Program Note: For more on the medical marijuana controversy, tune in to America's High, an AC360° special program, on Friday, July 24 at 11pm ET.
Justin Scheck and Stu Woo
Wall Street Journal
Sellers of marijuana as a medicine here don't fret about raids any more. They've stopped stressing over where to hide their stash or how to move it unseen.
Now their concerns involve the state Board of Equalization, which collects sales tax and requires a retailer ID number. Or city planning offices, which insist that staircases comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Then there is marketing strategy, which can mean paying to be a "featured dispensary" on a Web site for pot smokers.
After years in the shadows, medical marijuana in California is aspiring to crack the commercial mainstream.
"I want to do everything I can to run this as a legitimate business," says Jan Werner, 55 years old, who invested in a pot store in a shopping mall after 36 years as a car salesman.
State voters decreed back in 1996 that Californians had a right to use marijuana for any illness - from cancer to anorexia to any other condition it might help. But supplying "med pot" remained risky. The ballot measure didn't specify who could sell it or how. The state provided few guidelines, leaving local governments to impose a patchwork of restrictions. Above all, because pot possession remained illegal under U.S. law, sellers had to worry about federal raids.
But in February, the Justice Department said it would adhere to President Barack Obama's campaign statement that federal agents no longer would target med-pot dealers who comply with state law. Since then, vendors who had kept a low profile have begun to expand, and entrepreneurs who had avoided cannabis have begun to invest.
Program Note: Tune in tonight to for our special coverage of the debate around the legalization of marijuana, 'America's High: The case for and against pot,' on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
Criminal Defense Attorney
Charles Lynch, a dispensary operator from Morro Bay, California, who was indicted and convicted in federal court for activities related to selling marijuana to medical patients, received a sentence last Thursday of a year and a day.
John Littrell, Lynch’s attorney, indicated that Lynch received what is known as the “safety valve.” This is a federal statute that allows for a defendant who is otherwise subject to mandatory minimum sentences to have a reprieve and be sentenced outside of them. In order to qualify for the so-called 'safety valve,' the defendant cannot be the “leader” of the organization. Littrell indicated the judge would issue a written order amidst objection by the U.S. Attorney to the safety valve in part on that basis.
He also indicated that Lynch was sentenced to 366 days in order to qualify for good time credits that would reduce Lynch’s sentence to around 10 months.
It is refreshing and fabulous that Judge Wu has liberally interpreted the safety valve to help reduce the prison exposure of a defendant who would have a medical defense in state court. Although the attorneys were precluded from mentioning the medical defense during Lynch’s jury trial, it is clear that his medical defense, though not technically available, motivated the court to sentence the defendant far below the 10-year-mandatory minimum that would otherwise apply to his convictions.
I believe that defense attorneys should use this case as well as USA v. Landa, 281 F. Supp. 2d 1139 (2003) , in which the district court contemplated compliance with state law as a basis for a downward departure in the guidelines (although that case lacked evidence of state law compliance), to argue that state law has a place in contemplating punishment when the state and federal law differ and the state gives more rights than the federal government.
I drafted a motion like this for Stephanie Landa on her appeal. For anyone interested, the argument is that the 10th Amendment is violated by the federal enforcement of marijuana’s Schedule I status in the medical states.
A few weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine published an article, “Obama’s Judicial Philosophy Analyzed,” by Charlie Savage, about what the author perceived to be Obama’s judicial philosophy and the one he believed Supreme Court justices appointed by Obama would follow.
The article suggested that Obama is interested in a court who articulates rights that many states (maybe a super-minority) have recognized, and pushes the other states along. That is why the recent legalization of medical marijuana in Rhode Island should be celebrated as a victory and replicated in more states.
Then we can use federal marijuana cases as a vehicle to go back to the U.S. Supreme Court and ask that the use of marijuana for medical purposes be recognized as a right that is held superior to the ban of the conduct by the Controlled Substances Act, the statute that regulates controlled substances and places marijuana in a category that has no medical use, Schedule I.
Editor's Note: Harvard-educated Lawyer Allison B. Margolin is now a practicing criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles. She is often referred to as 'L.A.'s 'dopest' attorney.
Documentary Filmmaker and Author
It was a little after midnight when I crossed over the bridge from Laredo, Texas into the sister city of Nuevo Laredo Mexico. After having my car searched I was cleared through the Mexican Customs check point where the military was staged and drove towards my destination.
I had a source of mine, a local reporter, call me four hours earlier to tell me to meet him at a specific restaurant at 1am because he had some photographs and information for me. I was investigating a specific series of brutal murders that had taken place in the Laredo corridor. This meeting with a contact wasn’t all that unusual—most of the investigative journalists in Mexico work under intense circumstances as they often fall upon information relating to the drug cartels that they either can not, or will not, report on because it would be a death sentence for them.Therefore, they give the information to someone like me who will get it aired or published in a way that does not connect them.
I arrived early to the restaurant and since the weather was pleasant, I decided to take a seat on the patio and have a glass of tea. I sat for a few minutes when my source arrived and sat down, ordered a drink and handed me a large white envelope. He told me this was everything I had been asking his editor about the day before and that I should be careful how I use it. I thanked him, (by paying him), and we talked for about 20 minutes after which he asked if I could give him a ride home.
AC360° Associate Producer
All week we've been reporting on the debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana. We've examined the use of marijuana for medical purposes, shown you legal marijuana dispensaries and illegal marijuana 'gardens.' Tonight we'll continue to examine whether or not there is a case for legalization. We've spoken to doctors, policymakers and experts on the subject. They all have their own opinions. What do you think? Do you think marijuana should be legalized in the United States?
Program Note: Watch Randi Kaye’s full report tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
Randi Kaye | Bio
The helicopter waiting for us was bright blue and yellow. That was our ride into the Los Padres National Forest in California. We were about two hours north of Los Angeles. After the dirt and sand swirling around us settled down, we climbed aboard.
Our pilot flew during Vietnam so I wasn't too worried when he took us into the canyon of the forest and hovered there while our photographer shot video of the "marijuana garden" below us.
Hovering in a canyon in a chopper is not for the faint of heart. We came to do a story for AC360° on the "marijuana gardens" that exist on public land - like national parks and U.S. forests. About 80 percent of marijuana grown outdoors is grown in those areas.
We came to the right spot here. As we hovered we could see the plants below us as well as the irrigation system the growers illegally installed in the forest. The system diverts the rain water to these “gardens,” so the rest of the forest is deprived of water while the marijuana plants thrive.
Documentary Filmmaker and Author
As she sits on her couch looking back at me, Consuelo wipes the tears from behind her glasses and tries to tell me about the night her 18-year-old daughter was taken - suddenly and violently – and never heard from again.
Her trembling hands and shaking legs speak volumes of the pain she suffers day-in and day-out, wondering about the fate of youngest daughter. “Is she alive? Is she dead? Is she cold and hungry? Have they hurt her? If they did kill her where is her body?” These thoughts and many more, race through the mind of this single mother a hundred times a day.
Consuelo – not her real name; she’s too afraid to use her real name – is a 49-year-old mother of four. “Today is my baby’s 20th birthday. It’s been over two years and we’ve heard nothing.”
Consuelo can hardly speak her daughter’s name before her face flinches with pain and her eyes fill up again with tears. With a breath of exasperation and more than a hint of resentment she says, “No one has helped us, no one.”
Randi Kaye visits a marijuana garden where 7,000 plants were taken down that day - that's a street value of about $500,000.
Editor's Note: Starting on Monday we'll be taking a close look at marijuana and its use in the United States. Is there a case for legalization? We traveled around the country, met with people on all sides of the issue, walked through medical marijuana dispensaries and got a clear idea of the different kinds of marijuana out there.
And what about using marijuana for medical purposes? Hear Melissa Etheridge's take on the issue. She says it helped her through her battle with cancer. But there's the other side too. We will speak to a 34-year-old teacher who is bi-polar who used marijuana for treatment but says it ruined her life. She tells Randi Kaye why she thinks marijuana is addictive and how she says the drug nearly killed her.
Tune in for the AC360° special report, 'America's High: The case for and against pot,' starting Monday at 10 p.m. ET. What do you think about the issue? Post your questions and we'll try to answer them this week.