Category Archives: The Great Marijuana Debate

Bremerton city attorney drops pot cases

The Bremerton city attorney has dismissed about 20 simple possession marijuana cases in the wake of Initiative 502′s passage. 

City Attorney Roger Lubovich said his office was waiting until Dec. 6, an ounce of pot for adults 21 and older became legal in the state. He said the dismissals were limited to those charged with just misdemeanor possession, and not in cases where multiple crimes were charged.

Bremerton’s municipal court handles misdemeanor cases that occur within the city. The Kitsap County Prosecutor’s office handles all felony cases in the county and misdemeanor cases outside Bremerton. The office has a contract for prosecutorial services with Port Orchard, Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island.

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge had already announced his office was dropping misdemeanor pot cases in mid-November, resulting an estimated few dozen dismissals.

Interestingly, under the new state law, up to an ounce, or about 28 grams, is legal to possess for adults 21 and over. That means it’s still a misdemeanor to have between 28 and 40 grams of pot (that is, unless it’s in food or liquid form). Above 40 grams is still a felony.

 

On eve of pot legalization, a warning from the feds

Pot, as you probably know, becomes legal to possess in Washington as of tomorrow. Initiative 502, passed by voters last month, allows adults 21 and older to have up to an ounce starting Dec. 6. (Don’t ask how one goes about getting marijuana, which is still illegal to sell, or distribute, or — unless you’re authorized under the state’s medical marijuana law — grow).

It’s the first state ever to do so — some are calling it “cannabiotic armistice day” — as Colorado’s legalization law, also passed this November, does not take effect until January. Later, the initiative calls for a system of growers, brokers and retail stores to sell pot.

But the looming cloud of uncertainty as to what the federal government, which still regards weed as a dangerous, unhealthy narcotic — will do in the wake of 502′s passage was lifted ever so slightly with a news release Wednesday. Here it is in its entirety. I’ll leave it to you to interpret it:

“The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington State.   The Department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.  Neither States nor the Executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress.  In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance.  Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.  Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses.”

Kitsap County’s sheriff not ready to support marijuana legalization initiative

In his former life as a Washington state trooper, Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer recalls watching a motorist one day drive around a Walmart parking lot, encircling it several times at about three miles an hour. 

Round and round the car went, until Boyer’s hit his overhead lights and brought the car from its crawl to a halt.

The driver was stoned, Boyer recalled.

The sheriff used the story to explain to me his mixed feelings about Initiative 502, which would legalize the possession of marijuana for adults 21 and over. The driver was certainly not the worst he’d ever seen, having responded to too many alcohol-fueled fatality crashes. But he looks at the issue from a public health standpoint: would Washingtonians be better off if they could purchase weed at a store?

“Do you really want to add it to the mix” of our currently legalized libations? he asked.

For the record, Boyer will not be following suit of King County Sheriff Steve Strachan, who has come out in favor of the initiative. Boyer will be voting no on it.

But the issue’s merits are a conversation he wants to have.

“I think it deserves a dialogue and discussion,” he said. “Not just rhetoric.”

He believes that medical marijuana, whose patients in this state have long operated in a legal gray area, can help people. And he does not view pot as a scourge on society in the same way as, say, meth or heroin have been.

“Marijuana being an evil weed causing all the problems in this country? I don’t buy that,” he said.

But here’s why he’s voting no:

  • The plant remains a so-called Schedule 1 narcotic — meaning it has a high potential for abuse and has no value medically — in the eyes of the federal government.
  • Use of any substance not prescribed for medical use — legal or illegal — “do not usually make a person’s life better,” he said.
  • He doubts the criminal justice system will save money by not having to prosecute simple marijuana possession. “There are very few people in jail for recreational marijuana,” he said.

Boyer reiterated his willingness to continue the discuss and that he could change his mind about possible future initiatives. For now, he’s still weighing the issues, but isn’t ready to vote to end marijuana prohibition.

 

Feds sweep medical marijuana dispensaries around Western Washington

In a widespread enforcement action, the federal government has raided several medical marijuana dispensaries around Western Washington.

No word yet if any are close to Kitsap (which has no dispensaries) but I’ll keep you posted.

“The activities today and the ongoing investigations are targeted actions consistent with Department of Justice policy and guidelines,” Jenny Durkan, US Attorney for Western Washington, said in a news release. “Our job is to enforce federal criminal laws. In doing so, we always prioritize and focus our resources.”

She continued:

“As we have previously stated, we will not prosecute truly ill people or their doctors who determine that marijuana is an appropriate medical treatment. However, state laws of compassion were never intended to protect brash criminal conduct that masquerades as medical treatment,” she said.

“In determining how to focus our drug enforcement resources, we will look at the true nature and scope of an enterprise, and its impact on the community. We will continue to target and investigate entities that are large scale commercial drug enterprises, or that threaten public safety in other ways. Sales to people who are not ill, particularly our youth, sales or grows in school zones, and the use of guns in connection with an enterprise all present a danger to our community.”

Belfair marijuana provider seeks Shelton expansion

Mari Meds, the nearly one-year-old provider of marijuana for the surrounding medical cannabis community, has been seeking a second location in Shelton.

Not so fast, the city said, in rejecting its business license application. City officials said the business would run afoul of state and federal laws.

The denial came as a blow to Lori Kent, one of Mari Meds’ proprietors. Mari Meds has appealed the decision to the Shelton city commission; their appeal will be heard Nov. 21.

“I don’t think we’ve thrown in the towel,” she said.

Kent said her Highway 3 location has been careful to comply with state laws, even after Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a law that left so-called dispensaries “without legal recognition and more vulnerable to prosecution,” according to an AP article.

Kent said the shop is surviving by using “patient self-treatment.” It gives patients access to other patients who know how to find their state-authorized medicine.

“It puts it back on the patient,” she said. They just verify they’re a legal patient, and the people behind the counter have medical cards, so they’re sharing their marijuana.

Record high: 50 percent of Americans now in favor of legal pot

For the first time since Gallup began keeping count, 50 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized. That’s according to its newest poll, released Monday, which also shows that 46 percent still believe the drug should be illegal.

Nonetheless, that’s a far cry from the 1970 numbers, in which only 12 percent of Americans supported legalization.

And bear in mind, we’re not talking about medical marijuana here: this is outright legalization. A previous Gallup poll found greater strength — 70 percent in favor — for providing people pot whose pain and symptoms it could help relieve.

Gallup also broke down its data:

Support for legalizing marijuana is directly and inversely proportional to age, ranging from 62% approval among those 18 to 29 down to 31% among those 65 and older. Liberals are twice as likely as conservatives to favor legalizing marijuana. And Democrats and independents are more likely to be in favor than are Republicans.

More men than women support legalizing the drug. Those in the West and Midwest are more likely to favor it than those in the South.

Interestingly, the numbers of pot legalization proponents have really gone up, doubling in the past 15 years. In 1995, about one in four people was in favor of it being legal. Things really caught fire in 2009. These days, even Washington lawmakers have entertained the possibility of legalizing it.

I’m curious what the sweeping approvals of medical marijuana laws around the country has done to expose the nation to the drug (some 16 states now have laws on the books). My curiosity is less about the notion there’s more legal marijuana in the country, and more about the idea that more people know someone who’s found marijuana effective in curbing their pain.

Rather than debate the age-old question of legalization, my inquiry to you, readers is this: do you believe the medical marijuana movement has advanced the wider legalization movement? Why or why not?

Should medical marijuana patients be allowed to have guns?

More and more people in Washington are going and getting their medical marijuana authorizations. Indeed, around the country, 16 states now allow people with qualifying conditions to possess marijuana, despite its longstanding federal prohibition.

That hasn’t stopped federal agencies from chiming in over medical marijuana issues. The latest blowup concerns a medical marijuana patient’s right to bear arms.

A memo to federal firearms licensees from the assistant director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is lucid in its belief medical marijuana patients are prohibited from having guns, according to a recent article in USA Today.

The memo states, “any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”

I’m interested to hear from folks on the Kitsap peninsula regarding this topic. Should having a medical marijuana authorization prohibit someone from having guns?

Federal government supplies weed to a handful of people

This may come as a surprise for those of you following the great marijuana debate. Since 1976, the federal government — yes, that federal government that bans pot and lists it as a drug without medicinal value — has supplied a dwindling number of patients with medical marijuana.

The Associated Press recently published a piece documenting the history of this apparent cognitive dissonance, in which four Americans (including an Oregonian) still receive marijuana for various illnesses. In fact, since 2005, they’ve received 100 pounds of weed in the form of finely-rolled joints.

The story provides interesting history. Despite marijuana’s illegality since the 1930s, a federal judge in 1976 ruled that one man’s glaucoma could be relieved in no other way than pot. Since then, a small number of patients are given pot grown on a farm at the University of Mississippi.

Medical marijuana laws are now on the books in 16 states, including Washington. The controversy surrounding the drug will undoubtedly continue. This story shows that it’s not just the states that have trouble being consistent enforcing marijuana laws.

Medical Marijuana Case Working its Way up the Judicial Ladder … in Michigan

Turns out Washington’s not the only state where issues over medical marijuana are being litigated. The American Civil Liberties Union earlier this month filed an appeal to a federal judge’s decision to throw out a Michigan case of a medical marijuana patient fired from Wal-Mart for his use of the drug.

In January, we covered our state supreme court’s hearing on a similar case in which a woman was fired from Teletech in East Bremerton for using medical marijuana to relieve migraine headaches. The woman is authorized under law to use medical marijuana.

She sued; her case was thrown out at the county and court of appeals level and it was taken for review by the state’s highest court. We are still awaiting their opinion.

Here’s the press release from the ACLU:

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The American Civil Liberties Union today said it will appeal a decision by a federal judge to dismiss its lawsuit filed in June against Wal-Mart and the manager of its Battle Creek, Michigan store for wrongfully firing an employee for using medical marijuana in accordance with state law. The patient, Joseph Casias, used marijuana to treat the painful symptoms of an inoperable brain tumor and cancer.

Michigan voters in 2008 passed the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which provides protection for the medical use of marijuana under state law. But in a 20-page ruling today, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Jonker said the law doesn’t mandate that businesses like Wal-Mart make accommodations for employees like Casias, the Battle Creek, Michigan Wal-Mart’s 2008 Associate of the Year who was fired from his job at the store for testing positive for marijuana, despite being legally registered to use the drug. In accordance with the law, Casias never ingested marijuana while at work and never worked while under the influence of marijuana.

The ACLU will appeal today’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Initiatives Around the Nation Worth Watching

Washington is home to arguably the most policy-changing ballot initiatives this year than any other state. Who else is voting on privatizing labor insurance and liquor, or repealing candy and bottled water taxes while also looking at an income tax?

I wanted to give readers here at the crime and justice blog an idea of some of the initiatives I’ll be watching in other states as the results come in tonight:

Here’s the others around the country I’ll be watching:

Proposition 19 (California): would legalize and tax marijuana, which would open up a wider legal civil war between states and the federal government, which still classifies weed as a Schedule I drug;

California also has two initiatives that simultaneously would a) let an independent commission redraw congressional districts when necessary and b) abolish that same commission from doing its current work (redrawing state legislative districts).

California also has a chance to repeal its requirement that both their own house and senate must pass a budget by a super-majority. Only three states do this.

Finally, in California, there’s an initiative to repeal the legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s so-called cap and trade program to bring California’s carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The initiative would restrict that law unless unemployment got below 5.5 percent (it’s at 12% right now).

Massachusetts’ question 3 would have that state’s sales tax from 6.25 to 3 percent.

South Dakota referred law 12 would institute a statewide smoking ban like the one Washington pioneered in 2005.

Ballot measure 74 (Ore.) would greatly expand the ability of state’s residents to form dispensaries to sell medical marijuana to qualifying patients, and the state to regulate them.

And finally, there is Oklahoma, with a barrage of initiatives, including: making English the “unifying” language of the state, requiring voters to show their immigration papers, mandating spending a certain percentage of the state budget on education, and, especially of note:

Question 755: banning the use in the courts of Islamic Sharia law– in a state with only 15,000 Muslims.