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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2011-10-18 "Occupy L.A., teachers union march on LAUSD HQ" by Subha Ravindhran and Robert Holguin
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Occupy L.A. demonstrators have been joined by teachers, students and parents for a march from City Hall to LAUSD headquarters to protest education cuts.
Occupy L.A. demonstrators have been living in tents outside of City Hall for about two weeks protesting against corporate greed.
On Tuesday, United Teachers Los Angeles joined Occupy L.A. in a march to Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, where the school board was meeting. Demonstrators are looking to start a second occupation site to protest teacher layoffs.
The union wants the district to re-hire the 1,200 teachers and other school workers that were laid off earlier this year.
"One of the main points of Occupy L.A. is to protect the public's sphere, that we share a public arena and it should be protected from corporate influence," said teacher and activist Marcy Winograd.
Winograd says one major issue is corporate charters defunding public education in LAUSD.
"Let's fully fund public education, let's bring back the 1,200 teachers, open the school libraries," said Winograd. "We have foundations that are funded by large, corporate CEOs that are saying 'Look, we want to divide the district, we want it defunded, and we want to seize the schools.' This is wrong. We want teachers back in our classrooms."
The march began downtown at about 4 p.m. and marched toward the rally at LAUSD headquarters by 5 p.m.
"It's just the energy of all the groups coming together, and this is a chance for everybody to come together and realize we're all part of the same thing," said retired LAUSD teacher Tim Doherty. "The problems are all the same. It's just that each group's got to realize you're part of this too."
"This really is the core of the issue, is our future," said Lisa Clapier, a spokesperson for Occupy L.A. "And these teachers are the ones who steward our precious children, and without them, we wouldn't be able to provide our children with the foundation that they require. This is really an important day."
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy released a statement Tuesday in response to the march:
"It is an insult for these protestors to equate a school district that during the past four years has experienced a $2 billion loss of dollars in state and federal funding, with policies and institutions that have systematically hurt the poor and middle class."
Protestors planned to camp at LAUSD HQ overnight, but acknowledged they had no permit to do so.
Immigrant-rights communities have also announced a plan to march this week.
"We are here because we understand very clearly that if we are going to have a movement in Los Angeles, it cannot be a movement without the immigrant community and the Latino community," said Angelica Salas from Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
"We are here to express our deep solidarity with those that initiated this historic movement," said Juan Jose Gutierrez from Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition. "We want to add our strength and energy to it, to make it more viable, and in fact we are going to make it more viable."
An immigrants-rights march is planned for 5 p.m. Wednesday, starting at 4th Street and Grand Avenue and ending at California Plaza, the occupation site for Occupy L.A.

Monday, October 17, 2011

2011-10-17 "California doctors' group backs legalizing pot" from "Associated Press"
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — California's largest industry group for doctors is calling for the legalization of marijuana even as it maintains that the drug has few proven health benefits.
Trustees of the California Medical Association adopted the new stance at its annual meeting Friday in Anaheim, according to a Los Angeles Times report ( ).
Dr. Donald Lyman, the Sacramento physician who wrote the group's new policy, said doctors are increasingly frustrated by the state's medical marijuana law, which allows use with a doctor's recommendation. Physicians are put in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to recommend a drug that's illegal under federal law, Lyman said.
"It is an open question whether cannabis is useful or not," he told the newspaper. "That question can only be answered once it is legalized and more research is done. Then, and only then, can we know what it is useful for."
The CMA acknowledges health risks associated with marijuana use and proposes regulation similar to alcohol and tobacco, but the group says the consequences of criminalization outweigh the dangers.
The federal government considers cannabis a drug with no medical use. The CMA wants the White House to reclassify it to help promote further research on its medical potential. Earlier this year, the Obama administration turned down a request to reclassify marijuana. That decision is being appealed in federal court by legalization advocates.
Lyman called current laws a "failed public health policy."
But critics within the medical community said association leaders did not consider the broader implications of legalizing marijuana.
"I think it's going to lead to more use, and that, to me, is a public health concern," Dr. Robert DuPont, an M.D. and professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, told the Times.
Members of the CMA, which represents more than 35,000 California physicians, were informed of the trustees' vote Saturday. It is the first major medical association in the nation to urge legalization of cannabis, according to a group spokeswoman.
The group's decision provoked an angry response from some in law enforcement.
"Given everything that we know about the physiological impacts of marijuana — how it affects young brains, the number of accidents associated with driving under the influence — it's just an unbelievably irresponsible position," said John Lovell, spokesman for the California Police Chiefs Association.
The CMA's parent organization, the American Medical Association, has said the federal government should consider easing research restrictions, according to the Times.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Federal auhroties claim their descison to illegally begin their invasion of California was made by "a Californian" and not by anybody at Washington D.C.
Right. Except the Federal agent who is destroying California's heritage of freedom is operating under Federal guidelines about freedom of access to medicine set down by Federal agents in Washington D.C.

2011-10-16 "Decision To Crack Down On Medical Marijuana Made In California, Not Washington, U.S. Attorney Says" by Lucia Graves
WASHINGTON -- The decision to crack down on medical pot establishments in the Golden State was a collective decision by four U.S. attorneys in California and not the result of any directive from Washington, according to a spokesman for California-based U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.
Federal prosecutors launched an attack on medical marijuana shop owners last week [], vowing to shutter state-licensed marijuana dispensaries regulated by local governments and threatening landlords with property seizures.
The announcement came in spite of the Obama administration's campaign promise to maintain a hands-off approach toward pot clinics adhering to state law, with Attorney General Eric Holder publicly asserting that federal prosecutors would not initiate enforcement actions against any patients or providers in compliance with state law [], deeming it an inefficient use of scarce government resources.
Now California-based U.S. attorneys are taking on the battle themselves.
"There was no particular incident that prompted our enforcement actions," Thom Mrozek, spokesman for Birotte, told HuffPost in an email on Friday. "Across the state, we have seen a fairly significant increase in the problem over the past couple of years. And, at least in our district, our actions were prompted in part by widespread concern among local officials – the City of Lake Forest is a particularly good example of this."
On Thursday the owners of eight Lake Forest medical marijuana shops were given three days to close operations []. Birotte said the shops were targeted because they violated a zoning ordinance and the city had already spent almost $600,000 in legal fees to have them removed.
Other dispensaries could simply be taxed out of existence.
Last month, Harborside Health Center lost a high-stakes battle with the Internal Revenue Service, in a ruling that could have dire consequences for the thriving California industry []. The IRS has ruled pot clinics cannot deduct operating expenses from their tax returns, recently informing Harborside, a dispensary where medical marijuana patients can buy legal cannabis in Oakland and San Jose, that it owed $2.5 million in taxes, a full $2 million more than the the 83,000-member dispensary actually paid.
"The areas in which the initial warnings have been sent are all areas where local officials have taken steps to eliminate marijuana stores and have asked the federal government for assistance," Mrozek told HuffPost, adding that the United States Attorney’s Office will continue to work with local municipalities and local law enforcement throughout California's central district to assist in ongoing efforts to combat commercial marijuana operations.
Last week three pot shops in San Francisco were targeted by California's U.S. attorneys, with dispensary landlords receiving threatening letters from Northern District U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, who cited increasing federal penalties for drug activity within 1,000 feet of school zones and other public spaces, even as some of the city's clubs were exempted under a grandfathering system [].
But there appears to be no evidence that the intervention was provoked at the behest of local officials. San Francisco city officials, when contacted by The Huffington Post, could not confirm they had put in any requests with Haag's office.
Federal prosecutors have also suggested the industry has been hijacked by pot profiteers.
"All the evidence indicates that the marijuana stores in California are for-profit enterprises, which is one reason why we’re using term 'stores' for these operations," Mrozek said. "I am not saying that there are no true non-profit collectives involving only patients and their primary caregivers that are operating stores – there may be, but we have not seen one yet. This statement is based on numerous federal investigations, as well as numerous investigations and prosecutions by local officials throughout the state."
While none of the dispensaries are IRS approved 501(c) nonprofits, many, like Harborside, a state registered not-for-profit corporation, say they go out of their way to give significant revenue back to the community by donating to local charities.
Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy, whose district includes San Diego County, announced plans to target newspaper and radio outlets advertising medical marijuana. "I'm not just seeing print advertising, I'm actually hearing radio and seeing TV advertising," she said in an interview with California Watch and KQED []. "It's gone mainstream. Not only is it inappropriate – one has to wonder what kind of message we're sending to our children."
But the three other U.S. attorneys charged with enforcing state laws have not signaled support for Duffy's line of attack.
"Our office is not targeting newspapers or publications that accept advertising money from the medication marijuana industry," Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of California, told HuffPost on Friday.
Meanwhile, legalization advocates say they fear Obama administration officials will be too busy to intervene. Tom Angell, spokesman for legalization advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, explains:
"I think it's mostly a case of aloofness on the part of the president and his closest advisers. My hunch is that this is the doing of career drug war bureaucrats somewhere in the DoJ who are quite terrified of the increasing public acceptance of regulated marijuana distribution. They've made a calculation - sadly correct so far - that the president doesn't care enough about this issue to intervene. Unfortunately for the president, though, voters are going to blame him at the ballot box."
Others insist the directives did in fact come from Washington.
"I don't believe that for a second," said Steve De Angelo, executive director of Harborside, when told federal prosecutors said the decision for a crackdown was made in California. "The recent actions by the U.S. attorneys in California are part of what appears to be a coordinated multi-agency assault by the federal government on the entire medical cannabis community, and that assault seems to be directed at systems of regulated and licensed systems of cultivation and distribution."

Monday, October 10, 2011

2011-10-10 Brown Vetoes California Hemp Bill, Criticizes Federal Ban" by Phillip Smith from ""
Sacramento, CA, United States
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed a bill that would have allowed farmers in select counties to grow hemp, saying it would subject them to federal prosecution, but in doing so, he lashed out at the federal ban on hemp farming in the US, calling it "absurd."
Sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the bill, Senate Bill 676, would have allowed farmers in four Central California counties to grow industrial hemp for the legal sale of hemp seed, oil, and fiber to manufacturers. The bill specified that hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and farmers must submit their crops to testing before it goes to market.
The bill had mandated an eight-year pilot program that would end in 2020, but not before the California attorney general would issue a report on law enforcement impact and the Hemp Industries Association would issue a report on its economic impact.
But although, like three other hemp bills that have been vetoed in California in the past decade, the bill passed the legislature and had the broadest support of any hemp measure considered in the state, Gov. Brown killed it, citing the federal proscription on hemp farming.
"Federal law clearly establishes that all cannabis plants, including industrial hemp, are marijuana, which is a federally regulated controlled substance," Brown said in his veto message. "Failure to obtain a permit from the US Drug Enforcement Administration prior to growing such plants will subject a California farmer to prosecution," he noted.
"Although I am not signing this measure, I do support a change in federal law," Brown continued. "Products made from hemp -- clothes, food, and bath products -- are legally sold in California every day. It is absurd that hemp is being imported into the state, but our farmers cannot grow it."
Industry groups were not assuaged by Brown's language criticizing the federal hemp ban. In a press release Monday, Vote Hemp and the Hemp Industries Association blasted the veto.
"Vote Hemp and The Hemp Industries Association are extremely disappointed by Gov. Brown's veto. This is a big setback for not only the hemp industry -- but for farmers, businesses, consumers and the California economy as a whole. Hemp is a versatile cash and rotation crop with steadily rising sales as a natural, renewable food and body care ingredient. It's a shame that Gov. Brown agreed that the ban on hemp farming was absurd and yet chose to block a broadly supported effort to add California to the growing list of states that are demanding the return of US hemp farming. There truly was overwhelming bipartisan support for this bill," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp and executive director of the HIA.
"After four vetoes in ten years in California, it is clear we lack a governor willing to lead on this important ecological, agricultural and economic issue. We will regroup, strategize and use this veto to our advantage at the federal level," added Vote Hemp Director and co-counsel Patrick Goggin.
The US hemp market is now estimated to be about $420 million in annual retail sales, but manufacturers must turn to foreign suppliers because the DEA, which refuses to differentiate between industrial hemp and recreational and medical marijuana, bars its cultivation here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Concentration Camps of KKKalifornia

2011-09-29 "Caged: From the grim, crowded cells of Pelican Bay, prisoners speak by refusing to eat" by Ryan Burns from "North Coast Journal" newsmagazine
A small group of reporters was shuffling through the concrete tunnels of Pelican Bay State Prison, following Public Information Officer Chris Acosta like curious goslings. Notebooks and cameras in hand, they peered this way and that, scribbling down little details — ooh, a gurney piled with riot gear! — and snapping photos wherever allowed.
Acosta, a trim Hispanic man whose sunglasses had left tan-lines along the sides of his bald head, led the group through a metal door out into a caged yard where reporters snapped photos of the razor wire spirals. Acosta corralled them through a giant steel gate operated by a corrections officer in a nearby turret. With a shouted command up to the tower the gate slid shut behind the group: a loud mechanical grinding noise followed by a booming clank. Delighted, a National Public Radio reporter asked if they could open and shut it again; she wanted a clean audio clip for her broadcast. She silenced her fellow reporters and held an enormous microphone to the gate.
These reporters had descended on Pelican Bay from Oregon, Sacramento, Los Angeles and elsewhere — TV, radio and newspaper correspondents eager for a rare look at the most restrictive and controversial prison conditions in the country. Some had flown into Del Norte County’s tiny airport. Others drove rental cars up from Sacramento or San Francisco. And on an overcast August morning they each drove through beleaguered Crescent City, escaped north up Lake Earl Drive and, six miles later, turned right at the lonely traffic signal, pulling into the parking lot of California’s first, largest and most infamous Supermax prison.
A hunger strike started here on July 1, reminding the public about the 3,240 caged men in the far northern corner of the state.
The prison, 34 miles north of the Humboldt County line, looks exactly as you’d expect of a facility built to hold the “worst of the worst” — bleak and industrial, a sprawling complex of squat gray buildings surrounded by gravel and asphalt. Google’s aerial view of the prison looks like a skull lying in the midst of miles of green forestland. Zoom out and you can see muddy Lake Earl and the brilliant blue Pacific.
Inside you see none of that — just walls, fences, cells. Confinement. Aside from the brown grass in the general population yards, the only signs of nature are the treetops peeking over the walls and, when the wind blows east, the briny smell of ocean. In the 22 years since Pelican Bay opened, not a single prisoner has escaped.
The reporters had gathered in a conference room for a presentation on prison gangs, one of the primary reasons for Pelican Bay’s notoriety. “We are a hub of prison gang influence for the state of California,” said Lt. Dave Barneberg, the prison’s institutional gang investigator. He ran through the major gangs — Nazi Low Riders, Black Guerrilla Family, Nuestra Familia, Mexican Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood — and explained that administrators have managed to curtail much of the criminal activity by placing gang leaders inside the prison’s Security Housing Unit. The SHU (pronounced as if it were footwear) is the “prison within a prison” at Pelican Bay, an isolation unit where inmates who present “serious management concerns” are locked inside windowless cells for 22 1/2 hours per day, leaving only to shower or to exercise alone in a high-walled concrete yard, roughly the size of a shipping container.
The hunger strike started in the SHU. Inmates complained about the methods used to determine who gets put in the SHU, and they said the sensory deprivation and deep isolation inside amounted to “sanctioned torture.” In a matter of days the strike spread to roughly 6,600 inmates in at least 13 California prisons. Then, three weeks after it began, the strike ended. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to a couple of very minor concessions (giving SHU inmates wall calendars and watch caps) and promised to consider their full list of demands. Unsatisfied with their response, inmates resumed their strike Monday.
A reporter started with a very simple question for Lt. Barneberg. “What is the purpose of Pelican Bay?”
“It’s the same as any other prison,” he responded, “to safely house offenders here and keep our community safe.”
That’s how most of us think of prison. Someone commits a serious crime and he gets “locked up.” “Put away.” “Thrown in the slammer.” The late criminologist John Irwin called this “warehousing,” a model of law enforcement that focuses not on rehabilitation but on retribution, not on corrections but on confinement. Warehousing, many analysts argue, has been California’s de facto system since well before Pelican Bay opened.
In many ways, the SHU represents the culmination of this trend toward human disposal. Inmates aren’t sentenced to the SHU; rather, they get placed there as a preventive measure against gang activity. Prison officials “validate” gang membership based on a number of factors, from attacking fellow inmates to more tenuous evidence like tattoos or even talking to a known gang member. In short, officials have a lot of discretion to decide who gets put in the SHU. And sometimes they’re wrong.
Ernesto Lira was doing time at a low-security prison on a drug charge when guards found a drawing in his locker that allegedly contained gang symbols, so Lira was shipped off to Pelican Bay’s SHU. How do you get out once you’re in? If you’ve been placed in the SHU for anything except brief discipline, there are just three ways out, which inmates describe succinctly: “Parole, snitch or die.” Snitching is the method administrators bank on. They call it “debriefing” but it means the same thing — renouncing gang membership and telling officials everything you know about your former gang. This policy was among the hunger strikers’ primary complaints; they argue that debriefing puts them and their families in danger.
But Lira had a different problem. He couldn’t debrief even if he’d wanted to because, as a judge later ruled, he wasn’t actually a gang member. So he remained in isolation — warehoused — until his parole eight years later. In 2009 Lira successfully sued the CDCR, in part for the psychological damage he’d suffered in the SHU.
Warehousing may be the reality in California prisons but it’s not the company line. In 2005 Gov. Schwarzenegger announced in his “State of the State” speech that the CDC (California Department of Corrections) would be adding an “R” to its name. The “R” for rehabilitation “always cracks me up,” Berkeley law professor Jonathan Simon said in a recent interview. “Corrections is supposed to mean rehabilitation.” But Schwarzenegger clearly needed to do something. The state’s prison system was a mess, plagued by prisoner abuse, overcrowding and the highest recidivism rate in the country.
Six years later it’s still a mess. Messier, actually. The Supreme Court recently upheld an order that will require California to reduce its prisoner population by at least 30,000 inmates. And the ones who remain probably won’t be corrected or rehabilitated. In 2006, fewer than half of all prisoners released from California prisons had had even one day of rehabilitation or job training, according to CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate.
So if they’re not being rehabilitated, what is happening to inmates at Pelican Bay? Seems like a question worth asking when you consider the cost of housing them there. Pelican Bay employs nearly 1,300 people and has an annual budget of roughly $180 million. That’s $70 million more than the annual budget of Humboldt State University. A general population prisoner costs taxpayers $58,324 per year. Each SHU prisoner costs $70,641 annually. That’s more than triple what it costs a student to attend a year HSU including tuition, books, food, housing, transportation and personal expenses.
And just like college students, many of the guys in the SHU will rejoin society sooner or later: On average, 75 inmates per month get released directly from the SHU onto parole.

What have they learned?
Today the United States imprisons a larger portion of its population than any other country in the world, by a wide margin: two and a half times the rate of Iran, six times the rate of Canada and nearly 13 times the rate of Japan according to data compiled by the International Centre for Prison Studies.
It hasn’t always been that way. In 1970 we had just over 100,000 inmates in state and federal prisons; by the end of 2009 there were nearly 2.3 million. California is now home to 33 prisons, which, coincidentally, is equal to the number of college campuses in the CSU and UC systems combined.

Why this lockup mania?
Simon, the Berkeley law professor, explained that the American public’s attitude toward criminals and prisoners changed during the 1970s thanks to incidents such as the Attica prison riot, activist George Jackson’s deadly escape attempt from San Quentin and a succession of high-profile serial killers. People began to view prisoners as “hardened and motivated killers who don’t change over time,” Simon said.
The logical solution? Lock ‘em up, throw away the key.

Josh Meisel, an assistant criminology professor at Humboldt State University, said other factors fueled this attitude, including deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill and cutting funds for social safety net programs. Americans grew wary and dismissive of lawbreakers. “We as a society became far more willing to write off larger and larger segments of the population as junk, social junk,” Meisel said.
If Pelican Bay was designed to hold the worst of that junk, then the SHU is reserved for the truly toxic waste — the human equivalent of uranium fuel rods and rusty heroin needles. The media tour offered a very selected sampling of who’s in there now.
Lt. Acosta stood outside a door to one of the SHU “pods” and shouted up to a corrections officer seated behind him in an enclosed, elevated control booth. The door to pod C12 slid open with that radio-friendly “Grrrrrrrr-clang!” and the reporters filed inside. All the pods in the SHU are identical — concrete boxes with two levels of 8-by-10 cells, illuminated with narrow skylights and fluorescent ballasts that remain on 24 hours a day, so that no cell ever gets dark. Inmates peered at the reporters through the mesh of dime-sized holes in their ocher-colored cell doors. The first cell on the right, number 105, contained two men, one seated on the upper cement slab, reclining against his rolled-up mattress pad reading a book, the other below, cross-legged and hunched, watching a small TV. Their baggy white smocks and shorts resembled hospital gowns, and the pod smelled of bathroom cleanser.
Up a flight of metal stairs, one of the cells had been cleared of its resident for media inspection. Books, office paper and manila envelopes were stacked on the cell’s cement slab next to a thin, lumpy mattress pad. Tucked under the slab were folded sheets and clothes. A squat shelf with a map of the Americas taped to it held a box of teabags, a few paper pint containers and three empty styrofoam packages of Nissin brand Cup Noodles. A small TV (with clear plastic casing to prevent contraband smuggling) was suspended in one corner, and in the opposite stood a metal sink and toilet.
Outside the cell, reporters were whispering excitedly. “Do you see what they’re doing down there?” one asked. “They’re playing chess!”
Down on the first floor, a young, tattooed Hispanic man stood alone in his cell, a cheap chessboard in front of him. His opponent was in the next cell over with his own chess set. They appeared to be playing a match by shouting out their moves. Inside the SHU pod, a facility that resembles nothing so much as a barren dog kennel, the sight of two men playing chess seemed like shocking evidence of human resiliency.
The men weren’t using any of the standard chess notations, though — not algebraic, not numeric, not correspondence. Maybe they had invented their own method of notation. Maybe they were communicating in code about something else entirely. Or maybe they were just pretending. After all, this was an organized media tour. With 1,111 men in the SHU that day, reporters had been led inside only this particular pod. And prison officials were in there, too — officials who control every minute of the inmates’ lives.
Later these officials trotted out two SHU inmates for 15-minute interviews. The first, 35-year-old convicted murderer Harold Rigsby, was thin and pale with a shaved head and black Buddy Holly glasses. With his cuffed hands shackled to a chain around his waist, Rigsby said he’d recently debriefed. He renounced his membership with the Mexican Mafia in hopes of earning his release from the SHU, where he’d spent the past 14 years.
Facing a roomful of reporters, with corrections officers and officials nearby — including Acting Warden Greg Lewis — Rigsby vouched for the system’s effectiveness. “It was the best decision I ever made to come and debrief and disassociate myself from the gang lifestyle.”
The second prisoner gave a similar endorsement. Round-bodied and wide-eyed, with tattoos on his forearms and a swastika inked on his right hand, Timothy Kelly, 40, will spend the rest of his life in prison. Convicted of double homicide in 1992, he joined the Aryan Brotherhood in prison and was transferred into the SHU 17 years ago. “I kinda liked it,” he said of his first reaction to the place. He enjoyed not worrying about getting stabbed by a fellow inmate or shot if a riot breaks out — “or whether or not I’m gonna kill someone today. You never know,” he said. “That could be any day on the mainline.”
Let’s go back a second. Kelly liked life in the SHU? Really? Prisoner rights organizations have compared the SHU’s conditions unfavorably to those at Guantanamo. Were these guys serious? Had they been put up to this performance? Or were they playing some form of chess?
Clearly a media tour couldn’t reveal the day-to-day life at Pelican Bay. Afterward, the reporters each hopped in their cars, drove back through Crescent City and then traveled home to their various newsrooms where they filed a story. Maybe two or three. Through it all, the inmates of Pelican Bay are in their cells with the lights on. They’re there right now. What’s that like?
The most detailed portraits of life inside Pelican Bay have come from court documents, particularly from the landmark 1995 case of Madrid v. Gomez, when Federal District Court Judge Thelton Henderson found that the prison provided substandard medical care and inflicted excessive force on inmates. In his decision, Judge Henderson wrote that the SHU “may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate.”
Inmates with histories of psychiatric problems suffered profound and often rapid mental deterioration when placed in the SHU. One study cited in the case told of an inmate who when placed in the SHU developed paranoid hallucinatory psychosis. He recovered once removed, only to be transferred back inside, where he promptly descended back into a psychotic state. Other inmates followed similar trajectories. One was found inside his SHU cell in acute distress. He’d tried to kill himself by gouging his wrists with a broken plastic spoon and attempting to swallow a sprinkler head that he’d torn from the ceiling. After several more incidents of self-inflicted violence the inmate explained what he was experiencing: “My heart starts racing, I get dizzy spells, scared, nervous, shaking, crying. … Demons come out. … I never saw them before SHU.”
In a 2010 study on Supermax prisons called “Parole, Snitch or Die,” UC Berkeley grad student Keramet Reiter found that the SHU facilities at Pelican Bay and Corcoran prisons aren’t being used the way their designers intended. The designers had described three critical principles: limited use of the isolation cells, limited durations of confinement and step-down programs that would allow prisoners to earn their way back to a general population. None of these principles are being followed.
In a recent phone conversation, Reiter said that there are a inmates like Rigsby and Kelly who seem capable of remaining sane during long periods in the SHU. “That’s not to say [such inmates] don’t have pretty severe long-term impacts,” she said. Even the most well-adjusted of the former SHU inmates she has interviewed — the ones who have managed to find jobs and reintegrate into society — describe symptoms of suffering including post-traumatic stress disorder, unshakable compulsions and acute claustrophobia.
Often the effects are worse. As Judge Henderson notes in his Gomez decision, the combination of social isolation with severely limited environmental stimulation can cause all sorts of psychiatric disturbances — hallucinations, confusion, irrational anger, emotional flatness, violent fantasies, chronic depression and overt paranoia, to name a few.
The Gomez case also uncovered, in Judge Henderson’s words, a “pattern of needless and officially sanctioned brutality” at Pelican Bay. Plaintiffs told numerous stories of this brutality, and while corrections officers denied it, Henderson ruled they were “not credible.”
A few of the horror stories: An inmate named Castillo refused to return his food tray after being called derogatory names by corrections officers, so the guards shot him with a 38 millimeter gas gun and a Taser, hit him in the head with the butt of the gas gun, detaching his scalp, then stepped on his hands and beat his calves with a baton until he lost consciousness.
Inmate Richard was beaten after being falsely accused of assaulting an officer. “At one point,” Judge Henderson wrote, “blood started shooting out of Richard’s mouth, but the punches continued.” Richard spent two days in “intense pain” in his cell before being taken to the infirmary with a broken jaw.
Inmate Ward verbally abused a female guard, so a group of officers showed up and told him to slide his hands through the small food slot to be cuffed up. When he did, one of the officers twisted his wrist, then repeatedly threw his body weight into Ward’s left arm, snapping his humerus. Ward suffered nerve damage that caused numbness and spasms.
Then there was the case of Vaughn Dortch, a mentally ill inmate who, as punishment for smearing himself and his cell with fecal matter, was forcibly escorted to a scalding hot bath where he suffered second and third degree burns over a third of his body. A nurse later testified that she’d overheard an officer during the incident say of Dortch, who is black, “Looks like we’re going to have a white boy before this is through. … His skin is so dirty and so rotten, it’s all fallen off.”
Judge Henderson ruled that the prison’s medical care and use of force were unconstitutional — but the SHU only partially so. While acknowledging the harsh psychological impacts, Henderson decided that the conditions inside the SHU only violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment for the mentally ill and those deemed likely to become mentally ill while in the SHU.
At that point, Pelican Bay had been open for just six years, and most of the inmates studied in connection to the case had been confined in the SHU for three years or less. Judge Henderson ruminated on the future: “We cannot begin to speculate on the impact that Pelican Bay SHU conditions may have on inmates confined … for periods of 10 or 20 years or more.”
Mentally ill patients at the prison are now placed in the Psychiatric Housing Unit. Josh Meisel, the assistant criminology professor at HSU, said conditions there aren’t much different than the SHU. “You have thousands of inmates who are in need of psychiatric interventions and it’s not being provided,” he said. With more than half of the CDCR’s mental health care positions currently unfilled, inmates who suffer psychotic events are sometimes placed in cages. “I mean literally, cages,” Meisel said. “They look like phone booths but they’re fabricated with cyclone fencing.”
More lawsuits followed the Gomez decision, with plaintiffs alleging that medical care at Pelican Bay and throughout the state’s prison system was fraught with chronic under-staffing, untimely responses to emergencies and poor treatment of chronic illnesses. In 2005 a federal court placed CDCR’s health care system in receivership.
Yet there are signs that the psychiatric and medical care at Pelican Bay remains inadequate. In fact that’s one of the primary concerns of the hunger strike organizers. They’re particularly worried about Dr. Michael Sayre, the prison’s chief medical officer since 2006.
In 1992, a 31-year-old patient who was undergoing routine surgery at St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla, Wash., suffered a fatal brain injury caused by lack of oxygen while under anesthesia. The anesthesiologist was Dr. Sayre. The hospital performed an investigation and decided to limit Dr. Sayre’s privileges. He was not criminally charged.
Dr. Sayre has been sued by several inmates of Pelican Bay’s SHU, and in 2009 he was found liable for harming one of them by knowingly disregarding his serious medical needs. That inmate, Todd Ashker, was one of the primary organizers of the Pelican Bay hunger strike. Dr. Sayre was ordered to pay $6,500 in damages. He remains the prison’s chief medical officer.
Prison administrators say the SHU has been highly effective in suppressing gang activity that increases prison violence, but Reiter’s study found little evidence of that. She analyzed data on inmate violence throughout the CDCR between 1987 and 2007 and found that assault rates have steadily increased over the past 20 years. “At best, the evidence is inconclusive that the SHUs reduce violence levels,” Reiter says. “At worst, they might exacerbate violence.”
Inmate suicide counts, meanwhile, have been rising for 35 years, and the suicide rate inside California’s SHUs are far and away the highest of any prison housing units in the country, her study showed.
The SHU also fails to rehabilitate inmates, Reiter found. Of the 9,992 prisoners paroled directly from the Pelican Bay or Corcoran SHUs between 1997 and 2007, 62 percent were had landed back in prison by March of 2008. The average rate in California was 46 percent.
Last month, during a hearing on SHU conditions before the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety, UC Santa Cruz Professor Craig Haney argued that the lack of meaningful rehabilitation programs has created a void in the lives of inmates. “Gangs have stepped in to fill this void,” he said.
Timothy Kelly, the former skinhead interviewed during the media tour, said it’s virtually impossible to remain unaffiliated with a gang at Pelican Bay. “You may not want to [join a gang], but you have to,” he said. Corrections officers confirmed this: If someone comes in to Pelican Bay unaffiliated, he’ll be placed in a gang based on his race.
“There’s a lot of guys out here who just want to do their own time, guys from all different races,” Lt. Barneburg said. “But you can’t.” The tour had moved to the general population yard where inmates had arranged themselves in groups — on one patch, muscular Hispanic men did pullups and dips and tossed a football; on the far side, black prisoners lined up for canteen; on the basketball court, more Hispanics were playing a pickup game. “You can’t go solo here and make it on your own,” Barneburg continued. “There’s no way.… If you’re white you go with the white, black you go with the blacks, northern [Mexican] you go with the northerners.”
Professor Simon finds this system absurd. “How can we spend this kind of money to send people to, essentially, racist boot camp?” he asked. “It’s absolutely staggering.”
In his testimony before the state assembly committee, Haney echoed that point. “When Pelican Bay came online in the late 1980s California had a serious prison gang problem,” he said. “It now has the worst one in the entire nation.”
Earlier this month state prison officials announced that they will reconsider the criteria used to place prisoners in the SHU. This was one of the hunger strikers’ primary demands. But the strikers say that the CDCR hasn’t followed through with its promises, and so on Monday they again started refusing food. Their demands include better food, a step-down method to earn SHU release, compliance with a 2006 federal commission report that recommended the SHU be used only as a last resort, and more educational, self-help and religious programs.
“These demands look basically like demands for human rights,” Simon said earlier this month. “I think that’s something Californians can connect with in the post-Abu Ghraib moment.” Simon is optimistic that, for the first time in a long time, Americans might be ready to rethink their attitudes toward criminals and prisoners. Homicide rates have dropped. The “War on Terror” has raised concerns about torture. TV shows profile all kinds of prisoners, including guys who are old and sick. And that last part — the old and sick prisoners — feeds into another big motivator for change: the system’s unsustainable cost.
“It’s not just high costs, it’s high costs on steroids, and it keeps getting worse,” Simon said. “The worst possible situation is if you gather a large population that has significantly worse health than the general population, you put them in the one place in the state that actually has a constitutional right to health care — and is also the place that is the most expensive to deliver that health care to them. … We can’t actually pay for this.”
The recent Supreme Court ruling on the state’s prison overpopulation will reduce those costs somewhat, though it certainly won’t solve the problems of overcrowding and costs. Even after 30,000 prisoners are released, California’s prison system will be at 137.5 percent capacity.
Even so, the ruling was controversial. Many people, including the bellicose Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote a scathing dissenting opinion, are worried about unleashing so many criminals on society. “The [judicial] majority is gambling with the safety of the people of California,” Scalia wrote.
Of course, if the system actually focused on corrections and rehabilitation, maybe we wouldn’t be so scared. Hell, maybe even our figures of speech would change. If a cousin got arrested for grand theft auto, rather than saying he’s been “put in the slammer” we might say he’s being rehabilitated. That may sound silly, but is “racist boot camp” a better idea?
“The fact of the matter is 95 percent of the people that go to prison are going to be coming back to this community and communities across the United States,” Meisel said. “Do we want ‘em to come back pissed off, ill, needing health care that will be paid anyway on the public dime? Or do we want them to come back viable members of our community, ready to give back, contribute, build families? Granted, that may be an idealistic vision that won’t be achieved by everybody,” he said. “But we’ve written everybody off.”

Saturday, October 8, 2011

2011-10-08 "U.S. targets pot suppliers who profit in state" by Bob Egelko from "San Francisco Chronicle"
California's federal prosecutors announced a campaign Friday to shut down scores of marijuana dispensaries, which they described as profit-making criminal enterprises masquerading as suppliers of medicine.
The announcement at a Sacramento news conference angered medical marijuana advocates, who said President Obama had reneged on his promise to let states set their own policies on therapeutic use of the drug. But prosecutors insisted they weren't going after patients and their caregivers.
"People are using the cover of medical marijuana to make extraordinary amounts of money," said San Francisco's U.S. attorney, Melinda Haag, speaking alongside her counterparts from Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego.
The prosecutors said dispensaries are violating California law - which allows medical marijuana distribution only by nonprofit organizations - as well as federal law that bans all use of the drug.

Targeted stores -
Haag, whose district runs from Monterey County to the North Coast, said she is initially targeting a limited number of marijuana stores located near schools, playgrounds or Little League fields. A Sept. 28 letter, released by medical marijuana advocacy groups, advises the owner of an unidentified Mission District dispensary to shut down within 45 days or face possible criminal charges and loss of the property.
Haag declined to say how many outlets received the letters, but added, "We will almost certainly be taking action against others. None are immune from action by the federal government."
The other three prosecutors said they had each sent letters to dozens of marijuana retailers in their districts notifying them that they were violating federal law and subject to property forfeiture and possible prosecution.
"This is not an idle threat," said San Diego's U.S. attorney, Laura Duffy. "This is our commitment to the concerned citizens and parents of our community. ... So-called medical marijuana has become a law enforcement nightmare."
Advocates for medical marijuana - first legalized by California voters in 1996, and later by 15 other states and Washington, D.C. - cited Obama's campaign promise that he would let states chart their own course on the issue. His Justice Department issued guidelines in October 2009 discouraging federal prosecutors from going after people who were complying with state laws.
"Barack Obama is betraying promises made when he ran for president and turning his back on the sensible policies announced during his first year in office," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Policy change?
With Friday's announcement, said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, "Obama's medical marijuana policies are worse than Bush and Clinton."
But the Justice Department denied it was changing course.
"The department has maintained that we will not focus our investigative and prosecutorial resources on individual patients with serious illnesses like cancer or their immediate caregivers," Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a statement. "However, U.S. attorneys continue to have the authority to prosecute significant violations" of federal narcotics laws.
In one criminal case unsealed this week, said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte of Los Angeles, a purported medical marijuana supplier in the San Fernando Valley is alleged to have distributed 600 to 700 pounds of marijuana per month and made nearly $15 million in profits in eight months.
"We have yet to find a single instance in which a marijuana store was able to prove that it was a not-for-profit organization," Birotte said.
Other federal agencies have also joined the crackdown.
Last month the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives notified all federally licensed gun dealers that the ban on selling guns and ammunition to users of illegal drugs applied to anyone who consumed marijuana, even with a doctor's approval.
Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service, in an apparent turnabout, has told some medical marijuana providers it will not allow them to deduct employee payroll and operating costs from their taxable income.

Threatened closure -
Harborside Health Center in Oakland, one of the largest marijuana dispensaries in the world, said it got a $2.5 million tax bill from the IRS this week and may have to close if its appeal is unsuccessful.
The Fairfax-based Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which describes itself as the nation's oldest licensed marijuana dispensary, has received two potentially lethal messages from federal authorities - a $1 million IRS bill in March, and a letter to its landlord from Haag on Sept. 29 demanding a shutdown because the office is within 1,000 feet of Bolinas Park.
Federal laws against illegal drugs contain additional punishment for transactions within 1,000 feet of places where children regularly gather.
"This is ridiculous - after 14 years of paying taxes and doing everything else we were supposed to do," said the dispensary's founder and owner, Lynette Shaw. "I think that Obama has turned his back on the medical marijuana movement, the people who worked hard to put him into office."
Shaw said her nonprofit dispensary has always worked closely with the IRS and gotten approval for all of its business deductions until this year. Any suggestion of danger to children at the nearby park is unfounded, she said, because they've learned from their parents that marijuana is medicine and "they don't steal pot from someone who's sick."

Friday, October 7, 2011

2011-10-07 "Feds announce Calif. pot dispensary crackdown" by DON THOMPSON from "Associated Press" newswire
Associated Press writers Lisa Leff in San Francisco and Catherine Tsai in Denver contributed to this report.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Federal prosecutors announced an aggressive crackdown on California pot dispensaries Friday, vowing to shut down dozens of growing and sales operations and saying that the worst offenders are using the cover of medical marijuana to act as storefront drug dealers.
Officials described it as the first coordinated statewide offensive against marijuana dealers and suppliers who use California's 15-year-old medical marijuana law as legal cover for running sophisticated drug trafficking ventures in plain sight.
"California's marijuana industry supplies the nation," said U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, citing a 2009 federal study that 72 percent of marijuana plants eradicated nationwide were grown in California. "Huge amounts of marijuana grown here in this state is flowing east to other states, and huge amounts of money are flowing back in the opposite direction."
The actions were geared toward stopping a proliferation that has led to thousands of pot shops opening their doors across the state. The spread was fueled partly by the Obama administration's assurance two years ago that it did not plan to devote federal resources to countering marijuana outlets operating in compliance with state laws.
One example cited by the prosecutors Friday: In one Orange County strip mall, eight of the 11 second-floor suites are occupied by dispensaries and doctors' offices for doctors where healthy individuals obtain "sham" recommendations to use medical marijuana.
It is "a Costco, Walmart-type model that we see across California," said Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney in the Los Angeles-area. Some people making money from medical marijuana openly revel in what some have called "the new California gold rush," he said.
Landlords leasing property to dozens of warehouses and agricultural parcels where marijuana is being grown and retail spaces where pot is sold over the counter are receiving written warnings to evict their tenants or face criminal charges or seizure of their assets, the state's four U.S. attorneys said.
"The intention regarding medical marijuana under California state law was to allow marijuana to be supplied to seriously ill people on a nonprofit basis," said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, the top federal law enforcement officer for the San Francisco Bay area. "What we are finding, however, is that California's laws have been hijacked by people who are in this to get rich and don't care at all about sick people."
The crackdown comes a little more than two months after the Obama administration toughened its stand on medical marijuana. For two years before that, federal officials had indicated they would not move aggressively against dispensaries in compliance with laws in the 16 states where pot is legal for people with doctors' recommendations.
The Department of Justice issued a policy memo to federal prosecutors in late June stating that marijuana dispensaries and licensed growers in states with medical marijuana laws could face prosecution for violating federal drug and money-laundering laws. The effort to shutter California dispensaries appeared to be the most far-reaching effort so far to put that guidance into action.
Increased federal intervention will likely unify marijuana growers and sellers in a drive to change federal policy, National Cannabis Industry Association spokeswoman Melissa Milam said.
"We're not going anywhere. We're mothers, we're patients, we're family members of patients," she said. "We want to pay taxes, we want to be able to make deposits at our bank, we want to be a business."
Not all of the thousands of storefront pot dispensaries thought to be operating in the state are being targeted in the crackdown, which also involves new indictments and arrests of marijuana growers and vendors throughout the state over the past two weeks, said Wagner, who represents the state's Central Valley.
The strategies federal authorities are using vary somewhat, with warning letters issued by the U.S. attorney in San Diego giving recipients 45 days to comply and property owners in Los Angeles, Orange County and the Central Coast given just two weeks to evict pot dispensaries or growers.
Haag said she is initially going after pot shops located close to schools, parks, sports fields and other places where there are a lot of children.
Wagner, who represents the state's Central Valley, also is targeting what he termed "significant commercial operations," including farmland where marijuana is being grown. Birotte is prioritizing dispensaries in communities where local officials have been trying unsuccessfully to shut down marijuana businesses.
Moreover, the four said their warnings were aimed at cities and counties that have started licensing and taxing marijuana shops.
"The ordinances are illegal under federal law," Haag said, citing an appellate court ruling this week against Long Beach's ordinance that charged shops fees to operate.
The California Board of Equalization has estimated medical marijuana generates between $53 million and $104 million in annual sales taxes on sales of between $700 million and $1.3 billion.
"If it creates revenue and jobs and increases safety, with all that's going on in the world and the nation, why is the federal government mounting this assault — just because they can?" asked attorney Mark Reichel, who represents three licensed Sacramento dispensaries that face federal charges or civil forfeitures.
More than a dozen dispensaries named by officials either did not respond to telephone messages or refused to comment on the closure demands. Damian Nassiri, a lawyer for two of dispensaries inside the Orange County shopping center authorities cited, predicting it would not be long before the owner sends his clients packing.
"These collectives had a hard time finding landlords who were willing to rent to them," Nassiri said. "Federal prosecution is pretty serious ... I would imagine, if I were operating a collective in that strip mall, I would be probably be closing on my own out of fear."
Three of the four prosecutors declined to reveal how many dispensaries are subject to closure orders, saying only there were dozens in each of their four districts. Birotte said 38 property owners in his district were sent warnings.
Birotte said his office already had initiated property forfeiture proceedings involving three properties whose owners had received prior warnings.
The effort was criticized by two Democrat state legislators who represent San Francisco.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said the crackdown "means that Obama's medical marijuana policies are worse than Bush and Clinton. It's a tragic return to failed policies that will cost the state millions in tax revenue and harm countless lives."
"I don't understand the politics of it, and certainly if we haven't learned anything over the past century, it's that Prohibition does not work," added State Sen. Mark Leno, who has worked to safeguard and regulate medical marijuana in California.
Haag said the move is not designed to clamp down on patients who grow their own marijuana for medical use. But dispensaries that were not part of the initial wave of warning letters "shouldn't take any comfort," she said. "They are illegal under federal law."
"I understand there are people in California who believe marijuana stores should be allowed to exist, but I think we can all agree we don't need marijuana stores across the street from schools and Little League fields," she said.
Wagner said individual U.S. attorneys general in other states including Nevada, Oregon and Washington state have also coordinated actions with the U.S. Department of Justice.
But Justin Williams, the manager and marijuana grower at Mayflower Wellness in downtown Denver, said he believes Colorado's regulations on growing marijuana makes the state less of a target than California.
"I think their main concern is the lack of regulation in California with the explosion that's happened," he said.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

2011-10-06 "Cities can't give permits to pot clubs, court says" by Bob Egelko from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
Federal law prohibits California cities from issuing permits to collectives authorizing them to supply marijuana to medical patients, a state appeals court has ruled, raising questions about the scope of local regulation of pot dispensaries.
In overturning a Long Beach ordinance, the court said the city went a step beyond California's action in 1996, when state voters eliminated criminal penalties for patients who used marijuana with a doctor's approval.
Deciding not to prosecute someone for drug use doesn't conflict with the federal ban on marijuana possession and distribution, the court said. It also said a city's restrictions on marijuana dispensaries, such as limiting their locations and operating hours, wouldn't violate either federal or state law.
But by issuing permits that let a certain number of pot collectives operate within city limits, the court said, Long Beach has put a stamp of approval on an activity that federal law forbids and is interfering with nationwide drug enforcement.
"The city's ordinance ... goes beyond decriminalization into authorization," the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles said in a 3-0 ruling Tuesday.
Long Beach could appeal to the state Supreme Court or could try to revise its ordinance, either by following the appellate panel's guidelines on regulations or by banning dispensaries altogether. The city attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Medical marijuana advocates said the ruling, if it stands, will set new criteria for the diverse rules on pot suppliers adopted by many cities and counties since California voters approved the law in 1996.
"It makes it more difficult for cities (to regulate), but I don't think it eliminates their authority," said attorney Michael Risher of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Francisco. He said cities could apply health, safety and zoning laws to marijuana collectives.
Although the ruling appears to prohibit local governments from limiting the number of suppliers by issuing permits, a city could largely reach that goal by requiring dispensaries to locate in certain zones and at certain distances from each other, said attorney Ruthann Ziegler, who has represented cities in other marijuana cases.
The Long Beach ordinance limits dispensary locations and operating hours, sets safety standards including laboratory testing of the drugs, and requires dispensaries to pay a nonrefundable application fee of more than $14,000 and an annual renewal fee of at least $10,000 if they win a lottery for a permit.
But Matthew Pappas, lawyer for two patients who challenged the ordinance after their collectives did not qualify for permits, said Long Beach is actually trying to ban medical marijuana collectives. He said one client's dispensary was the target of a raid in May by more than 25 officers who used a battering ram to break down the door.
"Patients don't have any problems with reasonable restrictions," Pappas said. But he contended a local ban on dispensaries would violate federal disability law, a position he argued in another Southern California case now pending before a federal appeals court.
2011-10-06 "Feds target Calif. pot dispensaries for closure" by LISA LEFF from "Associated Press"
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal prosecutors have launched a crackdown on some pot dispensaries in California, warning the stores that they must shut down in 45 days or face criminal charges and confiscation of their property even if they are operating legally under the state's 15-year-old medical marijuana law.
In an escalation of the ongoing conflict between the U.S. government and the nation's burgeoning medical marijuana industry, at least 16 pot shops or their landlords received letters this week stating they are violating federal drug laws, even though medical marijuana is legal in California. The state's four U.S. attorneys were scheduled Friday to announce a broader coordinated crackdown.
Their offices refused Thursday to confirm the closure orders. The Associated Press obtained copies of the letters that a prosecutor sent to at least 12 San Diego dispensaries. They state that federal law "takes precedence over state law and applies regardless of the particular uses for which a dispensary is selling and distributing marijuana."
"Under United States law, a dispensary's operations involving sales and distribution of marijuana are illegal and subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions," according to the letters signed by U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy in San Diego. "Real and personal property involved in such operations are subject to seizure by and forfeiture to the United States ... regardless of the purported purpose of the dispensary."
The move comes a little more than two months after the Obama administration toughened its stand on medical marijuana. For two years before that, federal officials had indicated they would not move aggressively against dispensaries in compliance with laws in the 16 states where pot is legal for people with doctors' recommendations.
The Department of Justice issued a policy memo to federal prosecutors in late June stating that marijuana dispensaries and licensed growers in states with medical marijuana laws could face prosecution for violating federal drug and money-laundering laws. The effort to shutter California dispensaries appeared to be the most far-reaching effort so far to put that guidance into action.
"This really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The administration is simply making good on multiple threats issued since President Obama took office," said Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to the president's drug czar and a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Substance Abuse Solutions. "The challenge is to balance the scarcity of law enforcement resources and the sanctity of this country's medication approval process. It seems like the administration is simply making good on multiple statements made previously to appropriately strike that balance."
Greg Anton, a lawyer who represents dispensary Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, said its landlord received an "extremely threatening" letter Wednesday invoking a federal law that imposes additional penalties for selling drugs within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds.
The landlord was ordered to evict the 14-year-old pot club or risk imprisonment, plus forfeiture of the property and all the rent he has collected while the dispensary has been in business, Anton said.
Marin Alliance's founder "has been paying state and federal taxes for 14 years, and they have cashed all the checks," he said. "All I hear from Obama is whining about his budget, but he has money to do this which will actually reduce revenues."
Kris Hermes, a spokesman for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, said the warnings are part of what appears to be an attempt by the Obama administration to curb medical marijuana on multiple fronts and through multiple agencies. A series of dispensary raids in Montana, for example, involved agents from not only the FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, but the Internal Revenue Service and Environmental Protection Agency.
Going after property owners is not a new tactic though, Hermes said. Five years ago, the Department of Justice under President George W. Bush made similar threats to about 300 Los Angeles-area landlords who were renting space to medical marijuana outlets, some of whom were eventually evicted or closed their doors voluntarily, he said.
"It did have an impact. However, the federal government never acted on its threats, never prosecuted anybody, never even went to court to begin prosecutions," Hermes said. "By and large, they were empty threats, but they relied on them and the cost of postage to shut down as many facilities as they could without having to engage in criminal enforcement activity."
Besides the dozen dispensaries in San Diego and the one in Marin County, at least three shops in San Francisco already have received closure notices, said Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
The San Diego medical marijuana outlets put on notice were the same 12 that city officials sued last month for operating illegally, after activists there threatened to force an election on a zoning plan adopted to regulate the city's fast-growing medical marijuana industry, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said. A judge on Wednesday ordered nine of the targeted shops to close, while the other three shut down voluntarily, Goldsmith said.
Duffy, the U.S. attorney for far Southern California, planned to issue warning letters to property owners and all of the 180 or so dispensaries that have proliferated in San Diego in the absence of compromise regulations, according to Goldsmith.
"The real power is with the federal government," he said. "They have the asset forfeiture, and that means either the federal government will own a lot of property or these landlords will evict a lot of dispensaries."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sun, 10/9 Meeting About Stopping WalMart in Eureka

Outraged residents of Humboldt will meet at the Labor Temple on Sunday, October 9th at 5:30pm regarding WalMart's sneaky invasion into Humboldt. All who are opposed to WalMart moving into Eureka are invited to this meeting.
The Labor Temple is at 840 E Street in Eureka, where 9th and E streets meet. We will be meeting in the basement with refreshments.
Again, the meeting about WalMart's sneaky invasion into Humboldt will be Sunday, October 9th, beginning at 5:30pm at the Labor Temple in Eureka.
For more information, please call 707.442.7465.
To see a short video regarding WalMart's horrendous effects on workers, local business, and communities, please go to YouTube and type in "Stop WalMart's Sneaky Invasion"
The renegade elements within the Federal government is attempting to illegally persecute a non-profit entity regulated only by the Republic of California.

2011-10-04 "Oakland pot dispensary gets $2.5 million IRS bill" by Carolyn Jones from "San Francisco Chronicle" daily newspaper
(10-04) 18:12 PDT Oakland
-- A leading Oakland marijuana dispensary was hit with a $2.5 million tax bill this week which may force its closure, dispensary staff said Tuesday.
Harborside Health Center owes the Internal Revenue Service back-taxes for 2007 and 2008, based on a federal law prohibiting marijuana dispensaries - unlike other businesses - from deducting payroll, insurance, rent, workers' compensation and other operating costs from its revenues.
"We think this assessment is unfair and inaccurate. We have no choice but to fight this," said Harborside executive director Steve DeAngelo. "I'm profoundly concerned on behalf of our patients."
IRS spokesman Jesse Weller had no comment on the case.
Harborside, one of the largest marijuana dispensaries in the world, has 94,000 clients and last year posted $22 million in revenues.
In 2007 and 2008, the years under scrutiny by the IRS, Harborside earned about $7 million and $12 million, respectively, DeAngelo said.
Other large dispensaries, including the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, have also been slammed with large tax bills.
The IRS also plans to audit Harborside's tax returns for 2009 and 2010, DeAngelo said.
"This is not an effort to tax us. We're happy to pay our taxes," he said. "This is an effort to shut us down."