California, Fresno

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California, Fresno

Postby Midnight toker » Mon Jun 19, 2006 2:58 pm

The Fresno Bee wrote:Ill inmate denied herbs

Medical marijuana pioneer is in Fresno Co. jail with HIV.
By John Ellis / The Fresno Bee

(Updated Monday, June 19, 2006, 5:20 AM)

For 15 years, Joe Fortt has lived with the human immunodeficiency virus, staying healthy, he says, with a self-prescribed combination of garlic, walnut, wormwood, ginseng, ginko, aloe vera, multivitamins – and marijuana.

Fortt, 43, has spent the last 11 months locked up in the Fresno County Jail, slowly dying from the ravages of the HIV virus, he said, because he has been denied his herbal treatment.

"I can tell by the way I feel I'm not getting any better," he said in a jailhouse interview. "In another six months, I won't have an immune system left anymore."

Already, the T-cells in Fortt's blood – which measure the immune system's effectiveness – have dropped from once fairly healthy levels to a point that many consider the threshold of AIDS, both Fortt and his supporters say.

Fresno County's health officer, Dr. Edward Moreno, said he could not discuss the health information of any individual jail inmate, or even verify that a certain individual is in the facility.

Generally speaking, however, he said the county assesses each individual inmate, makes a diagnosis and develops a treatment plan that includes prescription medications. The inmate can't be forced to abide by the plan, he said.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Department and county health officials also have developed a policy that no outside drugs or medications are allowed into the jail, Moreno said.

"We have good reasons to do that," he says. "We cannot verify the authenticity of any substance brought into the jail, and even if we can, we cannot verify the dosage." A high dosage, he said, could harm an inmate.

Fortt was diagnosed with HIV in 1991. A decade ago, he was given five years to live, he said.

After he experienced adverse reactions to antibiotics and traditional HIV drugs, he said he stumbled upon not only medical marijuana and other herbs that caused his health to rebound, but a kind of shock therapy delivered by batteries.

Dr. Daniel Blodgett, who has a family practice with offices in Oakhurst and Fresno that emphasizes alternative therapies, said there are no specific studies on Fortt's various herbal supplements that show they are effective for HIV.

However, Blodgett said, there is research evidence showing garlic is effective at killing bacteria and viruses.

He said walnut and wormwood are both "hopeful" for clearing up parasite infections, ginseng is a general immune system booster, ginko supports circulation and aloe vera is effective at healing damaged mucus linings of the stomach and intestines. But Blodgett is not aware of studies showing that any of those herbal remedies help viruses, boost the immune system or kill viruses.

"Vitamin use has been shown in studies clearly to prolong the disease-free progression of AIDS, so that's probably the one that works best for what he's doing," Blodgett said.

In early 2003, Fortt made a foray into the business of medical marijuana, opening Kern County's first medical cannabis dispensary, the American Kenpo Kung Fu School of Public Health. By February 2005, Fortt had 300 patients and hopes of opening a second dispensary in Clovis.

His Bakersfield-area operation served 300 patients, he said at the time, which allowed him under state law to have 1,800 mature plants.

At the time, state medical-marijuana activists and the federal government were tussling – as they had been since California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996 – over the use of marijuana.

The initiative permitted seriously ill people to – with a doctor's recommendation – use marijuana without fear of prosecution under state law. Ten other states followed California's lead.

In 2002, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stopped the Bush administration from prosecuting Oakland resident Angel Raich – who used marijuana to fight chronic pain – as well as her suppliers.

A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision. The following day, federal agents raided Fortt's dispensary.

Less than a month later – on July 20, 2005 – Fortt was arrested in Bakersfield. He was charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and locked up in the Fresno County Jail at the request of the U.S. Marshal's Office. No bail has been set.

Auberry-area attorney William McPike, who doesn't represent Fortt but has represented other medical marijuana patients and dispensers, said Fortt did not break the law. He said the charges against him are based on evidence collected before the Supreme Court's decision, at which time Fortt was not breaking any law.

"He locked the door on his clinic the day of the [Supreme Court's] Raich decision," he says. "He washed his hands of everything, and they still came in after him."

McPike added that others may have continued cultivating marijuana that agents had earlier allegedly tied to Fortt, but he was not a part of that operation.

A federal arrest complaint lists several facets of an investigation ongoing before the Supreme Court decision a year ago, but also said marijuana was growing on land that Fortt had earlier said he was leasing after the decision.

Joycelyn Barnes, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, responded to McPike's statements Friday, saying: "If [Fortt's] been arrested, he will make his way through the courts and the judicial system will speak for itself."

In the meantime, Fortt was denied bail after his arrest for several reasons, including the seriousness of the crime, that he had no family in the area and no substantial financial resources, according to federal documents. Fortt is a Canadian citizen.

When his T-cell levels were taken last September, they were at 366, said Fresno resident Mark Stout, who is a friend of Fortt. A level over 500 is considered symptom-free.

Fortt did not make a Jan. 17 status hearing before U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii because he was in the hospital. While there, he discovered his T-cell count had dropped to 154, below what many consider an AIDS threshold level of 200.

Twice, Fortt has been before Ishii, pursuing a motion to force the jail to allow the herbal regimen. Ishii denied the motion, but during both hearings, said he would have his staff call the jail to see if some accommodation could be made.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Servatius, who is prosecuting the case, said the criminal case against Fortt is not the proper venue for his medications motion.

There are other avenues, she said, that should be used for such complaints.

Fortt's attorney, Daniel Harralson, said law enforcement authorities should not stand in the way of Fortt's medication wishes.

"Even if it doesn't do him any good, what's the harm in letting him have it?" Harralson says. "What government purpose is served by saying you can't have these holistic cures?"

Fortt faces a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence if convicted. It will be, supporters say, a death sentence – if he makes it to his scheduled August trial.

"He worked fundamentally to help heal other people," Stout said. "He believed so strongly in a broad range of homeopathic medicine – including medical cannabis – that because of the disconnect between state and federal laws he's found himself incarcerated in a criminal justice system where he's incapable of maintaining his own health."

The reporter can be reached at jellis@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6320.

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Legalizing Marijuana - A New Republican Strategy?

Postby Midnight toker » Fri Aug 04, 2006 4:35 pm

IndyBay - Central Valley wrote:Legalizing Marijuana - A New Republican Strategy?

Fri Aug 4 2006 (Modified 08/04/06)
IndyBay - Central Valley
Mike Rhodes

Signature Gatherer in Fresno Could Mislead People to Register Republican


Independent journalist Mike Rhodes reports that he was recently asked to sign a petition to legalize marijuana. "I don’t have to think twice and say 'sure, where do I sign?' That is when it got interesting." The young woman holding the clipboard asked him for his id, to "verify" his ID. As Rhodes filled out his name and address, he noticed that the woman was filling out a "very official looking form." Then, she asked him, "is it OK if I register you as a Republican?" Mike Rhodes did not want to re-register, in spite of the woman's statement that she would be paid an additional 10 cents if she registered him. He says, "I am repeatedly told that it is OK and that they just want to update my voter registration records. She also tells me that she is working for the Republican party, being paid hourly, and that the ploy about the '10 cent bonus' was not accurate."

"This Republican party employee goes on to tell me that she is there to attract people to the table that is set up in Fresno’s Courthouse Park, and that the legalize marijuana petition is just a prop. She confirmed that there is no ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. She said that the petition will be given to an elected official in Sacramento. I have my doubts about that." The woman called her "boss" over, and Mike told the man that he wanted to write a story about the petition campaign for the Community Alliance newspaper. The man refused to give Mike any information, or even a copy of the marijuana legalization petition. A photo of the petition shows that it not only calls for legalization of marijuana for medical use, "but for recreational use as well." It details no specifics about how this "legalization" would take place, or what it would consist of.

Victor Salazar, the Fresno County Clerk, said that the process sounded deceptive, and referred him to the Secretary of State fraud investigation unit. Mike was unable to reach anyone at the fraud investigation unit by phone, despite repeated calls.

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Fresno Co. inmate faces deportation

Postby palmspringsbum » Sun Dec 31, 2006 3:51 pm

The Fresno Bee wrote:Fresno Co. inmate faces deportation

<span class=postbigbold>Plea on pot charges would send HIV-positive man to Canada.</span>

By John Ellis / The Fresno Bee
12/19/06 04:13:24

Joseph Fortt, an HIV-positive medical marijuana user and activist who has languished for 17 months in the Fresno County Jail awaiting trial on drug charges, has reached a deal with prosecutors that will likely free him.

As part of the deal, however, Fortt will be deported to his native Canada, even though the 44-year-old has been in the United States since he was 2.

Still, his attorney hailed the agreement, and medical marijuana activists said Fortt might be able to resume an herbal regimen he has used to battle the HIV — including marijuana — in Canada.

Federal prosecutors "could have hammered him," said Fortt's attorney, Daniel Harralson. "Once they realized the situation, they were very compassionate and kind under the circumstances. He could have died in prison."

On Monday, Fortt pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii to conspiring to manufacture marijuana.

As part of a plea deal, federal prosecutors are recommending a significant reduction in his sentence because he "took steps to divest himself from the marijuana distribution and cultivation business" after a June 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming federal law that makes growing and distributing marijuana — even for medical purposes — illegal, because he agreed to leave the country and because of his "extraordinary medical condition which has reduced his life expectancy to only one to three years," the agreement states.

In addition, Harralson said, prosecutors dropped a weapons charge that carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.

Looking at federal sentencing guidelines — and with the government's recommendation that Fortt be sentenced to the low end of the guidelines — Harralson said Fortt's sentence should be 21 months. Taking credit for time served into account, Harralson said Fortt already has served more than his sentence and should be released immediately upon his sentencing.

But Fortt won't be released here in Fresno, Harralson said. What will happen, he said, is Fortt will be taken to the Canadian border by federal officials to be deported.

Fortt was arrested in Bakersfield on July 20, 2005, less than a month after the Supreme Court decision. He was charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and was locked up in the Fresno County Jail at the request of the U.S. Marshal's Office.

Fortt was diagnosed with HIV in 1991. As long as a decade ago, he was given five years to live, he has said.

After he experienced adverse reactions to antibiotics and traditional HIV drugs, he said he started using marijuana and other herbs that caused his health to rebound.

In addition to marijuana, Fortt used walnuts, wormwood, ginseng, ginko and aloe vera.

In early 2003, Fortt opened Kern County's first medical cannabis dispensary, the American Kenpo Kung Fu School of Public Health. By February 2005, he had 300 patients and hopes of opening a second dispensary in Clovis.

At that time, state medical-marijuana activists and the federal government were tussling — as they had been since California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996 — over the use of marijuana.

Then came the Supreme Court decision.

After Fortt's arrest, he was not allowed his herbal regimen in jail and, he said, his health deteriorated.

"Joe is not doing well, but you wouldn't expect him to be doing well even if he was getting treatment," Harralson said.

He added the one- to three-year life expectancy was a doctor's diagnosis. He said Fortt's supporters hope that with further treatment in Canada, that can be expanded to five years or possibly up to 10.

<small>The reporter can be reachedat jellis@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6320. </small>

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Medical marijuana case lights up a new debate

Postby palmspringsbum » Sun Mar 22, 2009 11:47 am

The Fresno Bee wrote:Medical marijuana case lights up a new debate

Saturday, Mar. 21, 2009
By Rob Hotakainen / McClatchy Newspapers


WASHINGTON -- After California legalized medical marijuana, Charles Lynch opened his cannabis dispensary nearly two years ago in Morro Bay, getting a license from the city and joining the Chamber of Commerce.

Even the mayor showed up for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

One year later, U.S. drug enforcement agents raided his business. Now Lynch is worried that he will get a minimum of five years in prison when he is sentenced in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday on five counts of distributing marijuana.

Whatever happens, Lynch said he will appeal.

"I don't feel like I deserve going through life as a convicted felon for doing things the state of California allowed me to do," he said.

But the nation's medical marijuana users are breathing a little easier these days, confident that such stories will soon be a thing of the past.

At news conferences last month and again on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said there will be no more federal prosecutions of cases involving medical cannabis dispensaries. He said they'd be left alone as long as they're complying with state laws.

Medical marijuana advocates predict that the issue will soon leave the public realm of politics and become a private issue between doctors and patients. And they said that President Barack Obama has kept a promise he made on the campaign trail last year.

Holder said the new policy will be "to go after those who violate both federal and state law."

"To the extent that people do that and try and use medical marijuana laws for activity that is not designed to comport with what the intention was of a state law -- those are the organizations or people who we'll target," Holder told reporters Wednesday. "And that's consistent with what the president said during the campaign."

The decision affects California and 12 other states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes: Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Alaska and Hawaii.

Democratic Rep. Lois Capps of Santa Barbara, who lobbied the new administration on the issue, called it "a welcomed shift" in federal policy, saying the administration of George W. Bush "foolishly wasted precious federal resources" to prosecute law-abiding health-care providers.

"This new policy makes sense and is far more humane," said Capps, the new vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee.

Dyer disagrees with Holder

But Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said that his agency would continue to investigate dispensaries.

Even under state law, Dyer said, for-profit medical marijuana dispensaries are still illegal. Collectives and cooperatives, where a group of people join to grow their own marijuana for medicinal use, are allowed as long as there is no profit.

That doesn't mean Dyer approves of Holder's statement.

"It's unfortunate if that turns out to be the policy of the administration," Dyer said, "but the truth is, from our perspective in Fresno, if you are operating under a dispensary, if you are a dispensary, we will enlist the assistance of the feds or state" to investigate and close down such operations.

In Tulare County, Holder's announcement will have little effect on the handling of medical marijuana dispensary cases, said William Yoshimoto, an assistant district attorney.

"It doesn't change our posture at all," he said. "If there is a violation of California state law, we will continue to prosecute and pursue what is right for each case."

Investigating and prosecuting medical marijuana dispensaries make up a relatively small portion of the District Attorney's Office caseload, Yoshimoto said.

"I can think of a couple of cases pending right now," he said.

But marijuana sales are a growing problem in the Valley, and that has led to illegal operations masquerading as medical marijuana dispensaries trying to skirt the law, he said.

Yoshimoto said he did not know how many medical marijuana dispensaries are operating in Tulare County.

California voters in 1996 approved Proposition 215, which made it legal to sell marijuana to people who have a doctor's prescription.

Holder said his department has limited resources and that its focus will be on people and organizations that are growing or cultivating "substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that's inconsistent with federal law and state law."

Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said the new policy will protect millions of Americans who benefit from the medicinal properties of marijuana.

"Under the Obama administration, the federal government may finally be recovering from a long bout with 'reefer madness,' " he said.

Defense attorney Katherine Hart praised Holder's announcement, calling it "a good decision by the Obama administration." Hart has represented people prosecuted for operating marijuana dispensaries, and she is handling the appeal of Luke Scarmazzo, the Modesto resident sentenced last November to 21 years in federal prison for operating a marijuana dispensary.

"Prosecutions of certain crimes do depend on who is controlling the Department of Justice," she said of Holder's statement. "Justice is fluid. What is a crime one year is not the next."

Instead of chasing medical marijuana dispensaries, Hart said, precious law enforcement resources should be dedicated to drug cartels, other violent crimes and white-collar criminals such as Bernard Madoff, who recently admitted that he ran a vast Ponzi scheme that robbed thousands of investors of their life savings.

"Many feel as I do," she said. "Go after the Madoffs" of the world.

Hit hard by DEA

Any change in policy comes too late for Lynch, 46, who already has been convicted. Lynch said he began using marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2005, when he was suffering bad headaches. He said the drug helped him a lot but that he had to drive a long way to get it.

Eventually, Lynch said, he began researching medical cannabis on the Internet and decided to open his own dispensary. He said he received nothing but support from Morro Bay officials, with the city attorney and City Council members stopping by.

"Everybody liked the way I had set up the business," Lynch said.

Except for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

"They came in, they took everything," Lynch said. "They took all the money. They froze my bank accounts. They began their propaganda war machine against me. They put my name up on the DEA Web site. They made it sound like I was selling drugs to children out in the schoolyard."

Federal authorities said that Lynch used his business, the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers marijuana store, as a front for a supersized retail drug-dealing center that sold more than $2.1 million in marijuana over a one-year period.

The customers included 281 minors and undercover DEA agents who paid from two to three times the street value for their marijuana, authorities said. A local doctor also was indicted for writing marijuana recommendations for minors without conducting any physical evaluations.

Lynch's case is igniting debate over how far the government should go in either prosecuting or ignoring medical marijuana dispensaries.

Capps said the case "is an example of a big conflict," because Lynch was operating his business with the full authority of the California government but was then prosecuted under federal law.

Federal law, which supersedes state laws, makes the distribution of marijuana a crime and offers no exceptions for medical use. Capps said she wants to respect the wishes of California voters, adding that the federal government has plenty to do -- such as protecting U.S. borders -- and should concentrate on crimes that do not conflict with state laws.

"I actually came with a suspicious eye toward medical marijuana frankly," Capps said. "Because as a school nurse I worked a lot with law enforcement, and there was a great deal of concern about a gateway drug and all of the things that can happen when it's inappropriately used. But I also have seen the results of medical research."

She said that research shows medical marijuana "has earned a rightful rank" among drugs that can be prescribed by health professionals.

Lungren wants research

Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the Obama administration should back a large-scale research project on medicinal marijuana before changing U.S. policy. And he questioned whether the administration can pick and choose which laws to enforce.

"I wonder if you can just turn around policy like that if there is not a change in the law that you are supposed to enforce," said Lungren, who was California's attorney general when voters approved the state's medical marijuana law in 1996. "As far as I can see, there hasn't been a change in the law passed by the Congress."

Freshman Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks said that he applauded Holder's decision, and that the federal government should step aside.

"I think wherever you stand on marijuana laws, it's clearly a state's decision to make," McClintock said. "And the people of California made it. I've never believed that the federal government had the right to regulate intrastate commerce."

Lynch said he was forced to close his business when the DEA told his landlord that the property would be forfeited if Lynch was not evicted. Months later, Lynch was arrested and taken to a federal detention center in Los Angeles. His family posted $400,000 in bail to get him released.

Lynch isn't sure what to expect when he's sentenced Monday. He's not familiar with breaking the law.

"I've got a spotless record," he said. "I've never even had a DUI. The only thing on my record is a seat belt violation here in the state of California. You know, they've destroyed my life personally.

"I'm filing for bankruptcy right now. And friends are scared to talk to me because the federal government is breathing down my neck."

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