Posts Tagged ‘marijuana’

Top 10 Marijuana Lawyer Bloggers (or so says this Spokane attorney)

Marijuana laws in the U.S. are so complex, so contradictory, at at some times so baffling, that lawyers love to write about the subject.  Since I started my blog 3 years ago, the subject of marijuana laws has been a frequent topic.  We have discussed the “green tongue” phenomenon, the science of “marijuana dui“, the taxationwhat not to say when you are stopped, why it sucks to go to court for marijuana possession, what to do if you are caught at the border with marijuana, and attempts to reform the laws, and I-502.  Geesh, thats kind of a lot.  But I am not the only one.  Here is a list of 10 of the best marijuana law-bloggers in the 50 states.  They have great stuff, so go check out their sites.  (They are in no particular order – they are all good.)

1.   New Jersey Marijuana Blog.  Jef Henninger takes on New Jersey marijuana laws and explains the fight to more narrowly construe the state’s school zone enhancements, and the battle to prohibit “expert” witnesses from telling the jury that their “expert” opinion is that the defendant is guilty.

okanogan marijuana lawyer

Dozens of law bloggers write on the subject of marijuana - here are some of the best.

2.  Rose Law Group Blog. The staff at Rose Law Group attempts to make sense of the byzantine legal structure of medical marijuana in Arizona while the state wrangles with threats from the federal government.

3.   L.A.’s Dopest Attorney.  Fresh out of Harvard, lawyer Allison Margolin shared her views on the drug war, pushy DA’s, and various celebrities.  We are still waiting for her to update her blog though.

4.  Rose Law Texas.  Jeremy Rosenthal offers thoughtful, in depth, legal explanations on how marijuana laws work in Texas.  When several people are in a car, and marijuana is on the floor, it is always a gray area as to who “possesses” it, and Jeremy has a good post on that subject.

5.   Philadelphia Criminal Law Blog.  Attorney Brian Zeiger has a nice collection of posts on marijuana in a question-and-answer format, including the question all lawyers get about the defendant who skipped town on a pot charge, and then needs advice on what to do.

6.   Paul C. Youngs Blog.  Paul has blogged on the efforts by the IRS to remove any business expenses as tax deductible.  Additionally, he has commented on  the fairly liberal marijuana policies of Ann Arbor Michigan compared to the rest of the state.  Sound like Seattle anyone?

7.   Sammis Law Blog.  The Sammis law firm covers the efforts toward decriminalization of medical marijuana in Florida.  A 3/5th margin of the legislature is required to get the the measure on the ballot.  Polls show broad support for medical marijuana, and Florida might be joining the 17 other states in the US that recognize it.

8.   The Marijuana Lawyer Blog.   This blog is written by the Law Office of Glew and Kim of California.  They have written lately of the efforts by state governors to have the DEA re-classify marijuana from being a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug, thus permitting the drug for medicinal purposes.

9.   Criminal Attorney St Petersburg Blog. Attorney Melinda Morris takes a look at criminal issues in Florida including a trend among teens in the Tampa Bay area to adorn themselves with the hose of a water pipe in the form of a bracelet.

10.  Ambrose Law Group Blog. Attorneys from this law firm tackle the subject of canine “sniff” searches, the disturbing trends on marijuana arrests, and the loss of housing subsidies by medical cannabis patients.

What are your favorite blogs?  Let me know what I have missed, and maybe I will include them in 2013.





Eyes in the Sky: The Impact of Predator Drones on Your Privacy

Back on June 3, 2010, I warned about the possible (mis)uses of inexpensive drone technology and how such gadgets might eventually be harnessed for civilian law enforcement purposes, possibly spying on a pot dealer’s back yard. Turns out I was right. Well, not about the pot, at least not yet.

A scary report in the Los Angeles Times told of how local police in North Dakota used a Predator B drone to apprehend three men; the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with help from a Predator. The incident occurred when the suspects refused to turn over several cows that had wandered on to their property. Police showed up, the suspects brandished some shotguns and a pretty tense standoff ensued. marijuana droneThe police left and got themselves a warrant and then called in a Predator drone to fly over the suspect’s land, hovering for four hours, transmitting video and thermal imaging all the while. The next day, police called the drone back for more spying and finally made their move when the drone determined the men were unarmed.

The Predator drones used in this incident are based at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, located in Emerado, North Dakota, and are owned and operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. Though the FBI, DEA and a plethora of other federal agencies have used Predator drones on U.S. soil for years for surveillance purposes, this is the first reported incident where local police forces have made use of a Predator drone to watch and then apprehend suspects.

The Los Angeles Times quotes a retired U.S. General who acknowledges that drones are being used “in many areas around the country, not only for federal operators, but also for state and local law enforcement.” The Customs and Border Protection agency responsible for the apprehension in the North Dakota incident claim they have a legal authorization to use the drones in such a way. Officials insist that they indicated in their budget requests to Congress that one purpose of purchasing the Predators was for “interior law enforcement support.”

Jane Harman – former Chair of the House Homeland Security Sub-Committee – insists that “no one ever discussed using Predators to help local police serve warrants or do other basic work.” The argument from Customs is that the drones can be used on U.S. soil for law enforcement purposes not because of a new law or regulation, nor because of any Congressional mandate or Executive Order, simply because they inserted the phrase “interior law enforcement support” into their purchase order.

This “interior law enforcement support” hasn’t been limited to North Dakota. A recent article out of Houston discussed the local law enforcement excitement following their acquisition of several drones: “It’s an exciting piece of equipment for us,” Chief Deputy of Montgomery County Sherriff’s Office said. The Sherriff’s Office recently used $300,000 from a federal homeland security grant to purchase a ShadowHawk drone which they hope to take to the air in the coming months. “We envision a lot of its uses primarily in the realm of public safety – looking at recovery of lost individuals and being able to utilize it for fire issues.” However, the police aren’t willing to say the drones might not do more in the future. McDaniel said that one day they may decide to equip the drones to carry nonlethal weapons such as Tasers or a bean-bag gun.

Kirsten Bokenkamp, spokeswoman for the Houston-based American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, warned of the danger the drones pose. She sensibly pointed out that there are not enough safeguards currently in place to protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. The complaint has so far fallen on deaf ears.

The manufacturers of these unmanned aircraft aren’t stopping to worry about such issues; instead they’re pushing forward and aggressively courting local law enforcement. In their 2011 Annual Report, AeroVironment, Inc. (AV), the nation’s leading manufacturer of small drones, hammers home the message that future growth lies in non-military applications of their product:

As we explore opportunities to develop new markets for our small UAS, such as border surveillance, law enforcement, first response and infrastructure monitoring, we expect further growth through the introduction of UAS technology to non-military applications once rules are established for their safe and effective operation in each country’s national airspace.

The company manufactures drones so small they can be transported in the trunk of a car and launched within minutes. A single police officer could deploy and monitor such a drone. These small drones could help usher in an “Era of Surveillance,” cheap and easy access to drones capable of hovering without detection for far longer than police helicopters.

The drones are vastly different and more powerful than standard police helicopters, the current method of choice for police surveillance from above. A great example is one new type of drone already in use by the U.S. military in Afghanistan – the Gorgon Stare, named after the Greek creature of legend whose unblinking eyes turned those who looked at it to stone. According to the Washington Post, it’s “able to scan an area the size of a small town” and is able to “use artificial intelligence [to] seek out and record certain kinds of suspicious activity.” One proud U.S. General went on to declare that the “Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.” No police helicopter that I’ve ever run across has such capabilities and the prospect of the Gorgon Stare making its way to America should give everyone cause for concern.

Beyond such domestic law enforcement missions, the drones are being used everywhere, silent eyes in the sky. According to a recent report, a group dedicated to the abolition of whale hunting, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, used an unmanned aircraft to follow suspected Japanese whalers. Drones are everywhere and apparently have unlimited potential uses. Monitoring by law enforcement, border patrol, whale watching, what’s next? Given new technology whole cities can be kept under surveillance by one tiny drone. Where does this end? Likely with your civil liberties being violated. It’s only a matter of time before a civilian law enforcement agency realizes that the contraptions would be great for checking up on marijuana growing operations. Launch a Predator and have it spend hours noiselessly circling farms, searching for telltale signs of pot production. Police can watch the stream from the comfort of their desk and swoop in after the drone has done the leg work.

The increasing use of drones for an ever-growing list of activities on U.S. soil is troubling and potentially dangerous. This is the definition of a slippery slope and little exists to stop the creep of this surveillance into every facet of law enforcement. Small marijuana growers will have to fear a silent watchman in the sky. Jane Harman, a military hawk by any definition, told the Los Angeles Times that she’s worried, saying “There is no question that this could become something that people will regret.” The use of drones by civilian law enforcement is important and the issue warrants some real attention by legislators and the public alike.

What do you think about this issue?  How long before these drones are out looking for local marijuana gardens?   As the wars wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan, will the defense contractors focus more on marketing these drones to your local police department?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Initiative I-502 to Legalize Marijuana, by New Approach Washington

When Proposition 19 was rejected by the voters of California in 2010, I figured that would pretty much mean the end of any legalization initiatives in Washington.  However, a group called New Approach Washington was created, and they are now gathering signatures for a legalization initiative for the November ballot in 2012.  The group is challenging the assumption that California is the only testing ground for such proposals.  How can this possibly pass in Washington?  The groups campaign director, attorney Alison Holcomb pretty much explained her thinking recently at Hempfest in Seattle.  (See video below) She explains that there is polling data that supports the idea that such an initiative could win.  “We are in this amazing moment of opportunity and also precariousness – there is no state (other than Washington) in the country that has a 55% …percent majority support for legalizing marijuana.”  The problem that happened in California, Holcomb explains, is that right before the election, voters started to get scared by concerns like “stoned drivers”, and that moderate voters like centrist democrats, independents, and college-educated women, got nervous and abandoned their support.  Holcomb explains:  “With I-502 we spent a lot of time figuring out the most conservative, safe, secure sounding, marijuana legalization initiative that we can draft, and that will get us closest to what our public opinion data tells us people will hang on to and pass.”  Her vision is that once we get such an initiative passed, that voters nationwide will “see that the sky doesn’t fall” and it will snowball to broader legalization and reforms throughout the U.S.   Alison Holcomb explained:

We have to be as disciplined as possible, and pulling together, for example, the sponsers that signed on to it.  Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes, former US Attorney John McKay, Rick Steeves, two medical doctors, two former Washington state bar presidents, a Washington state legislator.  We need all the main stream messengers possible, because I think a legalization initiative  that looks like it is coming from the choir, that looks like it is coming from the usual suspects, has a much harder row to hoe then one that is coming from a former US attorney, for example.

Is it ironic that she explains the need to gather “mainstream messengers” when she is speaking at Hempfest?  I guess a little.  I did note that you can hear the psychedelic rock of the festival playing in the background as she speaks.

I-502 has some detractors.  Some question the proposed law’s provision that drivers (even medical patients) cannot driver a motor vehicle with a THC level over 5 nanograms per milliliter in their blood.  Others question why drivers under 21 would be defined as committing DUI if they have THC in their system in any amount over .000.  One such critic is Edward Agazarm, who started a Facebook page entitled Patients Against I-502.  He sent a press release out last week excoriating the sponsors of I-502.”  See article.  But Alison Holcomb fired back in the comment section of that article accusing Edward Agazarm of being disingenuous in his criticisms of I-502.  Agazarm is a professional signature-gatherer, and president of Citizen Solutions, Inc.   Holcomb explained that Agazarm called her and pitched his company (to collect signatures) after she held a press conference in June.  Holcomb writes: “When I told him we had already contracted with PCI Consultants, Inc., he insulted them and hung up on me. Now, Eddie’s spamming people with emails equating I-502 to rape.”  Agazarm isn’t the only critic.  Steve Elliot, a writer for also is very critical of the proposed law.

I guess the million-dollar question is whether the initiative will pass.  Can New Approach Washington gather enough moderate voters to off-set the critics?  We will have to see.

One of my disappointments in observing the marijuana reform movement over the last 10 years is how egos and dollar signs seem to damage any real chance of reform.  If I had the energy to collect 100,000 signatures, I would first seek a simple initiative removing the mandatory 24-hour jail time for all marijuana.  I blogged about this here last year. As a practicing criminal defense lawyer, I do have concerns about I-502.  I do worry that a driver under 21 could be convicted for DUI even for trace amounts of marijuana in his or her system.  I also don’t believe that all drivers would necessarily be impaired at .05 nanograms per milliliter, as I addressed here.   I do believe that the law would likely contribute to patient harassment, and an increase in unwarranted marijuana DUI charges.  The “probable cause” that an officer would have to establish an arrest for marijuana DUI is often based on subjective and spurious observations, such as the “green tongue” phenomenon.  I am already seeing an increase in marijuana DUI charges in my practice.  The problem with enforcement with these new laws isn’t going to be in King County; the problem will be greatest in the hick towns of eastern Washington (where I live and practice law).  In these towns the judges are often hostile to even medical marijuana, and the jury pools are conservative.  The prosecutors are less susceptible to public pressure and bad publicity, and  the defense lawyers often lack the specialized training and resources to defend such charges.

What do you think?  Will you be signing the petition for I-502?  Is it worth the restrictions on driving to get a marijuana reform law passed?  Does I-502 ask for too much of a sacrifice from medical cannabis patients?  Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.


Charged with Marijuana Possession? Here Are 9 Things You Should Know Before Your Arraignment

Here are 9 things you should know before you appear for your arraignment if you are charged with marijuana possession.   As a lawyer, I sometimes see people come in on their own and plead guilty without thinking through the consequences. Here are some things to remember:

1. Employment Consequences.

Do you really want to be applying for a job with a criminal conviction on your record? Marijuana Girl All employment applications ask about criminal convictions, and employers can run instant background checks online.

2. Immigration Consequences.

Convictions for possession of marijuana can lead to deportation if you are not a U.S. citizen.  There are ways to minimize the risk with a properly crafted plea deal, but a person definitely needs the assistance of a lawyer.

3. Chemical Dependency Evaluation.

A judge has the power to insist that you obtain a drug/alcohol evaluation, and that you comply with any recommended treatment as a condition of probation.  Yes, recreational pot users can very easily end up in a court-ordered 12-step program that lasts for 6 months, complete with court-ordered U.A. tests.

4. The Loss of Student Loan Eligibility.

If a student is convicted of marijuana possession after receiving Federal student aid money, he or she must notify the Financial Aid department of his college immediately and will become ineligible for further aid.  Many times, however, a student can enter a rehabilitation program that can make him or her eligible for federal financial aid again.

5. Mandatory Minimum Sentences.

Many states still have strict sentencing guidelines even for  possession of small amounts of marijuana. For example, in Washington State there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 24 hours in jail, and a $250 fine for a conviction for possession of marijuana.

6. Entry into Canada.

Getting into Canada can be difficult for Americans with criminal records. Other countries, such as in Europe, are not as picky.

7. Housing.

A drug conviction can make a person ineligible for federally subsidized housing, or can get a person kicked out of their housing.  Questions about drug convictions are also often asked on private rental applications. lawyer with girl

8. Child custody.

If you are, or will be, in a child custody dispute in court, be prepared for your ex to bring up any drug convictions you may have.  In addition, drug convictions can make you ineligible to adopt.

9. Welfare and Food Stamps.

A drug conviction can make you ineligible to receive welfare or food stamps.

Proving a marijuana possession charge can actually be pretty hard for a prosecutor.  Despite what some police officers think, the law requires that the State prove “knowing” possession.  So just because a drug was in your car, doesn’t mean that you are the one to be held responsible.  Additionally, a prosecution requires that a scientist or leaf-identification expert appear personally at the trial to testify that the substance is marijuana. Prosecutors know that jurors are often resentful of their time being wasted on people caught with small amounts of marijuana.

What would come of our nation’s marijuana laws if everyone insisted on a jury trial?

(See past blog posts about marijuana, and other tips for arraignments.)

What do you think about this subject?

Can the Department of Revenue Really Tax Medical Marijuana Dispensaries?

I read in the Spokesman-Review last week that the Washington State Department of Revenue sent notices to medical marijuana dispensaries demanding collection of retail sales tax on marijuana sold. This letter took the position that the sale of medical marijuana does not fall within the sales tax exception for prescription drugs. But is this interpretation of the law really correct? Many dispensaries have begun collecting and paying sales tax to the Department of Revenue as a way of seeking legitimacy. However, isn’t paying the tax conceding that “medical marijuana” is somehow of lesser medical value than other prescription drugs?

Medical marijuana cannot be “prescribed” under federal law, but it is important to remember that the definition of “prescription drug” for purposes of Department of Revenue (DOR) regulations is different. Let’s take a look at the DOR code on this subject. Section 1 of RCW 82.08.0281 clearly states retail sales tax “shall not apply to sales of drugs for human use dispensed or to be dispensed to patients, pursuant to a prescription.” Section 4 of RCW 82.08.0281 clearly states: “‘Prescription’ means an order, formula, or recipe issued in any form of oral, written, electronic, or other means of transmission by a duly licensed practitioner authorized by the laws of this state to prescribe.” How exactly does a doctor’s medical authorization for marijuana not fall under this definition? (See sample of authorization form.) Courts have ruled that the DOR is not to use a hyper-technical definition of “prescribed.” In the case Deaconess Medical Center v. DOR, 58 Wn. App. 783 (1990) the Washington Court of Appeals used the common dictionary definition of “prescribed” from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1792 (1966). The Webster’s dictionary definition of “prescribed” means “to designate or order the use of as a remedy.” Webster’s uses the term broadly, and provides the term in the following example sentence: “The doctor prescribed three months of physical therapy for my leg injury.” Simply put these dispensaries are the victim of a Department of Revenue shake down.

Let’s remember that medical marijuana dispensaries operate in a gray area of the law. The Washington voters legalized medical marijuana possession, but never provided for a clear legal mechanism for sick patients to obtain the drug. Not every sick cancer patient is able to tend to their own marijuana garden. Consequently patient cooperatives have sprung up, often acting in concert with activists. Most police agencies have held off raiding these dispensaries, but we only have to read yesterday’s Inlander article to see that the police are merely biding their time before further raids continue in Spokane. The truth is that the dispensaries are scared, and no dispensary is likely willing to refuse pay these bogus sales taxes to the Department of Revenue. The attorneys general that work with DOR can simply make a call to the criminal division of the Attorney General’s office to push for prosecution of dispensaries unwilling to pay these “taxes.” No dispensary wants to be the one to stand out and risk criminal charges. To put it another way, the uncertainty in the law makes these dispensaries susceptible to a form of blackmail. Revenue projections calculated by the The Inlander amounted to millions of dollars Olympia is getting from these patient cooperatives. This “sales tax” in turn will be passed on sick patients who can scarcely afford to pay more for their medicine.

You have to wonder also about the legality of collecting sales tax for an activity that is still in violation of federal law. Generally speaking, just because an activity is illegal does not mean that it is tax exempt. However, in the case of Marchetti v. United States (1968), the U.S. Supreme Court held that certain regulations that required the reporting and tracking of the activity for revenue purposes amounted to a violation of the right against self-incrimination.

Why is Washington trying to impose a sales tax on medical marijuana dispensaries when the State of California does not? The dispensaries in California seems to be a little more confident that they will not be raided, and enjoy more protection under their State law. They would be more willing to fight such a state action in my opinion. In Washington, Mike Gowrylow, a spokesperson for the Department of Revenue, explained “right now, every buck counts”. Quite simply the State is hungry for revenue from all sources. In my experience as an attorney who has defended clients from the Department of Revenue, the State often seems to come up with “creative” ways to apply taxes during economic downturns. One time I represented a client who received an assessment for taxes under questionable circumstances. We indicated out intention to fight it and appealed. About 6 months through the process, the Department just dropped the issue, apparently moving on to easier targets.

What do you think about this subject? Should these dispensaries have to pay sales tax? Do you think that all the dispensaries in Spokane will comply? Will these tax payments help legitimize these co-ops? Will more dispensaries be raided as the Spokane police have threatened?

Marijuana Causes Schizophrenia (In Washington State Government)

Remember last summer when scientists released a new study claiming to link marijuana use with schizophrenia? See e.g. Reuters article.  Let’s face it, it is the government that has the split personality disorder when it comes to marijuana laws.  Can someone explain to me why there is a mandatory one day in jail for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in an amount under 40 grams (RCW 69.50.425), but a judge is not obligated to impose any jail for a person convicted of the felony of possession over 40 grams?  See page III-279 of State Sentencing Guidelines Manual. How about the huge disparities in the way in which marijuana laws are enforced from county to county and city to city?  For example the Seattle city attorney announced this year that he was not going to prosecute any misdemeanor marijuana cases period.  See source.   But in most rural counties of eastern Washington, marijuana enforcement is still in full effect.  In metropolitan areas of Washington, large medical marijuana dispensaries are tolerated, but in rural eastern Washington things are different.  Small-time medical marijuana grows are routinely raided in Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties.  A new medical marijuana clinic in Okanogan County will soon be held (see story) – I guess we will see how that goes over.

As a criminal defense lawyer it is becoming harder and harder to explain to clients that there is any sense to the system.  Under federal law, even a first-time charge of simple possession of marijuana is enough disqualify a young person from eligibility for student loans.  In Washington, proposed Initiative 1068 would legalize possession of small quantities of marijuana.  This initiative would be on the ballot next year.  But would such an initiative really pass in Washington State if a similar initiative just failed in California?  I think people are getting discouraged about any change in the marijuana laws here in Washington State.

What do you think about the disparities in enforcement?  Do you think the initiative 1068 will pass next year?

Inexpensive Drone Technology Threatens Privacy

I was looking at the Spring/Summer issue of Mac|Life this week, and was a little blown away at the announcement that private drones would soon be available to “surveil you’re enemies from above.”   If you ever tried an old remote-control helicopter, you know that they are shaky and unreliable, and often crash.  This new flying machine is a quadricopter (four rotors), and comes equipped with two video cameras.  You control the drone with your iphone, and it streams the video back to your screen.  Check out this YouTube clip for an idea of how it works:

You have to wonder about the writers at Mac|Life who suggested that this invention is the “best app ever”.  Mac|Life’s adoring “review” of this product has no thoughtful discussion of its potential for abuse.  It is one thing to understand theoretically that the C.I.A. can read a license plate off of your car, or to know that Google Earth has a grainy photo of your backyard online.  But it is another thing entirely for the geeky neighbor kid to be flying this around outside your second story window.  It is one thing to be “watched” from above, and another thing to be watched from all sides.

I remember in law school learning about the legal principle that states that a property owner owns his or her parcel all the way from the center of the earth up to the heavens.  I looked this principle up again today, and the notion dates back to William Blackstone, who in 1766 wrote  it in Latin: “Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad caelum et ad inferos.”  So is it trespassing to fly this over your neighbors house and spy on him?  As with most laws in Washington, the RCW code takes a while to catch up on new technology.  Example:  In July 21st, 2000, a perv named Richard Sorrells ran around Seattle Center with a mini-video recorder in his hand that he pointed up girls skirts.  He was arrested, but he beat the charges because he never actually touched the girls, and there was no law that prohibited such filming.    Well, it took about three years, but the slow-pokes in our state legislature finally figured out video cameras were now smaller than a Super 8 mm.  On May 12th, 2003 the legislature enacted RCW 9A.44.115 which made such filming a felony.  How long will it take for the legislature to prohibit someone from buzzing a drone through your yard while you are having a barbecue?

Would it be permissible for the police to fly a drone over your garden to look for marijuana plants growing?  It will be interesting to see how how this develops.   Basically, under Washington law, the police are allowed to fly over your house and look for marijuana gardens.  The State Supreme Court ruled in State v. Wilson (1999) that such a flight does not invade a persons privacy as long as the planes comply with the FAA rule that fixed-wing aircraft remain at an altitude of 500 feet.   Currently, the only marijuana-spotting drones in use by law enforcement in the U.S. are in Northern California.  There, the Forest Service uses drones to look for large marijuana gardens on public lands.  Under law, an individual has a lesser expectation of privacy while on public land, than at his home.  In Europe however, the police have begun to use drones to fly-over and observe activities on private property.   The police in the U.K. used a drone to catch a car thief, before being told such use was not allowed without a permit by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority.  See story.  In the Netherlands, the police have begun using drones to look for marijuana grows.  See video:

Is it just me or is this drone technology pretty scary? Where are we going to be in 5 or 10 years on this issue? What do you think?

Criminal Defense Lawyers Challenge "Green Tongue" Phenomenon in Drug DUI Cases

In the last ten years, police in Washington State have paid a lot more attention to the problem of drugged drivers.  A rookie cop can detect a driver who has drank too much alcohol, but it takes a little training and experience to determine if a driver has been using controlled substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana or prescription pills.   After completing certain training, an officer can become a Drug Recognition Expert or “DRE”.   We have many such DRE’s here in Washington, especially in Spokane.  The problem is that people are catching on that the so-called drug recognition “experts” really are basing their opinions on many things we do not really recognize as science.  Take for example, the green tongue phenomenon.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns of the following characteristics of a marijuana DUI: “… characteristic indicators may include odor of marijuana in car or on subject’s breath, marijuana debris in mouth, green coating of tongue, bloodshot eyes, body and eyelid tremors, relaxed inhibitions, incomplete thought process, and poor performance on field sobriety tests.”  Criminal defense lawyers are not the only ones questioning the validity of this “green tongue” thing.  The Washington Court of Appeals also questioned whether a green tongue establishes probable cause for anything.  The court agreed with the defense lawyer that no probable cause existed, explaining:

Trooper Lane contends that a green tongue is indicative of recent marijuana use. Even assuming he is correct, the absence of any other indicators of recent marijuana usage, combined with the many innocuous ways to get a green tongue, indicate a lack of reasonable suspicion.  Although we assume the officer’s assertion to be true for purposes of this opinion, we are nevertheless skeptical as to its accuracy. We find no case stating that recent marijuana usage leads to a green tongue. The only case we could find that remotely supports such a proposition is State v. Baity, 140 Wn.2d 1, 991 P.2d 1151 (2000), wherein the opinion’s fact section mentions that the defendant, who had admitted to recent marijuana usage, also had a green tongue. Beyond this observation, however, the court never analyzes whether the green tongue and the recent marijuana usage are linked. And the officer who made the observation does not assert a connection between the two.

To you non-lawyers out there, that is the Court of Appeals basically politely telling the Washington State Patrol DRE’s that they are full of baloney.  These “experts” are often very well-trained and seemingly professional, and can be very convincing to jurors.  I defended a drug DUI one time where a DRE from Okanogan County claimed he had probable cause to believe that the driver was under the influence of marijuana.  The DRE wrote in his report:

“He had raised taste buds on the back of his tongue with a green coating on his tongue.  His lips were burnt and crusty on top and bottom lips.  … His thumb and index fingers of both hands were discolored.  The discoloration on his fingers and lips was consistent with holding hot smoking pipes.”

This seemed a little fishy to me, and I eagerly awaited the toxicological report on the blood test.  The results indicated that there was absolutely no marijuana (even in trace amounts) in this driver’s blood.  Instead there was methadone found in the drivers blood, just as it was found in his car.

Is there any system of accountability for the DRE’s out there?  Is anyone keeping track of all the times the DRE’s got it wrong?   The Supreme Court in Utah is also catching on.  In a court opinion State v. Hechtle, they explained:

We are troubled by the trooper’s reliance on the appearance of Hechtle’s tongue as dispositive proof of marijuana use. Even if we were persuaded to accept the State’s position that the condition of Hechtle’s eyes and tongue are presumptively suggestive of marijuana use, nothing in the record indicates either how long these conditions are sustained or how long measurable quantities of marijuana remains in the system as required by the statute.

So, I guess in some sense, the system is working – courts are catching on.  But on the other hand, what other aspects of DRE “science” are slipping past us all?

Uncertainty in Law Fuels Reform Movement for Marijuana

In Washington, a person with proper documentation from a physician can legally possess marijuana, right?  It isn’t that simple.   The State Supreme Court essentially said this month that even if you possess the valid certificate from a doctor, the police can still search your house and still arrest you.  The certificate can only be brought up later in court to defend you.  See decision In a case out of  Stevens County, Washington, the sheriffs deputies approached the home of Jason and Tina Fry and smelled marijuana from the front porch.   Tina Fry presented proof of medical authorization, but the police obtained a warrant anyway.  As you would expect, marijuana was found in the home.  The Frys’ criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss and to have the search thrown out of court.  The Stevens County judge denied the lawyer’s motion to suppress the evidence.   The Frys’ defense lawyer appealed all the way up to the State Supreme Court.  There the court explained:

A police officer would have probable cause to believe Fry committed a crime when the officer smelled marijuana emanating from the Frys’ residence. Fry presented the officer with documentation purporting to authorize his use of marijuana. Nevertheless, the authorization only created a potential affirmative defense that would excuse the criminal act. The authorization does not, however, result in making the act of possessing and using marijuana noncriminal or negate any elements of the charged offense. Therefore, based on the information of a marijuana growing operation and the strong odor of marijuana when the officers approached the Frys’ home, a reasonable inference was established that criminal activity was taking place in the Frys’ residence. Therefore, the officers had probable cause and the search warrant was properly obtained.

The ruling essentially says that medical marijuana is not legal; rather it is illegal until you go to court and present a defense.  Is that clear?  Unfortunately not.  Another similar area of the law was fought out in December in King County Superior Court.  Aaron Pelley, a Seattle criminal defense lawyer, won a legal challenge on behalf of Scott Verner, a medical marijuana patient.   During a routine traffic stop, a state trooper smelled the marijuana in Verner’s car and searched it even though Verner produced a doctor’s authorization.  Attorney Aaron Pelley took the State to court and won a groundbreaking case that forced the police to return the marijuana.  I am sure the police considered that quite an indignity.  But, it is probably also  an indignity for sick medical marijuana patients to stand by the side of the road when their cars are searched.  The article made news nationally, and is available here.

Are marijuana patients and criminal defense lawyers the only ones who are fed up with the confusion in the law?  Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Gary Burleson also seems fed up.  “I don’t have a problem with marijuana being legal, and I don’t have a problem with it being illegal,” Burleson said. “But right now, I have a big problem understanding what’s legal and what’s not.”  See story.

See prior post on medical marijuana.

What do you think?  Was the Supreme Court’s ruling correct?  The court seemed to take a narrow view of the law and a literal reading of the earlier initiative authorizing medical use.  Is the new initiative more clear?  What can we look forward to from the courts in the future?  Doesn’t it seem like the police are reluctant to fully respect the medical marijuana law?  What will their reaction be to the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana?

Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
Law Office of Steve Graham
1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 252-9167
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