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Michigan Prosecutors Pressured Lab to Falsify Medical Marijuana Results

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Juan Thompson reports in The Intercept:

The Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division finds itself embroiled in scandal as newly released emails paint a picture of a crime lab in turmoil over how to classify marijuana. Attorneys and medical marijuana advocates accuse Michigan prosecutors of pressuring the state’s crime lab to falsely classify the origins of THC found in hash oils and marijuana edibles as “origin unknown.”

Prosecutors exploited the ambiguity to charge medical marijuana users for possession of synthetic THC, despite the fact that the personal use of medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since it was approved by voters in 2008. Under Michigan law, possession of synthetic THC constitutes a felony, whereas possession of marijuana and its derivatives by someone who is not a licensed medical marijuana user is a misdemeanor.

The emails were obtained by Michael Komorn, lead lawyer for Max Lorincz, a medical marijuana patient who lost custody of his child and now faces felony charges after the lab’s misleading classification of hash oil found in his home.

“I’d never seen a lab report reporting origin unknown,” Komorn told The Intercept. “What was produced for us was the most unbelievable set of documents I’ve ever seen.”

The emails show that as Michigan forensic scientists debated how to classify oil and wax produced from marijuana plants, they were pressured by police and prosecutors to classify the products in a way that would facilitate harsher drug convictions.

“It is highly doubtful,” a forensic scientist named Scott Penabaker wrote in May 2013, “that any of these Med. Mari. products we are seeing have THC that was synthesized. This would be completely impractical.” And in February 2014, the supervisor of Lansing, Michigan’s controlled substances unit, Bradley Choate, wrote that a misleading identification of THC “could lead to the wrong charge of possession of synthetic THC and the ultimate wrongful conviction of an individual.” Lab inspector John Bowen, referring to the THC in edibles and oils, agreed: “Is it likely that someone went to the trouble to manufacture THC and two other cannabinoids, mix them up, and bake them into a pan of brownies? Of course not.”

Despite the unlikelihood that Lorincz and others were somehow cooking up synthetic THC, Andy Fias, a state police lieutenant with West Michigan’s regional drug task force, reached out to the Forensic Science Division in January 2015. “We are encountering a significant amount of THC wax and oil,” he wrote. “If we were to seized [sic] the wax/oil from a card carrying patient or caregiver and it comes back as marijuana, we will not have PC [probable cause] for the arrests.” . . .

Continue reading.

Note that the only thing Andy Fias wants is to send a person to prison, even if that person is not guilty of a felony. Getting them into prison is what he’s all about. This man is dangerous.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 November 2015 at 2:15 pm

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

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High time. (Forgive me.) Report here in Drug War Chronicles.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2015 at 2:21 pm

Michigan Creates ‘Bogus Crimes’ by Conflating Cannabis Extracts With Synthetic THC

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Jacob Sullum reports in Reason magazine:

On a Wednesday evening in September 2014, Max Lorincz called 911 after his wife, Erica Chittenden, fell unconscious on the kitchen floor of their house in Crockery Township, Michigan, apparently after overdosing on prescription drugs. Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Gedeon, who responded along with an EMT from the Crockery Township Fire Department and an ambulance from North Ottawa Community Hospital, noticed a clear plastic container on the kitchen counter containing a tarry residue that looked like butane hash oil (BHO). Lorincz explained that he had a state-issued medical marijuana card and had obtained the BHO from a dispensary in Muskegon. Gedeon removed the plastic container from the house, setting in motion a series of events that ended with Lorincz facing a felony charge and the loss of his 6-year-old son. The puzzling case revealed a change in policy at the Michigan State Police (MSP) Forensic Science Division that Lorincz’s lawyers say may have tainted hundreds of convictions by falsely identifying cannabis extracts as synthetic THC.

Originally Lorincz was charged with marijuana possession, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. He refused to plead guilty, since under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act state-registered patients like him are allowed to have up to two and a half ounces of “usable marihuana.” The tiny amount of extract that Gedeon confiscated clearly fell below that limit, even if the weight of the container was included. But instead of dropping the criminal charge against Lorincz, as state law seemed to require, Ottawa County prosecutors elevated it from marijuana possession to THC possession, a felony punishable by up to two years in prison.

The basis for that felony charge was a laboratory report from William Ruhf, an MSP forensic scientist who tested Lorincz’s BHO and found that it contained “delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol (origin unknown).” Under “weight,” Ruhf typed “residue,” indicating that the quantity of BHO was too small to weigh. Under “Schedule,” he typed “1,” indicating that the delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol (a.k.a. delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) was synthetic, since under Michigan law that category does not include THC in marijuana. In other words, Ruhf implicitly asserted that the THC was synthetic, thereby justifying the felony charge, even while saying that the compound’s origin could not be determined.

“This is doubly fallacious,” says Jeff Frazier, of counsel to Michigan attorney Michael Komorn’s law firm, which represents Lorincz. “The lab knew the substance tested was plant-based and yet reported it Schedule 1 synthetic. And it reports the origin is unknown when it isn’t. Both can’t be true. In fact, both are false. The lab is systematically reporting felonies that don’t exist.”

Documents obtained by Komorn and his legal assistant Chad Carr under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act indicate that Ruhf was following a policy adopted by the MSP’s Forensic Science Division in 2013 at the urging of Ken Stecker, who works for both the state Attorney General’s Office and the the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan. Under the new policy, samples that do not include any visible plant matter are identified as THC rather than marijuana. “This is part of the AG’s long-running crusade against patients and a plant,” Frazier says. “The emails show that pressure also came from the drug task forces so as to better establish probable cause to arrest marijuana patients and forfeit their assets.” [Going for civil assets forfeiture – LG]

That new policy raised complaints from MSP forensic scientists who viewed it as misleading and legally unjustified. In a May 30, 2013, email message to his colleagues,  Scott Penabaker, a forensic scientist at MSP’s Northville Laboratory, wrote:

In order to place the actual compound THC in schedule 1, the criteria of “synthetic equivalent” should be met. Since we really can’t do this, there are many of us who feel that these new evidentiary materials containing THC without any botanical morphology characteristics (candy, butter, etc.) should be identified as resinous extracts of Marihuana.

If you are to call it “THC,” at a minimum, a statement should be provided in the additional information stating that the “origin, whether naturally occurring or synthetic, could not be determined.” Also, by going out on that limb and calling it THC, you now jump from a misdemeanor to a felony charge.

We’re bringing this up because there seemed to be some concern about uniformity in making these calls. Further, it is highly doubtful that any of these Med. Mari. products we are seeing have THC that was synthesized. This would be completely impractical. We are most likely seeing naturally occurring THC extracted from the plant!

In February 2014, after Kyle Ann Hoskins, the Forensic Science Division’s technical leader for controlled substances, announced that lab reports on “oils, food products and other substances that are not grossly plant” should list THC rather than marijuana, Bradley Choate, supervisor of the Controlled Substance Unit at the MSP’s Lansing Laboratory strongly objected:

When THC is identified in a case, the analysts has two choices: 1) identify it as Marihuana which for possession is a Schedule 1 misdemeanor, 2) identify it as a synthetic equivalent which for possession is a Schedule 1 felony. There is not a third choice. The question then becomes is the THC from a natural source i.e., Marihuana or a synthetic source. The presence of other cannabinoids indicates that the substance is from a natural source….

Prosecutors rely on our reports to determine what to charge a person with. A report that states delta 1 THC without any other statement would lead a prosecutor to the synthetic portion of the law….This could lead to the wrong charge of possession of synthetic THC and the ultimate wrongful conviction of an individual. For the laboratory to contribute to this possible miscarriage of justice would be a huge black eye for the Division and the Department.

We are Forensic Scientists which means that we have to apply science to the law. It is our responsibility to team and interpret the law in regards to Controlled Substances. We do this with every report we issue since we determine whether a substance is controlled and then list what schedule it is in. We don’t leave it up to the prosecutor to figure this out.

The MSP says “laboratory policy was changed to include the statement ‘origin unknown’ when it is not possible to determine if THC originates from a plant (marihuana) or synthetic means.” But as Penabaker and Choate pointed out, a sample can be pretty confidently identified as a marijuana extract when it contains cannabinoids other than THC, such as cannabinol and cannabidiol. Experts hired by Lorincz’s lawyers made the same point.

“Upon review of the data and its accompanying report, is our opinion that there is an inconsistency with the analytical results and the final report,” said Evan McNabb, chief biology director at ACT Laboratories in Lansing. “Specifically, multiple cannabinoid compounds were identified in the analysis, but the final report lists only a single compound which was not found in the data. Further, the ‘unknown origin’ designation is dubious in our opinion as the presence of multiple natural cannabinoid compounds provides clear evidence of a plant origin.” University of California at Davis chemist Donald Land agreed that “the ‘(origin unknown)’ designation is dubious,” since “the identified presence of multiple natural cannabinoid compounds provides clear evidence in support of plant origin, and clear counter evidence contrary to the hypothesis of synthetic origin.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2015 at 12:33 pm

Mexico’s Supreme Court Declares Individuals Have the Right to Consume and Cultivate Marijuana

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How long will the US hold out? I think it will be like gay marriage: gradually, and then suddenly.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 5:40 pm

Posted in Drug laws

The Push for Legal Marijuana Spreads

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The NY Times has a good editorial:

Support for making marijuana legal is increasing around the world, and that is a good thing. Earlier this week, the Mexican Supreme Courtopened the door to legalizing the drug by giving four plaintiffs the right to grow cannabis for personal use.

In Canada, the newly sworn in prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has said he intends to change the law so people can use the drug recreationally; medicinal use is already legal in that country. And in the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, recentlyintroduced a bill that would let states decide if they want to make the drug legal without worrying about violating federal law.

Laws banning the growing, distribution and possession of marijuana have caused tremendous damage to society, with billions spent on imprisoning people for violating pointlessly harsh laws. Yet research shows that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, and can be used to treat medical conditions like chronic pain.

The Mexican Supreme Court’s ruling, which applies only to the four plaintiffs seeking a right to grow marijuana, does not strike down the country’s marijuana laws. But it will open the way to more legal challenges and put pressure on President Enrique Peña Nieto and the Mexican Congress to change the law, which has helped to fuel drug-related crime in the country.

Prohibition in Mexico and elsewhere in the Americas will also become harder to maintain if California voters legalize recreational use of marijuana. Activists there are seeking to put legalization initiatives on the2016 ballot. California was the first state to allow medicinal use of the drugin 1996, and it is a big market for illegal Mexican cannabis. It would make little sense for Mexico to spend countless millions a year in drug enforcement to ban a substance that is legal and regulated across its northern border all the way up the western coast to Canada. Oregon and Washington have already legalized the drug, as have Colorado, Alaska and the District of Columbia.

Some proponents of keeping prohibition in place might be encouraged by the defeat of an Ohio legalization initiative on Tuesday. But voters did the right thing by rejecting that measure because it would have granted a monopoly over the growing and sale of legal marijuana to a small group of investors. Even the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg, who opposes legalization, describedthat ballot measure as an “anomaly.” (Mr. Rosenberg also said marijuana was “harmful and dangerous” but he acknowledged that other dangerous substances are “perfectly legal.”)

What’s needed now is responsible leadership from President Obama and Congress. They ought to seriously consider the kind oflegislation Mr. Sanders has proposed. His bill would remove marijuana, or “marihuana” as it is called in federal law, from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, which is meant for drugs that have a high potential for abuse and no medical use.

This change would allow states to decide if they want to make the drug legal and how to regulate it without being limited by federal law. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 November 2015 at 8:13 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Mexico’s Supreme Court Opens Door to Legalizing Marijuana Use

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That is an impressive step forward. Elisabeth Malkin and Azam Ahmed report in the NY Times:

The Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing marijuana on Wednesday, delivering a pointed challenge to the nation’s strict substance abuse laws and adding its weight to the growing debate in Latin America over the costs and consequences of the war against drugs.

The vote by the court’s criminal chamber declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use. The ruling is a first step — applying only to a single cannabis club that brought the suit — and does not strike down Mexico’s current drug laws. But it lays the groundwork for a wave of legal actions that could ultimately legalize marijuana.

The decision reflects a changing dynamic in Mexico, where for decades the American-backed war on drugs has produced much upheaval but few lasting victories. Today, the flow of drugs to the United States continues, along with the political corruption it fuels in Mexico. The country, dispirited by the ceaseless fight with traffickers, remains engulfed in violence. .  .

Continue reading.

Interesting way of putting it, but probably reflects the actual views of many: “the American-backed war on drugs.” And it is indeed an American show. The US pushed/demanded support from other governments, the US funds a lot of it (most of it?), supplies weaponry, let the DEA simply take people’s cash (civil asset forfeiture: taking a person’s life savings just because you can—the person has no connection with drugs, just traveling by train to start a new life), and so on. The US drives the whole thing, and people are starting to notice. The “US-backed” war on drugs has done enormous collateral damage in other countries, like Mexico. They pay the price of our war on drugs. Small wonder they’re getting fed up.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 November 2015 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Government

How evolving public attitudes on marijuana could affect the 2016 presidential race

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Evan Helper and Curtis Lee report in the LA Times:

Pot is very much on the minds of voters, with millions poised to decide whether to legalize it. That raises a tantalizing question for presidential candidates: Is there political opportunity in the wind?

Some are beginning to believe there is.

The latest sign was the full-throated call last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders to end federal prohibition. With that one move, the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination plunged into uncharted territory — and, arguably, so did the presidential race.

Never before has a contender with so much to lose so unequivocally suggested that smoking a joint should be viewed the same as drinking a beer, at least in the eyes of the law.

The move was about more than Sanders’ signature straight talk. It could give the Vermont senator a much-needed boost in some primary states, especially in the West.

Some pollsters and strategists are surprised it has taken this long for a leading candidate to promote legalization this forcefully.

“Politicians are terrible at anything new,” said Celinda Lake, a Washington political strategist who has worked on pot initiatives. “They always miss the trends where voters are ahead of them.”

She says voter opinion is shifting on marijuana as rapidly as it did on same-sex marriage, another issue where lawmakers struggled to keep pace with evolving public attitudes.

A new Gallup poll found that 58% of voters say marijuana should be legalized, suggesting there is not a lot of risk in embracing it. More important, the pot vote draws a demographic highly coveted by campaign operatives: It’s young, diverse and up for grabs.

But there may be danger in doubling down on the dime bag. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2015 at 9:08 am


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