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LITIGATION

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 6, 2013

    The California Supreme Court ruled today that municipalities possess the legal authority to prohibit the establishment of medical cannabis dispensaries.

    The unanimous ruling upheld a 4th District Court of Appeals opinion (City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients’ Health and Wellness Center, Inc.) which held that local zoning measures banning the establishment of brick-and-mortar facilities that engage in the distribution of cannabis to state-authorized persons are not preempted by state law. Other lower courts had ruled against such local bans, arguing that cities can’t use zoning laws to bar activity legal under state law.

    It is estimated that some 200 California cities presently impose moratoriums on medicinal cannabis facilities. At least 50 municipalities have enacted local regulations licensing dispensaries.

    Opined the Court:

    “We have consistently maintained that the CUA (the California Compassionate Use Act aka Proposition 215) and the MMP (the Medical Marijuana program Act) are but incremental steps toward freer access to medical marijuana, and the scope of these statutes is limited and circumscribed. They merely declare that the conduct they describe cannot lead to arrest or conviction, or be abated as a nuisance, as violations of enumerated provisions of the Health and Safety Code. Nothing in the CUA or the MMP expressly or impliedly limits the inherent authority of a local jurisdiction, by its own ordinances, to regulate the use of its land, including the authority to provide that facilities for the distribution of medical marijuana will not be permitted to operate within its borders.”

    Although language included in Proposition 215 explicitly called for the state government “to implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana,” to date, lawmakers have failed to enact any specific statewide regulations regarding the retail production and distribution of cannabis to those patients authorized to consume it.

    Commenting on the ruling, California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer said, “The court essentially affirmed the status quo. Local governments may choose to allow or limit dispensaries as they please. The unfortunate result of this decision is to leave many needy patients without legal access to medical marijuana in their communities, thereby promoting illegal black market suppliers. It is time for the state and federal governments to step up to the plate and fulfill the mandate of Prop 215 to implement a system of ‘safe and affordable’ access for all patients in medical need.”

    Legislation is presently pending in both the California Assembly (AB 473) and Senate (SB 439) to impose statewide regulations governing the dispensing of marijuana produced for medical purposes.

    Full text of the California Supreme Court’s opinion is available online here.

  • by Norm Kent, NORML Board of Directors April 4, 2013

    Today I share with you wonderful news from an all too conservative state, Florida, where the sun shines on everything but justice for cannabis users.

    Just a few weeks ago, I announced that the ‘New NORML’ would have an active, working legal committeethat would make a difference for all of us.

    Last month, State Senator Jeff Clemens in Tampa announced that he was introducing a medical marijuana bill in Florida, which would allow for the establishment of dispensaries in our state.

    The bill was named the ‘Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act’, in honor of a woman who has beenopenly using cannabis as medicine for over a quarter century, championing our cause from her wheelchair while living with an incurable condition- ALS; Lou Gehrig’s disease.

    Backed by her loving husband, Bob, who cultivates two-dozen plants on their farm for her personal use, Cathy has been a public advocate for cannabis law reform. Here she is:
    http://medicalmarijuana411.com/mmj411_v3/?p=10558

    One day after the state senator introduced the medical necessity legislation, publicizing her name and address, the DEA and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office paid her a not-too-polite visit, raiding her home, dressed in swat uniforms, armed with machine guns and wearing masks, seizing her cannabis and arresting her husband for cultivation. Her wheelchair was no defense.

    One NORML lawyer from our NLC legal committee immediately stepped up to the plate to come to her defense. Florida CAN, the Cannabis Action Network, contacted Michael C. Minardi, of Stuart, Florida. He undertook the defense.

    Michael had already prevailed on a medical necessity case on the west coast of Florida, and he at once met with Bob and Cathy Jordan. Both were adamant that they would take no pleas, but instead sought to fight for their right to use marijuana as medicine.

    Based in South Florida, I volunteered with another NLC Committee member, my law office partner, Russell Cormican, and entered into a civil retainer agreement with Cathy Jordan, to prosecute a pro bono civil legal action seeking a declaratory judgment that Cathy’s possession of cannabis warranted a judicial order stating that such ownership was entirely medicinal and lawful.

    I could not do it alone, so I contacted NLC Committee member Matt Kumin, who immediately agreed to join the cause on behalf of NORML, coming in as amicus curiae. “This is an impact case,” he concluded.

    Together, we decided that we had a viable claim Cathy had a legal right to grow her medicine, and a court would conclude as much. Matt brought in two more NLC colleagues, Alan Silber and David Michael. These guys are already arguing tough cases in the Ninth Circuit. But we have a good plaintiff and a strong case.

    This past Monday, the State Attorney dismissed all charges against Cathy and Bob Jordan. The decision by the State Attorney, explaining why he filed a ‘no information.” ratifies the defense of medical necessity for patients, and caregivers as well. The prosecutor’s determination goes beyond the customary and routine post of ‘case declined.’

    The decision outlined by the chief prosecutor goes out of its way to acknowledge the legal basis of the medical necessity defense and the ‘progressive, neurodegenerative disease’ that Cathy Jordan deals with daily. The state attorney said he could not in ‘good faith’ proceed with a criminal prosecution against an individual with such a compelling medical reason to use marijuana. It was a courageous decision to see a prosecutor protect a pot patient.

    The result came about in no small part to Bob Jordan, Cathy Jordan’s husband. He refused to accept a probationary plea offer. “If I could handle Vietnam,” he told me last week, “I can take whatever the State wants to try and hit me with. I am protecting my wife. No deals. No nothing. I want a trial. I want a jury to see my wife and try to convict her.”

    Michael C. Minardi and his client even refused to cop a plea to a deferred prosecution. Matt. Kumin, who has never met Bob, called him, “my hero.” Armed with solid case law, a determined defendant, and a courageous lawyer- Michael Minardi- the good guys prevailed.

    A talented team of NLC amicus curiae attorneys are now preparing to go to court and seek a judgment declaring that the use of cannabis by Cathy Jordan should continue as an exception to Florida drug statutes, based on her use being lawful, medically necessary, and legally protected. Hell, we might even get her pot back through a replevin action.

    Unfortunately, Florida is a conservative state. I won’t mislead you. The Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Bill is already ‘stuck like chuck’ in a legislative committee.

    However, also due to the efforts of NLC Committee member, Michael C. Minardi, the criminal prosecution of Cathy and Bob Jordan is dead in the water.

    Remember the TV show, ‘The Naked City,’ that ‘there are 8 million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them.’

    My friends, there are thousands of Cathy Jordans across America who still need our help. There are hundreds of you capable of assisting so many of them. The spiritual rewards of engaging such tasks enrich your soul and make your practice so much more meaningful.

    Please consider also asking a friend to help expand ranks by joining NORML today. In fact, this week we are promoting new memberships by offering up a NORML Hemp Baseball Cap. Wear it to the ballpark, and let everyone know that it is NORML to smoke pot. Cheer for your home team, but stand up for freedom.

    Today, all of us throughout the country celebrate the victory of Cathy and Bob Jordan. We also thank the lawyer, Michael C. Minardi of Stuart, Florida, who stood up for them.

    We are all cannabis warriors with stories of our own to tell, lives of our friends to illuminate. Never forget the cause you are fighting for is more than to torch up a joint. It is to light a torch for personal sovereignty and individual freedom.

    Thank you.
    Norm Kent
    Chair, NORML Board of Directors

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel February 28, 2013

    The 2013 NORML Aspen Legal Seminar registration site is now live on the NORML website, and we urge you to register now for what will surely be another exceptional legal seminar and wonderful long-weekend with friends and colleagues in the Rocky Mountains. The dates for the seminar this year are Thursday, May 30 through Saturday, June 1 at The Gant, our usual venue in Aspen.

    The program this year will include such timely topics as the legal and ethical obligations of attorneys who represent cannabusinesses; the latest science and law regarding DUID cases; blocking the government from getting your client’s email; avoiding deportation for your non-citizen clients; the changes in probable cause in those states that have some form of legal marijuana; child custody issues for marijuana smokers; various ways to effectively conduct voir dire; all you need to know about cellular telephone tracking; and using your iPhone and iPad for the defense.

    We will also be holding our annual benefit dinner at the lovely home of Chris and Gerry Goldstein on Friday evening, and we have been invited back to Owl Farm, Hunter S. Thomspon’s old homestead, for a cookout and live country music on Saturday afternoon, as guests of Hunter’s widow, Anita Thompson.

    Please plan to join us in Aspen this spring, and experience first hand what it feels like to live in a state that has fully legalized marijuana.

    Those wishing to make your hotel reservations early can call The Gant (970-925-5000), and let them know you are attending the NORML legal seminar to qualify for our block of reduced-rate rooms.

    We hope to see you in Aspen in late May.

    Regards,
    Keith Stroup, Esq.
    NORML Legal Counsel

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director January 22, 2013

    In a 28-page decision, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has denied petitioners request to overturn the July 2011 denial by the Drug Enforcement Administration to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana under federal law.

    In October 2002, the Coalition to Reschedule Cannabis, a coalition of reform organizations including NORML, ASA, Patients Out of Time and High Times, among others, petitioned the DEA to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule III, IV, or V drug. Following years of administrative delay, on July 8, 2011, the DEA denied the petition, finding that “[t]here is no currently accepted medical use for marijuana in the United States,” and that “[t]he limited existing clinical evidence is not adequate to warrant rescheduling of marijuana under the CSA.”

    Petitioners then sought review in the federal Court of Appeals, alleging the decision by the DEA was arbitrary and capricious when it concluded that marijuana lacks a “currently accepted medical use” and has a “high potential for abuse.” They ask this court to remand the case to the DEA for reconsideration of its decision.

    Written by Senior Circuit Judge Edwards, the decision ruled “On the record before us, we hold that the DEA’s denial of the rescheduling petition survives review under the deferential arbitrary and capricious standard. The petition asks the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III, IV, or V drug, which, under the terms of the CSA, requires a ‘currently accepted medical use.’ The DEA’s regulations, which we approved in Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics v. DEA, 15 F.3d 1131 (D.C. Cir. 1994), define ‘currently accepted medical use’ to require, inter alia, ‘adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.’ Id. at1135. We defer to the agency’s interpretation of these regulations and find that substantial evidence supports its determination that such studies do not exist.

    “In its scientific and medical evaluation,” the court held, “DHHS concluded that marijuana lacks a currently accepted medical use in the United States. In reaching this conclusion, DHHS applied the DEA’s established five-prong test, which requires a known and reproducible drug chemistry, adequate safety studies, adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating efficacy, acceptance of the drug by qualified experts, and widely available scientific evidence.”

    “We will not disturb the decision of an agency that has ‘examine[d] the relevant data and articulate[d] a satisfactory explanation for its action including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.’”

    In this case, we need only look at one factor, the existence of “adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy,” to resolve Petitioners’ claim.

    At bottom, the parties’ dispute in this case turns on the agency’s interpretation of its own regulations. Petitioners construe “adequate and well-controlled studies” to mean peer-reviewed, published studies suggesting marijuana’s medical efficacy. The DEA, in contrast, interprets that factor to require something more scientifically rigorous.

    In making this assessment, we must “remind ourselves that our role in the Congressional scheme is not to give an independent judgment of our own, but rather to determine whether the expert agency entrusted with regulatory responsibility has taken an irrational or arbitrary view of the evidence assembled before it.

    The DEA’s construction of its regulation is eminently reasonable. Therefore, we are obliged to defer to the agency’s interpretation of “adequate and well-controlled studies.” Judged against the DEA’s standard, we find nothing in the record that could move us to conclude that the agency failed to prove by substantial evidence that such studies confirming marijuana’s medical efficacy do not exist.”

    Petitioners are considering their legal options at this time.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 18, 2012

    A 2010 voter-approved Arizona state law authorizing “the local cultivation, sale, and use, of medical marijuana” is not preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act, according to the Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County.

    The ruling, issued earlier this month by Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon, allows for the establishment of state-licensed medicinal cannabis dispensaries within Arizona — the first of which opened its doors last week. State-licensed medical marijuana facilities now operate in several states, including Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Maine.

    A majority of Arizona voters approved the AMMA in 2010. Under the law, qualified patients may possess and, depending on where they reside, cultivate cannabis. The program also mandates the state to license citizens to form not-for-profit dispensaries to grow and dispense cannabis. AMMA requires that each of the state’s 126 Community Health Care Analysis Areas permit at least one dispensary operator. Maricopa County’s prosecutor sought to block the establishment of local dispensaries by claiming that AMMA was preempted by federal anti-drug laws.

    Writing for the Court in White Mountain Health Center, Inc. v. Maricopa County, Judge Gordon declared that nothing in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act circumvents federal law since Justice Department officials, if they wished to do so, could still continue to locally enforce the Controlled Substances Act. “No one can argue that the federal government’s ability to enforce the CSA is impaired to the slightest degree [by Arizona’s medical marijuana law],” Gordon opined, adding that the new law “affirmatively provides a roadmap for federal enforcement of the CSA, if they so wished to” since the statute requires patients and proprietors to register their activities with the state.

    Judge Gordon further suggested that Arizona’s law did not conflict with the federal lawmakers’ intentions when they enacted the federal Controlled Substances Act. He declared, “Instead of frustrating the CSA’s purpose, it is sensible to argue that the AMMA furthers the CSA’s objectives in combating drug abuse and the illegitimate trafficking of controlled substances.”

    He concluded: “The Court rejects … arguments that the [law] violates public policy simply because marijuana use and possession violate federal law. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation permitting the use of marijuana in whole or in part. The Court will not rule that Arizona, having sided with the ever-growing minority of States, and having limited it to medical use, has violated public policy.”

    Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is appealing Judge Gordon’s ruling.

    Arizona regulations regarding patient access and dispensary operations is available from the Arizona Department of Health Services here.

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