department of justice

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California: Court Rules Feds Can't Prosecute Medical Marijuana Users Who Follow State Law

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

Marijuana is still strictly banned under federal law, despite medical marijuana being legal in 25 states and the District of Columbia. But a federal court in San Francisco ruled this week that the Department of Justice cannot spend money to prosecute people who use medical marijuana and obey their state's laws.

The decision was handed down on Tuesday by the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. Federal authorities are now expressly forbidden to spend taxpayer money on prosecuting medical marijuana cases against individuals who have complied with state laws.

"If DOJ [the Department of Justice] wishes to continue these prosecutions, the appellants are entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct was completely authorized by state law," Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain wrote, sending the cases back to lower federal courts for further review.

Charles Sanford Smith, a New York attorney who specializes in medical marijuana cases, said the ruling could bring federal prosecutions to a halt while the DOJ figures out whether it's even allowed to spend money trying to prove that pot defendants have run afoul of state laws.

Pennsylvania: Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Temporary Guidelines Completed

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Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy on Friday announced that temporary guidelines for the Safe Harbor provision of the state's Medical Marijuana Program are complete and can be viewed online or in the June 25 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

The department announced that it developed the Safe Harbor temporary guidelines "to thoroughly and carefully outline the specific requirements that must be followed when a parent, legal guardian, caregiver, or spouse is applying to obtain medical marijuana to administer to minors who have a physician-documented serious medical condition."

"In July, parents, legal guardians, caregivers, and spouses will be able to apply to the department for a Safe Harbor Letter that will allow them to administer medical marijuana obtained from outside of Pennsylvania to minors in their care," said Secretary Murphy. "Once approved, the letter should be carried whenever medical marijuana is being transported outside of an individual's home."

U.S.: Marijuana Industry Takes A Step Forward With DOJ

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The cannabis industry had a major victory last week, without even appearing in court. The U.S. Department of Justice, after four years, dropped the case to shut down Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California, which is currently the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the United States.

Robert MacCoun, a law professor and drug-policy expert at Stanford University, in an interview with SF Gate perfectly explained how this market is changing: "The framework is moving from the war on drugs to tricky issues of regulation, taxation and who is going to be in control of this major new industry," he said.

The reason for the softer approach is in part economical. According to a report by Marijuana Business Daily, the entire marijuana industry, including tourism, which is an impact of legalization, is projected to provide $44 billion to the economy by 2020.

Legal marijuana sales in the U.S. alone spiked to $5.4 billion in 2015, up from $4.6 billion in 2014. Sales are projected to hit $7.1 billion in 2016.

U.S.: Ruling Could Limit Federal Marijuana Prosecutions

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A federal appeals court is expected soon to rule on the scope of the law that could point the way to ending or overturning at least six federal marijuana prosecutions and convictions.

People who are fighting federal marijuana charges say that a recent act of Congress should have stopped the U.S. Department of Justice from prosecuting them, because their activities were legally allowed in their states. Cannabis is still illegal under federal law for any purpose.

"It's been the hardest thing I've ever hard to deal with in my life when you see the government coming down on you for simply trying to be healthy," said Rolland Gregg, who along with his family has fought federal marijuana charges, reports the Associated Press. Gregg said the cannabis plants found on his property in Kirkland, Washington were for medicinal use and in compliance with state law.

California: Congresswoman Lee Applauds Federal Decision To End Case Against Harborside

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Congresswoman Barbara Lee on Tuesday praised the U.S. Attorney’s decision to drop its case against Harborside Health Center dispensary.

“Today’s decision by the U.S. Attorney is a victory for healthcare access," Congresswoman Lee said. "For decades, Harborside has helped ensure members of our community can access their medicine. It’s past time for the federal government to stop standing between these patients and their medicine.

"I am proud to have played a part in today’s victory by actively encouraging the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to end this unnecessary asset forfeiture case that would restrict my constituents’ access to their prescribed medicines," Rep. Lee said. "While today’s action is a victory for Harborside, other dispensaries, including one in my district, face harassment from the federal government for their state-legal businesses.

"As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to use my position to rein in this federal government overreach," Rep. Lee said. "I will keep working to open banking services to the industry and expand access to medical cannabis for veterans.

U.S.: Senate Committee Prevents DEA From Undermining Medical Marijuana Laws

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Vote Comes Just a Week After Committee Voted to Allow Veterans Administration Doctors to Recommend Marijuana to Veterans

Nationwide Bipartisan Momentum for Drug Policy Reform Grows Stronger

In yet another huge victory for marijuana reform, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted by 21 to 8 to approve an amendment offered by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Maryland) to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference by the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Marijuana reforms are repeatedly winning votes in Congress,” said Bill Piper, senior director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Letting states set their own marijuana policies is now a mainstream, bipartisan issue.”

After decades of inactivity on marijuana reform, Congress has moved at lightning pace to advance marijuana reform in recent years.

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend marijuana. The Committee approved similar amendments last year as well as an amendment to allow state-legalized marijuana businesses to access banks and other financial services.

The Mikulski Amendment is expected to pass the full Senate as well as the House. Similar amendments were passed by Congress last year and the year before.

U.S.: DOJ Accepts Decision Saying It Can't Target State-Legal Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The U.S. Department of Justice has abandoned its appeal of a ruling that said federal prosecutors are breaking the law when they go after medical marijuana dispensaries who are in compliance with state law.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer issued the ruling last October, when he said that enforcing an injunction against a state-legal dispensary would violate a spending rider prohibiting the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with state laws allowing medicinal use of cannabis, reports Jacob Sullum at Reason.

Breyer's ruling is left in force by the ruling in the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM) casea, without establishing a circuit-wide precedent. The DOJ's request to abandon the appeal probably came about because it feared the 9th Circuit would agree with Breyer's reading of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which says the DOJ may not used funds to "prevent" states from "implementing" their medical marijuana laws.

The DOJ argued that prosecuting dispensaries, seizing their property, and shutting them down does not prevent implementation of laws which allow them. Judge Breyer rightly ruled that interpretation "defies language and logic."

U.S.: Senate Hearing Reminds Americans That 'Good People Don't Smoke Marijuana'

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Tuesday's hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control was light on actual facts and fully of heavy-handed rhetoric. At one point -- and I'm unfortunately serious in reporting this -- Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) said "this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it's not something to laugh about ... good people don't smoke marijuana."

This seems to be a new low even for the dim-witted Sessions, who says stuff his constituents back in the Heart of Dixie really should be embarrassed about -- in 2014, he said providing healthcare to veterans is an "entitlement" we "can't afford" -- but who knows; they keep electing his dumb ass.

The hearing, hosted by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) was ostensibly held to investigate whether the Department of Justice has been enforcing federal marijuana laws harshly enough. What these yahoos did was bring forth a parade of anti-marijuana witnesses, not bothering to counter their testimony with anyone who actually knew what they were talking about.

U.S.: Senate To Hold Sham Hearing On Marijuana Legalization Tuesday

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Reform Advocates Denounce Hearing as One-Sided “Prohibitionist Party”

Senator Grassley Stacks the Deck with Known Anti-Legalization Zealots and Ignores Benefits of Legalization, Such as Massive Drop in Marijuana Arrests and Prohibition-Related Violence, as well as New Tax Revenue

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will hold a hearing in the Caucus on International Narcotics Control titled “Is the Department of Justice Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization?” The hearing is ostensibly a response to a recent GAO report that criticized DOJ for a lack of oversight of states that have legalized marijuana. However, the hearing is likely to be nothing more than a prohibitionist party.

New York: Shinnecock Tribe Vote To Join Medical Marijuana Industry

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In a historic vote among its members over the weekend weekend, the Shinnecock Indian Nation has voted in support of plans to construct a medical marijuana cultivation facility and dispensary on tribal land near Southampton.

Tribal members voted 71 percent (83) to 29 percent (34) to approve the project and pursue designation from the State of New York as a provider for patients in the state's Medical Cannabis Program.

"As a people, we have always had a cultural appreciation for natural, holistic medicine and the difference it can make in the lives of those suffering most," said Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. "The New York State Compassionate Care Act was a big step in the right direction for administering quality holistic medicine to people suffering from very serious illnesses."

"We also recognize this is an opportunity to create jobs for our members and true economic development to support tribal programs," Polite said. "We are encouraged by the enthusiastic support of our members and look forward to continuing our discussions with the State of New York to make this a reality."

On Jan. 1, New York became the 23rd state to allow the medical use of cannabis. The state approved five companies to produce it and 20 dispensaries to distribute it to roughly 125,000 New Yorkers diagnosed with a specific group of illnesses.

Advocates have called for an expansion of the list of approved illnesses, while also saying there are not enough dispensaries to adequately serve patients.

U.S.: DOJ Suspends Asset Forfeiture Equitable Sharing; Police Take More Than Thieves

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Federal Sharing Linked to Circumvention of State Reforms

The Department of Justice on Monday released a memorandum addressed to local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies to announce that the equitable sharing program for asset forfeiture funds has been temporarily suspended due to financial considerations.

This means that state and local law enforcement can no longer expect to receive a share of federal funds confiscated through the process of civil asset forfeiture, a method by which law enforcement can seize property and money from individuals without charging them with a crime.

Until now, the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program allowed departments to keep up to 80 percent of assets seized in joint operations, a practice scholars have shown allows local agencies to circumvent reforms in their own states. At least one estimate puts the amount of assets confiscated by law enforcement agencies in 2014 above the total amount of robberies, suggesting, according to Reason Magazine, that “Your local police or sheriff's department is more likely to take your stuff than a robber.”

U.S.: Congress Adopts Significant Drug Policy Reforms In New Spending Bill

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Congress on Friday morning passed a must-pass spending bill that includes language that stops the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice from spending money to block the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The amendment was passed last year on a temporary basis and had to be renewed this year.

“The renewal of this amendment should bring relief for medical marijuana patients and business owners,” said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “For decades Congress has been responsible for passing disastrous drug laws. It’s encouraging to see them starting to roll back the war on drugs by allowing states to set their own medical marijuana policies.”

“Patients who benefit from medical marijuana should not be treated like dangerous criminals, and the businesses that support them need to be protected from the old drug war mentality that still runs deep within the DEA,” said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the Drug War. “It’s very encouraging to see such widespread support for protecting state’s rights and the rights of patients.”

U.S.: DOJ Asks Supreme Court To Dismiss Suit Against Colorado Marijuana Legalization

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The U.S. Solicitor General, on behalf of the federal Department of Justice, on Wednesday filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit that the neighboring states of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed against Colorado's marijuana legalization law.

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., in the brief, argues that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) "does not preempt a 'State law on the same subject matter' as the CSA's control and enforcement provisions 'unless there is a positive conflict' between federal and state law 'so that the two cannot consistently stand together.'

"Here, for example, it is conceivable that the Court could conclude that whether Colorado's scheme creates a 'positive conflict' with the CSA ultimately turns on, among other factors, the practical efficacy of Colorado's regulatory system in preventing or deterring interstate marijuana trafficking," the Solicitor General -- whose duty it is to represent the federal government before the Supreme Court -- wrote.

“This is the right move by the Obama administration," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "Colorado and a growing number of states have decided to move away from decades of failed prohibition laws, and so far things seem to be working out as planned.

U.S.: DOJ Will Continue To Be Prohibited From Interfering In State Medical Marijuana Laws

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Justice Department will continue to be prohibited from interfering in state medical marijuana laws under the new federal spending bill unveiled late Tuesday night.

The compromise legislation includes a provision that is intended to prevent the department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), from using funds to arrest or prosecute patients, caregivers, and businesses that are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It stems from an amendment sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) that was first approved in the House of Representatives in May 2014 and included in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 signed by President Obama last December.

“The renewal of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment suggests most members of Congress are ready to end the federal government’s war on medical marijuana,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “There’s a growing sentiment that the Justice Department should not be using taxpayer dollars to arrest and prosecute people who are following their states’ medical marijuana laws.”

Oregon: Hemp Farmers Ask For Help From Legislature

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A group of Oregon hemp farmers, along with residents who want to grow hemo next year, on Wednesday asked state regulators at a hearing to clear roadblocks preventing the industry from thriving. Meanwhile, the hemp industry is thriving in other states with less onerous regulations.

But the types of changes they're asking for would require the help of the Oregon Legislature, not just state regulators, reports Taylor W. Anderson at The Bend Bulletin.

That's where the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association comes in. The group will ask hemp-friendly lawmakers to help fix the issues the state's nine licensed hemp farmers had in their first year of cultivation.

"Right now, the biggest changes to the legislation that we need is regarding greenhouses and propagation freedom," said Courtney Moran, a Portland attorney who is organizing the group. "This is the only crop in Oregon that you cannot grow in a greenhouse or use cuttings or clone."

The Oregon Department of Justice ruled in September that, since the 2009 state law legalizing hemp didn't include the specific word "greenhouse," and because greenhouse isn't included in the dictionary definition of "field," hemp farmers can't grow the plant indoors. Yeah, these guys really need to get out more.

Nebraska: Tribe Interested In Growing Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa, with a 300-square-mile reservation about 90 minutes north of the city of Omaha, is interested in growing marijuana.

"We need jobs," said Daniel Webster, who lives on the reservation, which extends across the state line into Iowa, reports KETV.

Issues such as poverty and unemployment have reached critical levels, according to Omaha Tribe of Nebraska Chairman Vernon Miller. "Right now, my community has a 69 percent unemployment rate," Miller said.

According to Miller, the dire economy is leading to desperate solutions.

"We're not seeing anybody else looking to assist us and we acknowledge that, so we're trying to pursue whatever we can," he said.

The tribe, considered a sovereign nation, early this month polled its members on the legalization and sale of medical, industrial and recreational marijuana. "All three were supported by the majority, so that gave us the direction that the tribal membership wants to pursue," Miller said.

A federal Department of Justice memo last December sparked the interest; it extended the same drug cannabis law guidelines to the Native American reservations are are applied to states. As long as minors aren't allowed access, and the weed isn't allowed to cross borders of jurisdictions that do not allow it, the feds announced they wouldn't interfere with tribes legalizing marijuana sales on the reservation.

California: Leaders Call For DOJ To Halt Enforcement Against Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

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California Representatives, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13) and Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA48) and Sam Farr (D-CA20) on Tuesday urged Attorney General Loretta Lynch to reconsider enforcement actions against California’s medical cannabis dispensaries following comprehensive, stringent and enforceable industry regulations recently signed into law.

“We are concerned that the Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to threaten individuals and businesses acting within the scope of states law on the medicinal use of marijuana despite formal guidance on exercising prosecutorial discretion and recent changes to federal law. It is counterproductive and economically prohibitive to continue a path of hostility toward dispensaries,” wrote the Members of Congress.

The full text of the letter is available here.

In closing, the Members wrote, “the will of the both voters at the ballot box and in state legislatures across the country should be respected.”

U.S.: 1 In 8 Federal Drug Prisoners Serving Time For Marijuana Offenses

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

More than 12 percent of federal drug prisoners are incarcerated for marijuana-related violations, according to data compiled by the federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Sentencing Commission, published by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

With 94,678 federal inmates incarcerated for a drug violation as their most serious offense, 12.4 percent (11,533 inmates) are serving time for violating cannabis laws, reports Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) at The Daily Chronic.

Most federal marijuana prisoners are incarcerated for trafficking violations. The average sentence for those in federal prison for marijuana is 88 months.

Nearly half -- 44.3 percent -- of federal marijuana inmates have minimal crime histories and have not previously served time in prison. An overwhelming majority -- 85 percent -- did not possess any firearms.

More than a third of these prisoners, 36.5 percent, are 40 or older. Thirty-five percent of them aren't American citizens.

The percentage of marijuana-related federal prisoners has remained basically flat for the past decade.

To review the full text of the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, click here.

Photo: The Weed Blog

South Dakota: You Can Get Busted Here For Smoking Weed In Another State

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

South Dakota's Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe announced over the weekend that it is suspending operations on its planned marijuana resort -- which had been planned for a New Year's Eve opening -- and that it has burned its cannabis crop. The tribe said it was seeking "clarification" from the federal Department of Justice to ensure "the continued success of the marijuana venture."

Federal law isn't the only roadblock for the Santee Sioux marijuana resort plan, reports Phillip Smith at AlterNet. The plan also quickly drew intense opposition from the state's GOP political establishment and law enforcement figures (no surprise there). That brouhaha has brought renewed attention to one of the strangest state marijuana laws in the United States, South Dakota's "internal possession" law.

South Dakota Atty. Gen. Marty Jackley, a Republican, warned not once, but twice, when the tribe announced its plans in June, "South Dakota law prohibits the internal and physical possession, distribution, and manufacture of marijuana by: (1) all non-Indian persons anywhere in South Dakota including within Indian country; (2) all persons, including tribal members, outside of Indian Country."

South Carolina: Marijuana Charges Dropped After Cop Kills Teen In Parking Lot

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

In a horrific abuse of police power, 19-year-old Zachary Hammond was shot and killed in July in a Hardee's parking lot by an officer after an undercover narc lured 23-year-old Toni Morton, Hammond's date, there to sell marijuana. After Hammond was shot and killed, Morton was charged with possession of 10 grams of marijuana.

On Tuesday, three months later, local Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams announced she won't be pressing charges after "careful consideration of the facts of the case, a thorough review of the State investigation, and an extensive review of all applicable law," reports Ed Krayewski at Reason.com.

Police claim the officer, Mark Tiller, acted in "self defense," but attorneys for Hammond's family point out that an autopsy they commissioned found Hammond was shot in the back. The dash cam video of the incident, released by authorities, shows that Tiller fired at Hammond after the car was already driving away.

Attorneys also petitioned the South Carolina attorney general to remove Adams from the case, since it involved a cop within her circuit and because of other conflicts of interests. Adams refused to recuse herself, while the attorney general hasn't responded to the petition.

The U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating the incident to determine whether to bring federal charges. The U.S. attorney investigating asked her not to release any more information about the shooting, Adams claimed.

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