Yesterday, the Miami Herald published an article discussing a recent poll that shows a majority of Florida voters support medical marijuana. The article specifically mentioned the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act and talked about how it could affect the gubernatorial race in 2014.
Apparently, certain folks in law enforcement didn’t like what they saw.
In a bizarre twist that some see as more than just a coincidence, Cathy Jordan, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease and for whom the bill is named, had her home raided by Manatee County sheriffs just hours after the article was published.
Deputies entered the property, claiming they had probable cause to search based on a tip and found two mature marijuana plants and 21 immature seedlings growing inside.
A spokesman for the sheriff’s office claimed deputies had no knowledge of the pending legislation, and that they have no desire to get involved in the publicity of such a discussion.
Luckily, no arrests were made, but the case is being reviewed by the state attorney’s office.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeff Clemens, was not amused:
Clemens said Monday he was angry about the raid on the Jordan house.
“Do we want to be the kind of state that raids the home of a woman in a wheelchair in order to enforce outdated laws?” Clemens said Monday night.
Today’s New York Times includes a feature story about California medical marijuana provider Matthew Davies, who federal prosecutors are pressuring to accept a five-year mandatory minimum as a plea agreement. Federal authorities indicted Matthew last year on charges of marijuana cultivation, calling him “one of the most significant commercial marijuana traffickers to be prosecuted in this district.” By all accounts, the two dispensaries Matthew owned were in total compliance with state law and were models of professionalism and service.
He brought graduate-level business skills to a world decidedly operating in the shadows. He hired accountants, compliance lawyers, managers, a staff of 75 and a payroll firm. He paid California sales tax and filed for state and local business permits.
“This is not a case of an illicit drug ring under the guise of medical marijuana,” [his attorney] wrote. “Here, marijuana was provided to qualified adult patients with a medical recommendation from a licensed physician. Records were kept, proceeds were tracked, payroll and sales taxes were duly paid.”
Does this sound like a dangerous criminal who we should spend federal resources to arrest, prosecute, and possibly jail? Medical marijuana providers who followed state law, like Matthew, weren’t supposed to be the targets of federal attack and provide an excellent example for others in the industry. Nevertheless, he is facing a significant amount of time in jail regardless of whether he takes the plea, which will surely take a serious toll on him and his family.
“To be looking at 15 years of our life, you couldn’t pay me enough to give that up,” Mr. Davies said at the dining room table in his two-story home along the San Joaquin River Delta, referring to the amount of time he could potentially serve in prison.
Matthew and his family are not taking this lying down. Matthew’s wife Molly published this open letter to President Obama today in the Huffington Post. You can find out more about Matthew’s case and how you can help at http://www.keepmattfree.org/.
In another example of drug war excess, officers raided and vandalized the home of Beach Park, Illinois resident Paul Brown on Friday afternoon of last week. The apparent impetus for the raid was a mysterious package delivered to the house 10 minutes earlier. Brown’s son-in-law, Wilmer Aries, received the package and noted that it was not addressed to any of the house’s residents. Instead, it bore the name “Oscar” and an unfamiliar last name.
Brown, a 58-year-old architect, explained that the officers with the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group broke down his front door in the no-knock raid, handcuffed him, and pointed a gun at his face. “The garage door was open. They could have just walked in,” he said. “They didn’t have to crash the front door down.”
Although the officers seized the package, claiming it contained marijuana, their two-hour ransacking of the house, including ripping out insulation from the basement walls, uncovered no evidence to incriminate anyone in the house and led to no arrests. “They were upset they didn’t find anything. When I asked them who was going to pay for the door they basically said, ‘Not us’,” said Brown, who noted the door on his luxury home was valued at $3,000 some 12 years ago and the lock set was another $130 from Home Depot.
Brown even noted that the officers, far from apologizing for their mistake, seemed to be congratulating each other on the operation with high fives and fist-bumps. His subsequent calls to the MEG were not returned, nor were calls from news outlets. He has hired a lawyer to file a civil suit and explains that he and his 77-year-old mother-in-law were particularly shaken by the incident. “She’s afraid to even take a nap on the couch now,” he said. “I can hardly sleep. It changes your frame of mind.” His lawyer, Christopher Cohen, characterized the Browns as “innocent bystanders in the war on drugs.”
As Reason.com notes, this is not the first time a wrongful no-knock raid was carried out in the U.S. based simply on the delivery of a package of marijuana. In 2008, the home of Cheye Calvo, mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, was raided by a SWAT team and his two dogs fatally shot. The mayor complained, leading to an investigation, but as the raid was ultimately ruled legitimate, this will likely not be the last such incident.
UPDATE: Not many more details have emerged regarding the purpose of yesterday's raids. From the Oakland Tribune:
Authorities refused to provide details about the raids carried out by U.S. Marshals and agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency and Internal Revenue Service. Lee was briefly detained in his home, but not arrested, supporters said. Two protesters were arrested as agents seized marijuana plants and other materials from Oaksterdam's downtown Oakland locations, all of which remained closed Monday.
Thankfully, the gunman at Oikos University in Oakland that murdered seven people and wounded several others while this was happening turned himself in to authorities. With law enforcement wasting time and resources on targeting state-legal educational businesses and legal medical marijuana patients, who knows how long he could have been at large? No one else was hurt by this person, but things could have gone very differently.
The political nature of the targets chosen by the feds has not escaped lawmakers or the marijuana reform community, either. While protestors turned out in large numbers to decry the attacks, legislators from five medical marijuana states were sending a letter to the federal government, asking it to end its interference with state medical marijuana programs.
Americans for Safe Access and other supporters of medical marijuana rights will be holding a press conference today, Tuesday, April 3 at 11:00 a.m. on the steps of City Hall located at 1 Dr. Carlton B Goodlett Place in San Francisco. If you are in the Bay Area, let the federal government feel your presence.
ORIGINAL (4/2/12 AT 12:47pm EST): For the last several hours, agents from the U.S. Marshals, DEA, and IRS have been conducting a raid on Oaksterdam University and other businesses associated with Proposition 19 proponent Richard Lee. Lee was the primary financial supporter of the attempt to make marijuana legal in California in 2010, and his marijuana businesses in Oakland helped revitalize that area of the city.
Reports are still coming in, but it seems that several people have been arrested in the raids and more are being detained at the scenes.
Supporters of medical marijuana patients and the marijuana reform community were quick to respond in defense of Oaksterdam, which is an industry leader in cannabis science education. Protesters have flooded the area, and there are unconfirmed reports that several have been arrested as well.
While law enforcement has been busy knocking over a pillar of the community, a shooting was taking place at the exact same time at a nearby Christian university. At least eight people have been injured, and as of a few minutes ago, the suspect is still at large.
This is a tragic day for the residents of Oakland. Their public servants need to be using every resource at hand to deal with real problems, not persecuting legitimate, peaceful businesses and medical marijuana patients.
A Michigan man came forward this week with his story of police abuse, and unfortunately, it sounds all too familiar.
According to Rudy Simpson, police raided his home for marijuana based on an anonymous tip and a marijuana stem supposedly found in his garbage. The police found a quarter ounce of marijuana, 12 alleged marijuana seeds, and half of a pill for which Simpson produced a prescription.
Apparently, this was all the justification the police needed to confiscate three pages worth of Simpson’s personal property under Michigan’s asset forfeiture laws, including musical equipment, televisions, DVDs, computers, and other electronics. State law allows authorities to confiscate any materials paid for with profits from drug sales, based only on probable cause. No evidence was ever produced to link Simpson to any marijuana sales, yet his property was seized anyway. According to Simpson, the officers acted like “thugs,” eating food out of his refrigerator and trashing his home during the raid.
Unfortunately for the cops, they raided the home during a band rehearsal, and were unaware that the entire incident was being recorded. This included the police testing their vocal skills on the mic, then openly talking about which of Simpson’s belongings they and their team leader wanted to take! (Follow the first link of this post to listen.)
It turns out this particular unit made quite a bit of money by confiscating big-ticket items during routine, low-level drug busts, either keeping the items or reselling them illegally. The head of the unit, Luke Davis, is currently under indictment for corruption.
This is just another sad example of one of the more insane aspects of the war on marijuana users. Thousands of people have had their homes and belongings stolen by law enforcement, without due process, never to be returned. Some of these people were never even officially charged with a crime or were found not guilty of the charges, but in most cases, the police still sold the property and kept the proceeds!
We live in a great nation. We also live in a nation where the people who are supposed to protect you can kick your door down, terrorize your family, shoot your dog, and take your land and property — all because they think you have some plant matter that is safer to use than alcohol. And there isn’t much you can do about it.
This is why all Americans need to support ending marijuana prohibition: It is simply un-American.
UPDATED: Shocking. That's the only word that comes to mind when seeing the video of Todd Blair, 45, gunned down by armed police storming his home on a no-knock raid in Utah last September. Blair, no doubt surprised by the sound of yelling and having his door kicked in, emerges from an interior doorway holding a golf club over his head. Before Blair can react, Sgt. Troy Burnett shoots him three times and Blair slumps to the floor dead.
No "drop the weapon," no "get down on the ground," just bang!, bang!, bang! It's a chilling scene that's over before it started, and all the police found was a small amount of marijuana and an empty vial alleged to have contained other drugs.
This type of raid won't come as a surprise to regular readers of our blog, of course. We see these stories all the time because they're playing out every day in this country at an alarming rate. Lives are ruined and lost, and for what? A few grams of marijuana? It's just another—albiet outrageous—example of how prohibition has failed as a policy at every conceivable turn. If videos like this aren't a sure sign that it's time to end marijuana prohibition and adopt sensible polices like taxation and regulation, then I'm not sure what is. (originally written by John Berry, with updates by Dusty Trice)
In the latest development in the quest for justice in Columbia, Missouri, Jonathan Whitworth and family are suing the officers responsible for a botched February SWAT raid that endangered their lives and resulted in the death of one of their dogs.
This story received national attention when a video was released showing the police entering the home in what they call a “dynamic entry” and immediately opening fire, killing one dog and injuring another. After enormous pressure from the media and activist community, the Columbia Police Chief agreed to revise the city’s SWAT guidelines to prevent further incidents.
Unfortunately, the officers involved were never disciplined for their dangerous behavior, and both the chief and police review board found that they had acted appropriately. While this family will have to suffer the lasting pain of losing a pet and the trauma of a violent intrusion in their lives, the paramilitary thugs that terrorized them, over a gram of marijuana and a pipe, suffered no consequences whatsoever.
Let’s hope the judge hearing this case feels differently.
Just in case you haven’t seen the video, this is what the officers are being sued for:
Earlier this week, Oakland County authorities raided two medical marijuana businesses and several private homes, arresting 15 people and confiscating what was allegedly $750,000 worth of marijuana and equipment. One of the facilities raided, Clinical Relief, is located in Ferndale, Michigan where the City Council voted just two days earlier to lift a moratorium on such businesses.
Now comes news that one of the individuals whose home was raided, 67-year-old Sal Agro, has died of an apparent heart attack. Agro, who recently had hip replacement surgery, and his two sons ran the Clinical Relief facility in Ferndale prior to this week’s raid. Here’s video of Agro recounting the actions of the officers who carried out the raids. According to Agro, the masked officers destroyed portions of his home, pointed a shotgun at his daughter-in-law, and confiscated 20 marijuana plants (he and his wife are each registered patients; under Michigan law, registered patients may possess up to 12 plants each for medical use). Despite all this, Agro claims he was never placed under arrest and was denied any opportunity to view the search warrant until after the raid.
It’s obviously too early to say whether the raid contributed to Agro’s death (though the stress of the raid and arrest of his wife and two children couldn't have helped), but in addition to concerns over how such raids are carried out is the question of why? Michigan voters spoke clearly when 63% – and a majority in every county – approved a medical marijuana ballot initiative in 2008. Also, on election day 2008, Ferndale voters approved a local ordinance that would allow medical marijuana dispensing. And as I mentioned earlier, the Ferndale City Council had lifted its moratorium on businesses like Clinical Relief’s. Sheriff Bouchard may have hinted at his long-term goals when he opened a press conference to discuss the raids by saying he and prosecutor Jessica Cooper would use the time to “talk about what we think the legislature needs to do.”
One final wrinkle to the story is whether judges have the ability to deny patients access to physician-recommended medicine during the pendency of their trials. Of those arrested earlier this week, some were arraigned in the 51st District where they were denied access to medical marijuana by Judge Richard Kuhn, who likened the situation to drunk driving suspects who are not allowed to drink while on bond. Others were arraigned in the nearby 43rd district where Judge Joseph Longo took no action to deny access to medical marijuana. “They have every right to use whatever medications” their physicians prescribe, Longo told the Detroit Free Press.
I often wonder, would a judge deny access to much more dangerous medications like opioid painkillers to those with prescriptions from their doctors?
Four years after 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was shot and killed by Atlanta narcotics officers who falsified evidence before and after a completely unwarranted raid on her home, the city of Atlanta has announced it will pay a $4.9 million settlement to her family.
In November 2006, officers conducted a “no knock” raid on Johnston’s home based on bogus information from an informant who said he had purchased drugs there. (After the raid, the informant told a local news station that he had never even been to Johnston's home, and that police asked him to fabricate the story after the shooting.)
Johnston, who lived alone, apparently mistook the plainclothes officers for intruders and, according to the prosecutor trying the officers, fired one shot through the door and hit nothing. The police responded, firing 39 shots, killing Johnston and apparently wounding three of their own.
Investigators did not find any evidence that drugs were being sold in the apartment. In an apparent attempt to fabricate a cover story, one of the officers, J.R. Smith, planted three bags of marijuana in the home, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Yonette Sam-Buchanan.
The raid made national headlines, and the three officers involved eventually plead guilty to federal charges including conspiracy, voluntary manslaughter and making false statements. They are currently serving sentences in federal prison.
"The resolution of this case is an important step in the healing process for the city and its residents," Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed said in a statement yesterday. "As a result of the incident, several police officers were indicted in federal and state court on charges and were later convicted and sentenced for their actions. In addition, the narcotics unit of the Atlanta Police Department was completely reorganized, which included changes in policy and personnel."
Unfortunately, raids like the one on Kathryn Johnston’s home continue to occur every day in places all over the country. Some compensation for Johnston’s family is a good start to repairing the damage, but a much more appropriate legacy for this highly-publicized tragedy would be for officials nationwide to realize that in a free society, armed officers shouldn’t be sent on missions to break down doors and potentially use violence in order to enforce nonviolent drug offenses.
After word spread of DEA raids on medical marijuana collectives in San Diego and Mendocino County last week, many are left wondering if federal agents deliberately violated the Obama administration’s instructions to not interfere with state medical marijuana laws.
Under the Department of Justice policy announced in an October memo, federal agents are no longer supposed to target or prosecute medical marijuana patients or providers who operate in “clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law.”
Yet, according to local accounts, the sites raided last week were legal under state law. From the Press Democrat:
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman confirmed Friday that the [raided] property owner had the proper paperwork and the marijuana was legal in the eyes of the county.
“This was a federal operation and had nothing to do with local law enforcement,” he said. “The federal government made a decision to go ahead and eradicate it.”
Steve Elliott has more in Alternet:
A multi-agency federal task force descended on the property of Joy Greenfield, the first Mendo patient to pay the $1,050 application fee under the ordinance, which allows collectives to grow up to 99 plants provided they comply with certain regulations.
Greenfield had applied in the name of her collective, “Light The Way,” which opened in San Diego earlier this year. Her property had passed a preliminary inspection by the Mendo sheriff’s deputies shortly before the raid, and she had bought the sheriff’s “zip-ties” intended to designate her cannabis plants as legal.
In the days before the raid, Greenfield had seen a helicopter hovering over her property; she inquired with the sheriff, who told her the copter belonged to the DEA and wasn’t under his control.
The agents invaded her property with guns drawn, tore out the collective’s 99 plants and took Greenfield’s computer and cash.
Joy was not at home during the raid, but spoke on the phone to the DEA agent in charge. When she told [him] she was a legal grower under the sheriff’s program, the agent replied, “I don’t care what the sheriff says.”
The DEA has not yet released any statement explaining their actions, which all reports indicate violated their DOJ-issued guidelines.
With the number of state medical marijuana laws at 14 and growing, there is an urgent need for the federal government to ensure that its policy on state medical marijuana laws is made “clear and unambiguous” to its enforcers as well. The DOJ guidelines issued in October should have done just that, but apparently the DEA in California didn’t get the memo.