Category Archives: Federal Crime

Marijuana Initiatives in 2 States Set Federal Officials Scrambling

This whole article is ridiculous, but I’ll let you be the judge…

WASHINGTON – Senior White House and Justice Department officials are considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in those states, according to several people familiar with the deliberations.

Even as marijuana legalization supporters are celebrating their victories in the two states, the Obama administration has been holding high-level meetings since the election to debate the response of federal law enforcement agencies to the decriminalization efforts.

Marijuana use in both states continues to be illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. One option is to sue the states on the grounds that any effort to regulate marijuana is pre-empted by federal law. Should the Justice Department prevail, it would raise the possibility of striking down the entire initiatives on the theory that voters would not have approved legalizing the drug without tight regulations and licensing similar to controls on hard alcohol.

Some law enforcement officials, alarmed at the prospect that marijuana users in both states could get used to flouting federal law openly, are said to be pushing for a stern response. But such a response would raise political complications for President Obama because marijuana legalization is popular among liberal Democrats who just turned out to re-elect him.

“It’s a sticky wicket for Obama,” said Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin, saying any aggressive move on such a high-profile question would be seen as “a slap in the face to his base right after they’ve just handed him a chance to realize his presidential dreams.”

Federal officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. Several cautioned that the issue had raised complex legal and policy considerations – including enforcement priorities, litigation strategy and the impact of international antidrug treaties – that remain unresolved, and that no decision was imminent.

The Obama administration declined to comment on the deliberations, but pointed to a statement the Justice Department issued on Wednesday – the day before the initiative took effect in Washington – in the name of the United States attorney in Seattle, Jenny A. Durkan. She warned Washington residents that the drug remained illegal.

“In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance,” she said. “Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6 in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”

Ms. Durkan’s statement also hinted at the deliberations behind closed doors, saying: “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.”

Federal officials have relied on their more numerous state and local counterparts to handle smaller marijuana cases. In reviewing how to respond to the new gap, the interagency task force – which includes Justice Department headquarters, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the State Department and the offices of the White House Counsel and the director of National Drug Control Policy – is considering several strategies, officials said.

One option is for federal prosecutors to bring some cases against low-level marijuana users of the sort they until now have rarely bothered with, waiting for a defendant to make a motion to dismiss the case because the drug is now legal in that state. The department could then obtain a court ruling that federal law trumps the state one.

A more aggressive option is for the Justice Department to file lawsuits against the states to prevent them from setting up systems to regulate and tax marijuana, as the initiatives contemplated. If a court agrees that such regulations are pre-empted by federal ones, it will open the door to a broader ruling about whether the regulatory provisions can be “severed” from those eliminating state prohibitions – or whether the entire initiatives must be struck down.

Another potential avenue would be to cut off federal grants to the states unless their legislatures restored antimarijuana laws, said Gregory Katsas, who led the civil division of the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration.

Mr. Katsas said he was skeptical that a pre-emption lawsuit would succeed. He said he was also skeptical that it was necessary, since the federal government could prosecute marijuana cases in those states regardless of whether the states regulated the drug.

Still, federal resources are limited. Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department issued a policy for handling states that have legalized medical marijuana. It says federal officials should generally not use their limited resources to go after small-time users, but should for large-scale trafficking organizations. The result has been more federal raids on dispensaries than many liberals had expected.

via The New York Times

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Decided by a nose? Court ponders drug dog’s sniff

Franky the drug dog’s super-sensitive nose is at the heart of a question being put to the U.S. Supreme Court: Does a police K-9’s sniff outside a house give officers the right to get a search warrant for illegal drugs, or is the sniff itself an unconstitutional search?

Florida’s highest state court said Franky’s ability to detect marijuana growing inside a Miami-area house from outside a closed front door crossed the constitutional line. State Attorney General Pam Bondi, an elected Republican, wants the nation’s justices to reverse that ruling.

The Supreme Court could decide this month whether to take the case, the latest in a long line of disputes about whether the use of dogs to find drugs, explosives and other illegal or dangerous substances violates the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure.

Many court watchers expect the justices will take up the Florida case.

“The Florida Supreme Court adopted a very broad reading of the Fourth Amendment that is different from that applied by other courts. It’s an interpretation that a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court will question,’’ said Tom Goldstein, who publishes the widely read SCOTUSblog website and also teaches at the Harvard and Stanford law schools.

The case, Florida v. Jardines, is being closely monitored by law enforcement agencies nationwide, which depend on dogs for a wide range of law enforcement duties.

“Dogs can be a police officer’s best friend because they detect everything from marijuana or meth labs to explosives,’’ said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami now in private practice. “They are an essential tool for law enforcement.’’

The 8-year-old Franky retired in June after a seven-year career as a K-9 dog with the Miami-Dade Police Department. He’s responsible for the seizure of more than 2.5 tons of marijuana, 80 pounds of cocaine and $4.9 million in drug-contaminated money. And because he’s an amiable chocolate Labrador, he was used extensively in airports, sports arenas and other places where people congregate.

“He’s a friendly, happy dog,’’ said his former handler, Detective Douglas Bartelt, who kept Franky after he retired. “People don’t have fear because of his appearance.’’

The U.S. Supreme Court has OK’d drug dog sniffs in several other major cases. Two of those involved dogs that detected drugs during routine traffic stops. In another, a dog hit on drugs in airport luggage. A fourth involved a drug-laden package in transit.

The difference in the Florida case is that it involved a private residence. The high court has repeatedly emphasized that a home is entitled to greater privacy than cars on the road or a suitcase in an airport. In another major ruling, the justices decided in 2001 that police could not use thermal imaging technology to detect heat from marijuana grow operations from outside a home because the equipment could also detect lawful activity.

“We have said that the Fourth Amendment draws a firm line at the entrance to the house,’’ the court ruled in that case, known as Kyllo v. United States. The justices added that the thermal devices could detect such intimate details as “at what hour each night the lady of the house takes her daily sauna and bath.’’

It’s well-settled that law enforcement officials can walk up to a home and knock on the front door, in hopes that someone will open up and talk to them. But if a person inside refuses the “knock and talk’’ effort, the officers must get a search warrant — and for that they need evidence of a crime.

On the morning of Dec. 5, 2006, Miami-Dade police detectives and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents set up surveillance outside a house south of the city after getting an anonymous tip that it might contain a marijuana grow operation. Bartelt arrived with Franky and the two went up to the house, where Franky quickly detected the odor of pot at the base of the front door and sat down as he was trained to do.

That sniff was used to get a search warrant from a judge. The house was searched and its lone occupant, Joelis Jardines, was arrested trying to escape out the back door. Officers pulled 179 live marijuana plants from the house, with an estimated street value of more than $700,000.

Jardines, now 39, was charged with marijuana trafficking and grand theft for stealing electricity needed to run the highly sophisticated operation. He pleaded not guilty and his attorney challenged the search, claiming Franky’s sniff outside the front door was an unconstitutional law enforcement intrusion into the home.

The trial judge agreed and threw out the evidence seized in the search, but that was reversed by an intermediate appeals court. In April a divided Florida Supreme Court sided with the original judge.

“There is simply nothing to prevent agents from applying the procedure in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner, or based on whim and fancy, at the home of any citizen,’’ the Florida court majority concluded.

In its petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, state lawyers argue that the Florida Supreme Court’s decision conflicts with numerous previous rulings that a dog sniff is not a search.

“A dog sniff of a house reveals only that the house contains drugs, not any other private information about the house or the persons in it,’’ wrote Carolyn Snurkowski, Florida associate deputy attorney general. “A person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in illegal drugs.’’

She added that there’s no comparison between thermal imaging and a dog’s nose, as the Florida court suggested.

“A dog is a dog, not the rapidly advancing technology’’ that was a key in the thermal imaging ruling, Snurkowski wrote. “Chocolate Labrador retrievers are not sophisticated systems. Rather, they are common household pets that possess a naturally strong sense of smell.’’

Jardines’ appellate lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Howard K. Blumberg, countered that the U.S. Supreme Court should let the Florida ruling stand because it’s consistent with the idea that there’s a firm line at the door to a private home.

“The Florida Supreme Court did not announce any type of new test for determining whether the conduct of law enforcement officers constitutes a search,’’ he wrote. “The Florida Supreme Court properly emphasized the increased level of intrusiveness and the significant level of embarrassment suffered by the owner of the home in this case.’’

The criminal case against Jardines is on hold until the question involving Franky’s nose is settled. Meanwhile, Jardines is out on bail following a 2010 arrest for alleged armed robbery and aggravated assault. He pleaded not guilty in that one, as well, and trial is set for Feb. 21.

via Boston.com

Attorney General Eric Holder on Medical Marijuana

Last week Attorney General Eric Holder made several statements regarding State’s rights with respect to Medical Marijuana. After reading Holder’s comments, one thing is abundantly clear: Holder does NOT believe that federal law conflicts and/or trumps all state medical marijuana laws! Read his responses below; if he believed there was a conflict, then he would say so.

As it is, Holder acknowledges that there is a place for medical marijuana at the state level. Michigan municipalities, politicians, judges, prosecutors, and police officers that are arguing that there is a direct conflict between Michigan Law and federal law should study Holder’s words and alter their actions for conformity therewith.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO)
Questions for Attorney General Eric Holder on Enforcement of Federal Marijuana Policy

House Judiciary Committee Hearing

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Polis: Thank you, madam chair. My first question is with regard to federal — the policy with regard to drug enforcement administration and marijuana policy, building off what my colleague, Mr. Cohen asked earlier. I certainly applauded and greet with warm welcome, representing one of the states that has a medical marijuana law and regulates the sale of marijuana, the memo describing the intent of D.A. and U.S. Attorneys. I would like you to describe the objective processes that the D.A. and U.S. Attorneys are using in order to make a determination about whether individuals are in, quote, clear and unambiguous compliance with state law. How is that determined?

Holder: Well, it’s done on a — you know, people get — I guess tired of hearing this, but it is true. It’s done on a case by case basis. We look at the state laws, and what the restrictions are, what the — how the law is — how the law is constructed, and there are a number of factors in that memo–that are — are guides. Is marijuana being sold consistent with state law? Are arms — are firearms somehow associated with the sale? There are a variety of factors that are contained within the memo that went out from the Deputy Attorney General that United States’ Attorneys and Assistant United States’ Attorneys are supposed to apply, supposed to consider when trying to make the determination about whether or not federal resources are going to be used to go after somebody who is dealing in marijuana.

Polis: I would certainly encourage that the question of whether or not it’s consistent with state law certainly be left to state enforcement actions. In particular, I brought to your concern in a letter of February 23rd requesting a clarification of your policies regarding medical marijuana with regard to several statements that were made by one of your agents in Colorado, Jeffrey Sweeten. Along the lines of the quote — as quoted in the paper, the time is coming when we go into a dispensary, we find out what their profit is, we seize the building, and we arrest everybody. They’re violating federal law. They’re at risk of arrest and imprisonment, end quote. I would like to ask what steps you might take to make sure that the spirit of the enforcement mechanisms that you outlined to me and the answer to your previous questions are not contradicted by the statements of agents that, in fact, then strike fear into legitimate businesses in eyes of our states.

Holder: Well, it’s incumbent upon me as Attorney General to make sure that what we have set out as policy is being followed by all of the components within the Department of Justice and to the extent that somebody at the DEA, somebody at — some Assistant United States’ Attorney is not following that policy. It is my responsible to make sure that the policy is clear, that the policy is disseminated, and that people act in conformity with policies that we have determined.

Polis: Do you believe — do you agree that statements that could be reasonably taken as threatening to businesses that are legal in our state are, in fact, contrary to your stated policy?

Holder: Well, again, if the entity is, in fact, operating consistent with state law, and is not — does not have any of those factors involved that are contained in that Deputy Attorney General memo, and given, again, the limited resources that we have and our determination to focus on major traffickers, that would be inconsistent with what the policy as we have set it out.

Attorney General Eric Holder: Federal Interference In Medical Marijuana A Low Priority

It’s easy to get whiplash trying to keep up with federal medical marijuana policy, and my neck’s hurting again after hearing the latest from Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder on Thursday repeated the support of the Department of Justice for the Ogden Memo, the 2009 policy statement which deprioritized the prosecution of medical marijuana providers who are following state law.

“What we said in the memo we still intend, which is that given the limited resources that we have, and if there are states that have medical marijuana provisions … if in fact people are not using the policy decision that we have made to use marijuana in a way that’s not consistent with the state statute, we will not use our limited resources in that way,” Holder said in his usual convoluted (dare I say tortured?) fashion, reports Lucia Graves at Huffington Post.
Holder’s pained expression and body language as he deals with the question speak volumes. The Administration is caught between a rock (federal marijuana laws) and a hard place (the cannabis vote), which means “break out the fancy footwork” every time the subject comes up.
An interesting question at this point is if the continued wails of dismay from the medical marijuana community — sizable numbers of whom, during the 2008 election, had lined up behind Obama and his seemingly medicinal cannabis-friendly (or at least reasonable) stance — is finally starting to once again impact the Administration’s stated policy.

Holder’s comments came in response to a question from Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) during a hearing on the DOJ’s scandalous program of handing out weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
Polis — a longtime friend to the medical marijuana community– asked about the recent federal saber rattling and crackdown on California dispensaries, where the state’s four U.S. Attorneys have forced hundreds of collectives to close down in the past two months. The shutdowns have come largely as a result of threatening letters sent by all four U.S. Attorneys’ offices, threatening landlords with property seizure, dispensary operators with eviction, and both with imprisonment.
Polis asked whether Colorado dispensaries could expect to get different treatment.
“It’s my understand [California] did not have a functional state-level regulatory authority,” Polis said, “Colorado does have an extensive state regulatory and licensing system for medical marijuana, and I’d like to ask whether our thoughtful state regulation … provides any additional protection to Colorado from federal intervention.”
Holder’s vague response did give Polis reason to hope for better treatment of Colorado colletives, at the same time hinting that California’s regulation of the shops is seen as ineffective.
“Where a state has taken a position, has passed a law and people are acting in conformity with the law — not abusing the law — that would not be a priority with the limited resources of our Justice Department,” Holder said.

2 Governors Asking U.S. to Ease Rules on Marijuana to Allow for Its Medical Use

The governors of Washington and Rhode Island petitioned the federal government on Wednesday to reclassify marijuana as a drug with accepted medical uses, saying the change is needed so states like theirs, which have decriminalized marijuana for medical purposes, can regulate the safe distribution of the drug without risking federal prosecution.

The move by the governors —Christine Gregoire of Washington, a Democrat, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, an independent who used to be a Republican — injected new political muscle into the long-running debate on the status of marijuana. Their states are among the 16 that now allow medical marijuana, but which have seen efforts to grow and distribute the drug targeted by federal prosecutors.

“The divergence in state and federal law creates a situation where there is no regulated and safe system to supply legitimate patients who may need medical cannabis,” the governors wrote Wednesday to Michele M. Leonhart, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Marijuana is currently classified by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance, the same category as heroin and L.S.D. Drugs with that classification, the government says, have a high potential for abuse and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

The governors want marijuana reclassified as a Schedule II controlled substance, which would put it in the same category as drugs like cocaine, opium and morphine. The federal government says that those drugs have a strong potential for abuse and addiction, but that they also have “some accepted medical use and may be prescribed, administered or dispensed for medical use.”

Such a classification could pave the way for pharmacies to dispense marijuana, in addition to the marijuana dispensaries that operate in a murky legal zone in many states.

“What we have out here on the ground is chaos,” Governor Gregoire said in an interview. “And in the midst of all the chaos we have patients who really either feel like they’re criminals or may be engaged in some criminal activity, and really are legitimate patients who want medicinal marijuana.

“If our people really want medicinal marijuana, then we need to do it right, we need to do it with safety, we need to do it with health in mind, and that’s best done in a process that we know works in this country — and that’s through a pharmacist.”

The State of Washington approved medical marijuana in 1998, with a ballot question that won 60 percent of the vote. But like many states, Washington soon found itself in a legal gray area. The Legislature tried to clarify things last spring, when it passed a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana dispensaries and growers.

But the Justice Department warned that growing and distributing marijuana was still against federal law, and said that “state employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability.” Ms. Gregoire, while sympathetic to the goals of the bill, wound up vetoing much of it.

It was similar on the other side of the country, where Rhode Island passed a law authorizing state-regulated marijuana dispensaries. This fall Governor Chafee said he could not go ahead with the plan because federal prosecutors had warned him that dispensaries could be targets of prosecution.

Advocates for medical marijuana praised the move on Wednesday, but said the governors should not wait for the federal government before going forward with state initiatives. Opponents said that even if marijuana was reclassified, it was unlikely that pharmacies would be able to dispense it, because the drug is usually smoked and comes in varied strengths.

As recently as June the D.E.A. denied a petition to reclassify marijuana, based on a review conducted several years earlier. But Ms. Gregoire and Mr. Chafee said the attitude of the medical community had changed since the government last reviewed the issue.

In 2009 the American Medical Association changed its position and called for reviewing the classification of marijuana, saying that the current classification was limiting clinical research.

Ms. Gregoire noted that many doctors believe it makes no sense to place marijuana in a more restricted category than opium and morphine. “People die from overdose of opiates,” she said. “Has anybody died from marijuana?”

via The New York Times

Holder Asks America to Remain ‘Vigilant,’ Report Intellectual-Property Crime [Ridiculous]

Are the Feds serious??? Yes, they are. They want YOU to turn your neighbor in for that illegally downloaded Justin Bieber song or that faux Gucci handbag purchased on the street. Think I’m kidding? Read on…

The War on Terror seems so yesterday.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder urged Americans to fink on their neighbors and report intellectual-property offenses like popping or hawking unapproved pharmaceuticals and downloading music and movies illegally.

The announcement at the White House came as the Justice Department kicked off a public campaign against intellectual-property theft, which like all successful wars against societal scourges, will have public-service announcements on MTV.

“Fortunately, we can all be part of the solution. Anyone who suspects an IP crime can visit cybercrime.gov, fbi.gov, or iprcenter.gov to report suspected offenses,” Holder said. “The public’s proactive attention to these issues can help us to disrupt the sale of illegal goods; to prosecute the individuals, gangs, and international criminal organizations that profit from these activities; and to stop those who would exploit the ingenuity of others for monetary gain.”

So far there’s no word on what kind of reward you’ll get for reporting your teen sister for using an app to turn a Miley Cyrus YouTube video into an MP3, but surely you’ll get at least a Scouting badge for your loyalty to Big Content and the American Way.

The announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The Justice Department under President Barack Obama has seen a sea change in attitude when it comes to intellectual-property enforcement, which could have been predicted by the number of formerRecording Industry Association of America attorneys appointed by the Obama administration. (Hollywood votes and donates Democratic).

In contrast, the terrorism-focused George W. Bush administration shunned calls for the Justice Department to attack illicit websites hawking counterfeit goods and unauthorized copyright material. In the last year, however, Holder’s office has seized 350 websites under a program called “Operation in Our Sites” — with 150 seizures announced Monday.

The attorney general said rights holders need Americans’ help, not just the government’s. He said the United States is “encouraging the American people to become vigilant partners in identifying and disrupting intellectual property crimes.”

“Intellectual property theft,” he said, ranges from “counterfeit consumer goods and pharmaceuticals to illegal downloads and other pirated materials.”

The government, Holder added, “won’t be able to win this fight and keep pace with today’s criminals alone. Our efforts will always depend not only on law enforcement activity and industry partnerships, but also on robust public engagement and the vigilance of the American people.”

While we applaud the idea of installing keyloggers on friends’ computers to see if they are undermining the country’s economic recovery, asking America to be on the lookout for terrorists and intellectual-property infringers at the same time could be confusing.

Say, for instance, you spot an unattended, and possibly counterfeit Gucci bag in an airport? Who do you call first: The Transportation Security Administration or the Justice Department?

via Wired