Election leads judge to delay sentencing in Oregon case

Bounlith “Bong” Bouasykeo appeared in a Portland courtroom expecting to be sentenced for smuggling marijuana. The man had been convicted and now he would hear his fate. Then the judge entered and things began to change.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman delayed Bouasukeo’s sentencing on November 6 to weigh the effect of Oregon legalizing marijuana for adult use two days earlier. The judge recalled an argument made by defense attorney Matthew McHenry, who pointed out a change in Justice Department policy in Colorado after legalization passed in 2012.

“I’d be reluctant to sentence someone today,” Mosman said. “Then find out in a month that something like what happened in Colorado ends up happening here.” The former U.S. Attorney said he didn’t know about the Justice Department’s response and policy change in Colorado, but now he does. He wants to take time to see how things play out in Oregon.


The judge acknowledged that Bouasykeo’s isn’t a case of growing plants in Oregon, which would be legal now, but said the election victory may signal a change in penalties for related crimes. Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Barrow told the Court that he knows what the policy is and didn’t feel any change would affect this case. Judge Mosman clarified his thinking.

“I’d want to know whether I was about to sentence someone under a law that was going to change in a few weeks,” the judge said. He added that he is not surprised no changes have been made yet since the election was only two day prior. He also pointed out that these types of changes are above Barrow’s pay grade.

The Court heard arguments for and against the delay, but determined to wait. The judge apologized to the defendant, who was up from Texas for the one-day hearing, but said he feels the need to investigate further. The sentencing hearing was rescheduled for December 11.

The case is U.S.A. v. Bouasykeo.

This article was originally published by Marijuana.com.

Proposed bill would decriminalize marijuana in Virginia

The District of Columbia may have legalized marijuana, but be careful when straying into neighboring Virginia. The state has some tough penalties for marijuana offenders. Never mind the fact that distribution of half an ounce triggers a mandatory one-year prison sentence, just being in possession of that much makes you a drug dealer under Virginia law.

If you go to D.C. as a marijuana tourist, this is definitely one state you want to avoid on the way back. That will all change next year if one legislator succeeds in his plans.

State Senator Adam Ebbin represents the 30th Senate District, which includes Arlington and Alexandria. He filed SB 686 on Halloween for consideration after the new session begins in January. The bill would reduce penalties for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a $100 civil violation. Penalties for cultivation would also be reduced.

While growing marijuana would still be illegal, the bill creates a presumption that a person growing no more than six plants is doing so for personal use. The provision adds that such possession will be penalized the same as simple possession. Under the current law, manufacture or growing marijuana carries a penalty of five to 30 years in prison. The bill would change that to a class one misdemeanor for distribution and $100 fine for personal use.

A June 2013 report from the ACLU said that Virginia had the 12th most marijuana arrests of all 50 states. The study added that black Virginians were nearly three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana in 2010. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, over 20,000 people were arrested for simple marijuana possession in 2012. That’s over 600,000 days in jail and $10 million in fines in a single year.

The bill has been referred to the Committee for Courts Justice for hearing after the new year. Decriminalization in Virginia was last proposed in 2012. That bill didn’t get a vote.

This article was originally published by Marijuana.com.

NYPD told to ticket instead of arrest for marijuana

The NYPD arrests tens of thousands of people a year for marijuana possession. The person is stopped, forced by police to empty their pockets, patted down and handcuffed. Police remove the cuffs after a ride to the police station to be processed and fingerprinted, putting the person in America’s criminal justice system. They hold the person — often for hours — in the company of real criminals, charge them with a misdemeanor and let them go.

Under a new plan, that would all change.

NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton announced Monday a change to the practice of arresting low-level marijuana offenders. The new plan allows police to issue a summons to suspects in possession of less than 25 grams of dry marijuana. The summons represents a violation of penal law and does not carry a criminal record. The punishment is a $100 fine.

Marijuana.com reported yesterday that the de Blasio administration may be ending the buy-and-bust program. Seemingly in response to the assertions made by the New York Post, the mayor made his official plan clear at a Monday press conference. At first glance, it can look like decriminalization, but NYC hasn’t crossed that hurdle.

Unlike decriminalization in nearby Philadelphia, certain people are not eligible to receive a simple fine. Offenders with an active warrant or wanted in connection with an active investigation, will still be arrested and charged for the marijuana as a misdemeanor. Offenders remain ineligible for reduced penalties if they are charged with another fingerprintable offense or have no identification.

The Drug Policy Alliance, a leading advocate for change, was cautiously optimistic in a statement about the change. Gabriel Sayegh said that the mayor is doing the right thing by stopping arrests, but expressed concerns. Sayegh serves as Managing Director of Policy and Campaigns for the group. He said this is a first step rather than a solution, citing other problems with marijuana policy. Further steps are needed to address racial disparities, address police tactics and set standards, Sayegh said.

NYPD News said officers will issue the offender a summons “unless conditions warrant processing at a Department facility.” It’s unclear what those conditions might be. That has advocates worried about abuse of discretion.

“What will the process be for determining who is arrested and who is given a summons?” Asked the DPA statement.

Chicago faced a similar question in August of 2012 when it passed its version of decriminalization. Officers were to use their discretion under the ordinance to ticket people for minor marijuana crimes. The law didn’t live up to expectations in practice.

After 14 months, The Chicago Sun-Times reported that arrests dropped by 2,430 during the first seven months of 2013 compared with the previous year. The drop accounted for a 21% reduction, but 9,269 people were still arrested and processed. The Sun Times declared the marijuana ticket program a bust.

Whether the NYPD policy change has the desired effects will come down to how it is enforced.

This article was originally published by Marijuana.com.

Did De Blasio end NYPD’s ‘buy and bust’ marijuana policy?

Bill de Blasio called the high number of marijuana arrests in New York City ridiculous when running for mayor, concluding, “This policy is unjust and wrong.” After being elected, the mayor took a slightly different approach: he did nothing.

An October report from the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Arrest Research Project, however, provided the pushneeded. Pressured to live up to his campaign promise, de Blasio appears to be taking action.

The New York Post reported last week that de Blasio’s administration planned to stop doing “buy-and-busts.” Under the drug enforcement program, undercover police solicit marijuana from street dealers and use the leverage of a drug charge to look for other possible crimes. According to the report, 86% of arrests for marijuana possession in the city in the first eight months of 2014 were black or Latino.

“This is all about arresting minorities, and this is just one way to arrest less minorities,’’ A source told the Post.

NYC Narcotics Chief Brian McCarthy told the heads of each borough’s narcotics units that they are to shift priority away from marijuana to other drugs.

“There’s a pill and heroin problem in the city, and we have to focus on that.” McCarthy said.

Sources explained to the Post that marijuana arrests provide a gateway to probable cause. After a suspect is arrested for marijuana, they can be searched for weapons and other illegal substances. It’s also handy for the police because once they are booked, suspects’ fingerprints and photos go into files for future investigation.

Reverend Al Sharpton praised the move on Thursday after hearing about it through the media.

“It’s the kind of reform people like me wanted to see,” Sharpton told the Post. “This is a step in the right direction.”

Other leaders responded less favorably to the move. Sergeants Benevolent Association president Ed Mullins predicted that if marijuana arrests are discarded, civilized society will be next.

“It’s counterproductive to the broken-windows theory,” Mullins said. “If we’re not making marijuana arrests, then we may not pop someone who has a warrant on them or who committed felony crimes.’’

The de Blasio administration has not confirmed that they are ending the buy-and-bust program, but admits it is working on changing marijuana policy.

This article was originally published by Marijuana.com.

Pot poisoning lawsuit defendant alleges sabotage

LivWell, a Colorado medical marijuana dispensary targeted in a class-action lawsuit by people who claim they ate marijuana-infused chocolate bars without their knowledge, has filed a motion claiming someone else is responsible for the poisoning.

One of the featured attractions at the inaugural Denver County Fair in August was a Pot Pavilion, but the pre-event publicity stressed the pavilion’s offerings would be marijuana-free because the event was for families of all ages. The Pot Pavilion was separate from the rest of the fair and required people to show identification to prove they were over 21.

Plaintiffs have cited medical bills, a vomit-damaged car and lost work as causes for their class-action lawsuit against LivWell. The damages stem from an August incident when fair-goers ate marijuana-infused chocolate bars that LivWell’s booth workers told them were marijuana-free.

Now LivWell is pointing the finger at another marijuana entrepreneur as a possible saboteur.

Beyond Broadway LLC, the company doing business as both LivWell and Full Melt Chocolate, filed a Designation of Nonparties at Fault on Wednesday. The filing says that LivWell denies responsibility for giving the tainted chocolate to fair-goers and alleges possible sabotage by a former employee and two John Does.

Daniel de Sailles, owner of Top Shelf Extracts, is the former employee named. Top Shelf had a nearby booth in the Pot Pavilion. De Sailles made a name for himself in the Colorado marijuana industry as an extract artist (extracts are smokeable). He is the founder of a hash making competition known as The Secret Cup.

LivWell’s complaint alleges that de Sailles or associates “may be responsible for providing chocolate containing THC to the Plaintiffs.” They did not offer any evidence for the assertion, but noted that de Sailles didn’t leave Beyond Broadway under good circumstances.

“Defendant is not aware of specific evidence directly linking Mr. de Sailles to suspected sabotage; however, Mr. de Sailles did not leave Beyond Broadway under positive circumstances and would have had both the motivation and the opportunity to sabotage the products handed out by LivWell at the Denver County Fair.”

The filing points to two other suspicious characters, but only named de Sailles.

For his part, de Sailles denies any wrong-doing and says that two workers at his booth may have cause to join the lawsuit.

“Two of my booth workers went home sick,” de Sailles told Marijuana.com on Thursday. He says it did not occur to him until after the incident made the news, but he now thinks his workers became ill because they ate at the neighboring candy booth.

Marijuana.com spoke with Corey Zurbuch, the lawyer representing the class, by phone on Friday.

“It’s a common pleading,” Zurbuch said of the filing.

The Boulder lawyer explained that defendants are allowed to point the finger at anyone they might think is responsible. His seven named clients will represent a class of over 100 people possibly affected. The process of discovery and depositions will begin soon. Zurbuch says he expects to get a trial date within the next couple of weeks and estimates it will be about a year before that trial begins.

This article was originally published by Marijuana.com.

Pot-laced Halloween candy warnings unfounded

Yet another dire prediction of the consequences of legal marijuana failed to materialize last weekend. Denver police caused a stir last month when they warned parents about children being given marijuana-infused edibles for Halloween. Predictably, local news outlets jumped on this to sensationalize the threat.

CBS News pointed to an arrest for marijuana edibles in Maryland as a case of police saving children from the candy being in their Halloween sacks. Their connection of the arrest and Halloween, however, was tenuous at best and ridiculously propagandist at worst. It was the news outlet, rather than the police, to blame for the misleading report. According to an AP report of the arrest, police officials said that they didn’t think the candy was intended for trick-or-treaters.

“Prince George’s police officials say they don’t think that the candy was intended to wind up in kids’ trick-or-treat bags, but authorities wanted to warn parents.” — Washington Post

The Post also pointed out the labels on many of the products saying, “Warning: Extremely potent,” and “Keep away from children.” The warnings, required by Colorado law to be on the packaging of marijuana-infused edibles, are not the only deterrent for children. One brand shown prominently is Incredibles Edibles (shown in feature image). They make chocolate bar products with different flavors and sell them legally in Colorado.

It was not a great surprise to marijuana advocates when USA Today reported that the Children’s Hospital Colorado had no children being brought in for marijuana poisoning on Halloween. With prices for each of those candy packages ranging between $10 to $20, it’s absurd for a news outlet to imply that they will end up being given to kids.

But Rick Ritter of CBS’ WJZ in Baltimore went on to write, “Parents, if your child went trick-or-treating this Halloween night, you’ll want to read this story.”

The report went on to talk about the horrors of marijuana edibles that Colorado officials have recently been espousing with little evidence. Several parents were quoted as being worried about their children trick-or-treating for fear they would be given laced candy.

Not all mainstream coverage was distorted or neutral. Christopher Ingraham wrote a much-shared article for The Washington Post‘s WonkBlog on Monday titled, “You’re more likely to catch Ebola than to receive marijuana-laced Halloween candy.” Ingraham pointed to the obvious statistic: two cases of Ebola compared with zero cases of laced candy.

In any case, the logic behind marijuana panic proved to be faulty or non-existent … again. Look for warnings from police that your Thanksgiving turkey may be marijuana-infused against your will in the near future!

This article was originally published by Marijuana.com.

Arizona to be next legalization battleground

As voters decide on marijuana legalization in two states and the nation’s capitol tomorrow, advocates draw new battle lines for the 2016 election cycle. Many states have the popular will for legalization, but it takes strong organization and financial backing that push legalization through. The group behind legalization in Colorado indicates that Arizona is the next state to receive a push.

The Marijuana Policy Project posted an update on their blog on Thursday stating that they have filed paperwork to “form a committee to begin raising funds for a 2016 citizens’ initiative to make the adult use of marijuana legal.” The announcement follows an article in the Arizona Capitol Times quoting MPP Communications Director, Mason Tvert. He revealed that the group will be using the same strategy and similar terms as Amendment 64 in Colorado.

“It appears most Arizona voters are ready to adopt a more sensible policy,” Tvert told the paper.

A February poll conducted by Behavioral Research Center showed that Arizonians are ready for a change with 51 percent saying they think the sale of marijuana should be made legal in the state. It also revealed that most voters have an opinion on the issue, with only 8 percent saying they are undecided. Prohibitionist groups are likewise making themselves heard in representing the 41 percent who oppose legalization.

The Arizona County Attorney & Sheriffs Association issued a resolution opposing any marijuana legalization efforts.

It’s resolution begins: “Whereas we are committed to the success and positive future of our youth … ” It contains the usual claims about marijuana being bad for children, though it doesn’t explain what relevance that has on legalizing use for adults. Other arguments mentioned include the vague health risks of marijuana, the blight of impaired driving and safety in the workplace. The resolution lists MATFORCE, a group concerned with substance abuse, as its primary sponsor.

State Representative Ethan Orr (R) argues that his colleagues should handle legalization in the Arizona legislature, rather than relying on the ballot box. He told Capitol Media Services earlier this month that he wants to avoid a ballot initiative that gives lawmakers less control. Orr supports a Colorado-style approach, but wants legislators to create the terms. MPP provided a tepid response to Orr’s goals.

“While we are not yet familiar with the details of Rep. Orr’s bill, we would likely support any well-written proposal to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol,” Tvert said in a blog response. The group, however, will continue its ballot initiative efforts.

Arizona voters approved Proposition 203 creating a medical marijuana system in 2010. That initiative was also drafted and funded by MPP.

Both states with legalization, as well as the current contenders, have required ballot initiatives, often over the objections of state politicians. Until the federal laws are changed, this seems likely to continue. With experienced groups running legalization campaigns, however, the future looks bright.

This article was originally published by Marijuana.com.

D.C. preps for $130m marijuana industry ahead of voter approval

Residents of Washington, D.C. began early voting on October 25. One of the choices on their ballots is whether to approve Initiative 71. The ballot initiative would legalize marijuana for recreational use. With less than a week left to vote, however, the city isn’t waiting for the results to begin planning the next step.

The D.C. City Council held a hearing Thursday on the taxation and regulation of marijuana in the District. Unlike Colorado and Washington — states that legalized recreational marijuana sales in 2012 — District voters cannot use a ballot initiative to regulate and tax marijuana. Initiative 71 would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and allow for cultivation of up to six plants, but sale would still be illegal. Regulation and taxation of the industry, valued by District financial officials at $130 million a year, is up to the Council.

“If the referendum passes on Tuesday, which I hope it does, the council will be in the position of having to set up a regulatory framework and taxing it will be part of that framework,” said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, a Democrat, who also oversaw Thursday’s hearing on the bill. [The Washington Times]

“When I introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act in September of 2013, none of my colleagues were willing to be co-introducers [sic] or co-sponsors,” Council member David Grasso said at the hearing. Times have changed with council members now supporting marijuana legalization. The 2014 Legalization and Regulation Act proposes a 6 percent sales tax on medical marijuana and a 15 percent sales tax on marijuana “for all other purposes.” That 15 percent would bring in $19.5 million a year.

The $130-million valuation came from the District’s Director of Financial and Legislative Analysis, Yesim Sayin Taylor. He based it on an assumed 122,000 marijuana users buying three ounces of marijuana per year at $350 per ounce. It’s easy to see that possibility with D.C. being the only legal recreational marijuana market East of Colorado. With low application fees of $350 each for producer and retailer licenses, the market would be very open.

The Council has good reason to prepare themselves for Initiative 71’s passage. Public Policy Polling conducted a surveyof D.C. voters between October 20 and 22. A majority of 52 percent said that if the election were help today, they would vote yes. Even if the 13 percent still undecided join the 35 percent against, it would still lead to a 52 percent to 48 percent victory for recreational marijuana.

A separate question asked whether selling less than an ounce of marijuana should be permitted and taxed. With 43 percent in favor and only 12 percent against selling marijuana in any amount, it looks like the marijuana industry is coming to D.C. in a big way.

This article was originally published by Marijuana.com.

Will Supreme Court footnote lead to rescheduling marijuana?

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion for a 6-3 majority in the 2005 case of Gonzalez v. Raich. To the dismay of marijuana advocates who see medical marijuana as a state issue, the Court ruled that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause gives Congress the authority to prohibit marijuana even in states with medical cannabis laws. A footnote in the opinion, however, left the issue open to further examination; or so says U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller.

Stevens, pictured above, pointed out that if the evidence were to be found credible after trial, it would “cast serious doubt on the accuracy of the findings that require marijuana to be listed in Schedule I.” Judge Mueller began a hearing on Friday — originally scheduled for Monday — regarding the constitutional implications of the Raich footnote given new evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy.

“The government tried four times to vacate the matter. Judge Mueller said in court, ‘If the Supreme Court had not dropped footnote 37 in the Raich case, I might not deny the motion.’ ” [California NORML]

Zenia Gilg, a San Francisco lawyer and member of NORML Legal Committee, filed a 188-page brief with the court on November 20, 2013. Her primary assertion is that prosecution under the federal Controlled Substances Act for marijuana violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection guarantees. She challenges the rational basis for the classification needed to sustain the law. After all, times have changed since Raich was decided.

“At that point, not a lot was known about the medicinal benefits of marijuana,” said Gilg. “It’s about time somebody looked at the new evidence.” [SFGate]

While it’s unclear how much weight irony will hold with the Court, the fact that the U.S. Government owns a patent on cannabinoids — the individual compounds in marijuana — for their benefits as antioxidants and neuroprotectants is also mentioned. They filed the paperwork only three years after California legalized medical marijuana in 1996.

“This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.” — Abstract for Patent US-6630507-B1

Justice Stevens, retired since 2010, believed that California’s medical system was insufficient to evade federal oversight even if it were reclassified. It’s likely that he would have ruled the same way even if the classification were changed. With more and more states adopting heavily regulated medical marijuana programs and industries, however, he might see things differently today.

This article was originally published by Marijuana.com.

Montel Williams backs Florida medical marijuana amendment

Montel Williams joined the fight for medical marijuana in Florida on Monday in a two-prong attack. As emails were being sent to current supporters, The Sun Sentinel published an opinion editorial he wrote expressing his support for Amendment 2, the ballot initiative put to voters for the November 4 elections.

Marijuana isn’t a new topic for Williams, a former United States Marine turned talk show host. Doctors diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis in 1999. The condition causes him neuropathic pain 24 hours a day and he has spoken out in the past about how only marijuana truly helps him. He explained to Florida voters that only someone suffering from a debilitating disease can really know what he knows — marijuana provides more relief than any other drug on the market.

“In early attempts to manage the painful symptoms of my disease, doctors prescribed me every powerful painkiller you can imagine — Percocet, Oxycontin and Vicodin to name a few. My experience with these pharmaceutical interventions was nasty and ineffective at best, as they provided little to no symptom relief. I was just left with the miserable side effects you only read about on the side of the label.” – The Sun Sentinel

The email was sent out by United for Care, the group behind the Yes On 2 campaign. In it, Williams tells supporters that the fight is still raging. He writes of the need to establish patients’ rights to the medicine that will help them.

“The benefits of medical marijuana — shared by so many patients nationwide and supported by physicians from Dr. Gupta to Dr. Oz to multiple medical organizations nationwide — are well established. What isn’t established, yet, is the right of Florida’s seriously sick and injured patients to access it with the recommendation of their doctor.” — United For Care

Williams argues eloquently for the needs of people like himself. Medical marijuana patients who have experienced similar relief will recognize the frustration of having their medicine classified as illegal. While the piece was written in support of the state law, Williams pointed out the hypocrisy of the federal laws as well. He said that the government knows marijuana is medically beneficial, offering as proof a patent Health and Human Services holds for “Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants.”

“Patients deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion,” Williams concludes in his op-ed. “Not left as collateral damage on the political battlefield.”

The full op-ed is definitely worth a read. United for Care has republished it in full on their website.

This article was originally published by Marijuana.com.