A Victory Over Some Illegal “Drug Courier Profile” Traffic Stops in Illinois

The test should be, “Is it better than Prohibition.” Does the proposal stop the arrest of smokers and establish a legal market where consumers can obtain their marijuana?

The Supreme Court of Illinois recently handed down a decision which found that some of the drug courier profile traffic stops in their state were illegal, and agreed with the lower courts that the drugs confiscated in five cases that had been combined for the court’s consideration, should be suppressed. The case was People v. Ringland, et al.

The criminal defense attorney bringing this legal challenge was NORML Legal Committee (NLC) Life Member Stephen M. Komie from Chicago.

The somewhat unique fact in all five of these cases, which arose in 2012 and 2013, was that the drivers were all stopped and searched by a “special investigator” of the La Salle County prosecutor’s office; not by state or local police. After carefully considering the statute that establishes and defines the powers of state prosecutors, the high court found that the prosecutor did not have the legal authority to hire their own people to drive up and down the highways, making traffic stops and searching vehicles for drugs.

Congratulations to attorney Stephen Komie for ending these illegal traffic stops in Illinois with a creative legal challenge.

 

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again!

As an attorney, I am always disappointed that the courts in this country – both at the state and federal level – have refused to get involved in the efforts to end marijuana prohibition and end the practice of treating responsible marijuana smokers as criminals. But that is the reality.

While the courts in this country have played a leading role in ending racial discrimination, in guaranteeing women the right to obtain a legal abortion, in protecting the rights of the LGBT community, and in many other areas involving the protection of personal freedom, they have consistently rejected attempts to declare state and federal anti-marijuana laws as unconstitutional.

But that does not mean that we should give up the fight in the courts, and rely only on voter initiatives and elected officials to fix this problem. As long as there are new legal arguments to be made, and fresh and hopefully more convincing facts to be argued, we must continue to engage the courts in this struggle for personal freedom.

Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al

One such legal challenge, Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, was recently filed in US District Court in the Southern District of New York by lead attorney Michael Hiller, with NORML Legal Committee (NLC) attorneys David Holland and Joseph Bondy serving as co-counsel. The full complaint can be found here.

Individual plaintiffs in the suit were two young children, an American military veteran, and a retired professional football player, all of whom are medical marijuana patients; and a membership organization alleging their minority members have been discriminated against by the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Seeking to overturn the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, plaintiffs request a declaration that the CSA, as it pertains to the classification of Cannabis as a Schedule I drug, is unconstitutional, because it violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, an assortment of protections guaranteed by the First Amendment, and the fundamental Right to Travel. Further, plaintiffs seek a declaration that Congress, in enacting the CSA as it pertains to marijuana, violated the Commerce Clause, extending the breadth of legislative power well beyond the scope contemplated by Article I of the Constitution.

Named as defendants in the case are Attorney General Jeff Beauregard Sessions, Acting Administrator of the DEA Chuck Rosenberg, the Justice Department, the DEA and the Federal Government.

In their Complaint, plaintiffs allege that the federal government does not, and could not possibly, believe that Cannabis meets the definition of a Schedule I drug, which is reserved for the most dangerous of substances, such as heroin, LSD, and mescaline; and that classifying Cannabis as a “Schedule I drug,” is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution.

 Among the other claims in the lawsuit are that the CSA: (i) was enacted and implemented in order to discriminate against African Americans and to suppress people’s First Amendment rights; and (ii) violates plaintiffs’ constitutional Right to Travel.

Joseph Bondy, a federal criminal defense attorney and legalization advocate, explained he felt it was important to “question the agenda of those who continue to push for enforcement of the CSA, given its unlawful and discriminatory impact and that so few in America support such an effort.” Co-counsel David Holland, a litigator and Executive Director of Empire State NORML, noted that “the efforts to criminalize Cannabis are relatively recent and were largely underwritten by racial and ethnic animus,” referring to recent findings that African Americans and other persons of color are four times as likely to be arrested under the CSA than white Americans, even though marijuana is used equally by people of color and Caucasians.

Perhaps the federal courts will surprise us at long last and finally take a critical look at marijuana prohibition, and find the courage to declare the CSA to be unconstitutional. That would be an enormous step forward in ending marijuana prohibition altogether. But regardless of the outcome of this particular suit, it is encouraging to see the criminal defense bar continue to push the legal envelope, and to advance the best and latest legal and factual arguments. At some point, the courts will have no choice but to strike downC1_8734_r_x prohibition as a violation of our personal freedom.

 

 

Safe Streets Alliance et al. v. John Hickenlooper, et al. – Good News, Bad News

C1_8734_r_xA ruling issued on June 7th by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in response to a series of legal challenges to Colorado’s adult cannabis use regulations, includes both good news and bad news.

The Good News

Most importantly for the legalization movement nationwide, the appeals court rejected the argument raised by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma that Amendment 64 in Colorado, the voter initiative that legalized and regulated the adult use of marijuana, was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act. That argument, made by these neighboring states, if accepted by the court, would have voided Amendment 64.

It should be noted that this was not a definitive ruling on the federal preemption argument. Rather, it was a procedural ruling, finding that only the US Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear disputes between the states. (The Supreme Court declined to consider a similar challenge in 2016.)

In fact, it was only after the Supreme Court had rejected their motion that the two states elected to raise these same issues with the 10th Circuit, by filing a motion to intervene in the Safe Streets case.

Also a big win, the Circuit Court rejected a similar attempt by a group of sheriffs and prosecutors from Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska to use the US Controlled Substances Act and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution to enjoin the enforcement of Amendment 64. The court found that the Supremacy Clause “does not give rise to a private right of action.”

Hopefully this will give pause to other anti-marijuana zealots out there who might wish to use the federal preemption argument to undermine the various state legalization laws.

The Bad News

The bad news is that the 10th Circuit did reinstate a civil RICO complaint filed by private landowners in Colorado against a state-licensed indoor cultivation center, alleging it had caused a noxious odor that damaged their property value. The appellate court remanded the case back to the US District Court for further proceedings to allow the plaintiffs to attempt to prove their RICO claims.

While this is necessarily concerning to those in the state-legal cultivation industry, since the problems presented by the odors emanating from large grow operations is a theme which has been raised in several Colorado communities, it likely does not open the floodgates for every neighbor to bring a RICO suit against any cultivation center. Rather it likely will accelerate the adoption of the most effective technology by cultivation centers to minimize the odor of marijuana.

In the court’s own words, “We are not suggesting that every private citizen purportedly aggrieved by another person, a group, or an enterprise that is manufacturing, distributing, selling, or using marijuana may pursue a claim under RICO. Nor are we implying that every person tangentially injured in his business or property by such activities has a viable RICO claim. Rather, we hold only that the Reillys alleged sufficient facts to plausibly establish the requisite elements of their claims against the Marijuana Growers here.”

Appeals Court: State-Sanctioned Marijuana Users Not Afforded Second Amendment Rights

marijuana_gavelJustices for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled in favor of a 1968 federal law prohibiting the sale of firearms to any “unlawful user” of a federally controlled substance.

Justices determined that state-registered medical marijuana patients are forbidden from purchasing firearms because cannabis remains classified as a Schedule I substance under federal law. They further opined that the ban “furthers the Government’s interest in preventing gun violence” because marijuana users “are more likely to be involved in violent crimes.”

They concluded, “[The plaintiff in this case] does not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in simultaneously holding a [medical cannabis] registry card and purchasing a firearm.”

In 2011, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms issued a memorandum to all gun dealers in the United States specifying, “Any person who uses … marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana 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.”

In response to today’s court ruling, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “There is no credible justification for a ‘marijuana exception’ to the US Constitution. Responsible adults who use cannabis in a manner that is compliant with the laws of their states ought to receive the same legal rights and protections as do other citizens. It is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis’ criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion, as well as its rapidly changing legal status under state laws.”

The Ninth Circuit decision, Wilson v Lynch et al., is available online here.

Bill to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana Introduced in Alabama

Many traditionally write off the Southern United States as an area dead to cannabis law reform, but one Representative is behind a new effort that can change all of that.

This week, Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) has introduced House Bill 550, the Alabama Cannabis and Hemp Reform Act of 2013. This measure would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to 12 mature marijuana plants by those over the age of 21. It would also authorize the Department of Revenue to establish marijuana retail outlets. You can read the full text of the measure here.

As many of you have seen, yesterday, Pew Research released new polling data that revealed, for the first time in data from a US based polling firm, that Americans support legalizing marijuana by over 50%. The survey found that 52% support legalization and only 45% were opposed. This is no longer just an issue relegated to states such as those on the West Coast and Colorado, traditionally considered bastions of marijuana law reform, this support is now nationwide.

As it very well should be, marijuana prohibition is a failed policy that squanders hundreds of millions of tax dollars a year, inversely affects society’s underprivileged, violates civil liberties, and fuels a violent, criminal black market responsible for countless deaths on our border as well as our local communities.

If states such as the traditionally conservative Alabama are beginning the discussion around alternatives to our failed prohibition of marijuana, the collapse of the drug war machine and its war on a green plant cannot be too far behind.

ALABAMA: If you live in Alabama click here to easily write your Representative and urge him or her to support this legislation!

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