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New York’s medical marijuana program was a boom for lobbyists firms. Yet 17,000 patients out of 200,000 that are eligible have been certified for the program, lohud’s David Robinson reports. Ricky Flores/lohud
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, March 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)(Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)
Desperate criminals made a daring smuggling run from Minnesota to New York in an armored SUV packed with $500,000 of marijuana oil. Or
Highly respected corporate officers quietly transported state-licensed medical marijuana from a Minnesota-based company to its affiliate in New York. These are the drastically different stories behind a high-profile Minnesota legal battle involving Vireo Health, the parent company of the medical marijuana dispensary in downtown White Plains.
Prosecutors have accused Dr. Laura Bultman and Ronald Owens, the company s former chief medical officer and security officer, of smuggling the drugs 1,200 miles to rescue Vireo from missing a deadline to open up shop in New York in 2016. On the other side, Paul Engh, the attorney for Bultman, has disputed that Minnesota s marijuana law bans shipping the drug across state borders, The Journal News/lohud has learned from court documents, and shifted focus onto why medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law despite being allowed in 28 states.
Engh s stance is detailed in a 12-page report urging a court to toss the felony drug charges against Bultman. It boils down to one question: How is it illegal for a licensed company’s officer to provide a drug to patients as defined by state law?
We believe the law is with us and are hopeful that the court agrees, Engh said, addressing the court documents in response to an inquiry by The Journal News/lohud. Other defense arguments in Engh’s filing touch on everything from a company’s definition as a person under Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that gave corporations protected rights, to a lack of clarity in Minnesota’s marijuana law.
“Any ambiguity as to the law s language and its application is to be resolved in Dr. Bultman s favor,” Engh wrote in court documents.
Still, the Vireo case has underscored why federal lawmakers idleness and a patchwork approach to state marijuana laws have muddled efforts to treat thousands of patients with serious illnesses, such as cancer and epilepsy. Nick Zerwas, a state representative in Minnesota, described the Vireo scandal as a flaw in that state s law.
When this (law) was moved through several years ago, there was a lot of discussion about the methods of delivery and how many dispensaries, he said, but not nearly enough discussion on insufficient legal leverages necessary to regulate and investigate and hold accountable this industry. Zerwas, who voted to legalize marijuana sales in 2014, has pushed new legislation seeking to tighten the law in the wake of the Vireo case.
The looming threat of the U.S. Justice Department closing down Minnesota s marijuana program also influenced Zerwas reform push.
It s incumbent upon us to act swiftly and signify that the state of Minnesota can handle this, Zerwas said. Vireo Health executives have said little about the situation. Andrew Mangini, a company spokesman, noted medical marijuana sales continue in New York, including a recent launch of a home delivery service to eligible patients in New York City.
We take our legal obligations and regulatory responsibilities in this area very seriously, he said. And will cooperate with the relevant agencies while maintaining our focus on patients who suffer from life-threatening and debilitating diseases like cancer and ALS, and who deserve best-in-class medical cannabis products and compassionate care.”
While federal authorities at the Justice Department would not say if they are investigating the Vireo case, a Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Barbara Carreno spoke to its prior hands-off approach as state marijuana laws piled up since 2013.
The Cole Memo
Traditionally, the DEA has targeted eight criminal activities by marijuana businesses under a policy that says no to drugged driving, sales to minors, interstate smuggling, and using cannabis-based profits in connection to other crimes.
You have seen over the last few years there have continued to be raids on dispensaries in California and Colorado because they had to do with these eight things, said Carreno. It all stemmed from a 2013 policy, commonly called the Cole memo, and named after a former Justice Department lawyer, James Cole, who established federal law enforcement s approach to the states that legalized marijuana, for medical and/or recreational use.
Cole s memo remains in place as feds await the newly appointed attorney general s marching orders for an apparent federal crackdown on marijuana. At a law enforcement gathering in February, Sessions cited the increased legalization of marijuana, an issue he long railed against while an Alabama senator, as contributing to a culture of acceptance, USA Today reported.
“I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if (marijuana) is being sold from every corner grocery store,” he said. Some medical marijuana advocates have voiced concerns about Sessions apparent attempt to lump together medicinal and recreational uses of the drug, despite his lack of policy details and Congress effectively banning raids on state-approved medical marijuana in 2014.
Sessions general tougher-on-crime stance, however, suggests a drastic turnaround from recent efforts to remove marijuana from the discussion of more dangerous narcotics.
“We don’t need to be legalizing marijuana, and we need to be cracking down on heroin,’ Sessions said.
Read or Share this story: http://lohud.us/2q4mFh1
- ^ VIREO HEALTH: Marijuana smuggling scandal (www.lohud.com)
- ^ MONEY TRAIL: New York’s marijuana lobbying dollars top $2 million by applicants (www.lohud.com)
- ^ LIST: What lobbying firms got from New York’s medical marijuana applicants (www.lohud.com)
- ^ USA Today reported. (www.lohud.com)
ROCKY MOUNTAIN PBS – His is one of the first faces visitors encounter at the state capitol. A trusted security guard for the Colorado State Patrol. It’s a position Gatwec Dengpathot is proud and thankful to have. Especially considering he wasn’t certain he would even live beyond his teenage years.
What I used to say back then was that I’m living to die tomorrow, he said. So I only prayed to God that I see light today, and then I tomorrow I may not see another light.
He arrived in Colorado as a refugee in 2001 after Sudan’s devastating civil war left him malnourished, searching for food and constantly confronted by death.
I saw some relatives and neighbors that died of starvation, he recalls. And then the wild animals, hyenas, and you know, dogs feed on them. He found himself separated from the elders, leading a group of small children through dangerous swamps and rivers, alone to a refugee camp, seeking safety.
I didn’t want to lose those kids under my watch and that’s what hurt me the most, he said. The trek lasted two months and Dengpathot endured another five years at the camp before learning the United States would accept his family as refugees.
It was the most beautiful thing in my life because we have waited for so long.
Gatwec’s life has flourished since he arrived in Colorado. He has two children now who attend school in Denver. And he has built a happy life at home with his wife, who is also a refugee from Sudan. With guidance from the African community center, a refugee support agency, he improved his English, graduated from high school and college, and became a United States citizen.
Gatwec Dengpathot, the former refugee, is now a success story. A living example of the American dream. His next step, he says, might be to run for public office in the country that has given him so much.
Kyle Rowland @KyleRowland
Jim Harbaugh gets scolded by security inside shopping mall for playing catch. https://t.co/cywWm8yPgm
The Wolverines head coach played catch in the middle of a shopping mall, which drew the ire of a security guard. He pointed toward the exit sign, either kicking Harbaugh out or asking him to toss the pigskin outside.
The typically uptight leader appears to be enjoying his time abroad. Kyle Rowland of the Toledo Blade also provided footage of Harbaugh fighting to keep his khakis clean in a paintball battle:
Kyle Rowland @KyleRowland
Jim Harbaugh just bought a selfie stick. “Who wouldn’t want one of these things. This is awesome.” https://t.co/DJMSzuaktR
Kyle Rowland @KyleRowland
A Nigerian refugee, talking with Jim Harbaugh, is utterly baffled at why it’s called football. https://t.co/KYCuEG8BZn
Paintball, selfie sticks and playing ball in the house. Just how everyone would envision a football getaway with Harbaugh.