U.S. Supreme Court declines to referee state disputes over marijuana

The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to take up a lawsuit filed by two neighboring states of Colorado over its legalization of marijuana.

Nebraska and Oklahoma said Colorado’s decriminalization has “increased the flow of marijuana over their borders,” forcing them to expend greater “law enforcement, judicial system, and penal system resources,” thereby harming the welfare of their residents.

They claimed to suffer “a direct and significant detrimental impact – namely the diversion of limited manpower and resources to arrest and process suspected and convicted felons involved in the increased illegal marijuana trafficking or transportation.”

Colorado’s approach, they argued, is in direct conflict with federal law, which makes it illegal to possess even small amounts of marijuana.

The court turned the case away in an unsigned opinion. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. Writing for them both, Thomas said court should have taken the case because “the plaintiff states have made a reasonable case.”

There were no lower court decisions, because disputes between the states come directly to the Supreme Court.

Nebraska and Oklahoma did not challenge Colorado’s legalization itself. Instead they said the way it regulates the manufacture, possession, and distribution of marijuana was causing them harm

But Colorado said its neighboring states real quarrel is with the federal government’s policy of declining to prosecute cases of simple possession in states where marijuana use has been legalized. Those states should sue the federal government, not Colorado, it said.

“A state does not violate the sovereign rights of another state, by making a policy decision that parts ways with its neighbors,” Colorado said.

The Obama Justice Department urged the Supreme Court not to take the case. “Entertaining the type of dispute at issue here – essentially that one state’s laws make it more likely that third parties will violate federal and state law in another state – would represent a substantial and unwarranted expansion of” of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.


Marijuana charge against Green Grow owner dismissed

A judge dismissed marijuana-related charges against a South Lyon businessman whose Livingston County homes were used by a friend to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Jeffrey William Mote’s attorney sought the dismissal after a preliminary exam yielded no “reliable evidence” to support the prosecution’s allegation that the 50-year-old man, who owns and operates Grow Green MI in Whitmore Lake, possessed with an intent to deliver or that he delivered 20-200 marijuana plants.

“This is a case that should never have been bound over,” defense attorney Neil Rockind said Wednesday. “Jeff Mote runs a clean business. … It’s a legitimate business, and he has nothing to do with marijuana cultivation, sales or shipping. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Judge Michael P. Hatty dismissed the charges Friday against Mote without prejudice, which means the prosecution could refile charges.

Livingston County Prosecutor William Vailliencourt said his office would review the case to determine if the charges should be refiled “if police are able to identify or uncover additional evidence.”

“While we thought the evidence was sufficient to support the charge, and the district judge agreed, Judge Hatty had a different view of the evidence,” the prosecutor noted.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Michigan State Police raided Mote’s business, Grow Green MI on Canterbury Road, in May 2013 as well as two homes on Pinckney and Chilson roads in Livingston County following a three-year investigation that began with a tip from a former Grow Green employee.

Testimony at a six-day preliminary exam that spanned nearly 10 months revealed a DEA agent found marijuana plants as well as fertilizer and other related equipment for a marijuana-grow operation at the Chilson Road home, while a second DEA officer testified that she saw “marijuana plants” in several rooms at a home on Pinckney Road.

In all, she said, officers seized 40 plants and about 2 pounds of dried marijuana from the Pinckney Road home.

Mote owns the homes, which were quit claim deeded to him from co-defendant Anthony Charles Portelli, 42, of Whitmore Lake, who is manager of the Grow Green MI business. However, Portelli pays the mortgage and maintains the homes, according to testimony.

In addition, an undercover narcotics officer testified that Mote was not seen visiting or entering the two homes during the three-year period he was under surveillance.

Following the hearing, District Judge Carol Sue Reader bound over the cases to Circuit Court for trial.

However, Rockind argued Reader erred in her decision because there is no evidence connecting Mote to the marijuana-grow operations in either home.

The defense’s position is arguably supported by testimony from an undercover narcotics officer who admitted that his memory and police report of the situation were not reliable and were factually inaccurate.

In the police report, the officer stated Mote “purchased” the homes, but he later acknowledged that Mote quitclaimed the homes and that Portelli pays the mortgage. The police report also notes that Mote discussed his relationship with a third co-defendant, but the officer’s notes contain no such discussion.

The officer also testified that although his notes from Mote’s interrogation were taken in chronological order, the police report did not reflect the same order. He also said Mote knew how marijuana was being distributed, but later acknowledged the Mote did not actually know anything about the alleged marijuana distribution.

At the end of the officer’s testimony, he acknowledged that his report and his memory were not reliable.

On Wednesday, Rockind said Mote’s case emphasizes the importance of recording police interrogations.

“No person’s life or liberty should be left to the things we had to argue in this case,” he said. “We can do better. Everyone has a cellphone, and every cellphone has the ability to do a voice recording.

“If it’s important enough to discuss in court, it’s important enough to be recorded,” Rockind added. “I think if we had tape recording of Jeff, we wouldn’t have gotten here.”

The third co-defendant was sentenced in January to six months of probation for maintaining a drug house. Portelli’s case is still pending in Circuit Court.

via Livingston Daily

Appellate judge pleads guilty, in private, in airport gun-possession case

A Michigan Appeals Court judge waived arraignment and pleaded guilty Tuesday, in private, to a misdemeanor gun-possession charge.

It concerned the loaded handgun reportedly found by Detroit Metropolitan Airport security screeners last month in the carry-on luggage of Judge Henry William Saad.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office said in a written statement that it had pushed for Saad’s guilty plea to be made in open court rather than chambers of Judge Tina Brooks Green, the Detroit News reports. She is the chief judge of the 34th District Court in Romulus.

However, Green contradicted the prosecutor’s office claim that the plea took place in her chambers, contending that it was made at another courthouse location, the Detroit Free Pressreports.

Asked by the newspaper whether Green received special consideration in being allowed to plead guilty in private, Green said “absolutely not,” explaining that such a “plea by mail” is routine in airport security cases.

“It’s not the crime of the century, and it’s standard practice,” she told the newspaper.

Saad pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm in a sterile area, the Free Press says, and he was ordered to pay a $750 fine. However, sentencing was deferred for 90 days and the case apparently will be dismissed if the judge avoids further trouble during that period.

via ABA

Legal marijuana causes Mexican drug cartel revenues to plummet

Marijuana legalization may have accomplished what the War on Drugs has failed to do — put the squeeze on Mexican drug cartel activity.

The U.S. Border Patrol has released 2015 data showing that the number of marijuana seizures throughout the southwest U.S./Mexico border has fallen to the lowest level in a decade, theWashington Post reports.

Mexican manufacturers of illegal marijuana bricks have driven down prices as residents in California, Colorado, and Washington state now have safe access to reasonably affordable medical marijuana and/or recreational cannabis.

“Two or three years ago, a kilogram [2.2 pounds] of marijuana was worth $60 to $90,” a Mexican marijuana grower told NPR news in December 2014. “But now they’re paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It’s a big difference. If the U.S. continues to legalize pot, they’ll run us into the ground.”

The falling price is also compounded with the cartels’ pressure to grow better pot, as many Americans can now legally purchase highly potent strains at their local dispensaries.

“The quality of marijuana produced in Mexico and the Caribbean is thought to be inferior to the marijuana produced domestically in the United States or in Canada,” the DEA wrote last year in its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. “Law enforcement reporting indicates that Mexican cartels are attempting to produce higher-quality marijuana to keep up with U.S. demand.”

Despite the good news, however, Mexican cartels are slowly beginning to offset the revenue lost to cannabis law reform by producing more heroin and methamphetamines.

“Those trying to understand what has happened with U.S. cannabis consumption and imports over the past decade need to pay close attention to licensed and unlicensed production in medical states, especially California,” said Beau Kilmer of the RAND Corporation to the Post.

via SFGate

Michigan Senate votes to decriminalize minor in possession charge

LANSING People under the age of 21 may get some relief from laws that make them criminals for underage drinking.

Under legislation that passed the state Senate Thursday on a 36-2 vote, a first minor in possession of alcohol offense would become a civil infraction, punishable by a $100 fine, instead of the current misdemeanor charge which carries a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

More than 6,000 minors, many of them in college towns, got popped for trying to buy or consume alcohol in 2013 and were charged with misdemeanors for their youthful indiscretions, according to statistics from the Michigan State Police..

But Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, sponsored the legislation because he doesn’t think kids should be put in jail for drinking a beer.

“It’s been very shocking  for me to hear from parents across the state that some judges are giving kids seven days in jail for minor in possession,” he said. “It’s outrageous to criminalize young people for having a beer.”

The second offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail and a $200 fine. A third offense would carry a sentence of up to 60 days and a $500 fine and possible revocation of the offender’s driver’s license.

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, was one of two Republicans – the other was Sen. Mike Green, of Mayville – to oppose the legislation.

“We are a nation of laws and laws should mean something too … Otherwise, I just feel you’re encouraging underage drinking,” she said. “And the current process allows the prosecutor to enter into a deferred sentence.”

From 2009-13, the latest statistics available from the Michigan State Police, 38,499 people under 21 were arrested for some sort of minor in possession charge. And counties with college towns racked up some of the biggest numbers, including: Ingham County, home of Michigan State University with 863 citations in 2013; Washtenaw County, home to the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, with 401 MIP charges; and Isabella County, home of Central Michigan University, with 233 charges.

The bills – SB 332-333 – now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.

via Freep

Michigan Medical Marijuana Caregiver’s Conviction Upheld in Appeals Court

A Michigan appeals panel upheld a lower court’s conviction of 47-year-old medical marijuana caregiver Alenna Marie Rocafort. In September of 2012, police raided a house next to Rocafort’s Kentwood home that she was using for her medical marijuana caregiver operation and seized 5.6 pounds of marijuana. The amount of marijuana seized, the courts found, exceeded the amount of usable marijuana she was legally allowed to possess for her medical marijuana patients. Rocafort argued that the marijuana was not usable because it was in the drying process, but the courts disagreed, even though she intended to use the dried plants to make hash oil.

Michigan state law allows caregivers the right to grow and possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana per patient, according to court documents. No one disputes that Rocafort was a registered caregiver under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, but the defendant would have only been permitted to have 15 ounces of usable marijuana total for herself and five patients.

“There is no dispute that defendant was a caregiver under the (Michigan Medical Marihuana Act) and that she was registered to provide marijuana to five patients,” the appeals panel said. “The trial court stated that the sole issue with regard to defendant’s motion (to dismiss) was the fact that she had 5.6 pounds of harvested marijuana, which, if that marijuana were usable, exceeded the amount of usable marijuana defendant was allowed to have…”

Christopher Conrad, who Mlive says is an expert in cannabis cultivation, testified that marijuana generally takes a week to 10 days to dry after it has been harvested. Conrad is described as a court-qualified expert. Rocafort’s marijuana had been drying for only four days at the time the dried plants were confiscated by the police in a raid. At her first trial, the judge found that “the medical marijuana law could not refer to completely dried marijuana because dried marijuana contains about 10 percent moisture,” Mlive wrote.

Justices Jane Markey and William Murphy wrote that even though it was only drying for four days, it was “largely dried” and therefore, the lower court did not “clearly err” when it found that the marijuana that was four-days dried should be declared legally usable.

One voice of dissent was heard among the appeals judges; Judge Cynthia Stephens wrote that she disagreed with the majority’s conclusion. Stephens says that the marijuana was not definitively usable at the time of the raid.

“I would conclude that the marijuana that was in the ‘drying process’ or that which was ‘pretty dry’ or ‘dry enough’ or ‘largely dried’ did not constitute usable marihuana within the meaning of the statute and was therefore, insufficient evidence upon which to convict defendant,” Stephens wrote in her dissent statement, indicating that Michigan lawmakers have actually differentiated between marijuana and usable marijuana. “Notably, usable marihuana does not include ‘all parts of the plant… growing or not’ or ‘every… preparation of the plant or its seeds or resin.”

The case raid occurred at an unoccupied house in Kentwood, Michigan, where Rocafort grew the medical marijuana plants. Rocafort was both a registered patient and a registered caregiver under MMMA. The police had discovered 34 marijuana plants. The defense witness said he did not believe that the marijuana was adequately dried to be considered usable marijuana under the law. The medical marijuana case, according to WZZM News, ultimately hinged on how long it takes for marijuana to actually dry before it could be considered usable. The Kent county judge allowed the case to proceed, and Rocafort was found guilty by a jury over a year later of manufacturing marijuana and maintaining a drug house.

According to the THC Network in Colorado, “there is no ‘one size fits all’ time frame for how long it takes marijuana to dry.” Reportedly, a number of factors determine the drying rate of harvested marijuana. When arguing in defense of the defendant from Michigan on its website, the network listed the factors.

“There are a number of factors that determine the drying rate of a harvest of marijuana. For starters, how big are the buds? Bigger buds take longer to dry. Were the buds cut from the plant and then dried, or was the plant chopped down and hung upside down? The later takes much longer to dry. What was the temperature of the room the marijuana was being dried in? What was the humidity level? How much air was being blown around by the fans? Were there even fans? There’s a lot of factors at play, so to say that one standard applies across the board is a claim that is not based in science, and in the case of Ms. Rocafort, it’s also not based on compassion.”

Another Inquisitr report featured an earlier story of confusion over the Michigan marijuana law. Sergeant Timothy Bernhardt served in his department with the Kent County Corrections for 22 years. He believed that the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act protected a joint medical marijuana business he shared with others. They believed that the law protected the possession and use of medical marijuana butter for caregivers, after a Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that marijuana butter was not considered medical marijuana, Sergeant Bernhardt committed suicide.

via Inquisitr