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.

CannaBuzz: Grant fund proposed for women and minorities entering Maryland med-pot industry

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 11, 2019

A new state fund would provide grants to women- and minority-owned businesses seeking participation in the state’s fast-growing medical cannabis program, if Baltimore City state Del. Nick Mosby‘s House Bill 1156 (HB 1156) becomes law this General Assembly session.

The Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission (MCC), which licenses cannabis growers, processors, and dispensaries, already has the Medical Cannabis Educational and Business Development Grant Program disbursing grants of up to $45,000 to “reduce barriers to entry into the medical cannabis industry faced by small, minority-, and women-owned businesses,” as stated on the program page.

FSC did not immediately hear back from Mosby today about how his proposal, creating a Medical Cannabis Business Development Fund, would fit in with MCC’s existing grant program, and will update this post with his response.

According to the bill’s text, the new fund would be underwritten by two percent of the cannabis taxes collected by the State of Maryland and would be administered by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, which would disburse no more than 15 percent of the fund annually.

Maryland’s $100 million medical-cannabis industry is growing fast, and analysts envision a $440-million industry by 2024. Efforts to boost entry by women and minorities have been undertaken broadly, especially after this 2017 report by Marijuana Business Daily, and at the national level have spawned organizations such as the Minority Cannabis Business Association.

 

CannaCrime: Big drop in Baltimore City pot-possession arrests, but not in the suburbs

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 8, 2019

The statewide phenomenon of police in Maryland disproportionately arresting African Americans on drug charges is profoundly clear in FSC’s analyses of Maryland State Police (MSP) crime data. (And it’s an ongoing problem in Baltimore City, starkly reported by Baltimore Fishbowl in December.) But in the Baltimore region, another disparity also leaps out from the data – while city police are only occasionally arresting people for cannabis possession now, suburban cops have hardly reined in their pot-arrest instincts.

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 2.48.27 PM

What’s more, Baltimore City and the surrounding suburban counties have switched places when it comes to the prevalence of cannabis-possession arrests since 2010. The city saw one such arrest for every 90 residents in 2010, while in the suburbs the figure was one in every 320 residents. In 2016, the surburban number had inched up to one in every 580 residents – but in the city, it had climbed precipitously to one pot-possession arrest for every 1,280 residents, a striking change.

The chart above shows the switch started to occur around 2013, when roughly the same number of pot-possession arrests occurred in the city versus the suburbs. After that, the city’s number of such arrests dropped to below 500 a year, while in the suburbs – the data are for Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard counties – they remained in the high 3000s.

Pot-possession enforcement in Baltimore City has become almost rare, with a rapid drop in the proportion of all drugs arrests that were for pot possession starting in 2014 – and falling to below 10 perent thereafter. In the surrounding counties and statewide, though, enforcement intensity remains high – nearly 50 percent in the suburbs, which is high by the counties’ historical standards, even as statewide it dropped below 50 percent after consistently hovering around 60 percent since 2003.

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 2.03.54 PM

Here’s the usual caveat: arrest data are blunt, missing critical nuances that come only with knowing the particular facts and circumstances of each arrest. A pot-possession arrest, for instance, could be counted as such even though the arrestee was also being charged with assault and handgun violations. Or a pot-possession arrest could arise from only one charge, brought by a cop who wanted to take a problem citizen off the streets. The MSP data don’t tell such stories, but FSC still has found them to be a handy source for unearthing big-picture arrest trends.

 

CannaPress: Jen Wieczner nails the big-biz culture of cannabis investment

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 8, 2019

The inevitability of fully legal cannabis everywhere is a newfound canon, potent enough that Big Business seems to be taking it to heart, reports Jen Wieczner in Fortune.

Her carefully constructed and impeccably researched long-form profile of billionaire Brendan Kennedy, the Canadian who took his cannabis company, Tilray, public last summer, makes this key observation: “U.S. industries, including Big Beer, Big Tobacco, and Big Pharma, have made bets on cannabis companies, observing that consumers are increasingly turning to the drug as an alternative to booze, cigarettes, and painkillers.”

Envisioning the resulting future, captured by Big Everything, is a reminder that home cultivation is the key to resisting the coming cannabis overlords.

CannaCrime: Maryland arrest data measure impact of cannabis decriminalization

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 8, 2019

Thirteen years of available Maryland State Police (MSP) data show dramatic changes in statewide drug-arrest trends as the era of cannabis decriminalization and medical pot approached, arrived in 2014, and thence became the new normal. The result: tens of thousands fewer arrests for drug crimes, including a dramatic drop in the number of drug arrests of African-American Marylanders. More resistant to change, though, is law enforcers’ drug-fighting focus on arrests for cannabis possession and on disproportionately arresting African-Americans for drug crimes generally.

Screen Shot 2019-02-07 at 1.59.32 PM

FSC compiled MSP data for analysis from the annual “Crime in Maryland” reports, which are available online from 2004 to 2016. The data reveal a dramatic reduction in drug-crime arrests – about 20,000 less in 2016 than the 2004-2010 average of 53,500. African-Americans, in particular, have been subjected to far few arrests – 17,500 in 2016, about half the 2004-2010 annual average of 34,500.

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 9.13.31 AM

The proportion of drug-crime arrests that were for cannabis possession, though, remains elevated in the era of decriminalization and medically prescribed weed in Maryland – and in fact, after dropping to 44 percent in 2015 from 52 percent in 2014, crept up to 48 percent in 2016. This is historically high; the 2004-2010 average was 41 percent. Thus, drug-crime policing in Maryland – while far less intense in terms of the raw numbers of arrests – remains wed to an increasingly anachronistic inclination to bust people for possessing pot.

The proportion of all drug-crime arrests in which the people charged were African-Americans has dropped moderately with the advent of decriminalization, but remains starkly disproportionate in a state where less than a third of the population is African American. Whereas the average proportion of African-American drug-crime arrests between 2004 and 2010 was 65 percent of all drug-crime arrests in Maryland, in 2015 the figure was 56 percent, and in 2014 it dropped to 53 percent.

It should be pointed out that drug-crime arrests, along with the subset of pot-possession arrests, are blunt data points, obscuring the factual nuances of each arrest’s circumstances. Some such charges could be just one a host brought against, say, a violent drug-dealer, or they could be the one and only charge against an otherwise law-abiding citizen who dissed the wrong cop. Blunt as they are, though, the “Crime in Maryland” data comprise a nice, long, consistent record.

The next “Crime in Maryland” report, covering 2017 data, should be out in the next month or two, at which point FSC will update these analyses.

Cannabuzz: Maryland eyes referendum on cannabis legalization

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 7, 2019

House Bill 632, to put to voters the question of whether to amend the Maryland constitution to legalize all cannabis, and House Bill 656, to establish a tax-and-regulate scheme for fully legalized cannabis, were introduced yesterday in the Maryland General Assembly by state delegates David Moon (D-20th District) and Eric Luedtke (D-14th District), both of Montgomery County.

Statewide public-opinion polling in Maryland has been tracking pro-legalization majorities for a while, and the most recent one – Goucher College’s Sept. 2018 “Goucher Poll” – found it to be quite pronounced: 62 percent for, 33 percent against. The political hurdles remaining before a referendum could be held, though, remain high: the legislative process, a gubernatorial signature, and a contest of campaigns for and against.

A pipe dream, some might say – and so far, an effort is driven purely by Democrats. (Here is some historical context for the Maryland GOP’s resistance to legalization.) Thirty sponsors back the referendum bill, all Democrats, comprising more than a fifth of the House of Delegates’ 141 members. The tax-and-regulate bill has nine sponsors, also all Democrats. Its cross-filed Senate version, Senate Bill 771, has only one sponsor: Sen. William C. Smith, Jr. (D-Montgomery County), who yesterday announced he’d been deployed to Afghanistan, leaving in March.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, of which Smith is vice chair, has scheduled a hearing on SB 771 at 12pm on Feb. 26. House hearings have yet to be scheduled for HB 632 and HB 656. Both bills have been assigned to the Judiciary Committee, and HB 656 also has been sent to the Ways and Means Committee.

Cannabuzz: Ethics bill takes aim at Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 6, 2019

A measure meant to abate potential revolving-door conflicts of interest between Maryland medical-cannabis regulators and licensees is proposed this General Assembly session by Montgomery County state Sen. Susan Lee (D-District 16, Montgomery County). The star-power behind this bipartisan bill suggests it chances of reaching a floor vote with strong committee support are good.

Lee, the Senate’s majority whip, already has a host of cosponsors – seven Democrats and four Republicans – who support putting 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.

The bill, Senate Bill 552, is before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where eight of eleven members – Jill Carter (D-41st District, Baltimore City), Robert Cassilly (R-34th District, Harford County), Michael Hough (R-4th District, Frederick and Carroll counties), Justin Ready (D-5th District, Carroll County), William C. Smith, Jr. (D-20th District, Montgomery County), Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18th District, Montgomery County), Mary Washington (D-43rd District, Baltimore City), and Chris West (R-42nd District, Baltimore County) – are signed on as co-sponsors, along with Senate majority leader Guy Guzzone (D-13th District, Howard County).