Marijuana Sales
Two states, Colorado and Washington, initiated retail marijuana sales in 2014. Colorado’s program began on January 1. In Washington, state-licensed retail outlets began legally selling cannabis to adults in July.

#3 Congress Enacts Measure Protecting State-Sponsored Medi-Pot Programs
President Barack Obama signed spending legislation into law in December that included a provision limiting the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The amendment states, “None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

#4 Congress Moves To Permit State-Sanctioned Hemp Cultivation
Federal lawmakers approved legislation in February permitting state-sponsored hemp cultivation to move forward despite the plant’s federal status as a Schedule I prohibited substance.

#5 Federal Judge Hears Challenge To Cannabis’ Schedule I Status
United States District Judge Kimberly Mueller heard five days of testimony in October in regard to the constitutionality of marijuana’s Schedule I status under federal law. Defense counsel and their experts argued that the scientific literature is not supportive of the plant’s present categorization. Judge Mueller is expected to make her ruling in early 2015.

#6 JAMA: Fewer Opiate-Related Deaths In Medical Marijuana States
The enactment of statewide medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates, according to data published in August in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers reported, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”

#7 President Acknowledges That Booze Is More Harmful Than Marijuana
Consuming cannabis is less harmful to the individual than is drinking alcohol, President Barack Obama acknowledged in January in an interview with The New Yorker. “I don’t think it (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol,” he stated. He added, [W]e should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time.”

#8 Study: Medical Marijuana States Have Fewer Violent Crimes
Medicinal cannabis laws are not associated with any rise in statewide criminal activity, according to data published in April in the journal PLoS ONE. “Medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our findings indicated that MML precedes a reduction in homicide and assault,” authors concluded. “In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes.”

#9 NYT Editors Opine In Favor Of Legalizing Cannabis
The New York Times editorial board in July called upon federal lawmakers to end the criminalization of cannabis for those over the age of 21. The paper’s editors opined: “The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana. … Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. … [W]e believe that on every level, … the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization.”

#10 Americans Say Marijuana Is Less Harmful To Health Than Sugar
Americans believe that consuming cannabis poses less harm to health than does the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, or sugar, according to the findings of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released in March. Respondents were asked which of the four substances they believed to be “most harmful to a person’s overall health.” Most respondents said tobacco (49 percent), followed by alcohol (24 percent) and sugar (15 percent).

A “Hail Mary” Pass by our Political Opponents

December 22nd, 2014

Supreme_Court_BuildingFor those of us in the business of changing public policy, sometimes we judge our progress on what we have accomplished; and other times we judge our effectiveness by the desperate acts of our opponents. The federal law suit filed late last week by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, seeking a declaratory judgment from the U.S. Supreme Court holding Colorado’s legalization provisions to be unconstitutional, clearly falls in the latter category.

This suit is more political theater than a serious legal challenge. These two conservative state attorneys general know they are losing this fight in the court of public opinion, so they are hoping the Supreme Court will step in and overturn the will of the voters. Desperate times lead to desperate tactics, and the plaintiffs in this action were clearly feeling desperate.

To read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com

Federal Evidentiary Hearing Regarding The Constitutionality Of Cannabis Prohibition Concludes

October 31st, 2014

Federal marijuana hearingUnited States District Judge Kimberly Mueller heard testimony over the course of the past five days in regard to the constitutionality of the federal statute designating marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. At issue in this evidentiary hearing is whether the scientific literature provides a rational basis for the federal classification of the plant as a substance with “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use,” and a “lack of accepted safety” for use under medical supervision.

The federal government’s position was articulated in testimony provided by Dr. Bertha Madras, Professor of Psychobiology at Harvard Medical School and the former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush.

Expert witnesses for the defense who testified at the hearing were Dr. Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University in New York City, retired physician Phillip Denny, Dr. Greg Carter, Medical Director of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Washington, and marijuana cultivation expert and archivist Chris Conrad.

Defense counsel for the litigants were NORML Legal Committee members Zenia Gilg of San Francisco and Heather Burke of Nevada City, CA. I assisted attorneys Gilg and Burke as a consultant in the case prior to the hearing and as their principle investigator during the hearing — a point that the federal government’s attorneys insisted on making public on Wednesday by insisting the judge recognize that: “Defense counsels’ investigator is the Deputy Director of NORML; he’s not some ordinary investigator.”

Representatives from California NORML as well as writer Jeremy Daw of TheLeafOnline were in attendance during the hearing and provide day-by-day coverage of events on their respective websites and at the links below. Dr. Madras was cross-examined both Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

INTRODUCTION/GENERAL SUMMARY:
http://theleafonline.com/c/politics/2014/10/whytodayishistoric/

FRIDAY:
http://www.canorml.org/news/day_one_testimony_in_Federal_marijuana_rescheduling_hearing.html

MONDAY:
http://theleafonline.com/c/politics/2014/10/federal-prosecutors-appear-concede-cannabis-medical-benefits/

TUESDAY:
http://theleafonline.com/c/politics/2014/10/norml-feds-agree-benefits-cannabis/

WEDNESDAY:
http://theleafonline.com/c/politics/2014/10/medicine-trial-cannabis-scheduling-hearing/

THURSDAY:
http://theleafonline.com/c/politics/2014/10/schedule-hearing-concludes-judges-ruling-expected-december/

A ruling by Judge Mueller is not anticipated until after the first of the year.

Federal District Court Judge Asks: Should Federal Law Classify Cannabis As One Of The Nation’s Most Dangerous Drugs?

October 20th, 2014

Marijuana and the LawTestimony regarding the constitutionality of the federal statute designating marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance will be taken on Monday, October 27 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California in the case of United States v. Pickard, et. al., No. 2:11-CR-0449-KJM.

Members of Congress initially categorized cannabis as a Schedule I substance, the most restrictive classification available, in 1970. Under this categorization, the plant is defined as possessing “a high potential for abuse, … no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, … [and lacking] accepted safety for … use … under medical supervision.”

Expert witnesses for the defense – including Drs. Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University in New York City, retired physician Phillip Denny, and Greg Carter, Medical Director of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Washington – will testify that the accepted science is inconsistent with the notion that cannabis meets these Schedule I criteria.

“[I]t is my considered opinion that including marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is counter to all the scientific evidence in a society that uses and values empirical evidence,” Dr. Hart declared. “After two decades of intense scientific inquiry in this area, it has become apparent the current scheduling of cannabis has no footing in the realities of science and neurobiology.”

The government intends to call Bertha Madras, Ph.D., Professor of Psychobiology at Harvard Medical School and the former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush.

Additional evidence has been presented by way of declarations by Marine Sgt. Ryan Begin, a veteran of the Iraq War; Jennie Stormes, the mother of a child suffering from Dravet Syndrome – a pediatric form of epilepsy that has been shown in preliminary trials to respond to specific compounds in the cannabis plant; James Nolan, Ph.D. an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at West Virginia University and a former crime analyst for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Christopher Conrad, noted cannabis author, archivist, and cultivation expert.

This is the first time in recent memory that a federal judge has granted an evidentiary hearing on a motion challenging the statute which classifies cannabis to be one of the most dangerous illicit substances in the nation. Attorneys Zenia Gilg and Heather Burke, both members of the NORML Legal Committee, contend that the federal government’s present policies facilitating the regulated distribution of cannabis in states such as Colorado and Washington can not be reconciled with the insistence that the plant is deserving of its Schedule I status under federal law.

They write: “In effect, the action taken by the Department of Justice is either irrational, or more likely proves the assertions made in Part I (B) of this Brief: marijuana does not fit the criteria of a Schedule I Controlled Substance.”

Speaking recently in a taped interview with journalist Katie Couric, United States Attorney General Eric Holder expressed the need to revisit cannabis’ Schedule I placement under federal law. Holder said, “[T]he question of whether or not they should be in the same category is something that I think we need to ask ourselves, and use science as the basis for making that determination.”

The testimonial part of the evidentiary hearing in United States v. Pickard, et. al., is expected to last three days.

Despite Legalization, Thousands of Americans Still Go to Jail–and Need Lawyers to Defend Them

July 7th, 2014

The temptation is to celebrate the enormous progress we have made over the last few years by legalizing marijuana for medical use in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Even more importantly, we’ve legalized marijuana for all adults in Colorado and Washington.

Thus, it’s easy to presume we’re getting near the finish line in this decades long struggle to legalize marijuana.

But that would be both presumptuous and premature.

The reality is that marijuana smokers remain the target of aggressive and misguided law enforcement activities in most states today. They read about the newly-won freedoms in a handful of states, and dream of the day when their state laws will become more tolerant; but they are still being busted in large numbers and have to worry that that next knock on the door may be the police with a search warrant, about to destroy their homes and wreck their lives, looking for a little weed.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON MARIJUANA.COM

DEA Stands Down: Allows Kentucky To Go Forward With Hemp Planting

May 23rd, 2014

The Drug Enforcement Agency is permitting Kentucky farmers to go forward with plans to engage in the state-sponsored cultivation of industrial hemp.

According to the Associated Press, representatives from the federal anti-drug agency late Thursday granted Kentucky regulators permission to import an estimated 250 pounds of hemp seeds.

The agency had previously confiscated the seeds, which Kentucky officials had ordered from Italy. In response, Kentucky’s Agriculture Department sued the agency last week.

After two federal hearings, as well as a face-to-face meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), DEA officials on agreed to authorize the shipment of hemp seeds to go forward — ending the approximately month-long standoff. Kentucky’s first modern hemp planting may occur as soon as this weekend, the Associated Press reports.

In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal farm bill authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. Since then, five states — Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Utah — have enacted legislation authorizing state-sponsored hemp cultivation. (Similar legislation is pending in Illinois and South Carolina.)

Kentucky lawmakers initially approve legislation regulating hemp production in 2013.

According to a 2013 white paper authored by the Congressional Research Service, a “commercial hemp industry in the United States could provide opportunities as an economically viable alternative crop for some US growers.”

South Carolina: Lawmakers Sign Off On Hemp Cultivation Measure

May 20th, 2014

South Carolina lawmakers have approved legislation, Senate Bill 839, reclassifying varieties of cannabis possessing minute quantities of THC as an industrial crop rather than a controlled substance. The measure states, “It is lawful for an individual to cultivate, produce, or otherwise grow industrial hemp in this State to be used for any lawful purpose, including, but not limited to, the manufacture of industrial hemp products, and scientific, agricultural, or other research related to other lawful applications for industrial hemp.”

Members of the Senate voted 42 to zero in favor of the bill. House members late last week also approved the measure by a vote of 72 to 28. Senate Bill 839 now awaits action by Republican Governor Nikki Haley.

In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal Farm Bill (aka the United States Agricultural Act of 2014) authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. Since that time, lawmakers in five states — Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Utah — have enacted legislation allowing for state-sponsored hemp cultivation.

On Monday, Illinois Senate members unanimously approved similar legislation, House Bill 5085, in their state. Members of the House had previously voted 70 to 28 in favor of an earlier version of the bill. Once both chambers agree to concurrent language, the measure will go to the Governor’s desk.

In total, more than a dozen states have enacted legislation redefining hemp as an agricultural commodity and allowing for state-sponsored research and/or cultivation of the crop.

Last week, Kentucky state officials sued the US Drug Enforcement Administration after the agency refused to turn over a shipment of hemp seeds that were intended to be used as part of a state-approved research program. State officials designed the program to be compliant with Section 7606 of the federal farm bill. A federal hearing in the matter is scheduled for Wednesday, May 21.

According to the U.S. Congressional Resource Service, the United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop.

Arizona: Supreme Court Rejects DUI Per Se Standard For THC Metabolites

April 23rd, 2014

The Arizona Supreme Court this week rejected a 1990 state law that classified the presence of inert THC metabolites in blood or urine as a per se traffic safety violation.

Carboxy-THC, the primary metabolite (breakdown product) of THC is not psychoactive. Because it is lipid soluble, the metabolite may remain detectable in blood or urine for periods of time that extend well beyond any suspected period of impairment. As a result, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledges, “It is … currently impossible to predict specific effects based on THC-COOH concentrations.”

Nonetheless, under Arizona law, the mere presence of carboxy THC — absent any evidence of behavioral impairment — was considered to be a criminal violation of the state’s traffic safety laws. (Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Utah impose similar statutes.) On Wednesday, the Court struck down the provision.

Writing for the majority, Justice Robert Brutinel opined: “The State’s interpretation that ‘its metabolite’ includes any byproduct of a drug listed in § 13-3401 found in a driver’s system leads to absurd results. … Most notably, this interpretation would create criminal liability regardless of how long the metabolite remains in the driver’s system or whether it has any impairing effect. For example, at oral argument the State acknowledged that, under its reading of the statute, if a metabolite could be detected five years after ingesting a proscribed drug, a driver who tested positive for trace elements of a non-impairing substance could be prosecuted.”

He added: “Additionally, this interpretation would criminalize otherwise legal conduct. In 2010, Arizona voters passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (“AMMA”), legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Despite the legality of such use, and because § 28-1381(A)(3) does not require the State to prove that the marijuana was illegally ingested, prosecutors can charge legal users under the (A)(3) provision. Because carboxy-THC can remain in the body for as many as twenty-eight to thirty days after ingestion, the State’s position suggests that a medical-marijuana user could face prosecution for driving any time nearly a month after they had legally ingested marijuana.”

The Court concluded: “Because the legislature intended to prevent impaired driving, we hold that the ‘metabolite’ reference in § 28-1381(A)(3) is limited to any of a proscribed substance’s metabolites that are capable of causing impairment. Accordingly, … drivers cannot be convicted of the (A)(3) offense based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana.”

The Court did not address provisions in the state’s per se DUI law outlawing the operation of a motor vehicle with any presence of THC in one’s blood even though, according to NHTSA, “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.”

Florida: Medical Cannabis Measure Qualifies For 2014 Ballot

January 24th, 2014

The Florida Division of Elections today confirmed that proponents of a 2014 statewide measure to allow for the physician-supervised use of cannabis have gathered sufficient signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

The measure seeks to authorize doctors to recommend cannabis therapy to their patients at their discretion and authorizes the state Department of Health to register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes.

Backers of the measure, United for Care, turned in over 683,000 valid signatures from Florida voters to qualify the measure. The initiative seeks to amend the state constitution.

Survey data released in November by Quinnipiac University reported that 82 percent of Florida voters support reforming state law to allow for the medicinal use of marijuana. Because the proposed measure seeks to amend the state constitution, 60 percent of voters must decide in favor of it before it may be enacted.

Proponents of the measure still await a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court as to whether the measure will appear before voters this fall. State Attorney General Pam Bondi is contesting the language of the measure in a suit backed by House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senate President Don Gaetz and Gov. Rick Scott.

The state Supreme Court must decide on the issue by April 1.