u.s. district court

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Hawaii: Marijuana Activist Sues, Says Licensing Medical Pot Violates Federal Law


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A longtime activist in Hawaii who is facing criminal charges of selling pot for running a now-defunct medicinal cannabis collective is suing to try to stop the opening of state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

The suit was filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court by Mike Ruggles of Mountain View, naming as defendants Hawaii Governor David Ige, state Health Director Virginia Pressler, state Attorney General Douglas Chin, and the four companies which have been awarded state licenses to grow and sell marijuana, along with those companies' owners, reports West Hawaii Today.

Ruggles' suit alleges that Hawaii's medical marijuana dispensary law is a violation of federal racketeering and drug laws.

“The state cannot license people to break federal law and that’s exactly what they’ve done with these dispensaries," Ruggles claimed. "How does California do it? You’ll notice Act 228 (Hawaii’s medical marijuana law passed in 2000) mirrors California’s medical marijuana law word for word. Dispensaries in California are not regulated, and that’s how they get around (federal law). You see, the state cannot give citizens a license to break federal law. What they can do is ignore federal law being broke.”

Oregon: Police Sergeant Accused of Selling Marijuana While On Duty


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

An Oregon police sergeant has been fired after being accused of setting up a marijuana sale through text messages on his cellphone while in uniform and on duty in the department's squad room, according to federal court records.

Lonny McEwen, 44, a 20-year employee of the Warm Springs Police Department who was promoted to sergeant in 2010, made his first appearance Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland, reports Maxine Bernstein at The Oregonian. He was charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and distribution of a controlled substance.

McEwen on January 20 arranged a marijuana sale by text messages, seemingly unaware the prospective buyer was a police informant, according to a federal affidavit supporting a criminal complaint. McEwen told the informant he had four ounces of weed for sale, and asked if the informant was interested, the affidavit alleges.

In a series of text messages, McEwen told the informant he was selling marijuana to "help out a friend" and that it was "31 percent THC" and $200 an ounce," FBI Agent Daniel Baringer wrote in the affidavit.

While in the presence of Warm Springs police detectives in the squad room, McEwen agreed to sell the cannabis for $100 an ounce in texts sent just before the start of his shift, according to the affidavit.

The sale happened last Thursday after the buyer agreed to meet McEwen at his Warm Springs home, according to court records.

U.S.: Credit Union Fights In Court To Become World's First Marijuana Bank


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

In a high-stakes, closely watched lawsuit, the founders of the Fourth Corner Credit Union, which wants to become the world's first bank focused on the marijuana industry, is suing the U.S. Federal Reserve for the right to do so.

There's more at stake that just the fate of the credit union, reports Joel Warner at the International Business Times. The results of the case could have a ripple effect across the cannabis industry, which everyone agrees is currently lacking proper financial services.

"This transcript is going to be read around the world and your decision will have an effect around the United States in a major, major way," Mark Mason, attorney for the plaintiffs, told Judge R. Brooke Jackson on Monday.

"This isn't something that is going away," Mason said during his impassioned oral arguments for the credit union, whose founders include several members of his immediate family. “This is something that is going to be a part of the next generation and the future, and we need to get it right. And if we are not going to have banking ... and have millions and millions of dollars on the streets where bad things can happen, that is not responsible.”

Washington: Seattle IRS Agent Charged With Bribing Marijuana Store Owner


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A Seattle-based Internal Revenue Service agent was charged on Monday with soliciting a bribe and accepting payment from a local recreational-marijuana business owner.

Paul Hurley, 42, allegedly asked for $20,000 cash from the I-502 store owner in exchange for giving lenience in a tax audit, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, reports Jessica Lee at The Seattle Times. Hurley was charged in U.S. District Court.

The owner of the marijuana store reportedly did not ask for leniency.

Hurley presented the business owner with a tax bill for 2013 and 2014 totaling more than $290,000, but claimed he had saved the businessman more than $1 million, according to prosecutors. The agent then asked for $20,000 in exchange for the "help," according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Photo of Paul Hurley: LinkedIn

Business deductions aren't allowed on federal tax returns for marijuana business, and the gross revenue is taxable because cannabis is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.

The businessman contacted law enforcement, who witnessed two money exchanges between the man and the IRS agent. Hurley, who has been with the IRS since 2009, according to the news release, was arrested after the second money exchange on Monday.

U.S.: Federal Court To Hear Evidence On Whether Marijuana Is Misclassified As Dangerous Drug


Meanwhile, federal Drug Enforcement Administration carries out latest raid on Los Angeles area medical marijuana dispensaries

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California will hold rare formal hearings beginning Monday, October 27, to determine whether an indictment against Brian Justin Pickard and others for conspiracy to grow more than 1,000 marijuana plants violates the U.S. Constitution, and whether marijuana is misclassified by the federal government as a dangerous Schedule I drug with no medical value.

What: Evidentiary hearing with several expert witnesses to review the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance

When: Starting Monday, October 27, 9 am and continuing to Wednesday, October 29

Where: Sacramento Federal Court, 501 I Street, Sacramento, Californbia

U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller will preside over the three-day hearing, which includes expert testimony from Drs. Carl Hart, associate professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University in New York City, Greg Carter, medical director of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Washington, retired physician Phillip Denny, as well as author, consultant, and expert witness Chris Conrad.

Colorado: Hershey Sues Company Over Lookalike Marijuana Candies


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Hershey Company is suing a Colorado company which makes marijuana edibles, claiming the packaging of TinctureBell's products is so similar to those made by the Pennsylvania-based chocolate and candy company that consumers can't tell the difference.

The trademark infringement lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Denver, claims the Ganja Joy bars made by TinctureBell look too much like Almond Joy bars made by Hershey, reports Daniel Wallis at MSN.

Besides the alleged trademark infringement, Hershey's lawsuit claims TinctureBelle "also creates a genuine safety risk with regard to customers, including children, who may not distinguish between Hershey's candy products and defendants' cannabis" and might eat the cannabis-infused candies by mistake.

Voters in Colorado approved Amendment 64, which legalized recreational cannabis for adults, back in 2012.

Last month, Gov. John Hickenlooper tightened the rules on edibles and concentrates, as media hype increased around sensationalistic press accounts such as Maureen Dowd's ill-advised consumption of an entire 16-dose candy bar. (Dowd was fine, other than the horribly misleading column she wrote about it.)

Hawaii: Marijuana Advocate Roger Christie Enters Guilty Plea After Three Years Behind Bars


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

After spending the last three-and-a-half years in federal prison with no bail, Reverend Roger Christie, the founder of a Hawaii-based ministry that promoted marijuana use as a religious sacrament, pleaded guilty on Friday in federal court to possession of almost 300 cannabis plants, but reserved the right to appeal his case based on religious grounds.

Christie's case has received national attention, with cannabis advocates saying his pre-trial detention with no bail is unconstitutional. Many called him a political prisoner in the War On Drugs.

Christie, who founded The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry (THC Ministry), entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess marijuana and two counts of failing to file tax returns, for the years 2008 and 2009, reports John Burnett at the Hawaii Tribune Herald.

Sentencing is scheduled for January 22 at 2:45 p.m., before U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi. Christie faces up to 20 years' imprisonment on the marijuana charge, with a mandatory minimum of five years. The maximum term on each tax offense is one year.

Christie will forfeit is Wainaku apartment as part of the plea deal. He will also forfeit the $21,494 confiscated by federal agents during a raid in 2010.

Other marijuana-related charges against Christie were dropped as part of the plea deal.

Idaho: Boise County Marijuana Bust Yields 40,000 Plants, Five Arrests


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

State and federal law enforcement said they've destroyed more than 40,000 marijuana plans and arrested five people suspected of running an illegal growing operation in two locations in Boise County, Idaho.

It was the biggest ever pot growing bust in the county, according to the Boise County Sheriff's Department, with an estimated street value of "nearly $100 million," reports The Associated Press.

The plants were found at two locations, one on public land near Rabbit Creek, where police last week arrested Jose Misael Ayala-Talavera, 19, Marcos Solano-Farias, 30, and Carlos Cerda-Carpio, 40, at a camp near the grow site. Officers also seized guns, harvested plants, irrigation equipment, food supplies and camping gear.

While looking into the Rabbit Creek grow op, the cops found out about another grow east of Lowman, Idaho, in the Payette River drainage. State, local and federal law enforcement on Wednesday removed more than 4,800 more plants from that location.

Police arrested two others during a September 13 raid of a home in Caldwell, Idaho. The suspects were identified by federal prosecutors as Juan Pablo Villasenor-Villa, 28, and Mariah D. Villasenor-Rodriquez, 21. A search of the home netted nearly $69,000 in cash, seven vehicles and 348 pounds of cannabis.

Four of those arrested were identified by federal officials as Mexican citizens.

California: Martial Arts Referee Gets 37 Months In Federal Prison For Growing Marijuana


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Veteran martial-arts referee Josh Rosenthal on Tuesday was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison, three years' probation and a $100 fine for his role in a large-scale pot-growing operation in Oakland, California.

The sentence matches the prison time recommended for Rosenthal in a January plea deal with federal prosecutors, though it shaves two years off his probation time, reports Steven Marrocco at USA Today.

Before copping a plea, Rosenthal faced from 10 years to life in prison, a $10 million fine and a minimum of five years' probation. Rosenthal had initially pleaded not guilty to drug charges.

Rosenthal was busted in April 2012 after federal agents busted an Oakland warehouse owned by Rosenthal and associate. Inside, agents found 1,356 marijuana plants they claimed were worth $6 million.

A regular at UFC events, Rosenthal oversaw several high-profile bouts. He officiated two MMA events in Utah and California over the past two months, despite his legal troubles. He earlier declined comment on his case.

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