MPP Calls for Resignation of Sheriffs Suing Colorado to Bring Back Prohibition


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Supporters of marijuana regulation in Colorado are calling for the resignation of the six Colorado sheriffs who filed a federal lawsuit Thursday intended to force Colorado marijuana production and sales back into the underground market.

According to news reports, the sheriffs claim they are experiencing a “crisis of conscience” because they believe federal marijuana laws prohibit them from enforcing state marijuana laws. However, the U.S. Controlled Substances Act includes a provision that clearly states is not intended to preempt state laws, and it specifically authorizes states to pursue their own marijuana laws.

MPP’s Mason Tvert explains on “CBS This Morning”:

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Boycott Holiday Inn!


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Yesterday, a Holiday Inn hotel operator in Colorado and a national anti-marijuana organization filed a federal lawsuit intended to shut down all of Colorado’s legal marijuana retail stores and cultivation facilities.

MPP is encouraging everyone who supports legalizing and regulating marijuana to (1) join us in a nationwide boycott of Holiday Inn hotels until the suit is withdrawn, and (2) sign our Change.org petition urging the hotel operator to withdraw it.Holiday_Inn_Graphics_-_FINAL

The people spearheading this effort were warriors in the Reagan administration’s Justice Department during the “Just Say No” era, and now they’re trying to turn back the clock 30 years in Colorado. At their press conference, the attorney who filed the lawsuit said they want everyone in Colorado who grows or sells marijuana for adult use to go to prison (yes, they actually said “prison”).

These guys aren’t messing around, and neither are we. Help us send businesses the message that they will face consequences if they join the fight to maintain marijuana prohibition.

Sign our petition calling on the Holiday Inn operator to drop its misguided lawsuit, boycott Holiday Inn until the suit gets dropped, and encourage your friends and relatives to do the same.

 

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Federal Lawsuit Filed to Derail Washington State from Collecting Taxes on Marijuana Sales


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Martin Nickerson
Martin Nickerson, owner of Northern Cross Collective Gardens

Martin Nickerson has filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Washington, attempting to bar the state from collecting taxes on marijuana sales. Washington state officials are demanding that he pay taxes on those sales to the tune of $62,000. However, since Nickerson is under prosecution for the criminal sale of marijuana as a medical marijuana producer, he claims that forcing him to pay taxes on his sales would violate his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Alison Holcomb, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who was the main author of Washington State’s successful ballot initiative, said the lawsuit has a low probability of taking down the state’s legal marijuana system.

Suppliers like Nickerson have already made public their intent to break federal law, Holcomb said, so paying taxes on their proceeds would not do much to further incriminate them.

“Paying taxes on marijuana implicates you, but so does everything else about being engaged in this system,” she said.

Ultimately, the case brings into question whether federal laws trump state laws when it comes to collecting tax revenue generated from marijuana sales. The outcome of this case could have a significant impact on medical marijuana businesses around the country.

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Georgia Student Sues School After Being Victimized by Humiliating Drug War Tactics


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A Georgia school system is being sued by a student after an incident that occurred during a marijuana investigation. The victim, who was in seventh grade at the time, was humiliated by school officials in front of other students after being implicated in an investigation. The details speak for themselves:

The student, identified in court documents as D.H., said officials at Eddie White Academy initially strip-searched three other students on Feb. 8, 2011, after suspecting they had marijuana. One of them accused D.H. of having drugs, and he was brought to then-vice principal Tyrus McDowell’s office.

While the three classmates watched, D.H.’s pockets and book bag were searched but didn’t find anything, the lawsuit said. One of the students told school officials he had lied about D.H. having drugs, but administrators continued the search as D.H. begged to be taken to the bathroom for more privacy, according to the lawsuit.

D.H. was ordered to strip and again, no drugs were found.

This sad event was not only illegal according to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was also representative of some of the more repulsive aspects of the government’s war on marijuana users. Let’s see …

Read the rest of this entry »

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer relents; dispensaries will be registered


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UPDATE: On Tuesday, an Arizona state court ordered the state to implement the dispensary provisions of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. The court also declared three medical marijuana regulations invalid and upheld other challenged regulations. The health department had said the state might wait until September or later to issue dispensary registrations. Hopefully, this means dispensaries will finally be registered by spring.

Today, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) announced she will not re-file her lawsuit questioning the validity of Arizona’s medical marijuana program. She also announced that once litigation is resolved challenging the health department rules, her health department will begin issuing dispensary registrations.

Gov. Brewer’s announcement follows a January 4 ruling dismissing her lawsuit. Judge Susan Bolton agreed with the ACLU, Department of Justice, and other attorneys, and found that there was no genuine, imminent threat that state employees would be prosecuted. Bolton said that Brewer could re-file if the problems with her complaint were addressed.

The U.S. attorney for Arizona at the time the case was filed, Dennis Burke, sent a letter to the Arizona health department on May 2, 2011 that flew in the face of the Obama Administration’s stated policy of not targeting those complying with state medical marijuana laws. Burke’s letter said “the [federal] CSA may be vigorously enforced against those individuals and entities who operate large marijuana production facilities” even if they are in compliance with state laws, as well as those who “knowingly facilitate the actions of traffickers.” After receiving the letter, Gov. Brewer directed Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne to file the litigation requesting clarity, even though Burke told media outlets that his office would not target state employees.

Today, Gov. Brewer wrote the acting U.S. attorney for Arizona, Ann Birmingham Scheel, noting her plans to finally move forward. Brewer requested clarification as to whether there are any activities state employees should not engage in and said “the Department of Justice and the administration which you serve will have a lot of explaining to do to the citizens of our country, and State of Arizona employees in particular, if the State’s reasonable and straightforward requests for clarity are ignored, and the Department of Justice then ambushes State employees with prosecution or civil penalties for implementing the AMMA and licensing medical marijuana dispensaries.”

Now, only one governor is stubbornly refusing to move forward with implementing a duly enacted medical marijuana dispensary program: Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) of Rhode Island. Here’s hoping he finally sees the light.

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Nevada Medical Marijuana Patient Suing Federal Government After Being Denied Gun Purchase


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In late September, I wrote about the letter sent by the ATF to all federally licensed firearms dealers, explaining that it was illegal to sell guns or ammunition to state-licensed medical marijuana users.

The reasoning behind this was a clause in the Federal Firearms Act that states that a person cannot purchase or possess a gun if they are “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana, or any depressant, stimulant, or narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.” The ATF reminded gun dealers that marijuana is still illegal according to the federal government, and that having a medical marijuana license was proof that a person fit the definition of an unlawful user or addict. Of course, a state-licensed patient is a lawful user as far as the state is concerned, but as we have seen, the feds do not care all that much about state law.

In a debate between MPP’s Steve Fox and former head of the ATF Mike Sullivan, Sullivan repeatedly claimed that the ATF’s hands were tied in this matter. Contrary to the claims that the ATF is simply reminding gun dealers about the law, the ATF actually has the discretion to define what they consider to be an “unlawful user.” In the absence of a court decision clarifying the definition, the ATF had every right to issue a memo that instead declared state-legal medical marijuana users to be lawful users and exempt from this particular status. Instead, they decided to use the vague law as a cover to deny sick people their constitutional right to bear arms.

Well, it looks like this might get cleared up in the (reasonably) near future.

On Oct. 4, outspoken Nevada medical marijuana advocate Rowan Wilson was denied purchase of a handgun due to her status as a patient. On Oct. 17, she and her attorney announced that she is suing the ATF and the federal government.

If this case goes to trial, federal judges will have the ability to determine whether patients in jurisdictions that allow the medical use of marijuana are, in fact, unlawful users pursuant to federal firearms laws.

Let’s hope they side with Ms. Wilson.

So far, gun rights activist groups like the National Rifle Association have been largely silent on this issue, but smaller organizations such as the Montana Shooting Sports Association and the Independent Firearms Owners of America have offered their support.

When asked why gun rights activists should support medical marijuana patients in this instance, IFOA president Richard Feldman said, “Republicans, Conservatives and independents need to face the dire economic realities facing our nation and stop funding programs like the war on drugs that don’t work, corrupt law enforcement and grow criminal enterprises. Our experience with alcohol prohibition teaches us how to lessen both the harm and the costs to society from banning substances which otherwise law abiding individuals will pursue.  As gun owners many of us subscribe to the maxim, ‘Better to be caught by the police with one, than by a gang banger without one’!  It’s time American face reality, deal with it intelligently, and stop protesting it, regardless of the ‘it’ being guns or marijuana.”

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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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Arizona U.S. Attorney indicates dispensaries, state employees would not be at risk


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Today, the Arizona Republic covered Gov. Jan Brewer’s outrageous, not-yet-filed lawsuit that calls the state’s voter-enacted medical marijuana law into question. Gov. Brewer alleged a major reason for the suit was fear that state employees could be in jeopardy. This claim was disingenuous given that Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke’s letter hadn’t mentioned state employees, and Brewer didn’t even bother to ask him if they would be at risk.

Apparently, reporter Mary K. Reinhart was more resourceful than Gov. Brewer. She spoke to U.S. Attorney Burke, who said “We have no intention of targeting or going after people who are implementing or who are in compliance with state law. But at the same time, they can’t be under the impression that they have immunity, amnesty or safe haven.” Burke also said they plan to focus drug enforcement on cartels and major trafficking, and that they have no intention to prosecute state employees.

This sounds like, in practice, the Arizona U.S. Attorney plans to abide by the 2009 Ogden memo that advises against targeting those in clear and unambiguous compliance with state laws, and by prior statements by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama.

In practice, as MPP has reminded lawmakers, the federal government has not been targeting those dispensaries that are state-registered, complying with state law, and operating in states with clear regulations and registration requirements. There have been no raids on dispensaries or licensed producers in New Mexico, Colorado, or Maine.

We hope this marks the beginning of the end of the scare tactics from U.S. Attorneys. We also believe that any alleged violation of state law should be up to state — not federal — law enforcement officials and/or courts to consider.

Join in the campaign to ensure the federal government does not interfere with state medical marijuana laws by asking your representative in Congress to support three bills in Congress that would provide legal protection to those complying with state law.

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Ariz. Governor Challenging Voter-Enacted Medical Marijuana Law


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Arizona Governor Jan Brewer announced yesterday that she is directing state Attorney General Tom Horne to go to federal court to question the validity of Arizona’s voter-enacted medical marijuana law. The suit will be filed this week. Brewer said the state attorney general will not defend the law.

Brewer initially indicated the state would be putting both patient ID cards and dispensary registrations on hold. Since then, her spokesperson announced they will continue issuing patient ID cards, after the administration apparently realized that the MPP-drafted law includes a safety valve so that a doctor’s certification and a notarized statement would function as an ID card if the state stopped issuing cards. The state was scheduled to begin accepting dispensary applications next week, but whether they will do so is now in question. If dispensary registrations are not granted, patients would have to cultivate for themselves, designate caregivers to do so, or turn to the criminal market.

“We are deeply frustrated by this announcement,” said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. “The law Governor Brewer wants enjoined established an extremely well thought-out and conservative medical marijuana system. The law was drafted so that a very limited number of non-profit dispensaries would serve the needs of patients who would be registered with the state. Governor Brewer is trying to disrupt this orderly system and replace it with relative chaos. We cannot think of a single individual — aside from possibly illegal drug dealers — who would benefit from Governor Brewer’s actions. She has done a disservice to her state and its citizens.”

Gov. Brewer’s lawsuit is not the first time elected officials have sought to spend taxpayer money to try to overturn a state medical marijuana law. In 2005, San Diego County sought to enjoin most provisions of California’s medical marijuana law. Ultimately, every court ruled against the county or refused to hear the case, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The only decision on whether the licensing of dispensaries would be federally preempted found that it would not be.

Perhaps Gov. Brewer is having a contest with San Diego County to see who can waste more of voters’ money in a futile challenge of the people’s will.

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Prop 19 and Constitutional Law for Dummies (and DEA Administrators)


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There’s been a great deal of chatter recently about what the federal government can or will do if Californians wisely pass Proposition 19 in a few weeks (read up here and here for example). President Obama has several choices, but the one I want address here is the one recently urged by nine former DEA heads (pdf):  for the feds to sue California in an attempt to declare the law null and void under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution because it violates the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). I have yet to see a more than perfunctory analysis of such a scenario, so I thought I’d post a little introductory Constitutional Law lesson for our curious readers.

Article VI, Section 1, clause 2 of the Constitution says “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land; … Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” In short, if state law conflicts with a constitutionally valid federal law, the state law is void. Now for starters, not even Supreme Court justices will agree on what the CSA can constitutionally prohibit. At least one justice will tell you a law prohibiting the intrastate cultivation and consumption of marijuana (at least for medical use) isn’t constitutional in the first place. But since a majority on the Court has already said Congress has authority to regulate even intrastate marijuana cultivation, does that mean Prop 19 would be void? Hardly. Read the rest of this entry »

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