Courts Monitor publisher thinks that the newly emerging cannabis industry can learn a thing or two from the alcohol industry

Sara Corcoran is correspondent, contributing editor, and founding publisher of the National Courts Monitor & California Courts Monitor.

Sara Corcoran is a correspondent, contributing editor, and founding publisher of the National Courts Monitor & California Courts Monitor.

Sara Corcoran, the Courts Monitor publisher, thinks that the newly emerging cannabis industry can learn a thing or two from the alcohol industry. For example, as the repeal of alcohol prohibition turns 85 years old, the feuds between the “beer and wine” crowd and the “distilled spirits” companies could easily be repeated as cannabis regulation takes shape amid conflicted industry sectors. She is published at CityWatch LA, the regionally prominent Los Angeles-based opinion-and-politics website here.

Judge: Florida’s ban on smokable medical marijuana is unconstitutional


Photo credit: Orlando Weekly, 5/2/18

Photo credit: Orlando Weekly, 5/2/18

A state-imposed ban on smokable medical marijuana is unconstitutional, a Florida judge has ruled.

Leon County circuit court Judge Karen Gievers on June 5 upheld her May 25 ruling, ending a stay in this back-and-forth dispute.

“The state’s Department of Health had filed an appeal of Gievers’ original ruling, which automatically put it on hold,” The Associated Press reported. “Even with the stay being lifted, smokable medical marijuana will not immediately be available for sale at treatment centers.  That’s because the Department of Health must come up with rules for cultivation and distribution, which could take several months.”

Orlando Weekly noted that an appeals court had temporarily blocked a Tampa businessman from growing marijuana as he sought to prevent a relapse of lung cancer. The 1st District Court of Appeal had reinstated a stay of Gievers’s May 25 ruling. The circuit court’s ruling had cleared Joe Redner to grow his own marijuana for a treatment known as “juicing,” Orlando Weekly reported.


Criminal records cleared for some Californians convicted on pot charges

Those convicted of marijuana-related infractions could receive a clean slate in California, based on a trend in some jurisdictions.

“Thousands of people with misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession dating back 40 years will have their criminal records cleared, the San Francisco district attorney’s office said Wednesday,” The New York Times reported in January. “San Diego is also forgiving old convictions,”

National Public Radio reported, “Nine states now have laws related to expunging or reducing marijuana convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures but marijuana is still illegal under federal law. And not everyone in California is high on the idea of legalization. Jill Replogle, of member station KPCC, reported earlier this month that ’73 percent of cities and counties in California currently ban commercial cannabis businesses.’”

But a few communities are seeking to erase criminal records for those convicted on marijuana charges. The New York Times noted, “George Gascón, San Francisco’s district attorney, said his office would automatically erase convictions there, which total about 3,000. An additional 4,900 felony marijuana charges will be examined by prosecutors to determine if they should be retroactively reduced to misdemeanors. San Diego has identified 4,700 cases, both felonies and misdemeanors, that will be cleared or downgraded.”

RICO law used to target marijuana businesses

herb-2915337_640An anti-mobster law, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, has emerged as a tool to fight marijuana-related businesses, including a case in Massachusetts citing “pungent odors” caused by consumption of the substance, among other negative effects.

Bloomberg reports, “While pot remains illegal under federal law, Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana consumption in 2012 and recreational use in 2016; the latter will kick in next year. The drug is legal for at least one of the two purposes in 29 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. But that doesn’t mean everybody wants a weed business next door. That’s why the burgeoning $6 billion marijuana business in the U.S. should view the RICO suits as serious threats, says Sean O’Connor, faculty director of the Cannabis Law and Policy Project at the University of Washington School of Law. Even if all the litigation fails, he says, ‘it could have its intended impact.’

“A lawsuit against Healthy Pharms in Cambridge, Mass., argues the company “would operate in flagrant disregard of the federal law that categorizes cannabis as a controlled substance every bit as illegal as heroin or cocaine.”

A similar lawsuit, a nearly 3-year-old suit in Colorado, is scheduled to go to trial in July, reports Marijuana Business Daily.

“This is an existential threat to the industry,” said Brian Barnes, an attorney with Cooper & Kirk law firm, according to the MBD.

Valerio Romano, an attorney for one of the Massachusetts defendants, said “the real impact of RICO suits could be to simply scare entrepreneurs into quitting the marijuana business.”

Deep-Dive Story Outlines Lawsuits, Pesticide Issues For Marijuana

Why don’t we have much data on how much pesticide weed smokers are being exposed to and what effects that exposure might be having on them? Photo Credit, Slate report, 4/20/16

Why don’t we have much data on how much pesticide weed smokers are being exposed to and what effects that exposure might be having on them? Photo Credit, Slate report, 4/20/16

It turns out that marijuana consumer seek the same “organic” and pesticide-free products that consumers seek in other agricultural products. The Slate magazine website has published a deep-dive into some of the legal and consumer issues facing the fast-growing legal marijuana business, including how the gap between federal and state laws can create an odd lack of health studies and other efforts. In particular, the piece looks at how pesticides impact pot products.

Says the Slate story of pesticides: “… this is an issue that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of, thanks to a series of recalls, lawsuits, and front-page exposes that have highlighted the gravity of a growing pesticide problem in the pot world. In the past year, Colorado has made 19 recalls of pot products after quarantining more than 100,000 plants that regulators feared had been treated with unapproved pesticides. In June, the Oregonian found abnormally high levels of pesticides on nearly half of the pot products sold in state dispensaries. Those pesticides included a common roach killer, half a dozen human carcinogens, and a fungicide that allegedly turned into hydrogen cyanide when heated. This March, the Emerald Cup (an outdoor cannabis competition) announced that it would tighten its contamination rules after a large percentage of entrants failed pesticide tests.”

Read the piece here:

RICO Lawsuits Shape Legal Marijuana Landscape

A budtender pours marijuana from a jar at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, July 25, 2012. Photo Credit, International Business Times report, 3/25/16

A budtender pours marijuana from a jar at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, July 25, 2012. Photo Credit, International Business Times report, 3/25/16

It’s not exactly news that litigation can have serious impact even if it gets dismissed or dropped. And the International Business Times has a truly cautionary tale out of Colorado. The story is about how recent court victories set net legal milestones but the legal marijuana industry has a long way to go.

Part of the story details how one man lost his business in litigation that never even made it to the discovery phase. The marijuana dispensary owner was doing well, says the IBT, but “… when he made arrangements in 2015 to move to a nearby location and expand his operation to include recreational marijuana sales, the Holiday Inn located next door to the new spot pre-emptively sued Olson as well as the owner of the property he was going to occupy, his bank, his bonding firm, his accounting company and others associated with his business, alleging the marijuana shop would be a detriment to the hotel’s business. The affiliated companies were eventually dropped from the suit once they either severed ties with Olson or reached cash settlements with the hotel. As part of its deal with the landowner, the Holiday Inn purchased the property Olson was going to use. In November, with only Olson left as a defendant, Holiday Inn dropped its lawsuit before the case reached discovery. By that point, Olson, who said he heard a doughnut shop and housing were going to be built on the site, no longer had a dispensary. The lease on his old location had expired and, inundated with legal fees, he couldn’t afford to relaunch his business elsewhere.”

Read the excellent report here:

Marijuana Legalization Movement Just Won Multiple Courtroom Battles, But Will That Be Enough to Quash Future Legal Threats?

California City Remains A Lesson In Pot’s Unintended Consequences

Robert Taft Jr., director of the licensed 420 Central dispensary, with Ocean Grown Jack Herer sativa. “I'm fighting for the patients we have. People want to go to a safe store.” Photo Credit, Orange County Register report, 3/29/16

Robert Taft Jr., director of the licensed 420 Central dispensary, with Ocean Grown Jack Herer sativa. “I’m fighting for the patients we have. People want to go to a safe store.” Photo Credit, Orange County Register report, 3/29/16

Confusion and civil lawsuits abound in the Orange County, California city of Santa Ana over legal marijuana sales –and the fringe shops that may or may not be legal.

Attorney Arthur Travieso is representing a shop called Live2Love and four other unlicensed pot shops in lawsuits against Santa Ana, claiming the city’s lottery process was unfair because it allowed multiple entries by the same individuals, as long they applied and paid a $1,690 fee. Some shops also say they are legal under the state’s medical marijuana law and don’t have to follow city regulations.

The OC Register newspaper also notes that “… Santa Ana police garnered unwelcome international attention after a May raid caught on video showed officers forcing Sky High customers to the ground and eating merchandise. Three officers involved in the raid were charged this month with petty theft and vandalism.” And, you guessed it, that brought more lawsuits.

Read the cautionary tale here:

Supreme Court Backs Colorado, Nixes Neighboring State’s Lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court this week handed pro-marijuana states a 6-2 victory against litigation from neighboring non-marijuana states. Nebraska and Oklahoma argued that Colorado’s law violates the federal Controlled Substances Act, which treats marijuana as a dangerous drug and forbids its sale or use. They urged the Supreme Court to take up the issue as an “original” matter and declare that Colorado’s law was preempted by the federal drug laws.

The Los Angeles Times explains that “… usually, the high court hears appeals from lower-court rulings. But on rare occasions, the justices are called upon to decide disputes between states. Typically, however, these ‘original’ suits involve disagreements over boundaries or the use of river water that flows from one state to another.

The Times also noted that “… the suit brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma also implicitly challenged the Obama administration for its refusal to intervene more directly in Colorado.
Since California’s voters in 1996 authorized medical use of marijuana, 22 other states have adopted similar measures. Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska went further and allowed for the production and sale of marijuana for recreational use.”

“The state of Colorado authorizes, oversees, protects and profits from a sprawling $100-million-per-month marijuana growing, processing and retailing organization that exported thousands of pounds of marijuana to some 36 states in 2014,” the states argued. “If this entity were based south of our border, the federal government would prosecute it as a drug cartel.”

Read the Times report here:
Supreme Court rejects challenge to Colorado marijuana law from other states

Colorado Water Court Eyes ‘Right’ To Grow Marijuana

A water court case in Colorado’s high country could create new policy that impacts the fast-growing marijuana industry in the Mile High state, the Aspen Daily News is reporting in conjunction with the Aspen Journalism non-profit journalism site. The report explains that a local marijuana cultivator, which works with a local dispensary, applied in 2014 for water rights for between 2,000 to 3,000 pot plants in a 25,000 square foot facility.

Reporter Brent Gardner-Smith continued that “… in response to the High Valley Farms application, a water court referee, who initially reviews applications, asked High Valley to answer the question of whether a water right to grow marijuana in Colorado can be “lawfully” granted when the plant is illegal under federal law. Other marijuana-growing operations in Colorado have gotten their water by using existing water rights, not by applying for new rights specifically to grow pot, as High Valley Farms has done. For example, a grower might have bought land that came with water rights, or may have leased water from a district or city with existing water rights.”

The report added that, “… whether the High Valley Farms case implodes the pot industry or not, the case is on track to set legal precedent.” Pro-marijuana advocates worry that the water court could consider growing to be “unlawful” under federal law, raising doubts about the recent state constitutional amendment legalizing pot not just for medical use but recreationally as well. One of the issues is whether cultivating pot is “beneficial” use under state law.

See the report via the Aspen Daily News here:

First Court-Sanctioned Case of Interstate Medical Cannabis Commerce

A potentially precedent-setting cannabis case comes out of the Northeast this week. Linda Horan, a lifelong Labor activist, said her last fight would be to pave the way for medical cannabis to be used in New Hampshire. While the Legislature there authorized medical cannabis more than two years ago, the State itself was slow to implement the policy leaving legal medical patients in limbo. Until dispensaries opened, NH was refusing to authorize patient cards to qualifying residents.

Enter Horan. With Stage IV lung cancer, she argued that by the time the dispensaries would be open, she would be dead. While wasting syndrome took more than twenty pounds from her in just a few short months, her tenacity never failed her, or her team of supporters. She sued the State for the right to have her medical card, arguing that she could travel to the neighboring State of Maine where she could procure her medication under its reciprocity laws.

Maine has allowed medical marijuana since 1999, and authorized medical dispensaries in 2009. Both were passed at the ballot box while the NH law was passed through the Legislature. Unlike Maine, NH does not allow for so-called “home grow” where patients can grow a limited number of plants for themselves, leaving the only legal means for patients to procure medical cannabis through dispensaries.

Judge Richard McNamara, a broadly respected judge whose rulings are rarely overturned ruled in favor of Horan, directing the NH Department of Health and Human Services to issue Horan a patient card. The decision hinged upon the fact that medical cannabis was, in fact, available to Horan, albeit in a nearby State.

What sets this civil case apart from all others is McNamara’s explicit insistence that Horan could bring medical cannabis over the border, essentially ruling that NH would authorize interstate commerce. According to the Portland Press Herald, “In his ruling, McNamara rejected the state’s argument that allowing Horan to possess marijuana from Maine would destroy the tight distribution controls lawmakers envisioned in passing the law. He noted that the law allows visitors from other states to obtain marijuana in New Hampshire, suggesting that lawmakers knew other states would have similar provisions.”

At 4:30 PM the day before Horan was scheduled to drive to Maine, the NH Attorney General advised DHHS to authorize patient cards for all qualifying NH residents.

While McNamara is not a federal judge, it will be interesting to see what kind of a precedent this may set for future cases, particularly as Oregon’s adult use market comes online, immediately next to Washington State. While all eyes have been watching whether interstate commerce would be allowed there under the Cole Memo which requires legal states prevent diversion to non-legal states, a dying woman’s last wish for non-opiate palliative care may have just cleared the path for interstate commerce between legal, neighboring states.

For Horan’s part, she says, “I’m over the moon.”

Read more about Horan’s story at the Concord Monitor.