Thursday, July 31, 2008

New Radio PSAs Tackle Marijuana Controversies

July 31, 2008

Marijuana Policy Project Foundation Spots Feature New Mexico's Former Republican Governor, California Superior Court Judge

(Washington, D.C.) A series of new radio public service announcements being distributed today to stations nationwide seeks to educate the public about the effects of U.S. marijuana laws, and about recent developments regarding medical marijuana. The new spots, produced by the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation, feature Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, and California Superior Court Judge Jim Gray.

To listen to the new PSAs, go to

The PSAs, which come in both 30- and 60-second versions, focus on little-known facts rarely reported in the news media. Johnson, whose state is the latest to pass a medical marijuana law, discusses the steady stream of studies finding that marijuana has medical benefits for certain illnesses and symptoms, and the acknowledgment of those benefits by groups like the American College of Physicians. Judge Gray focuses on the little-reported failures of marijuana prohibition, asking listeners, "Did you know that since the federal government first banned marijuana in 1937, usage in this country has actually gone up by 4,000 percent?"

The new spots follow a previous set of MPP Foundation radio PSAs released in 2005, featuring TV talk show host Montel Williams, author Tom Robbins, and U.S. Supreme Court medical marijuana plaintiff Angel Raich. That series of spots received over 11,000 plays on stations in all parts of the country, including seven of the top 10 markets.

With more than 25,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit

Ecuador to shut down U.S. anti-drug operation

(A deal that expires next year lets U.S. conduct anti-drug operations from Ecuador)

From Mike Mount
CNN Pentagon Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is losing access to one of its three counternarcotics bases in Latin America, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.

The Ecuadorian government has told the Bush administration it will not renew a 10-year agreement letting U.S. troops conduct anti-drug operations from Manta Air Base, an Ecuadorian Air Force installation, military officials said.

The United States has used Manta Air Base since 1999 to run aerial surveillance of the eastern Pacific Ocean, looking for drug runners on the high seas as well as illicit flights.

Ecuador notified the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday that it will not renew the agreement after it expires in November 2009, the U.S. military officials said.

"The Ecuadorian people do not want foreign troops on our soil, and the government has to follow the mandate of its people," Luis Gallegos, Ecuador's ambassador to the United States, said Wednesday.

"We have spent more than $150 million on troops to monitor the border with Colombia and will continue to support anti-narcotics operations in our country," Gallegos said.

The U.S. State Department's reaction to the announcement was mixed.

"The operations there are critical to our overall counternarcotics strategy, but Ecuador has promised continued close cooperation to confront the threat of drug smuggling," said Heidi Bronke, a spokeswoman for the department.

State Department chief spokesman Sean McCormack said the decision was Ecuador's to make.

"We note, however, that the closure will leave a serious gap in efforts by the United States and our partners to confront illegal drug trafficking throughout the region," he added.

Up to eight planes fly missions from Manta. About 250 U.S. military personnel and civilians work there.

Since the start of U.S. operations there, about 60 percent of the drug interdictions in the eastern Pacific have involved the planes based out of Manta, including the capture of more than 200 metric tons of drugs in 2007, according to U.S. military officials.

State Department officials said they could not talk about plans to move the mission to another country.

Manta is the only U.S. base in South America. The U.S. military operates two other counternarcotics bases in the region: a naval operation in El Salvador and an air operation in Curacao in the Caribbean.


Marijuana laws are a bust

By Doug Ernst
Thursday, July 31, 2008

When Crane Carter of St. Helena came to my office a few weeks back with a letter to the editor about a state law that protects the medical use of marijuana, he was a bit nervous. Yet he was also courageous.

It takes guts to publicly take on a law enforcement official for a perceived lack of knowledge regarding the law.

In his letter, Carter said Sheriff's Capt. John Robertson erred when he told the St. Helena Star that his agency does not recognize medical marijuana.

Since voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, local officials have had a duty to recognize that some people have legal prescriptions for the drug, Carter argued in his letter.

I called Robertson to find out more about his stance on medical marijuana.

First, he conceded that the county's Health and Human Services Department issues medical marijuana cards to people who have prescriptions for the drug.

However, he said his agency defers to the Napa County District Attorney's office to decide whether or not to pursue marijuana cases. This is done on a case-by-case basis.

"We do not recognize the medical marijuana card that gets you free from citation or arrest," Robertson told me.

"Until the law changes or until we receive information otherwise from our current lawmakers, it is still an infraction to possess less than an ounce, and, depending on the amount, it could be a felony, to distribute marijuana for sale, or to possess it for sale or distribution."

In other words, you may be cited — but probably won't be arrested — for smoking a joint. But if you are caught transporting a large amount — say, 30 pounds of pot — a medical marijuana card is not going to keep you out of jail.

The main message Robertson passed on to me, however, is that busting people for using or possessing small amounts of marijuana is not a top law enforcement priority. The sheriff's department has bigger fish to fry.

For example, the department participates in the state's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, working with other agencies to stop large-scale cultivation of pot.

Last year, during a bust outside of Bothe State Park, officials discovered chemicals used in the process of growing pot had been dumped into streambeds. They found garbage, sanitation problems and thefts of water from nearby vineyards.

An even larger law enforcement priority, he said, is stopping the sale, production and use of methamphetamines.

I thank Mr. Carter for bringing the issue to light. I thank him for having the courage to write a letter challenging public officials to explain their interpretations of the law.

I also thank Capt. Robertson for explaining his position.

Thanks for reading.

Below is the letter to the editor by resident Crane Carter that is referenced:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Editor: On Thursdays, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Napa County Health Department on Walnut Street, California State Medical Marijuana cards are issued to people with a doctor's prescription.

This card allows you to grow up to 12 immature plants or six mature ones. That is the state limit. Other counties, such as Humboldt, allow more.

There are a dozen doctors in Lake County who write $100 prescriptions for the first year and $50 for each subsequent year for medical patients. There are also a number of dispensers in Sonoma County. Because it is legal, medical marijuana could also be dispensed in Napa County.

I called the Napa California Highway Patrol office and asked how much marijuana I could transport in Napa County and was told it did not matter as long as I have a valid medical marijuana card and was not transporting Costco-like amounts.

However, Capt. John Robertson of the Napa County Sheriff's Department told the St. Helena Star ("Marijuana brownies found in mail box," July 10) that Napa County does not recognize medical marijuana.

After leaving a message with Capt. Robertson about his error I received a return message in which he said that (marijuana) enforcement is not a priority and that he would call me back when he finds out more. I have not yet heard back from him.

I think the people of Napa County deserve a straightforward answer.

People in Napa County and its neighboring counties drink all the wine they want in tasting room after tasting room. But as for me, I prefer to smoke a joint.

Crane Carter / St. Helena


Feds get involved in local drug case

One week after Seattle police returned hundreds of patient files and a computer hard drive taken in a raid from a University District medical marijuana cooperative and local prosecutors declined to press charges, federal drug agents have gotten involved in the case.

By Natalie Singer
Seattle Times staff reporter

One week after Seattle police returned hundreds of patient files and a computer hard drive taken in a raid from a University District medical marijuana cooperative and local prosecutors declined to press charges, federal drug agents have gotten involved in the case.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents on Friday took control from Seattle police of about 12 ounces of medical marijuana and about 2 pounds of less-potent leaves seized from co-op head Martin Martinez, according to the DEA. Martinez operates Lifevine, a private collective of patients who work together to grow their own medical marijuana.

Martinez's lawyer, Douglas Hiatt, had asked the Police Department to return the marijuana, arguing that Martinez had a legal right to it under Washington's medical marijuana law. However, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan asked the DEA to take it and destroy it.

"Accordingly, the DEA has seized and processed the marijuana for destruction; that concludes this matter," the agency said Wednesday in a statement released by Seattle-based spokeswoman Jodie Underwood.

Hiatt said Wednesday that Seattle police attorney Leo Poort had notified him in a letter that, "At the request or demand of the U.S. attorney's office, the marijuana seized by the Seattle Police Department ... pursuant to a search warrant issued by a local court ... was transferred Friday to the Drug Enforcement Administration."

A call to Poort Wednesday afternoon was not returned.

Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Seattle, said there was nothing unusual about the federal involvement.

"Law enforcement destroys drugs in the normal course of business all the time," Langlie said.

But the DEA's involvement in the case alarmed Martinez, who had begun to relax after the initial July 15 bust and was focusing on changing the location of his Northeast 50th Street office after neighbors complained of smelling pot, said Hiatt.

Seattle police, armed with a search warrant, carted away marijuana and hundreds of private patient files, and tore down a wall in search of a marijuana patch that didn't exist.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg later declined to press charges, and most of the items were returned.

Martinez suffers from neurological damage from a motorcycle accident and was one of the first people in King County to use medical necessity as a defense against prosecution for using marijuana. He helped pass the 1998 law and also runs Cascadia NORML, a public-outreach organization that provides ID cards to medical-marijuana patients so they can show police they have a legal right.

Hiatt said he had not heard directly from the U.S. attorney's office or the DEA. But he called the seizure the latest in a series of assaults by the government on Washington patients' legal right to grow and use medical marijuana, established by a 1998 medical-marijuana initiative that voters approved overwhelmingly. The law allows people with certain serious ailments to grow their own marijuana and use it if authorized by a physician.

"Washington voters wanted this. It's a compassionate thing, and the federal government should butt out," Hiatt said. "The DEA should return the marijuana to the Seattle Police Department and leave us alone."

Information from Times staff reporter Nick Perry and The Associated Press is included in this report.

Pot law ignites new debate

By Stephanie Bertholdo

Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 that decriminalizes medical marijuana, might be the law in California, but dispensaries that are used for selling the weed will be against the law in Agoura Hills if city officials have their way.

According to California law, cities have the right to prohibit the operation of certain businesses under their general plan and specific ordinances.

On July 17, the Agoura Hills Planning Commission recommended that the City Council approve a zoning amendment outlawing the medical marijuana cooperatives.

Agoura Hills enacted a moratorium on the dispensaries in 2006 to review the medical marijuana issue and decide whether the facilities should be allowed to operate within city boundaries. The moratorium was initiated when a dispensary opened on Agoura Road without proper registration, and the owner used false signage to conceal its true identity.

Doug Hooper, Agoura Hills assistant director of community development, said although the state law allows people to use a limited amount of marijuana if prescribed by a doctor, the issue remains "unclear" as to whether the distribution of marijuana on a larger scale is lawful

The law was intended to give seriously ill Californians the right to possess and use marijuana for a variety of chronic medical conditions, but critics say that many doctors will prescribe marijuana to teens who simply complain of stomach aches, anxiety, headaches and other ailments just so they can legally get high.

A report to the planning commissioners included several studies conducted by the California Chiefs of Police Association, the Riverside District Attorney's office, and reports from several news agencies.

"The United States Department of Justice's California Medical Marijuana Information report advised that large-scale drug traffickers have been positioned as caregivers to obtain and sell marijuana," Hooper said.

Assistant City Attorney Candace Lee said Agoura Hills will not issue a business license to anybody for an activity that is prohibited by federal law.

Many of the planning commissioners felt conflicted about the ordinance.

Illece Buckley Weber said while the city would be "remiss" in allowing dispensaries to open in Agoura Hills, she felt "disheartened" by the ordinance since cancer patients and other people with serious medical conditions can benefit from the drug.

Commissioner Cyrena Nouzille agreed that while there are some legitimate uses for marijuana, there wasn't a need for a dispensary in Agoura Hills. She said qualified individuals still have the right to cultivate up to six mature plants at their homes.

"At least individual rights are not conflicting," Nouzille said.

4 arrested in raid of medical pot dispensary in Orange

DEA says its agents seized about eight pounds of marijuana and $10,000 in cash from the Nature's Wellness Collective.

By Stuart Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
3:31 PM PDT, July 30, 2008

Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested four people at a medical marijuana dispensary in Orange on Tuesday and seized about eight pounds of marijuana and $10,000 in cash, a DEA spokeswoman said today.

The agents raided Nature's Wellness Collective on Lincoln Avenue as part of an investigation into marijuana trafficking, DEA Agent Sarah Pullen said.

Arrested in the raid were: Eric Voudrie, Scott Taylor, Karris Day and Robert Adams. All four were released, pending possible prosecution by the U.S. attorney's office, Pullen said.

California voters approved an initiative in 1996 that made it lawful for individuals with prescriptions to use marijuana for medical purposes. Marijuana possession and sales are still unlawful under federal law, Pullen said.