CannaBuzz: Maryland cannabis patients’ gun-rights bill draws no opposition

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 28, 2019

Many Marylanders considering certification as medical cannabis patients balk once they learn they would sacrifice firearms rights as a result, according to Maryland Senate testimony on Tuesday by Robert Davis, an Eastern Shore pharmacist and dispensary clinical director.

“It is keeping away at least 20 to 30 percent of potential certified patients from joining the system,” Davis told the Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPC). “People are scared to lose their guns, to have someone knocking at their door,” Davis continued, so they “are still utilizing the black market” to obtain cannabis.

A bipartisan bill would cure this conundrum, assuring that, if passed into the law, cannabis certification could no longer be a disqualification for licensed gun ownership. Republican state Sen. Michael Hough (District 4, Carroll and Frederick counties), who is joined by JPC chair Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11, Baltimore County) in sponsoring Senate Bill 97, told the committee the measure would “change Maryland’s laws to reflect the simple truth that medicine that people are prescribed should not be used to discriminate them from practicing their Second Amendment rights.”

If opposition to the bill exists, no one at the hearing rose to testify against it.

Eric Stamper, who described himself as a Maryland medical-cannabis patient with 23 years in the U.S. Navy under his belt, told the committee that “the government has spent a lot of money to train me” in weaponry, and yet “I’ve lost my Second Amendment rights.”

Olivia Naugle, legislative coordinator for pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, told the committee that patients “should not have to choose between their civil right and their human right to treat their pain or illness.” She also seconded a point that Hough had made – that use of prescribed drugs more dangerous than cannabis, such as opioids, does not disqualify a patient’s firearm licensing, so neither should medical cannabis.

More enigmatic testimony came from Max Davidson, executive director of the Maryland Patient Rights Association, a medical-cannabis advocacy group. He seemed to be suggesting that, had he not been disqualified from gun ownership due to his cannabis card, he would’ve found a handgun useful for self defense in Baltimore City on two occasions.

“I’ve been a victim of violent crime in Baltimore City. Not a surprise, that happens a lot in Baltimore City,” Davidson explained to the committee. “But I can’t get a gun to defend myself.”

Here’s how Davidson described the first instance: “I was a victim of violent crime and the police tried to arrest me simply for the fact that I had a marijuana lapel pin. They were little kids that tried to rob me. Didn’t care that they assaulted me, let them go.” But, “due to the law, I can’t get a gun to defend myself.”

The second incident he described as follows: “I’ve also been almost a victim of violent crime at the dispensary I was working at. I had a person who had a hit list come in and start trouble and kept coming back and wanting to cause harm on me. Could not defend myself. If it wasn’t for the armed security at the dispensary, I might not be here to testify today.”

In either case, the scenarios raise the question of how brandishing or discharging a firearm in self defense would have brought them to safer conclusions. Perhaps Davidson is the exception that proves the rule on the guns-and-weed policy question.

CannaBuzz: Maryland Senate to air a big chunk of med-pot agenda today

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 26, 2019

The press has dubbed today “medical marijuana day” in Maryland, due to the high number of bills receiving hearings before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee starting at 1pm in Annapolis. The committee’s chair, Baltimore County Democrat Bobby Zirkin (11th District), has been instrumental in the creation of the state’s still-young medical cannabis industry, which is in the midst of a growth spurt that’s anticipated to reach $440 million by 2024. Not surprisingly, as FSC has reported, Zirkin’s political campaign committee trails only those of House Speaker Mike Bush (D), Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D) in the amount of money contributed by med-pot businesses.

FSC previously covered several of the bill’s that will be considered today:

Three Western Maryland Republicans  – state Sen. Andrew Serafini (District 2) and state Dels. William Wivell (District 2A) and Mike McKay (District 1C) – want to assure that possession of weed, medical or not, stays illegal in correctional settings, including for offenders still on probation.

Zirkin and Republican state Sen. Michael Hough (District 4, Frederick and Carroll counties) would like to see gun owners in the state’s medical-cannabis program be protected from being deprived of their firearms rights.

Harford County Republican state Sen. Robert Cassilly (District 34) joins four House Democrats – Prince George’s County state Dels. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (District 23A), Baltimore City state Del. Curt Anderson (District 43), Howard County state Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (District 13), and Calvert and Prince George’s counties state Del. Michael Jackson (District 27B) – in seeking to make punishment for being caught smoking cannabis in a vehicle on the highway the same as it is for an open container of alcohol.

Baltimore County Republican state Sen. Chris West (District 42) wants to allow investors to back as many as six medical-cannabis licenses – up from what was previously understood to be one, until pot investors’ lawyers muddied up the water on this point of law once the cat was already out of the bag.

An ethics bill that would put a full year between the date of leaving an agency post at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission (MCC) and new employment with an MCC-licensed grower, processor, or dispenary enjoys potent support.

A tax-and-regulate bill for fully legalized cannabis is being considered, sponsored entirely by Democrats, though the route to legalization – via straight-up legislative passage, or a bill that would put the matter to voters – has been tabled to a study group that will look at the question and report back in December.

The House version of Zirkin’s bill to allow med-pot dispensaries to serve THC- and CBD-laced food to certified patients and caregivers, sponsored by Baltimore City state Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-District 45), has had its committee hearing cancelled, so it looks like the Senate version is the one carrying the ball this session.

Zirkin’s bill seeking to give opioid sufferers access to legal weed, which Glenn has introduced in the House, is part of a larger effort to fit medical cannabis into society’s addiction-management rubric.

FSC has yet to delve into the remaining 11 bills being heard today, but, in time, they too will get the attention they deserve. With luck, FSC will be able to attend some of today’s hearings and report back later.

CannaPress: Ericson finds how reality can muck up Baltimore prosecutors’ effort to cure pot prohibition’s errors

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 21, 2019

Courthouse News Service‘s Edward Ericson Jr. has discovered what wasn’t immediately apparent about the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office’s move, announced with fanfare in January, to strike thousands of past pot-possession convictions the office previously had fought for: that the effort will be complicated, thanks to the realities of Baltimore crime.

Ericson looked in detail at 10 percent of the 1,050 Circuit Court cases the Baltimore prosecutors aim to reverse, and found nearly half had “a least one conviction for a violent crime either prior or subsequent to pleading guilty to pot possession.”

That many pot-possession defendants also faced other charges is no surprise: when cops make arrests for guns or assault or drug-dealing, they’ll often throw into the mix  whatever charges the evidence lets them, such as, say, having a little weed in addition to crack and a gun. Such facts add particularized nuances to the process of reversing each individual pot-possession conviction, as lawyers and judges will need to hash out how the charge fits into the larger picture, with possible repercussions at sentencing or for probation violations.

Full disclosure: Ericson is a former longtime colleague of mine.

CannaCrime: Two Pot Defendants in Maryland Federal Court, Two Very Different Cases

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 21, 2019

While Free State Cannablawg’s attempts to ennumerate pending cannabis-crime cases in Maryland’s U.S. District Court remain hopeful (FSC has asked the U.S Attorney’s Office how many there are, so far without response), scouring the public terminals at the Garmatz courthouse has turned up two: one’s an apple, the other an orange.

The apple would be the case of a man who agreed to 12 months’ probation for possessing weed at the Naval Station Norfolk last August, and his supervision was transferred to federal court in his home state of Maryland. If the charge and sentence seem out of step in this day and age of pot liberalization, well, the court record reflects a defendant, Ayodei Ogunlade, who probably agrees.

When Ogunlade tested positive for cannabis, he “admitted to smoking the drug on … the day of sentencing,” U.S. probation officer Christine Hayfron-Benjamin wrote in her report of Ogunlade’s transgressions. By way of explanation, he said “he knew he would be appearing before the court, but he found marijuana in the house before leaving and ‘didn’t want to waste it.'”

Once under Maryland supervision, and despite not receiving required court permission to do so, Ogunlade promptly left the country for a week-long vacation in Cancun, Mexico – and then repeatedly lied to his probation officer about it, denying that he’d gone. Hayfron-Benjamin’s report reflects how he then proceeded to invent a whole suite of changing facts regarding the hospitalization and death of his father-in-law, and his wife’s mourning of it, so as to make excuses for taking the forbidden Cancun vacation.

“This officer,” Hayfron-Benjamin wrote, “encouraged Mr. Ogunlade to be honest and questioned why he refused to be truthful. He responded that he knew that this officer would uncover the truth but couldn’t explain why he continued to be dishonest.”

From FSC’s reading of these facts, Ogunlade seems not to have taken his crime seriously, and so is not adapting well to being punished for it. Not so the second case, the orange to Ogunlade’s apple: Jeffrey Putney.

putney

(Jeffrey Putney, in a photo from prior to his 2010 indictment, courtesy of the U.S. Marshal Service.)

Putney took his pot charges very, very seriously: he went on the run, and remained in hiding for nearly a decade. He’s the last defendant to be adjudicated in a massive Baltimore-based pot and money-laundering conspiracy that was dismantled by federal law enforcers starting in 2010 after operating as a globe-trotting enterprise throughout the 2000s.

While Ogunlade is facing the possibility to being directed to “participate in a cognitive-behavioral program to address his poor decision-making,” according to Hayfron-Benjamin’s report, Putney is likely headed to a long stint in federal prison, possibly approaching the 10-plus years some of his co-defendants are serving.

In the meantime, Putney is being held in detention pending upcoming proceedings in his case, with the latest being the Feb. 15 entry on his docket, described as a “Sealed Document” with an attached exhibit.

FSC looks forward to updating the progress of these vastly different cases, whose sole commonality is cannabis.

 

CannaBuzz: GOP delegates want law to make Maryland Attorney General advertise risks of cannabis use

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 15, 2019

If Maryland enacts any additional cannabis-law liberalization, then, under a bill introduced this General Assembly session by state Del. Rick Impallaria (R-7th District, Baltimore and Harford counties), the state’s attorney general would be required to undertake an advertising blitz to inform the public of the ongoing risks of using cannabis.

The risks described in House Bill 1307 are:

  • “Arrest for activity relating to marijuana by the Federal government, especially if the activity occurs on federal facilities, such as military bases, federal offices, federal parks, airports, and marine terminals.”
  • “Testing positive for marijuana use can result in job loss, especially if the job requires state licensing such as jobs in the medical and transportation industries.”
  •  “It will still be unlawful for banks and businesses to do business with someone who is receiving proceeds related to marijuana.”
  • “Filing a federal income tax return involving the receipt of proceeds related to marijuana can lead to prosecution for profiting from a federally illegal business, while failure to file an income tax return can also lead to prosecution.”
  • “There are health risks associated with smoking marijuana.”

If the bill becomes law, then the Attorney General, “at least 90 days before the implementation of any law that reduces the penalties for or legalizes the use of marijuana,” the bill states, “shall establish a system to notify the public” of the risks described in the bill. The notification system “shall include the creation of a website and public service announcements for radio, television, newspapers, and billboards.”

Impallaria is a controversial figure in Maryland politics – even fellow Republicans have called for him to resign – due to his long history of entanglements with the criminal-justice system. The bill is co-sponsored by state Del. Joseph Boteler (R-8th District, Baltimore County).

CannaPress: DOJ has a smart guy – who reads smart cannabis coverage – in charge of studying the cannabis industry’s nettlesome externalities

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 13, 2019

Last fall, Cannabis Wire ran a wake-up-call article by a close-to-the-ground writer with a big-picture sensibility, Melissa Matthewson, that exposed what Oregon’s legal-weed boom had wrought: a lax and overtaxed regulatory system allowing bad actors to saturate the market and poison the environment. Not long after, Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams, who had read the article, became chair of the Justice Department’s Marijuana Working Group, and pronounced, “There is one thing everyone agrees on: a broad need for stronger regulation.”

Today, Cannabis Wire is running a lengthly interview of Williams by its co-founder, Alyson Martin – another birds-eye scribe with her feet firmly on the ground. If you’re involved or interested in – and especially if you’re overseeing – anything to do with legal weed, you’d help yourself by reading it, because these are smart people who are shaping the future.

Here’s a teaser:  “I think other states need to pay attention to those that have been in this experiment now for a few years and haven’t done a good job of regulating it. It’s a battle cry, as it’s been here in Oregon, of tax revenue and job creation. And my challenge to that continues to be: At what cost? What are all these collateral damage issues that are real to this state?”

 

CannaBuzz: Bipartisan bill would clarify that med-pot jobs don’t make Maryland cops unfit for duty

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 13, 2019

If you want to be a cop in Maryland, or are one, then cannabis-related employment with an enterprise licensed by the state’s Medical Marijuana Commission can’t be a reason to withhold your police certification or recertification should House Bill 1176 become law this General Assembly session.

Such employment “does not constitute involvement in the illegal distribution” of drugs, and thus would not affect police certification, as long as “the individual’s employment was not terminated for illegal or improper conduct,” the bill states, or “the business was not subject to legal action arising from illegal or improper trade practices.”

Sponsored by Allegany County state Del. Jason Buckel (R-District 1B), who currently spearheads a GOP proposal to have all Maryland legislative districts represented by one delegate, and cosponsored Montgomery County state Del. David Moon (D-District 20, Montgomery County), a self-professed “opinionated, progressive Democrat and a civil libertarian,” the bipartisan bill is scheduled for a 1pm hearing on March 5 before the House Judiciary Committee.