Green Door Harvester: The end of federal pressure? An interview with Attorney Matthew Pappas -- March 2012 

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In February 2010, after weeks in a small room with stacks of documents on congressional history, Long Beach attorney Matthew S. Pappas found the fodder he was looking for, a federal slip of the tongue that would grant the same rights to voters around the nation that had been granted to voters in DC. And, according to his timetable, it may just be a matter of months before this whole ugly episode is behind us.


Please explain the opportune hiccup that you found in the DC legislation.


Congress has the authority to make different laws for the District of Columbia. It's like a super-legislature, so it can do that. But it can't do that when what it does runs afoul of the constitution. The big issue is this: Did Congress give the citizens of DC a right to marijuana, or a right to vote? Our position is that they gave the citizens the right to vote.


Bill HR-3170 allows the District to conduct--the word "conduct" is key--to conduct and implement its law on marijuana, as has been done in various states. What it's saying is, we're giving the voters the right to conduct a referendum. It provides that right to voters in Washington DC.


Essentially I think that Congress put that in knowing somebody's gonna find this and they're going to use it, because of a lot of partisan gridlock they're leaving that up for the courts to decide. That's what they're doing. And I think the Obama Administration has stepped up Federal action to prompt that along.


So how do you take that discovery and use it as an argument in the California court system?


The problem has been that we need a voter that has standing to claim that they were disenfranchised and treated differently than the Washington DC Voters. And you would think, "Well, isn't that everyone who voted for prop 215?" No, it is not, because prop 215 survives federal preemption because state voters only voted to decriminalize state law prohibitions.


So I filed the case Pack vs City of Long Beach, a very controversial case. People don't seem to understand why that's filed. That's because Long Beach passed a law that actually tried to legalize and permit marijuana in Long Beach. But nobody wants a decision that says there's been federal pre-emption, 'cause nobody wants a voter to have the right to bring a fundamental rights claim of equal protection.


Then I filed a case called James vs. United States. Because once those letters went out in January of this year, and we had the final rule in DC, I filed a motion before the 9th circuit seeking to prohibit the US attorney from sending those letters because of equal protection.


Normally the 9th Circuit will just deny motions, but it didn't. [They denied us, but they also suggested how we should file a new case.] That would indicate they're telling us what to do. So we filed a new case in District court.


And, based on statements the district court judge has made, he is clearly interested
in the issues and concerns of the disabled plaintiffs.


Besides an end to federal scrutiny of cannabis dispensaries, what other consequences could this have?


The benefit of the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] is that under title 2 these cities and the states are gonna be liable for damages. Boy they're mouths opened wide when they learned that. It's retroactive. For all the years that they've been discriminatory, every single one of them, for every single patient that's been harmed, they will end up paying those people millions of dollars. And when they get into the pocketbook, they'll stop discriminating against patients.


What advice do you have for the other states that find themselves in this position?


Folks need to bring cases under the ADA, like AIDS hospice cases and methadone clinic cases. All of those kinds of cases are directly on point with medical marijuana. These cities, these sates can't be discriminating. If their legislatures are, if their city officials are, they're subject to damages under the ADA, and immediate injunctive relief to stop the behavior. So that would be my recommendation to people in various states. Start thinking about the ADA and your states disability laws.


How long have you been involved in fighting for medical marijuana patients?


The only reason I do these things is for my daughter. My daughter was seriously injured when she was assaulted. She had to have emergency brain surgery she was in a coma for 6 weeks. They prescribed her opiates. They made her constipated they were not good. She switched to medical cannabis. That was effective for her, but now she's discriminated against. She's one of these people that looks perfectly normal, but without that medication shed have a lot of trouble.


In four or five months, once this issue is solved, I will quit the practice of law, because that's not what I want to do, and I hate it. But I'm going to ensure that my daughter does not have to be treated differently than other people.


There you have it. A big thanks to Mr. Pappas for speaking with the Green Door. His work could lead us to the light at the end of the tunnel. Just yesterday, in one of Mr. Pappas' cases, City of Lake Forest vs. Evergreen Holistic Collective, the California Court of Appeals ruled that California cities cannot ban medical marijuana dispensaries so long as they cultivate cannabis at the same location. " Progress is being made. Stay tuned!





Heather Haddon, Wall Street Journal


Two years later, New Jersey patients are still waiting for their medical marijuana. The Commissioner of the New Jersey Dept of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), the government body commissioned to oversee the Garden State's long-delayed medicinal cannabis program, told The Wall Street Journal that legal pot won't be available to patients until the end of 2012 - at the absolute earliest. 


DHSS Commissioner Mary O'Dowd said that New Jersey has repeatedly delayed implementation of the medical marijuana program that has been law since January 2010 because they want to create sufficient safeguards to prevent their state from becoming like California's and Colorado's allegedly abused medical marijuana programs, such as reports of healthy individuals obtaining medical cannabis. read more 






OAKLAND, Calif. -- The IRS threatens to turn back the clock on medical cannabis. A national alliance of industry leaders, patients and elected officials are fighting back with a new project aimed at education and policy change. The 280E Reform effort plans to bring an end to the current IRS campaign to close medical cannabis dispensaries.

The IRS campaign of aggressive audits was launched approximately 2 years ago and uses section 280E of the IRS code to deny dispensaries the ability to deduct legitimate business expenses. Denied expenses include items such as rent, payroll, and all other necessary business expenses.


These denials result in astronomical back tax bills for the affected dispensaries that, if not changed, threaten to destroy the financial viability of every medical cannabis dispensary in the country-thereby ending safe and affordable access to cannabis for legally qualified patients.


Campaign spokesperson Steve DeAngelo outlined the consequences: "Should the IRS campaign be successful, it will throw millions of patients back in to the hands of street dealers, eliminate tens of thousands of well-paying jobs, destroy hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue, enrich the criminal underground, and endanger the safety of communities in the 17 medical cannabis states." read more 




Gwen Florio, Missoulian


HELENA, MT -- When federal agents raided medical marijuana businesses around Montana last year, the consequences for those indicted as a result seemed dire. They faced mandatory minimum sentences of at least five years in prison on some charges, with maximum penalties of 40 years and fines ranging as high as $5 million.


But the sentences handed down so far, all the result of plea agreements that saw some charges dropped, have been considerably shorter, ranging from six months to 18 months.


And in one case where attorneys agreed on sentencing guidelines of 24-30 months for each of three men, a federal judge in Helena halved the minimum, sentencing them instead to a single year. Senior Judge Charles Lovell criticized the guidelines as "excessive," making particular mention of the fact that the three men, who operated businesses in Helena and Great Falls, believed their work to be legal under state law.


"Compared to the sentences they could be facing under a narrow reading of the Controlled Substances Act, these are tiny fractions of the potential liability," said Sam Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, who tracks marijuana issues. "That is a significant admission that what's happening in these places is different than folks who grow (for example) in national parks. Those folks are getting very long terms." read more 


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We would like to provide California's patients with the best possible service and facility for the use and care of medicinal cannabis. We intend to abide by all of the laws and regulations set by the state of California and will not provide our services for any persons not certified to use medical cannabis. Medicinal cannabis is not for recreational use.


Only individuals with legally recognized medicinal cannabis identification cards or a verifiable, written recommendation from a physician for a medical cannabis may obtain cannabis from medicinal cannabis dispensaries.