Michigan marijuana vote kept off ballot with federal court ruling
Michigan Live - By. Brad Devereaux - 9/13/2016
FLINT, MI — A federal judge denied a court motion today meant to stop the printing of Michigan election ballots until signatures supporting marijuana legalization could be counted.
The decision came at a hearing at noon today, Tuesday, Sept. 13, in U.S. District Court Judge Linda V. Parker's courtroom in Flint on two marijuana petitioners' bid to have their signatures counted, in hopes of allowing Michigan residents to vote on legalizing marijuana for people 21 and older.
Plaintiffs Sean Michael Myers and Dakota Blue Serna both signed and circulated petitions to place a ballot question asking voters to legalize marijuana in Michigan and filed a federal lawsuit Thursday, Sept. 8.
Parker ruled after a hearing that went longer than an hour that there is not not enough time to stop the process of Michigan's election to place the issue on the ballot.
"...it's really too late to have an effect," she said while ruling on the plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order to pause election processes. She noted a Sept. 24 deadline to send ballots to overseas voters, and a 40-day window that the state legislature has to be given to look at the ballot initiative before the election.
MI Legalize turned in 354,000 signatures for the ballot issue —more than the total needed to qualify for the November ballot — but state rules making signatures older than 180 days void, blocked it from being added to the ballot.
The lawsuit sought a temporary restraining order, as well as preliminary and permanent injunction against the Michigan Secretary of State and other defendants.
Myers and Serna are both registered voters and signed petitions more than 180 days before they were filed with the state.
Their federal lawsuit argued that the rebuttal presumption, the statute that says signatures older than 180 days are presumed void, is unconstitutional, as well as its use.
"The 1986 Board of Canvassers policy to utilize the rebuttable presumption, which all parties acknowledge has never been utilized and is impossible for Plaintiff to comply with, is unconstitutional," the lawsuit reads, and attorney Thomas Lavigne argued in court.
"We the people are on our own on this one," Serna said after the ruling. "What is free speech when 354,000 Michigan citizens won't be heard?"
Besides the timeline issue, the judge based her ruling on an argument from the Michigan Attorney General's office that the case was "res adjudicata," or already determined by a lower court.
Parker said the Michigan Court of Claims decision addressed constitutional claims brought by the plaintiffs in that court, and the same issues could not be brought to U.S. District Court.
Parker also noted the timeline of the filing, and that the plaintiffs could have filed earlier, instead of waiting to hear from the Michigan Supreme Court in a separate filing by MI Legalize about the marijuana vote issue.
Despite the ruling, the judge said, "I know we will see this again."
"We are not done," she said. "When I say we, I mean we the people. But it has to be done according to law."
The federal suit comes on the heels of a court battle that just ended in Michigan, as attorneys appealed the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court, both of which declined to hear arguments.
Attorney Jeffrey Hank, who represented MI Legalize in the state courts, said he is working on an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court with the same goal, of getting the signatures counted. He said the federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court could impact what happens with the U.S. Supreme Court filing.
Insiders share their stories from the 'fastest-growing industry in America'; marijuana isn’t included in mainstream jobs reports, but another report says pot outsold Girl Scout cookies in 2015
Some have messy buns and sleeve tattoos. Some have salon cuts and $2,000 suits.
Some are joining blue-collar unions, getting health benefits as they grow and sell a plant they’ve long loved. Some say they never touch it, but they’re standing guard outside shops and fiercely lobbying legislators in Sacramento to ensure that others can.
As public support and legalization of cannabis spreads, those who’ve quietly worked in California’s medical marijuana industry are slowly emerging from the shadows. And professionals who never would have considered joining the industry a couple of years ago are leaving behind traditional careers in law, real estate and finance as they flock to what they see as the next big boom.
“The fastest-growing industry in America is marijuana, period,” said Jake Bhattacharya, who recently quit his information technology job to open a cannabis testing lab in Upland.
With medical marijuana legal in 25 states and recreational use allowed in four, pot outsold Girl Scout Cookies in 2015, according to a report from Marijuana Business Daily, a 5-year-old news website covering the industry.
Pot retail sales are expected to hit $4 billion this year, and Marijuana Business Daily is projecting that number could nearly triple by 2020.
The actual size of the industry may already be much larger, too, since California hasn’t tracked its massive medical marijuana market in the 20 years since it’s been legal. And it could skyrocket if voters here and a handful of other states approve recreational use Nov. 8.
The lack of reliable data coupled with the “niche” aspect of the industry is why cannabis — and the connected marijuana jobs — isn’t included in mainstream economic and jobs reports, according to Christopher Thornberg, director of the Center for Economic Forecasting and Development at UC Riverside.
“It’s still too fly-by-night,” Thornberg said.
California’s Employment Development Department doesn’t track the diverse daisy chain of cannabis jobs either. And several recruitment firms said they don’t deal with the industry.
Job seekers and employers instead turn to Craigslist or specialized sites. There’s a recent post on WeedHire.com for a $75,000-a-year account manager at GFarmaLabs, which makes marijuana products in Anaheim, and one on 420careers.com for growers and trimmers at Buds & Roses dispensary in Los Angeles.
Working in the industry isn’t without complications.
It remains illegal at the federal level, which limits access to financial services and causes lingering concerns over raids by federal authorities.
California’s market is also emerging from two decades of nearly nonexistent regulation and intense battles with local governments who were less than welcoming to “potrepreneurs.” That legacy means newly licensed shops often still rely on growers and manufacturers in the gray market, and they struggle to survive alongside unlicensed operators who aren’t paying the same hefty taxes.
Then there’s the glaring disapproval that comes from shrinking (per the polls) but vocal pockets of the public. Fear of backlash from conservative family members or future business associates kept a number of cannabis workers from speaking on the record for this story.
“Let’s face it, of course there is a stigma,” said Juliet Murphy, a career coach who runs Juliet Murphy Career Development in Tustin.
Murphy expects that it would raise eyebrows for more traditional employers to see a weed industry job on someone’s résumé. However, Murphy sees it as less of an issue going forward as the industry becomes more mainstream and as millennials continue to transform the workforce.
“There are still a lot of kinks that are being worked out. But I think this presents an opportunity for a lot of jobs, provided that people do it right,” Murphy said. “I think in the next 5 to 10 years, it’s going to be huge.”
LANSING, MI — Michigan would create a tiered system for medical marijuana growers, distributors and retailers under evolving legislation up for a likely vote Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said Monday medical pot bills approved by the House earlier this year will be amended in his committee to prevent an owner from being licensed to operate multiple types of medical marijuana businesses.
The state regulates alcohol in a similar, three-tiered fashion.
"Everything I've designed here is to make sure we don't have monopolies" Jones said. "If we have a monopoly, then obviously they'll have monopoly prices, so I would think everyone would be on board with a system where people have different choices."
But the pending amendment is drawing fire from patient advocates, who argue that treating medical marijuana like alcohol will ultimately benefit established distributors, middle men who could drive up prices.
"If you were to grow medical marijuana, you wouldn't be able to have ownership in a retail or provisioning center, which paves the way for a distributor," said Robin Schneider, legislative liaison for the National Patients Rights Association.
She argued that a "vertically integrated" company would be able to produce more affordable products for patients.
The NPRA has worked with lawmakers on medical marijuana legislation for years and generally supported the bills that passed out of the House, but Schneider fears the dispensary bill is being expanded to anticipate eventual legalization of recreational use.
Her group will oppose the Senate legislation if it creates a tiered system similar to alcohol.
"It's really bad for patients," she said. "It's unfortunate. We were really hoping we could reach some sort of settlement or compromise."
House Bill 4209, which won bipartisan support in the lower chamber, would create a system to regulate and tax medical marijuana dispensaries in communities that decide to allow them. The state would also license large-scale growers, processors, distributors and testing facilities.
Patients and caregivers would be allowed to grow a limited number of plants at home, as authorized under the state's 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law, but they would be prohibited from selling any "overages" to dispensaries.
HB 4210 would allow and regulate medical marijuana edibles and other non-smokable forms of the drug, while HB 4827 would create a seed-to-sale tracking system for marijuana plants and processed products.
Dispensary legislation passed out of the House last year, but law enforcement groups trashed the package in the Senate, effectively killing it during the 2014 lame-duck session.
Sponsoring Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, worked more closely with law enforcement groups as he re-introduced his dispensary bill this session. Jones, a former sheriff, took the reigns in the Senate. He hopes that committee amendments will at least move police and prosecutors from opposed to neutral, which he would consider a win.
Additional licensing restrictions were requested by the law enforcement community, according to Jones, who dismissed "rumors" that the Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association had pushed for a tiered medical marijuana system.
"Unless I get law enforcement on board, I believe the package is dead in the Senate," he said.
Jones expects "literally hours of testimony" on the bills during committee on Tuesday, but he does not intend to draw the process out any longer than that.
If the votes are there for passage, the Senate Judiciary Committee will advance the bill Tuesday. If not, Jones said he'll probably ask Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof to discharge the legislation for floor consideration in the next two weeks.
"I have made many promises to many different groups that I would do everything possible to pass this package of bills out this year, and that's what I intend to do," he said.
Child Protective Services took the baby in September after alleging the Michigan couple might be exposing the infant to marijuana.
LANSING, Mich. — Baby Bree is back home.
In a case that galvanized Michigan supporters of medical marijuana, custody of an infant seized by Child Protective Services workers last month was awarded to the child's parents Friday in a Lansing courtroom.
"I'm ecstatic," said Bree's mother, Maria Green, standing outside the courtroom with a dozen medical marijuana activists wearing green ribbons.
"Bree will be in her own bed tonight. We're going to hug her and read to her and love her," said Maria's husband, Steve Green.
On Sept. 13, Steve and Maria Green, each a state-approved marijuana user, stood in their Lansing home in shock as employees from the county's Child Protective Services unit said the Greens might be exposing their infant daughter Bree to marijuana. As police looked on outside the Greens' two-story gray house, Bree was taken from her mother's arms and driven away.
That action triggered an outcry of "Free Baby Bree" — on websites and the Greens' Facebook page, at rallies and fund-raisers, on the weekly web-streamed Planet Green Trees Radio and outside the Ingham County courthouse.
Four attorneys volunteered their time. And leaders of the medical-marijuana community declared the case would make or break future investigations involving medical marijuana by child protective units across the state.
"The idea that medical marijuana patients can't be good parents is just drug-war hysteria," said Charmie Gholson, 49, of Ann Arbor. But the Greens aren't the first to suffer the loss of a child, Gholson said.
"This has been going on almost since the law passed," she said. Gholson is founder of Michigan Moms United, what she calls "a campaign to re-educate the public and legislators about how the failed drug war destroys families."
Steve Green, 34, is a former auto mechanic who suffers from severe epileptic seizures that no medicine would relieve until he tried marijuana, he said. Maria Green, 31, is a former preschool teacher who has multiple sclerosis and operates a home-based business, selling her own nutrition supplements, "that keeps a roof over our heads," she said. Both are state-approved medical-marijuana users, as their attorneys showed in court.
At their previous home in Auburn Hills, the couple was charged with manufacturing marijuana — a four-year felony — because Oakland County authorities found them growing marijuana. Friday's court order allows them to resume growing the plants, Covert said.
"I was there and I have to tell you — that was hard to watch," Joshua Covert, the couple's key attorney, said about Bree being taken away. But Friday's decision had him smiling.
"We said we're going to let the parents medicate (with marijuana) but not around the children, just what they've been doing all along, and allow some type of regular testing of the baby, maybe a mouth swab," to prove that Bree was not being exposed, Covert said.
The Greens had been scheduled for a jury trial Monday, but this week their luck turned. Ingham County Probate Judge Richard Garcia, at an evidentiary hearing Wednesday, voiced doubts about the actions of social workers and their allegations on a Child Protective Services petition. That led Garcia to call for a special hearing Friday. That's when the couple heard the words they longed to hear — that Baby Bree would come back to her mother and father.
"We've been hoping and praying for this, and we were joking about the return policy," Maria Green said. The infant has been living with her parents near Port Hurton, under a temporary custody arrangement.
The Ingham County assistant prosecutor who represented Child Protective Services at Friday's hearing declined to comment.
Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said Tuesday that he could not comment directly about Bree Green's parents' fitness to raise her.
"But I would hope that any parents who have the need to use prescription medication would do so in a manner that does not expose their child to harm," Dunnings said.
In Michigan's see-saw battle over the legitimacy of medical marijuana, the Greens have become heroes to those who support full legalization of the drug.
But for those at the other end of the spectrum, medical marijuana activity in Michigan has become a cover for drug dealing.
"I've seen it first-hand," said Roseville Police Chief James Berlin, who spent most of his career in narcotics enforcement.
"I'm sure there's legitimate patients, but we spend a lot of time and effort investigating guys who have their (state registry) card and they're raising plants and selling the drug to anyone who'll buy from them," Berlin said.
A Taylor, MI man was resting at a Best Western motel in Arlington, Va., today after riding his motorized wheelchair about 600 miles from his home to the White House.
Curtis Kile, 52, who has had cerebral palsy since birth, said he made the trip — on sidewalks and road shoulders, through small towns and big cities — to raise awareness about the importance of medical marijuana for those with serious health problems.
After arriving at the White House gates about 8 p.m. Wednesday, “I just sat there for about 20 minutes — I was really amazed that we made it,” he said. Kile was accompanied by his son, Curtis Kile Jr., 17, who drove the family’s 2006 Econoline van equipped with a wheelchair lift.
The elder Kile returned to the White House on Thursday, spoke to a crowd gathered for a human rights rally and hoped to speak to President Barack Obama about how medical marijuana has helped him. But he said he had no appointment with the president or anyone else in the White House, and “I didn’t get a phone call or nothing from them.”
Still, he said, he was glad he made the journey, during which — short on money — the father and son often camped outdoors, with Kile sleeping in his wheelchair.
“I don’t think the trip was a waste. We were able to draw attention to the issue,” Kile said today. He said a Free Press article on his trip, published Monday, helped “double or maybe triple” donations to his effort. The duo plan to spend their return trip in motels because of that.
Kile’s pilgrimage drew attention “across the country,” said Rick Thompson, publisher of the Flint-based Cannabis Chronicles website. Those who support “legal and safe access” to medical marijuana have been disappointed in the Obama administration’s continued use of federal agents and drug laws to prosecute users of medical marijuana, even in states that have state laws that allow medical use, including Michigan, Thompson said.
Kile, 52, drives his motorized wheelchair Friday in Maryland as he rides to Washington, D.C., hoping to tell President Barack Obama about the concerns of those using medical marijuana. / Curtis Kile Jr.
By Bill Laitner
Afflicted with cerebral palsy, 52-year-old Curtis Kile is rolling his wheelchair on a marijuana mission to the White House.
Since June 14 when he left home in Taylor, Kile has aimed his motorized chair down bumpy sidewalks and along road shoulders buzzing with traffic, across mountains and through cities and small towns, on a zigzag path from Michigan to Washington.
His goal is to tell President Barack Obama, face-to-face, that marijuana should be legalized nationwide. That would let sick people have safer, cheaper access to the drug that he feels has been vital to his health.
“The alcohol industry doesn’t want it legal, and the pharmaceutical and the tobacco companies don’t want that, because it’s going to bite into their profits.
“It’s the money that’s stopping it, and that’s wrong,” he said.
Kile plans to roll to the White House gates on the Fourth of July. But that’s just after the first family is to return from a tour of Africa, and on a day that Obama is to host a backyard birthday party for his older daughter, Malia, according to some reports.
Whether the roving Michigander gets to speak to the president, or anyone of significance, is a long shot. Obama did not reply to letters sent from Taylor months ago, Kile said. A White House press aide said only that Obama’s holiday schedule has nothing about visitors from Michigan.
“I know,” Kile said. Still, he brimmed with hope Saturday when reached by phone in Hagerstown, Md., after his fortnight of lurching along sidewalks and talking to anyone who listens.
“The younger ones, they just give us a thumbs up. But the older ones come over and say they agree with me. And ‘be safe on your journey,’ a lot of them say.”
Even if Kile’s holiday welcome is an empty street in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, his allies in Michigan said he is making a dent in the yielding wall against legalizing the drug.
“His story has inspired people all across the country,” said Rick Thompson, Flint-based editor of the Compassion Chronicles, an online news source for the cannabis community in Michigan. Thompson wrote about Kile last week.
“I don’t know that he’ll get to speak to the president, but there’s no denying his passion,” added Southfield attorney Michael Komorn, host of Planet Green Trees, a weekly Internet interview show about marijuana.
For years, marijuana has controlled the severe muscle spasms and other symptoms of Kile’s condition, he said. His voice cracked when he spoke by phone last week about his wish for sick Americans to have low-cost, legal access to the drug.
His on-site support crew consists of his son Curtis Kile Jr., 17, headed for Eastern Michigan University this fall. Curtis Jr. pilots their 2006 Ford Econoline van, with 417,000 miles on the odometer, while dad inches along by wheelchair nearby.
The teen usually sleeps outdoors in a small tent and throws a tarp over his father, who sleeps sitting up in his wheelchair, after suppers of hot dogs and lunches of peanut butter sandwiches, they said. On Sunday, they planned to leave Hagerstown, after spending their dwindling cash on a motel room.
Back at the home they share in Taylor, Kile’s daughter MaryAnn Kile, 23, a Wayne State University nursing student, forwards donations to the duo from people who have heard of her father’s mission.
“They really don’t have much money left. As soon as someone donates, I call them and say, ‘Hey, I just got 50 bucks.’ ” she said.
- Happenens again... Surprise Suprise...
Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour dismissed the case against Dr. Manuel Aquino-Villaman following a hearing Friday. Samour said Aquino-Villaman's actions were lawful under the Colorado Constitution, according to a court summary of the hearing. He also said the charges should be dropped because officials failed to preserve key evidence. Aquino-Villaman had been charged with felony conspiracy to distribute marijuana, in addition to forgery and attempt to influence a public servant.
It is rare for a judge to dismiss charges before trial, but this is the second time it has happened for a medical-marijuana doctor this year in Arapahoe County. In May, a different judge dismissed the case against Dr. Toribio Robert Mestas, also saying that the doctor's actions were protected by the Colorado constitution.
The Arapahoe County district attorney's office declined to comment on the most recent dismissal, saying it has not yet decided whether to appeal.
Attorney Lauren Davis, who represented Aquino-Villaman, said both cases show a hostility toward medical marijuana by prosecutors in the 18th Judicial District, which includes Arapahoe County.
"Their bias against medical marijuana in Arapahoe and Douglas counties is an affront to the constitutional rights of patients and recommending physicians," Davis said.
Although the doctors — two of more than 1,000 physicians who have recommended medical marijuana in Colorado — are no longer facing criminal charges, neither is currently practicing medicine.
In March, Aquino-Villaman voluntarily surrendered his license in the midst of a state Medical Board investigation into a marijuana recommendation he wrote for a pregnant woman. Aquino-Villaman denied wrongdoing and said the woman never disclosed her pregnancy. But his attorney said Aquino-Villaman, now 71, could not afford to continue fighting for his license.
Last month, Mestas agreed to temporarily stop practicing while he is the subject of a Medical Board investigation. A public document about the investigation says only that a Medical Board inquiry panel "had significant concerns that (Mestas) provided substandard care to multiple patients."
In both Aquino-Villaman's and Mestas's criminal cases, undercover police officers posed as patients who complained of injuries or other aches in attempting to obtain a medical-marijuana recommendation. After brief exams, the doctors provided the recommendations.
Prosecutors argued that the exams were substandard and that the officers never complained of "severe pain" — the condition for which they were recommended marijuana. But the judges ruled the doctors' diagnoses were reasonable based on the officers' statements.
"The presumption is that doctors are entitled to rely on what patients tell them in the course of an examination," Davis said. "It's not the doctor's job to play policeman."
John Ingold: 303-954-1068 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more: Medical-marijuana case against Aurora doctor dismissed - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/marijuana/ci_19542409#ixzz1gUpCPTtT