Prohibition, Video

Arizona Police Kill Ex-Marine in Raid

May 27th, 2011 26 Comments Morgan Fox

Earlier this month, a story came out about a series of raids carried out in a Tuscon, Arizona neighborhood that were part of a marijuana trafficking investigation. There was sketchy information at first, but what was certain was that a 26-year-old father and ex-Marine who served two tours in Iraq was dead after suffering at least 60 gunshot wounds at the hands of the Pima County SWAT team.

This kind of overwhelming force is inappropriate for enforcing marijuana prohibition in almost any context, but there could be extenuating circumstances that justified its use, such as the fact that the victim, Jose Guerena, was armed, and the allegation that he threatened officers. At least, that is what the Pima County Sheriff’s Department is trying to make everyone think.

Soon after the incident, the media started looking into the facts of the case, and the story of what happened that morning looked less and less believable. In an article for the Huffington Post, Radley Balko investigates the circumstances surrounding Jose Guerena’s death, and the efforts by the police to hinder any such investigation. Here is an excerpt, but please take the time to read the entire article here.

Perhaps we will at some point see convincing evidence that Dupnik and Storie are right — that Jose Guerena was in fact a drug dealer and violent criminal who dressed up like a cop to rob rival drug dealers and innocent citizens of Pima County. But at this point, all we have is a dead father and veteran, a violent series of raids that make little sense, and a police agency that over the last three weeks has put out incorrect information, insisted that it would be dangerous to release any further information, and, at the same time, allowed a police representative to release information favorable to the department.

It is high time the public holds people in powerful positions accountable for their abuses, and not allow them to quiet us with the argument that their actions are in our own best interests.

Update: New information, courtesy of Radley Balko.

Here is the video of the raid:

Do you think this is appropriate use of deadly force?

Read more

Medical Marijuana

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

May 27th, 2011 20 Comments Kate Zawidzki

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.

Read more

Medical Marijuana

Presidential Hopeful Tim Pawlenty Offers No Hope for Medical Marijuana

May 25th, 2011 31 Comments Morgan Fox

On Monday, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty announced his decision to run for President of the United States. This should have been cause for concern for marijuana reformers and medical marijuana patients, and today that concern was justified.

Gov. Pawlenty has been no friend to marijuana reform in the past. In 2009, he vetoed a bill that would have allowed only terminally ill Minnesotans to use marijuana to ease their pain in their final days. Even though this bill was narrowly tailored to address the concerns of law enforcement, Pawlenty vetoed it regardless, citing… further law enforcement concerns.

This is the same guy who supported a court decision that could have made possession of bong water a felony.

Given this disturbing behavior, and the damage that an anti-marijuana zealot in the White House could do to all the progress we have made in the last few years, we decided to find out if T-Paw still feels the same about the issue.

He does.

After speaking today at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. on such subjects as limited government, federal interference in health care, and saving taxpayer money, MPP’s Bob Capecchi asked the former governor how he could justify vetoing the Minnesota medical marijuana bill, given his stances on these issues.

Pawlenty dodged these obvious inconsistencies completely, and deferred to his standard rhetoric.

“Marijuana? Yeah,” Pawlenty said. “Well… I stood with law enforcement on this issue. We just have a respectful difference on this issue.”

He also mentioned that law enforcement have pretty serious concerns about medical marijuana. Is one of those concerns losing the ability to waste taxpayer money arresting sick people? This difference of opinion doesn’t seem respectful to seriously ill people, let alone to ideological consistency or integrity.

Marijuana reform could become a huge issue during the next presidential election. It is important that we keep putting pressure on candidates to clearly state their position on the issue, and to hold them accountable for that stance in the polls. We need to confront every candidate at every opportunity! Some of us are sure to get chances to question the candidates prior to the election, so let’s use them!

Please send any video of candidates answering such questions to

Read more

Medical Marijuana

Ariz. Governor Challenging Voter-Enacted Medical Marijuana Law

May 25th, 2011 24 Comments Kate Zawidzki

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.

Read more


U.S. Supreme Court orders California to release over 30,000 prisoners

May 23rd, 2011 17 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Today, in a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision ordering California to reduce its state prison population by more than 30,000 prisoners. It found that as a result of overcrowding, the prisoners’ “medical and mental health care … has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements … .” Even after the prison population is reduced, California’s prisons could still be over 37% above capacity.
The dissent painted a picture of a public safety disaster if the inmates were released. But, in reality, California prisons are far more dangerous to some of these inmates than those inmates have ever been to society. As the court noted, “needless suffering and death have been the well documented result” of current conditions.
Outrageously, many prisoners are there for nothing more than growing or delivering a plant that has never caused a fatal overdose — marijuana. In California, cultivation of marijuana (other than under the medical marijuana law) is a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison.
For participating in the production or sale of a substance safer than alcohol, these non-violent marijuana offenders face possible death in prison. The Supreme Court quoted a lower court ruling that prisoners were needlessly dying every five to six days as a result of the conditions. For example, “A prisoner with severe abdominal pain died after a five-week delay in referral to a specialist; a prisoner with ‘constant and extreme’ chest pain died after an eight-hour delay in evaluation by a doctor; and a prisoner died of testicular cancer after a ‘failure of MDs to work up for cancer in a young man with 17 months of testicular pain.’”
The state of California will decide who will be released. But this decision should result in the release of all non-violent marijuana offenders who are in state prison. Unlike violent and property criminals, their crimes had no victims. Then again, if decisions on who to imprison and who to let free were in keeping with reason and morality, we wouldn’t see non-violent marijuana offenders sentenced to life while convicted child sex offenders walk free on probation


Read more

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Supreme Court Affirms Gun Rights for Patients

May 19th, 2011 7 Comments Morgan Fox

Back in January, this blog mentioned a case in which an anti-marijuana sheriff in Jackson County, Oregon, was trying to deny the renewal of a concealed handgun permit for Cynthia Willis, a licensed medical marijuana patient. The sheriff was so adamant about the case that he took it all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court. His primary argument was that granting a concealed handgun license to a patient (or in his terms, drug user) would be a violation of the Federal Gun Control Act. This law makes it illegal for anyone using or possessing an illegal drug to own or use a firearm. And of course, the federal government still considers marijuana in any form to be illegal.

Today, the court ruled unanimously that being a medical marijuana patient does not strip a person of his or her constitutional rights, at least as far as state law is concerned. From the court’s opinion:

Congress did not directly require the states to use their gun licensing mechanisms for the purpose of keeping guns out of the hands of marijuana users, and we conclude that Congress did not intend to achieve that same result by making it illegal for medical marijuana users to possess guns. The state’s decision not to use its gun licensing mechanism as a means of enforcing federal law does not pose an obstacle to the enforcement of that law. Federal officials can effectively enforce the federal prohibition on gun possession by marijuana users by arresting and turning over for prosecution those who violate it.

Ultimately, then, we reject the sheriffs’ contention that, to the extent that ORS 166.291 requires county sheriffs to issue CHLs to qualified applicants without regard to their use of medical marijuana, the statute is preempted by the federal prohibition on gun possession by marijuana users at 18 USC section 922(g)(3). The sheriffs cannot justify their denial of the applications at issue on that ground.

Basically, this means that because the Oregon gun licensing law does not substantially interfere with the ability of federal officials to enforce their gun control law, Oregon’s law is not pre-empted and is valid. The sheriff, being a state law enforcement official, must abide by state law and issue canceled handgun licenses to anyone who qualifies under Oregon law, even if that individual wouldn’t qualify under the federal scheme. Because being a medical marijuana patient is not grounds for refusal of a permit in Oregon, the sheriff must grant Ms. Willis’s concealed handgun permit even though she would still be liable under federal law for having a gun while using “illicit narcotics.”

Sound familiar?

It should. Check out the case of Gonzalez v. Raich (2005), which established that the federal government is free to enforce their marijuana laws despite California’s right to exempt medical marijuana users and caregivers from state criminal liability.



Read more

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Passes Medical Marijuana Law!

May 13th, 2011 27 Comments Morgan Fox

Today, Gov. Jack Markell signed SB 17 into law, making it legal for Delaware residents with certain serious medical conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The bill had bipartisan sponsors and support in the legislature. This makes Delaware the 16th state, along with the District of Columbia, to pass an effective medical marijuana law.

The law goes into effect on July 1 and will permit people diagnosed with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, decompensated cirrhosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, intractable nausea, severe seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, wasting syndrome, and severe debilitating pain that has not responded to other treatments or for which other treatments produced serious side effects to possess up to six ounces of marijuana without fear of arrest. Qualified patients will not be able to cultivate their own medicine, but they will be able to obtain medical marijuana from state-licensed compassion centers regulated by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, which will also issue medical marijuana ID cards to patients who receive a recommendation from their doctor. Public use of marijuana and driving under the influence are prohibited.

“There are so many people in Delaware who are suffering unimaginable pain that this will help, and we want to be able to do what we can to provide much-needed relief for those citizens,” said Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, who sponsored the legislation. “I am very grateful that so many of my colleagues were able to look past the myths surrounding marijuana and into the eyes and hearts of those who were crying out for our help. Needless to say, I am profoundly grateful to Gov. Markell for his support of this important legislation.”

“Today is an amazing victory for seriously ill Delaware patients, who have been waiting a very long time for the chance to use the medicine they need without fear,” said Noah Mamber, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, who lobbied and mobilized patients, professionals, and grassroots activists in support of the bill. “SB17 is the most comprehensive, tightly-written medical marijuana bill in the country, and with this vote, the Delaware Legislature proved that compassion is not a red or a blue issue. It’s a human issue.”

Chris McNeely, a Dagsboro National Guard veteran and chronic pain patient with severe wasting syndrome, said, “Until this law was passed, I was afraid to use medical marijuana, even though it helped me in the past, because if I was arrested and put in jail, they could not properly care for me, and I could actually die. I am so happy I will be able to get legal relief soon.”

With this victory, we are well on our way to accomplishing MPP’s goal of 27 medical marijuana states by 2014. Keep up the good work, everybody!

Read more

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Just Needs Governor’s Approval to Become 16th Medical Marijuana State

May 12th, 2011 7 Comments Morgan Fox

UPDATE: Gov. Markell signed the bill into law!

On Wednesday, the Delaware Senate passed the final version of SB 17, which would allow people with certain medical conditions to use marijuana without fear of arrest. Medical marijuana patients are now waiting for Gov. Markell to sign the bill into law. The governor has stated that he supports the bill and is expected to approve it very soon.

Under the new law, patients 18 and over with cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, or ALS would be permitted to use marijuana to treat their conditions with a recommendation from their doctor. While the law would not allow home cultivation, it does establish a regulated non-profit dispensary system to provide safe access for patients. There would initially be one dispensary in each of Delaware’s three counties.

If the bill becomes law, Delaware will become the 16th state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana.

Read more

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Defense Bill!

May 12th, 2011 5 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Great news! Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has signed SB 308! As of June 1, patients in Maryland charged with possession of up to one ounce of marijuana who can show they’ve been diagnosed with a debilitating condition that is resistant to other treatments will be found “not guilty” if they demonstrate they’re likely to benefit from medical marijuana.

Congratulations to everyone who helped make this day possible. Del. Dan MorhaimSen. Jamie Raskin, and Sen. David Brinkley worked tirelessly to secure their colleagues’ support. Allied drug policy organizations were also instrumental in helping achieve this victory. Finally, and most importantly, brave patients and their loved ones came from all over the state to courageously share their stories with legislators and members of the media. We simply would not be here without their efforts.

This is a proud day for MPP. We’ve been leading the lobbying effort in Maryland for a decade, securing passage of the original Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act, and now today’s improvement legislation. And we’ll be back next year to help pass a comprehensive law that includes legal access for patients and protection from arrest.

Thank you for all your support!

Dan Riffle, Former Del. Don Murphy, and Karen O'Keefe

Read more

Medical Marijuana

Vermont On Course for Dispensaries

May 6th, 2011 5 Comments Morgan Fox

On Thursday, May 5, the Vermont House of Representatives voted 99-44 to approve an amended bill that would allow four well-regulated non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state.

I am pleased to announce that the Senate has approved the amendments, and the bill is now on its way to the governor to be signed into law!

It is expected that Gov. Peter Shumlin will approve the bill. He has stated his support for marijuana reform publicly in the past and has been a consistent ally.

Hopefully, with Gov. Shumlin’s help, medical marijuana patients in Vermont will soon be able to access the highest quality medicine safely and affordably.


Read more