Dutch to reschedule high-potency cannabis
The Dutch government announced Oct. 7 that it will reclassify high-potency cannabis, placing it in the same category as hard drugs, asserting that THC levels have dramatically increased over the past generation. The move means coffee shops will be required to remove the popular potent varieties from their shelves. Dutch politicians say high-strength “skunk” strains are more dangerous than cannabis of a generation ago. Economic Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen said that in the future, anything containing more than 15% THC will be treated the same as cocaine and ecstasy. Critics said the new move will encourage users to smoke larger amounts of the milder strains, actually causing greater health risk.
Mexico: another Sinaloa Cartel kingpin busted —but still not El Chapo
Noel Salgueiro Nevarez AKA “El Flaco” (Skinny), the Sinaloa Cartel's top boss in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, was captured by army troops Oct. 5 in Culiacán, Sinaloa, in what authorities called a precise operation with no shots fired. El Flaco's arrest “affects the leadership structure, as well as the operational capabilities” of the Sinaloa network in Chihuahua, the Defense Secretariat and Prosecutor General’s office said in a joint statement. He is said to be the leader of a criminal gang called the Gente Nueva (New People), which serves as a local enforcement arm of the Sinaloa Cartell in Chihuahua. However, the cartel's maximum boss, Joaquín Guzmán AKA "El Chapo" (Shorty), still remains at large.
That same day, Martín Rosales Magaña AKA “El Terry”—identified as a founder of La Familia Michoacana—was detained by Federal Police in the state of México. Authorities say that with his arrest, La Familia is effectively dismantled, with its top leaders either in prison or dead. This is also seen as a blow against Los Zetas narco-network, which had established La Familia as local proxies in Michoacán state.
La Familia and Los Zetas were said to be fighting a network calling itself the Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar, for control of several key cities in Michoacán and neighboring states. Federal authorities say they will now focus their efforts in the region on taking down the Knights Templar.
A similar struggle appears to be underway in another western state, Jalisco. According to Luis Carlos Najera Gutierrez, Jalisco secretary of public security, Los Zetas have forged an alliance with the local Milenio Cartel. Apparently resisting the Zetas and Milenio Cartel is the Jalisco Cartel—New Generation (CJNG), with the conflict claiming a growing number of lives in the Guadalajara area.
Mexico: Mata Zetas jack up Veracruz body count
Another 32 bodies were found in three houses in the Mexican port city of Veracruz Oct. 7, the latest in a series of attacks on presumed members of Los Zetas narco-network by a rival group calling itself the Mata Zetas, or Zeta Killers. The Mata Zetas announced their existence in July, but made their presence known dramatically in September, leaving 35 bodies on a busy Veracruz highway during rush hour traffic. They later claimed responsibility for the massacre in a video posted to the Internet, in which hooded men presenting themselves as if at a press conference urged Veracruz residents to say “no” to extortion and intimidation by the Zetas. But authorities say they believe the Mata Zetas are an arm of the New Generation cartel, which is resisting Zeta control of smuggling routes.
Mexico: “walked” US guns found at cartel enforcer's home
Forty of the firearms that Mexican police seized on April 30 at the home of an alleged drug trafficker in Ciudad Juárez turn out to be among the 2,000 weapons that reached Mexico as a result of the US government's bungled “Operation Fast and Furious.” The house, which was empty when police arrived, belonged to José Antonio Torres Marrufo, considered by US authorities a top enforcer for the Sinaloa Cartell. The weapons were bought legally in Phoenix, Ariz., then taken to El Paso, Tex., and smuggled across the border to Juárez.
Fast and Furious was an effort by the US Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to catch suspected gun smugglers by letting rifles “walk” after they were purchased instead of arresting the purchasers immediately. But ATF agents lost track of some 2,000 weapons, which apparently got into Mexico. Officials assume the weapons have been used in the fighting that has led to some 40,000 deaths in the last five years. “These Fast and Furious guns were going to Sinaloans, and they are killing everyone down there,” an unidentified “US government source” told the Los Angeles Times.
“Cannabis Libraries” proliferate in violence-torn Mexico
A park in Mexico City sports a small book stall known as the Biblioteca Canábica, or the Cannabis Library—part of an attempt by civil society groups to disseminate reliable information about illegal drugs for parents, teachers and youth. “We want a healthier relationship with drugs,” Carlos Zamudio, director of the Cannabis Library project, told the Christian Science Monitor. “[T]he relationship we have now has brought us problems with violence and health. A healthier relationship requires regulating drugs in a different way.”
The first Cannabis Library was launched in 2003, and there are now six locations across Mexico City, with a seventh recently opened in Puebla. All told, the project boasts a collection of some 600 books. Thhe Cannabis Libraries have facetiously dubbed their campaign "LSD"—an acronym for the Spanish phrase “leer sobre drogas,” or "read about drugs."
Peru: ton of cocaine seized in Sendero stronghold
Peru's National Police report the seizure of nearly a ton of cocaine, after two operations coordinated with the army in the conflicted Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE)—stronghold of the remnant Shining Path guerillas, now said to be working with local narco gangs. Two cocaine laboratories were also destroyed in the raids.
On Sept. 14, two soldiers were killed when Shining Path guerillas fired on an army helicopter in the VRAE. The guerillas attacked just as troops were entering the transport helicopter after a ground patrol. The pilot, although wounded, was able to fly the helicopter to safety, with 20 surviving troops onboard. The attack was followed by an announcement that the military would deploy three more engineering battalions to the area, to improve infrastructure in order to facilitate military patrols. Authorities are planning to build 600 kilometers of road in an effort to both consolidate military control and stimulate the legal economy as an alternative to coca cultivation in the jungle enclave.
Iran's Quds Force contracts Zetas to kill Saudi ambassador in DC?
The US Justice Department on Oct. 11 announced charges against two men allegedly working for “factions of the Iranian government” with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, and to attack Saudi embassies. The indictment, unsealed in federal court in Manhattan, identified the two as Manssor Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American car dealer in Corpus Christi, Tex., and Gholam Shakuri, apparently Arbabsiar's cousin. Attorney General Eric Holder said Arbabsiar, who was arrested in New York, was working for Iran's Revolutionary Guard and had confessed to the plot. Shakuri, who is based in Iran, remains at large, Holder said. He allegedly is a member of the Quds Force, a special unit of the Revolutionary Guard. Holder said the case started when Arbabsiar made contact with an undercover DEA informant in Mexico and asked for assistance from Los Zetas to assassinate the ambassador by blowing up a restaurant he frequents. Arbabsiar allegedly wired $100,000 to the informant as a down payment on a $1.5 million assassination fee.
Los Zetas are by far the most blood-drenched of Mexico's warring cartels. However, since the lynchpin in this case appears to be “an undercover DEA informant,” it is quite possible that no actual Zetas were involved at all. It is also possible that DEA and/or FBI plants facilitated or even hatched the entire plot—the latest in a long string of specious terrorism cases in which the supposed “conspiracy” is entirely a creation of federal agents.
Oregon DEA raids spark protests
For the third time in as many weeks, DEA agents raided a Southern Oregon medical cannabis grow Oct. 14. Homeowner Clifford Ruhland said the 100-plant operation in Central Point was in compliance with state law. The plants were confiscated, but no arrests made. Ruhland expressed his exasperation to local KDRV: “From my personal perspective it's kind of like... why are you even here? Isn't there something more important, that's affecting people's lives in a real important way, than being here right now?” Medical advocates gathered outside the property when news broke of the raid.
Local organizations including the Southern Oregon Cannabis Community Center held a more formal protest at the courthouse in Medford Oct. 19. “I feel like if most of us knew what was happening there would be a much bigger uprising,” said protest organizer Andrea Adams.
Oregon landlord and insurance agent Keith Rogers is protesting that some 30 DEA agents broke down doors on his five houses in Gold Hill Sept. 29, pointed guns at his wife, uprooted hundreds of plants and seized shotguns, cell phones and a tractor. He says he made sure the 20 people he allowed to grow cannabis on his property had checked out under Oregon's medical marijuana law. If state agents had searched his properties, “they would have happily drove off and did nothing,” he told the AP. Instead, “it was strictly DEA. They are throwing their weight around and saying the voters of Oregon don't have any rights.”
Although no arrests were made, residents charge abusive and humiliating behavior. Grower James Anderson said one neighbor was hauled outside in her bra and panties and handcuffed in view of the freeway nearby.
Crisis in New Mexico law enforcement
New Mexico law enforcement has been mired in a relentless barrage of headline-grabbing scandals across the state in recent months. Angelo Vega, the former police chief of the border town of Columbus, pleaded guilty to extortion and trafficking arms destined for La Linea criminal organization, one of the protagonists in the Mexican drug wars. At Albuquerque's iconic Frontier Restaurant on historic Route 66, a Bernalillo County sheriff got involved in a dispute over a table that ended with the officer’s friend, a former Texas deputy, pulling a gun on an unarmed man. The deputy was fired but not before a video showing the confrontation got ample play on the Internet. In separate trials in September, an Albuquerque cop got six months in jail for tipping off a friend who was the subject of a federal drug investigation. And a former Santa Fe County sheriff began serving a three-month jail sentence for stealing department equipment and peddling it on E-Bay.
In August, the Albuquerque city council passed a bill calling for a federal Justice Department investigation into the scandals—but Republican Mayor Richard Berry promptly vetoed it. The Justice Department is still considering whether to conduct a civil rights investigation of the Albuquerque police, a department spokesperson told Frontera NorteSur news service.
US attorneys threaten California dispensaries at Sacto press conference
The four United States attorneys for California came together at a Sacramento press conference Oct. 7 to announce that they intend to move against landlords who rent space to storefront operators of medicinal cannabis dispensaries. Breaking with past practice, they actually addressed the state's medical marijuana law—only to say that it is being abused by a fast-growing cannabis industry. “This is not what the California voters intended or authorized,” said André Birotte Jr., US attorney for the Los Angeles-based Central District. “It is illegal under California law.”
“While California law permits collective cultivation of marijuana in limited circumstances, it does not allow commercial distribution through the store-front model we see across California,” Birotte said. “It's the new California gold rush. There's an epidemic of these marijuana stores.”
The press conference comes days after several dispensaries and their landlords received letters from the US attorneys warning of impending prosecution and property seizures.
“It's a tremendous shift for them to say they are going to do this," said Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project. "But for now it is still threats. Until we start seeing the shutdowns themselves, it’s hard to know what it means more than rhetoric."
“They are really pushing people into the illicit market,” warned Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. “This is federal interference for thousands of patients in the state.”
California's Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a staunch conservative on most issues, said in response to the threats that the Justice Department enforcement strategy is “a waste of scarce federal resources,” underscoring “the need for Congress to pass HR 1983, the States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act.” HR 1983 would reclassify medical marijuana at the federal level and allow states to develop, implement and enforce their own laws.
Feds threaten California dispensaries with imminent closure
Federal prosecutors in early October warned several California cannabis dispensaries they must close in 45 days or face criminal charges and confiscation of their property. At least 16 dispensaries or their landlords received letters stating that they are in violation of federal law. The Associated Press obtained copies of the letters that a prosecutor sent to 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 US 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.”
Greg Anton, attorney for dispensary Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax—the state's oldest—said its landlord received an “extremely threatening” letter Oct. 5 from Melinda Haag, US attorney for the Northern District of California. The letter invoked a federal law imposing additional penalties for selling drugs within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds. The landlord was ordered to evict or risk 40 years imprisonment, as well as forfeiture of the property and all rent collected while the dispensary has been in business.
The San Diego dispensaries put on notice were the same 12 that city officials sued in September for operating illegally, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said. A judge on Oct. 5 ordered nine of the targeted shops to close, while the other three shut down voluntarily, Goldsmith said. Goldsmith added that US Attorney Duffy planned to issue warning letters to property owners and all of the 180 or so dispensaries that have proliferated in San Diego.
California Medical Association calls for cannabis legalization
Trustees of the California Medical Association, representing more than 35,000 physicians statewide, on Oct. 14 adopted a position calling for legalization of cannabis at their annual meeting in Anaheim—becoming the first major medical association in the nation to do so.
The CMA acknowledges some health risk associated with cannabis use and proposes that it be regulated under a system similar to that for alcohol and tobacco. But it holds that the consequences of criminalization outweigh the hazards. Dr. Donald Lyman, the Sacramento physician who wrote the group's new policy, said current laws have “proven to be a failed public health policy.” He cited increased prison costs, the impact on families when cannabis users are imprisoned, and racial disparities in drug sentencing.
Cannabis advocates protest Obama's San Francisco visit
Supporters of California's medical marijuana laws protested the Department of Justice crackdown on dispensaries and providers when President Barack Obama came to visit San Francisco on Oct 25. Demonstrators rallied outside the at the Hotel W in the SoMa district. California NORML is denouncing the DoJ crackdown as a bankrupt attack on state and local medical cannabis laws. “Contrary to DoJ claims that they are targeting abusive profiteers, their list of targets includes some of the most respected and best regulated facilities in the state,” stated Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer.
Feds to target California media outlets for cannabis ads
Federal prosecutors warn they are preparing to target newspapers, radio stations and other media outlets that advertise medical marijuana dispensaries in California. US Attorney Laura E. Duffy, whose district includes Imperial and San Diego counties, said cannabis advertising is the next area she's “going to be moving onto as part of the enforcement efforts in Southern California.” Duffy said she could not speak for the three other US attorneys in the state but stressed that their efforts have been coordinated so far.
“I'm not just seeing print advertising,” Duffy said in an interview with KQED Radio. “I'm actually hearing radio and seeing TV advertising. It's gone mainstream. Not only is it inappropriate—one has to wonder what kind of message we're sending to our children—it's against the law.”
Federal law prohibits people from placing ads for illegal drugs in “any newspaper, magazine, handbill or other publication.” The law could also extend to online ads. The US Justice Department recently won a $500 million settlement from Google for selling ads linking to online Canadian pharmacies.
Duffy said her effort against media outlets would first entail “going after these folks with...notification that they are in violation of federal law.” But she noted that she also has the power to seize property or prosecute in civil and criminal court.
William G. Panzer, an attorney who specializes in marijuana defense cases, told California Watch that the law targets anyone who “places” an illegal ad in a newspaper or publication. The penalty for a first offense is a maximum four years in prison and eight years for someone with a prior felony conviction. Nevertheless, Panzer said “the statute is not entirely clear” on whether newspapers as opposed to advertisers can be charged. Newspapers could argue that they have a First Amendment right to run the ads, and any “prior restraint” before publication is itself illegal. Additionally, the law makes an exception for ads that advocate the use of illegal drugs but don't explicitly offer them for sale or distribution.
Duffy made clear she believes the law gives her the right to prosecute media outlets. “If I own a newspaper...or I own a TV station, and I'm going to take in your money to place these ads, I'm the person who is placing these ads,” Duffy said. "I am willing to read [the law] expansively and if a court wants to more narrowly define it, that would be up to the court.”
Evictions close Orange County dispensaries
Eviction notices from local and federal authorities shut down eight cannabis dispensaries in Orange County's Lake Forest in mid-October, after years of litigation over zoning and more than $600,000 in legal fees. The dispensaries, in suites on the second floor of a strip mall, included Lake Forest Patients Group, Pharmers' Choice, Cannabis Permanente, Evergreen Holistic, Cooperative, Florentina Organic, Independent Collective of Orange County and The Health Collective.
More than 100 patients, caregivers and dispensary owners attended the Lake Forest City Council meeting Oct. 18 to demand the dispensaries be reopened, according to the Orange County Register. “This is serious,” Kandice Hawes, director of Orange County NORML, told the OC Register. “It's the end of the line. It wasn't right for them to call in the federal government. It's inappropriate to take something that is state law, and make it illegal. You're driving people onto the streets. Why aren't you protecting us?"
Oakland's Harborside Health Center owes IRS $2 million in back taxes
The IRS in early October ordered Oakland's Harborside Health Center, biggest cannabis dispensary on the West Coast, to pay $2 million in taxes, ruling that the collective may not deduct standard expenses such as payroll and rent. “They're attempting to tax us out of business,” protested owner Steve DeAngelo. Ironically, the same day he received the IRS letter, DeAngelo was photographed handing the Oakland treasury a $360,000 check—third installment of $1 million in city taxes Harborside generated in 2010.
Oakland's four dispensaries pay a 5% tax to the city on top of regular sales taxes. That special tax contributes about $2 million to city's budget. DeAngelo said that is money that Oakland cannot afford to lose. “It's not just Harborside that's under threat here.”
Harborside's audit began two years ago and covered its 2007 and 2008 tax filings. The dispensary paid the IRS a total of $500,000 in those years, and the IRS did not dispute Harborside's record keeping. The agency did deny $2 million in deductions Harborside claimed both years for security, lab testing, licensing fees and employee health insurance, among other things. Harborside has also been hit with a penalty of nearly $400,000, DeAngelo said. The agency based the decision on the fact that Harborside provides medical cannabis, a substance that remains illegal under federal laws.
The IRS ruling further complicates Oakland's pursuit of more tax dollars from large-scale cannabis cultivation for the medical market. It also has DeAngelo concerned about the future of Harborside, which opened in 2007. DeAngelo told the Oakland Tribune that his dispensary may not be around to pay next year's taxes if the federal government continues to tighten the noose around the medicinal cannabis industry.
DEA raids Mendocino's Northstone Organics
Northstone Organics, a dispensary in Mendocino County's Redwood Valley, was raided by federal agents Oct. 13, in a move that sparked outrage across Northern California's Emerald Triangle. “They came in, guns blazing,” Northstone Organics owner Matthew Cohen said of the early morning raid, although it does not appear any shots were fired. “They calmed down and were pleasant at the end, but they came in with machine guns.”
Cohen and his wife were handcuffed for hours as agents searched the premises, seizing 99 plants, computers and testing equipment. He said the agents threatened to file federal charges against him, although no arrests were made.
Cohen noted the “insane irony” of the situation, telling the Ukiah Daily Journal, “We actually are a legitimate not-for-profit corporation... We worked with the county to get where we are, and there are illegal growers all around us. We fell under what the US Justice Department said was the threshold for prosecution,” generally 100 plants.
“This is a systematic federal terror campaign,” said Charlie Custer, co-founder of both the Tea House Collective cannabis coop and the Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel, a policy group that has worked closely with the Humboldt County Planning Commission. He told the North Coast Journal he believes the actions of the federal prosecutors are politically motivated. “They absolutely do not want to see any states voting for legalization in 2012. That’s what this is all about.”
Two employees of Northstone Organics, meanwhile, face charges in Sonoma County Superior Court of transporting and possessing cannabis for sale. Daniel Harwood of Willits and Timothy Tangney of Lucerne were stopped twice in October by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who smelled cannabis and seized about three pounds they were reportedly delivering to patients in the Bay Area. Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen and Sgt. Randy Johnson, who oversees the cannabis permit program at the sheriff's department, have been subpoenaed by the men's defense attorney, and were quoted as supporting the cooperative.
Other county authorities are being more distanced. “Law enforcement officers do not support or defend the illegal growing, manufacture, transportation or distribution of marijuana,” according to a joint statement from the Mendocino County Law Enforcement Managers Association and Deputy Sheriff's Association.
Fort Collins to vote on dispensaries
Conservative community groups have launched a ballot initiative to ban cannabis dispensaries in Fort Collins—the only Northern Colorado city that allows dispensaries to operate, under state and local restrictions. Supporters of Question 300, which will be on the ballot Nov. 1, say the dispensaries have made cannabis too available and are increasing crime. A coalition of dispensary owners and patients argues that closing dispensaries would push more growing operations into residential areas, take tax revenue away from the city, and put about 200 locals out of work.
Two dispensaries—Choice Organics and Flower Power Botanicals—operate just outside Fort Collins city limits in unincorporated Larimer County. The dispensaries are the only two to receive approval from the county after going through its land-use review process. The county banned dispensaries in 2010 but allowed those that had applied for consideration before the ban to complete the review process. Flower Power owner Peter Verchick spoke against the For Collins ban. “There might be an increase in business, but I can't take care of that many patients,” Verchick told the Coloradoan. “I don't have the capacity, and I'm limited on the number of patients I can have by Larimer County.”
Fort Collins cannabis workers vote to unionize
Workers at seven Fort Collins cannabis dispensaries officially affiliated Oct. 17 with Colorado's largest labor union in an effort to further legitimize and protect the medical marijuana industry. Union organizers said an “overwhelmingly” large majority of the Fort Collins workers voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), making Colorado the second state in the US, after California, where some cannabis industry workers have formally unionized.
“Medicinal cannabis is a commercial-production-for-human-consumption industry, and UFCW is the commercial-production-for-human-consumption union,” Dan Rush, international director of the UFCW's Medical Cannabis and Hemp Industry Division, told the Denver Post. “Our medicinal-cannabis members have just as much dignity and sincerity as our members in the grocery, meat, dairy, food-processing and agricultural industries,” he said.
For further details and updates on these stories, please see Global Ganja Report (globalganjareport.com)
Veteran journalist Bill Weinberg is the former news editor of High Times magazine and now producer of the websites Global Ganja Report (globalganjareport.com), monitoring the global war on cannabis, and World War 4 Report, monitoring the global “war on terrorism.” His books include Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso, 2000) and Cannabis Trips: A Global Guide that Leaves No Turn Unstoned (Ivy Group, 2010).