Eric Holder Reigns in DEA Chief Michele Leonhart for Undermining Obama’s Position on Marijuana Sentencing


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Left, Michelle Leonhart; right, Eric Holder
Left, Michele Leonhart; right, Eric Holder

In recent talks with Attorney General Eric Holder, DEA Chief Michele Leonhart was encouraged to tone down the Drug War propaganda she has been advancing since the Obama administration did not sue the state of Colorado for legalizing marijuana. Since then, she has taken several public stands against the administration’s rhetoric on marijuana legalization and, more recently, lessening the punishment of people who commit federal drug crimes.

According to Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly and Ryan Grim, Leonhart was “called in” by Holder for a “one [on] one chat about her recent insubordination.” As a 34-year bureaucrat of the DEA, Leonhart is having a hard time shifting her tone away from the DEA’s aggressive stance against illegal drugs.

Since the talks, Leonhart has said she “supports the Attorney General’s sentencing reform initiative to ensure those sentences are imposed appropriately” through legislation like the Smarter Sentencing Act. This type of legislation would save taxpayers billions of dollars and keep thousands of people out of jail for certain types of nonviolent crimes, like marijuana use, by eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing.

Michele Leonhart’s alignment with the Obama administration’s stance on drug sentencing and marijuana policy creates cautious optimism for change in the prosecution of unnecessary federal arrests.

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New DOJ Charging Policy to be Applied to Pending Cases


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Holder
Attorney General Eric Holder

In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would avoid prosecuting low-level, non-violent drug offenders with harsh charges that carry mandatory minimums.

Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.

Now, the DOJ has taken another step and announced that the new policy will also apply to persons who have been charged but not yet tried and persons who have been tried but not yet sentenced. The attorney general instructed his prosecutors to re-file charges in these cases so that low-level offenders will not be subjected to disproportionate sentences.

I am pleased to announce today that the department has issued new guidance to apply our updated charging policy not only to new matters, but also to pending cases where the defendant was charged before the policy was issued but is still awaiting adjudication of guilt. 

This announcement comes in the wake of a statement by the DOJ last month that the federal government would allow states to continue with their plans to regulate and tax marijuana without interruption, so long as they meet certain criteria.

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U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearing on ‘Conflicts Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws’


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UPDATE: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will testify at the hearing.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced Monday that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “Conflicts Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.” Sen. LeahyLeahy has reportedly invited U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to speak to the committee.

The hearing is scheduled for September 10 at 10 a.m. ET in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.

Sen. Leahy has said he believes state laws making marijuana legal for adult or medical use “should be respected.”

MPP’s director of government relations Dan Riffle had this to say:

“Two states have made marijuana legal for adult use and are establishing regulated systems of production and distribution. Twenty states plus our nation’s capital have made it legal for medical use. By failing to recognize the decisions of voters and legislators in those states, current federal law is undermining their ability to implement and enforce those laws.

“Marijuana prohibition’s days are numbered, and everyone in Washington knows that. It’s time for Congress to stop ignoring the issue and develop a policy that allows states to adopt the most efficient and effective marijuana laws possible. We need to put the ‘reefer madness’ policies of the 1930s behind us and adopt an evidence-based approach for the 21st century.”

This could be a really big deal. We’ll keep you posted.

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Colo. Attorney General: Treating Marijuana Magazines Like Porn is Unconstitutional


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Mason Suthers
MPP’s Mason Tvert debating Attorney General Suthers in 2006

Colorado’s staunchly anti-marijuana attorney general, John Suthers, has declared that a rule created by the legislature to treat marijuana-themed publications like pornography is unconstitutional and said the state will not defend it in court. His determination came after state marijuana regulators concluded that it was not constitutional and should not be enforced.

The Associated Press reports:

The magazine requirement was part of a larger set of laws enacted to state how the newly legal drug should be grown and sold. The behind-the-counter restriction was adopted after parents testified that their children should be protected from exposure to magazines touting the drug,  which remains illegal under federal law.

The resulting law left Colorado in an unusual position — one of only two states to allow recreational use of the drug,  while also the only state to restrict the display of publications about marijuana. The state’s decision to reject the magazine restriction was applauded by marijuana legalization activists.

“The idea that stores can prominently display magazines touting the joys of drinking wine and smoking cigars, yet banish those that discuss a far safer substance to behind the counter, is absolutely absurd,” wrote Mason Tvert,  who campaigned for Colorado’s pot law and now is spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.

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Decriminalization Bill Heads to Vermont House Floor


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After years of work, a bill that would stop the criminalization of Vermont’s marijuana users is headed to the floor of the Vermont House of Representatives. It could get a vote as early as Friday.

Willam Sorrell VT AG
VT Attorney General William Sorrell

Over the last week, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on both sides of the issue. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, and many others testified in support, and the committee listened. Yesterday, it voted 9-2 in favor of reform.

But the opposition is making their voices heard, too. Yesterday, several police are lobbying against this modest proposal to impose a civil fine — not possible jail time — on possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. It’s vital that lawmakers hear from the 63% of Vermonters who believe police have better things to do than to arrest and book marijuana users.

If you live in Vermont, please write your lawmakers today. Politely ask them to support reducing the penalty imposed on Vermonters who possess a substance that is safer than alcohol. Then, share this message with other sensible Vermonters so that they, too, can speak out for reform.

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Henry Rollins Supports Marijuana Reform


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Singer, poet, public speaker, and talk show host Henry Rollins has joined the growing ranks of public figures who support ending marijuana prohibition.

Rollins is not a marijuana user, either. As more and more people realize that marijuana prohibition is a harmful failure, the myth that only potheads want to make it legal is continuing to fade into the hazy realm of reefer madness.

From a column he penned for last week’s LA Weekly: Read the rest of this entry »

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Attorney General Insists Medical Marijuana Not a Priority


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At a hearing discussing the controversy surrounding Operation Fast & Furious, which allowed numerous firearms to be transferred to operatives for Mexican drug cartels, the attorney general got some questions on another drug war problem: the crackdown on medical marijuana.

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) asked Attorney General Holder if the Department of Justice intended to leave medical marijuana states alone as was promised in the Ogden Memo in 2009, as well as whether the recent crackdown in California on medical marijuana providers would be extended to other states.

Holder’s response was the same one that has been parroted by the administration again and again: medical marijuana is not an enforcement priority, given the department’s limited resources.

If that is true, what are the U.S. attorneys in California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Michigan doing? It seems as if they’ve been spending a lot of time and effort on a “low priority” lately.

Is Holder lying, or has he let the dogs at DOJ off the leash while he tries to explain why the federal government allowed guns to “walk” into Mexico that were later used to murder U.S. law enforcement agents? Read the rest of this entry »

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Montana Fights Back Against State, Federal Attacks on Medical Marijuana Patients


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In an act of outright legislative interference, S.B. 423, “repeal in disguise,” promised to regulate but instead flouted voters’ wishes and cruelly and arbitrarily gutted Montana’s medical marijuana program, shuttering most providers and reducing the number of patients. By mid-August, the number of patients had dropped by 10% and only 1% of medical marijuana providers remained in business, leaving patients without access to medicine.

However, Montanans have fought back. First, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association got a judge to temporarily block implementation of part of the law. Even more excitingly, Patients for Reform — Not Repeal successfully collected enough signatures to put a referendum to overturn S.B. 423 on the November 2012 ballot! The Secretary of State confirmed that the referendum had already exceeded the minimum signature requirements, and organizers announced they collected more than 46,000 signatures. Kudos to the petitioners; we will keep you updated!

Sadly, another legislative move overturning the will of the people, H.B. 391, went into effect on Saturday. It is intended to overturn Missoula County’s Initiative 2, which made marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. As a result, local initiatives may not de-prioritize the enforcement of state law. Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, who pushed for the bill, says he will move forward with prosecution of marijuana misdemeanors.

Luckily, many Montanans are very upset by these attempts to overturn the will of the voters, and are lending support to the medical marijuana community. Even the Attorney General Steve Bullock is speaking out, although more so about the ATF announcing that it is illegal for medical marijuana patients to purchase or possess firearms.

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Michigan Attorney General Wants to Make Life Harder for Sick People


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Have you ever noticed how prohibitionists in power keep fighting medical marijuana by saying that it is out of control, and somehow causing a breakdown in society, endangering the public, sending the wrong message to kids, etc.? Have you also noticed that they will freely spend time and taxpayer money trying to undermine medical marijuana programs and restrict the rights of patients?

We’re seeing it in Arizona with Gov. Jan Brewer’s egregious lawsuit to interfere with her state’s voter-approved medical marijuana law, which even the federal government thinks is a waste of time. We’re seeing it in Oregon, where a local sheriff is so hellbent on denying the 2nd Amendment rights of medical marijuana patients that he is willing to use state funds to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Now, long-time medical marijuana foe Bill Schuette, attorney general of Michigan, has announced his plans to  introduce legislation this fall that would supposedly stop the abuse of the medical marijuana system there.

Hold on a minute. Aren’t law enforcement supposed to enforce the laws, not make them? That’s a topic for another time.

The main focus of the as-yet-unfinished bill will be curbing the amount of “drugged-driving” accidents by severely limiting the ability of medical marijuana patients to ever drive a car.

From the press release:

“Schuette noted confusing inconsistencies between the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code and the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act must be eliminated to preserve safety on Michigan roadways.  A longstanding safety provision in the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code prohibits driving with any amount of marijuana in your system.  In contrast, the MMMA references driving “under the influence of marijuana,” a term which is not defined in state law or by uniform scientific standards, and creates a different standard for medical marijuana users. …

Schuette cited statistics recently released by the Michigan State Police which indicate that marijuana-related fatalities remain the most common drug-related automobile fatality, and that such fatalities are on the rise in Michigan.

“Driving with marijuana in your system is unsafe and jeopardizes the safety of our roadways,” said Schuette.  “If you take drugs, don’t take the wheel.”

It is never a good idea to get behind the wheel while impaired by any substance. That being said, the statements of the attorney general can best be described as baseless fear-mongering.

First of all, multiple studies and mountains of anecdotal evidence have proven that merely having marijuana in one’s system is not an indicator of impairment, or even intoxication. Marijuana metabolites can stay in one’s system for up to a month after using it, and THC can stay in one’s system for a week. Yet the effects wear off within a few hours. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act recognizes this by changing the wording of driving restrictions for medical marijuana patients to driving “under the influence,”, meaning that the patient has medicated recently and is still experiencing some intoxicating effects. Despite Schuette’s claim, “under the influence” is used in the provision of Michigan’s DUI laws that apply to all other prescription medications — MCL 257.625 (1)(a).

Under the changes proposed by Schuette, this difference would be removed, making it illegal for patients to operate a car with any marijuana in their system whatsoever. Most medical marijuana patients always have marijuana in their system. Even those who only use occasionally may have to use large amounts that can leave traces in the body for some time.

Basically, this amounts to saying that if a person finds that marijuana is the best medicine to treat their condition, he or she must forfeit their driving privileges or wait weeks after medicating to drive. This restriction is not applied to any other medicine in Michigan. This is medical bigotry, plain and simple. Patients are already dealing with trying to live normal lives and treat their conditions. They have it hard enough as it is. And Bill Schuette wants to make their lives even harder.

Secondly, the assertion that marijuana is involved in more automobile related fatalities than any other drug is completely false, unless one uses the definition that the Attorney General would like to apply to medical marijuana patients. The study cited in the press release used just that definition, however, and counted every fatal accident in which the driver had any marijuana in his or her system! This means that if someone smokes a joint, and three weeks later gets in a car (maybe after a few cocktails) and kills someone, it is a marijuana-related auto fatality.

It sure is easy to scare people when you don’t care about science.

This is illustrative of the need to get away from chemical intoxication testing and go back to physical impairment tests in driving situations. It should not matter what is in someone’s bloodstream, particularly for medical marijuana patients. Whether or not they are impaired should be the primary concern for law enforcement, and they don’t need fancy blood tests or saliva swabs to determine that. They’ve been doing just fine since the invention of the automobile.

 

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Department of Justice tells AZ Gov. Brewer: “Dismiss your lawsuit, you have no case!”


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A funny thing happened on Monday. The Department of Justice filed a brief regarding state medical marijuana laws in Arizona . . . and it was a good thing, and was met with appreciation from the medical marijuana movement! Seriously. After the disappointments of the vague, not very helpful Cole memo, and the expected but still disappointing DEA denial of marijuana’s medical value, it was great to see the Department of Justice (DoJ) doing the right thing regarding medical marijuana, even if it was only in a limited way.

As you may know, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, last seen promoting states’ rights and vowing to fight on when it comes to illegal immigration, and her Attorney General, Tom Horne, had filed a suit as plaintiffs against the federal government, requesting permission to move ahead with Arizona’s medical marijuana program implementation. This was ridiculous, since no other governor has needed federal permission to move ahead with medical marijuana implementation, even though some others have also tried to use the red herring threat of federal action to slow implementation. Apparently, the DoJ also thinks Brewer’s claims are ridiculous, and it said as much in its withering Motion to Dismiss brief, in which it took apart each of the state of Arizona’s arguments, urging the court to dismiss the case. If the court dismisses the case, Brewer’s logical course of action would be to fully implement Arizona’s medical marijuana law, including licensing more than 100 dispensaries, though given her intransigence, that course of action is sadly not a given.

Throughout its brief, the DoJ basically said that the state of Arizona has no case and that plaintiffs Gov. Brewer and AG Horne have invented a controversy where none exists. Further, the brief notes that a state is not allowed to bring a case asking two sides to fight it out, without taking a position on the law in question, belying Gov. Brewer’s claims upon the suit’s filing of being a neutral party seeking “clarity.” The American judicial process simply does not work that way. In its brief, the DoJ’s criticism of the plaintiffs’ complaint was often direct and sometimes even slightly mocking, which was definitely appreciated by this reader.

The brief attacks the premise of Arizona’s suit in several ways. It says that the suit does not raise a substantial federal question (which it must in order to be heard first in federal court) because it asks for a declaratory judgment on the validity of a state law. It is amusing to watch the federal government explain Constitutional Law 101 to Gov. Brewer, noting that, “there is no federal jurisdiction of a suit by a state to declare the validity of its regulations despite possibly conflicting federal law” (p. 6). The brief also states directly that Arizona has not asserted any “actual, concrete controversy” in its complaint. The brief criticizes the plaintiffs for not identifying a controversy between the parties in the suit and notes the plaintiffs’ failure to take a side as a fatal flaw in the lawsuit, accusing the state of Arizona of “attempt[ing] to manufacture disputes among other parties” (p. 9). The brief criticizes Arizona’s decision to create twenty fictitious defendants, ten on one side of the law and ten on the other, states its doubts about the existence of the hypothetical defendants, and notes definitively that “parties cannot have ‘adverse legal interests’ necessary to establish a live controversy, when one party (particularly the plaintiff) professes to take neither side of the dispute” (p. 10). Finally, the brief denies that Arizona even has standing to raise such a claim, as it has not suffered any “injury in fact.” Basing standing on the idea that some Arizonans disagree about federal law’s effect on Arizona’s medical marijuana law will not work, nor will an unspecific suggestion about a “supposed risk that Arizona citizens will lose revenue or property” (pp. 11-12).

More importantly on a national level, this DoJ brief appears to affirm the following interpretation of the Ogden and Cole Memorandums, along with other relevant case law and actual enforcement: that there has been no demonstration that the federal government is interested in prosecuting state employees for implementing state medical marijuana programs and issuing dispensary licenses. The DoJ cites the lack of any “genuine threat that any state employee will face imminent prosecution under federal law” (p. 2) and notes that “plaintiffs can point to no threat of enforcement against the State’s employees” (p. 10). The brief notes that Arizona has no “concrete plan to act in violation of the Controlled Substances Act,” as it has refused to accept dispensary applications and issue licenses (an act that MPP believes, based on relevant court precedent, would clearly not be such a violation). The brief notes that Arizona was not able to produce any threat, generalized or specific, directed towards its state employees, and it points to the omission of any state employee threats in Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke’s letter on the issue (p. 14). The brief dismisses Arizona’s suggestion that Arizona state employees are subject to federal prosecution as “mere speculation” (p. 15). It sums up this argument when it says:

Plaintiffs identify no prior instances in which the federal government has sought to prosecute state employees for the conduct vaguely described in Plaintiffs’ complaint. Without evidence of such prior prosecutions, Plaintiffs cannot credibly show a genuine threat of imminent prosecution in this case. (p. 15)

This message from the DoJ is heartening, along with U.S. Attorney Burke’s clear statement that going after state employees “is not a priority for us, and will not be.” This brief also comes on the heels of the statement of former U.S. Attorney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said definitively about his decision to implement the state’s medical marijuana program:

I don’t believe the United States Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, given the narrow and medically based nature of our program, will expend what are significantly lessening federal law enforcement resources in the context of the federal budget, on going after dispensaries in New Jersey, our Department of Health or other state workers who are helping to implement this program.

These recent events all suggest that the Department of Justice is interpreting its guidance to mean that state employees can fully implement medical marijuana programs, like those in Arizona and Rhode Island, with no fear of prosecution. So let’s get it done, Governors Brewer and Chaffee! Time is wasting, and people are hurting and need their medicine now.

 

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