Monday, February 22, 2010

Is The Washington Legislature Really 'Too Busy' To Protect Medical Marijuana Patients?

Artwork: Jimmy Wheeler
The late Jimmy Wheeler, a medical marijuana patient in Washington, created this artwork. Now a proposed patient protection bill will be named in his honor.

​By Steve Elliott at Toke of the Town

As most medical marijuana patients in the state already know, the current medical marijuana law in Washington doesn't protect patients from search, arrest or prosecution.

The recent Washington Supreme Court ruling in State v. Fry further highlighted how little protection -- as in almost none! -- the current law gives "legal" patients.

Medical marijuana activists Ken Martin and Steve Sarich of patient advocacy group CannaCare contacted every Senator and Representative in Washington at the beginning of the current 2010 legislative session, attempting to find a sponsor for their new bill that would finally offer legal patients protection from arrest and prosecution.

"We could not find a single sponsor for this bill," Sarich told Toke of the Town. "Those I actually spoke with told me they were 'too busy' this session."

"This made us curious about what, exactly, these legislators were so busy working on (besides new taxes on just about everything)," Sarich said. "What we found amazed us."

"Here are just a few of the bills that our legislators believed were more important than protecting sick and dying patients in Washington," Sarich said.

XB 6255
Concerning mute swans.

SB 5192
Allowing dogs in bars.

SB 6207
Allowing local governments to create golf cart zones.

SB 6284
Recognizing Leif Erickson day.

HB 1024
Designating Aplets and Cotlets as the state candy.

XB 6128
Concerning taxation of little cigars.

HB 1137
Protecting landowners' investments in Christmas trees.

SB 5011
Prohibiting the sale or distribution of certain novelty lighters.

HB 1638
Concerning colon hydrotherapy.

HB 1993
Allowing fishing license holder to use two poles in selected state waters.

"Perhaps these bills are truly important to some people," Sarich allowed. "That said, I think it's insulting to tell patients that making Aplets and Cotlets the official state candy is more important than keeping patients from being searched, arrested and prosecuted."

Medical Marijuana Lobby Day: Wednesday, February 24

"It's time to send the message to our elected officials, and Medical Marijuana Lobby Day is the opportunity to do that!" Sarich said. "Show up and have your voice be heard."

"We are gathering at 1 p.m. on the north stairs of the Legislative Building," Sarich said. "We'll have white booths there with literature, posters and special medical marijuana patient scarves with buttons that say "STOP ARRESTING PATIENTS."

According to Sarich, the goal is to educate legislators, "let them know we are voters and activists," to to gather legislative sponsors for the "Patient Protection Act" for the 2011 legislative session.

"The bill will be named the 'Jimmy Wheeler Memorial Patient Protection Act' in honor of my friend and longtime activist who was providing medical marijuana to patients before there there was legal medical marijuana," Sarich said.

"Jimmy died recently without ever seeing patients free from arrest and prosecution in his lifetime," Sarich said. "Please ask yourself how many more of us have to die before they realize we are not criminals."

"How many patients need to be persecuted before our elected officials provide us with the same protections offered to the rest of the disabled and terminally ill patients in this state?" Sarich asked. "I'm tired of being a second class citizen!"

"We will do our best to arrange transportation for you to this historic event," Sarich said.

For more information, contact Ken Martin at (509) 235-5485 or Steve Sarich at (206) 407-3017.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Victory In Washington: Jury Finds Medical Marijuana Patient Not Guilty

By Steve Elliott in Toke of the Town

Once again, a jury has seen through the lies and distortions and found a medical marijuana patient not guilty.

​Washington state jurors Thursday afternoon found Cammie McKenzie, who grows marijuana to treat her chronic back pain, not guilty of all charges in a case where prosecutors tried to portray her as a drug dealer.

The prosecution's unsuccessful case was notably nasty, even for a medical marijuana arrest in a state where some law enforcement officials have been slow to adjust to the legalization of medicinal cannabis passed by voters in 1998.

"This case is not about medicine. This case is about money," Snohomish County Deputy Prosecutor Matthew Baldock said in his opening statements Tuesday. "The defendant was masquerading as a marijuana patient and was in reality a drug dealer, no question."

One can only imagine the incensed reaction of Snohomish County's good voters when they realize their scarce tax dollars are being wasted on foolishness like this.

Prosecutors and narcotics detectives claimed McKenzie, 24, was using her medical marijuana authorization as a front for an illegal pot farm at her home in Bothell, Washington, reports Diana Hefley of the Everett Herald Net.

McKenzie said that prosecutors based their case on the word of her former roommate, a "known drug dealer" who was promised he wouldn't be prosecuted if he testified against McKenzie.

Jurors ultimately didn't buy the prosecution's claims and declared McKenzie not guilty of manufacturing marijuana, which is a felony.

Baldock called two witnesses, both detectives with the Bellevue-based Eastside Narcotics Task Force in his case against McKenzie.

Defense attorney Natalie Tarantino asked the judge to throw out the charge against McKenzie due to a lack of evidence, including the state's failure to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that her client is, in fact, the person charged with the crime.

Superior Court Judge George Appel denied that motion, instead allowing Baldock to bring a detective back on the stand to testify to the defendant's identity.

Jurors were shown a copy of a driver's license picturing Cameron Scott Wieldraayer. That was the defendant's name before she changed her gender and her name. The detective identified the person on the driver's license as McKenzie.

McKenzie herself took the stand Wednesday, testifying at length about marijuana growing methods. She currently runs an Internet business selling growing equipment.

The defendant explained how medical marijuana alleviates her symptoms. Marijuana "stops the brain from acknowledging the pain," allowing her to function, she said.

McKenzie told jurors she consumes up to a quarter-ounce a day. She adamantly denied that she was selling marijuana or using her grow operation to make a profit.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Washington Legislature Drops The Ball (Again) On Marijuana Decrim

Never mind what the people of Washington want. The Legislature thinks pot is just too scary.

​By Steve Elliott at Toke of the Town

​Cowardly career politicians, out of touch with their own constituents and terrified of being branded "soft on drugs," have once again dropped the ball on decriminalizing marijuana.

Senate Bill 5615, which would have freed up Washington's criminal justice resources by making adult possession of small amounts of marijuana an infraction carrying a fine, rather than a misdemeanor carrying mandatory jail time, failed to get a vote in the Washington State Senate Tuesday.

"This means efforts to address adult marijuana use through a civil, public health approach, rather than a failed criminalization approach, have died for the 2010 legislative session," said Alison Holcomb, drug policy director, ACLU of Washington.

"The ACLU of Washington is disappointed by the Legislature's failure to pass this bill despite strong and consistent public support for it," Holcomb said.

"An overwhelming majority of Washington voters support the modest change proposed by SB 5615 -- a change already made in 13 other states, 11 of them as long ago as the 1970s, with no adverse impact," Holcomb said.

According to Holcomb, studies in those states demonstrate no increase in marijuana use among adults or youth, results echoed in jurisdictions like Seattle, where adult marijuana possession has been the lowest law enforcement priority since 2003.

"In 2008, police and prosecutors filed 12,428 cases involving misdemeanor marijuana possession by adults in Washington courts -- using funds that would be far better spent addressing other priorities, including violent crime," Holcomb pointed out.

"The Washington State Office of Financial Management estimated that SB 5615 and its companion HB 1177 would have made approximately $15-16 million in scarce public safety dollars available to combat true public safety threats, and would have directed significant resources to sorely needed, state-funded treatment and protection services," Holcomb said.

"We applaud Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, prime sponsor of SB 5615, for her tireless efforts to advocate for sensible reforms grounded in reason, science, and fiscal responsibility," Holcomb said. "And we hope our Legislature will get the electorate's message in 2011 and pass marijuana decriminalization legislation."

"It's time to stop wasting money on arresting and jailing adults for marijuana use and invest instead in proven prevention and treatment programs," Holcomb said.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Social Blade Interview: Medical Marijuana And Legalization

I was honored to be the guest on Social Blade Episode 28, February 12, 2010.

For the first time ever, the cutting-edge social media show takes on the topic of cannabis.

Go to 42:30 in the video for the beginning of a discussion of medical marijuana and marijuana law reform.

Many thanks to hosts Patrick Parise, Victor Barrera, and Jason Urgo for having me on and for being so hospitable.

I enjoyed the chance to get the word out!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

WA Corrections Head Covers Up For Misbehaving Anti-Pot Officers

OK, quick: You're head of the Department of Corrections. Officers under you misbehave and improperly arrest a medical marijuana patient. What do you do? Lie and cover up for them, if you're Eldon Vail of the Washington DOC.
By Steve Elliott in Toke of the Town

The head of the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC), Eldon Vail, seems to put a lot more effort into covering up the lousy job his subordinates are doing, than in actually doing his own job.

The Washington DOC, following the example of the not-cool Attorney General Rob McKenna, is already notorious for its extremely hard line against the use of medical marijuana for individuals on probation.

Now, newly revealed documents show that Vail and the DOC have been involved in misconduct, cover-ups, and possibly outright law-breaking, reports Lee Rosenberg at the highly recommended Seattle political blog, Horses Ass.

Photo: Joel Sanders
Lee Rosenberg broke the story at Seattle political blog Horses Ass
​Kathy Parkins, a medical marijuana patient from Washington who has fibromyalgia, spent some time visiting in Southern California in 2007. She decided to make a trip into Arizona to visit a friend before heading back up to Washington for Thanksgiving.

Along the way, on November 14, 2007, she was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint just after crossing the Arizona state line.

Arizona is not a medical marijuana state (it passed a law by voter initiative in 1996, but the law requires federal approval before it takes effect), so Parkins was arrested and faced three marijuana charges after a drug-sniffing dog located less than a quarter-ounce she had in her possession.

Parkins didn't make it home for Thanksgiving. Instead, she spent more than three weeks in an Arizona jail before finally being released in January 2008. She had to return to Arizona several times, and at considerable expense, for court appearances.

Parkins was eventually sentenced to probation by an Arizona judge.

In order for Parkins to spend her probationary period at home back in Washington, an Interstate Compact was required. These are agreements between states to have someone on probation move from one state's supervision to another, and I can tell you from personal experience they are a real bureaucratic pain in the ass.

What neither Parkins nor her Arizona probation officer realized was how the Washington DOC was trying to fight its own battle against medical marijuana users and the law passed by Washington's voters in 1998.

When she was allowed to return to Washington, Parkins moved in with a fellow medical marijuana patient named Carla Cole, who had heard about Parkins' predicament and volunteered to help.

Improper Arrest

In May 2008, hours after Parkins got an updated medical marijuana authorization from Dr. Bethany Rolfe, Community Corrections Officer (CCO) Jeremy Praven, along with another officer, conducted a "home inspection" at Cole's West Seattle residence and discovered Cole's small legal garden of nine cannabis plants.

Praven then contacted Seattle Police. When the cops arrived, they determined Cole's small grow operation was completely legal, apologized to Cole for bothering her, and took no action other than filing a routine report.

Then a third Corrections officer, Michael Schemnitzer, arrived at Cole's residence.

"While the CCOs were in my home, one very young man said to me, a retiree in my 60s, and poor Kathy who is visibly pained and stressed, 'I don't care about her and I don't care about her problems and I don't care about you and I don't care about your problems," Cole wrote in a complaint email to the DOC the day after the arrest.

Cole's email complaint continued:

Then your guys came back with a new guy who chose to speak to Kathy SO RUDELY and with such contempt I just had to add "Please" to his command for her to descend the stairs. This was in my home, and I naturally feel a right to ask people to behave in a civil way there.

Then, he said that because I said "please" he was going to take her in, which he did. I told him his cruelty does not become him and I'm telling you the cruelty of your staff does not become you. To make me feel like I sent my friend to prison because I asked her to be treated with kindness in my home - someone who has committed no real crime at all - is just so mean I'm speechless.

After being arrested by Schemnitzer, Parkins spent a week in King County Jail with no charges and no hearing. Her health continued to deteriorate as she tried, unsuccessfully, to get information about her case.

All week long, her friend and housemate Cole sent frantic emails to elected officials and DOC employees, trying to find out what has happening.

Six days after the arrest, on the evening of May 27, Cole sent emails to several people in the media. The very next day, DOC officials began looking into the situation, and on May 28, Parkins was finally released from custody.

DOC Field Administrator Donta Harper admitted in an internal email, obtained by the Cannabis Defense Coalition under a Freedom Of Information request, than the CCOs had no authority to detain Parkins in the first place, because at the time she was still under the supervision of Arizona probation officials.

Harper followed up the next day by sending a letter to Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, admitting fault in the arrest.

A few days later, after several attempts to follow up with officials in both Arizona and Washington, Parkins discovered a nationwide arrest warrant had been posted for her from Arizona, based upon a denial of the Interstate Compact agreement filled out by Officer Praven.

Falsified Paperwork

When an Arizona official, in June 2009, read Parkins the paperwork Officer Praven had filled out after her arrest and sent to Arizona, she discovered it contained a number of inaccuracies and outright falsehoods.

That same day, the Washington DOC notified Arizona probation officials to cancel the nationwide warrant. They were now rescinding their initial denial of the Interstate Compact, they said; Parkins could now stay in Washington and apply to use medical marijuana while on probation.

Despite repeated attempts, Parkins was unable to obtain a copy of the Interstate Compact denial filled out by Officer Praven. She said DOC officials claimed it was lost.

She had still never seen the document until a few weeks ago, when CDC obtained the document as part of their information request.

And when she finally saw Officer Praven's paperwork, she realized it contained many falsehoods.

Ms. Parkins has no family ties in Washington. She stated that she wanted to live in Washington because of the marijuana laws.

Parkins was in fact born and reared in Washington, has two grown children in the state, and a grandchild born while she was in an Arizona courtroom. And she says she never said anything about "wanting to live in Washington because of the marijuana laws."

Ms. Parkins was living with individuals from the Marijuana Growers Association of Washington.

Neither Cole nor Parkins has any idea how Officer Praven came up with this claim. No such organization exists, according to everyone else involved.

'Open Hostility' To Medical Marijuana Law

So what we're left with is this:

On May 21, 2008, CCOs Jeremy Praven and Michael Schemnitzer improperly arrested Parkins; Praven then filed a report with both falsehoods and intentionally misleading statements, attempting to have her sent back to Arizona, a state where she has no family and has never lived.

Parkins still held out hope that once her doctor filed the necessary paperwork, she'd be allowed to use medical pot. But only July 23, 2008, two months after her arrest, the DOC denied her request to use the medicine that she'd been legally using for years before they had her improperly arrested.

Lee Rosenberg sums it up best at Horses Ass:

The entire situation had become surreal. A person who broke a law in Arizona -- for something that's completely legal here [in Washington] -- was now being harassed for engaging in that legal activity, despite the fact that even the officials in Arizona seemed indifferent to her medical marijuana use while she was back in Washington... At this point, it's clear that the DOC was denying medical marijuana use based on an open hostility towards the voter-approved law...

Cole demanded the CCOs involved in Parkins' arrest be reprimanded for their behavior during and after the bust. After several failed attempts, she sent a letter directly to the head of the Washington DOC, Eldon Vail.

This past May a recent tenant and friendly acquaintance who, like me, is authorized in Washington to use marijuana medicinally, was visited here by your Community Corrections Officers. The friend, [Kathy Parkins] is on an interstate compact probation from Arizona, which she thought was also a medical marijuana state, but isn't.

She was roughly and unfairly removed from my home to the county jail downtown where she spent a truly miserable week with no contact from you whatsoever. The paperwork was filled with inaccuracies, and further moves by her CCO, Jeremy Praven in West Seattle, seem also to be filled with fabrications and are utterly unworthy of any decent government.

The Cover-Up

Photo: The Associated Press
Eldon Vail "leads" the WA DOC by lying and covering up the misdeeds of his subordinates
​When Vail finally responded -- nearly three months later, on February 20, 2009 -- the DOC was still refusing to release the falsified document to Parkins, and, as revealed by Rosenberg's investigative reporting, Vail attempted to cover up what his officer had done:

A review of jail records and discussion with staff indicates that Ms. Merry-Perkins [sic] was booked into King County Jail without any appearance of physical injury. Through a review of her field file, discussion with the assigned CCO and the unit supervisor, there is no evidence to support your statements that the CCOs inaccurately filled out paperwork or fabricated her supervision paperwork from Arizona.

Ten months later, in December 2009, due to the CDC's information request, the document the DOC had been trying to hide finally came to light -- and it proves that Vail lied to cover up for the actions of CCO Jeremy Praven.

Parkins was finally authorized, in January 2009, to use medical marijuana while on probation -- one of only two patients in the state allowed to do so.


Documents Available for Public Inspection

The Cannabis Defense Coalition has uploaded for public inspection all the documents obtained from the Department of Corrections.

The complete PDF files are rather large -- 45 megabytes for installment one, 23 megs for installment two, and 19 megs for installment three. The documents are also split into smaller files for easier download. All of the PDF files are searchable.