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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.
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- ^ 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)
LORAIN, Ohio — Lorain Municipal Judge Mark Mihok says it is a first: “It happened last week. We were having traffic court, so it was crowded … many people in and out on their traffic tickets,” said Judge Mihok. Courtroom security cameras were rolling as 39-year-old Lemar Reed, of Lorain, walked up to enter a plea on a minor traffic violation. That’s when Reed unknowingly dropped a bag of cocaine out of his baseball cap onto the floor.
It wasn’t until about an hour later when the courtroom security officer noticed the bag of drugs on the floor.
“He picked it up, looked at it, and saw a white powdery substance. We had it field tested by the Lorain Police Department and it tested positive for cocaine,” said Mihok.
Judge Mihok says his staff reviewed the security footage until they saw Reed’s drop.
A warrant was then immediately issued for his arrest.
“He was only here for a traffic ticket. He made a simple traffic ticket with only the penalty of a fine into a felony. So, not a good day for him,” said Judge Mihok.
COLUMBUS (UPDATED AT 4:30 P.M.) The Ohio Military Facilities Commission has recommended that $2.5 million be granted to the179th Airlift Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard, according to State Representative Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario). If approved, the grant money would assist with a $4 million project to relocate a portion of a civilian used taxiway away from the security perimeter of the C-130 Hercules aircraft ramp. The ramp is used by the 179th Airlift Wing to deliver cargo for disaster relief efforts and other domestic emergencies. By relocating the taxiway, multiple deviations to military standards related to the distance between the taxiway and the installation s fence-line, roadway, and parking apron would be eliminated.
The new taxiway will connect the parking and maintenance areas of the military airfield with the runways and provide access to hangars, docks, parking aprons and pads within the minimum required distance of 400 feet from the runway s centerline.
The mission of the 179th is critical to our nation, state, and the Mansfield community, Romanchuk said. This new investment will strengthen our position with the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) that will inevitably happen in the future. The Ohio Military Facilities Commission and $5 million in funding was authorized through Ohio House Bill 64, the state operating budget in the 131st General Assembly. The 179th Airlift Wing and Toledo s 180th Fighter Wing, also of the Ohio Air National Guard, were granted funds out of 10 applicants. The requests for the next stage have been submitted to the Office of Budget and Management and the Controlling Board for review. The National Guard will provide the remaining $1.5 million in federally matching funds for the Mansfield project.
The Airlift Wing has operated out of the Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport since 1948.
In addition, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Air Force Caucus recently met with former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, President Trump s nominee to serve as the Secretary of the Air Force and highlighted key priorities for Ohio Air Force bases. During the meeting, Brown highlighted the need to upgrade the C-130H planes flown at the Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base.
The mission at Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base supports local jobs and keeps communities safe during emergencies and natural disasters, Brown said. The men and women at Mansfield Lahm ANGB deserve the most up-to-date fleet possible, and I will work with Dr. Wilson if confirmed to ensure the Air Force has the resources and meets the appropriate timelines to upgrade the planes in Mansfield.