All posts tagged: Marijuana Laws

“I Think I Got Arrested”

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

A good friend of mine–also a client– paid a surprise visit to my office last week. I greeted him with a smile and a handshake, “How are you doing?”

“Well”, he said rather sheepishly, “I’m not totally sure. I think I got arrested.”

“You think you got arrested?” I said, sliding back in my chair. “What is it you think you got arrested for, exactly?”

My friend sighed as he related his tale. He had been riding in a car with a friend who had just bought the car less than a week earlier. While going through the Armstrong tunnel, they had been pulled over because the license plate on the car had been transferred, but had not yet been registered in the automatic plate reader system used by the police (a device that views plates and instantly displays registration information). In other words, the plate didn’t match the car it was on.

The police will approach this type of situation as a potential stolen car, and the possibility of weapons exists as well. They will approach it accordingly.  Needless to say, my friend was rattled by the experience.

He had no weapons, of course, but the police said they smelled weed. Sure enough, my friend had a very small amount of weed and a pipe. The driver was not cited, as the car eventually checked out, but my friend was, as he related it, “detained until they could write it up.”

They kept him there for about ten minutes, then released him, saying he would receive a summons in the mail.

My friend was beside himself. “I’m so sorry man. I hate to even bother you with this, but I think I need your help.”

I looked at his paperwork and said, “You weren’t arrested, my friend. You were only cited. This is basically like getting a speeding ticket.”

My friend was shocked. “Really? I don’t have to go to court?”

Smiling, I pointed out the fact that the ‘charge’ had been reduced to a disorderly conduct charge, with the fine amount already determned. This is fairly common in marijuana possession cases, except in the past, my friend would have had to make a court appearance with his attorney to get the charge reduced. Small amounts like this are pretty much a burden on the system, taking time away from more important cases for both police and Judges, and this is being reflected by a willingness on the part of the justice system in Allegheny County to voluntarily make marijuana possession a low policing priority.

A disorderly conduct charge allows the defendant to simply plead guilty by signing a ticket, and avoid further problems by paying the fine within ten days. No court, no jail time.

“The police must have liked you” I laughed.

“Actually, they thanked me for being respectful and cooperative, and said they were going to cut me a break,” he replied.

They certainly did cut him a break, but it’s a break that has become more common.

Coming on the heels of the pamphlet released by the City of Pittsburgh PD, advising citizens about the best ways of interacting with police, I find this situation shines light on two very important developments.

The first is, Marijuana has indeed become a very low priority for law enforcement. The attitude of most people that weed is very benign has filtered into the legal system– even where it is still illegal.

The second is, the experience of my friend (who by the way, is a long-haired musician who dresses like he’s homeless) demonstrates that showing respect for the officers when dealing with police can make all the difference, even when you look, to them at least, like you might be trouble from the start.

Showing respect when getting arrested can also make it easier to defend you, should the need arise. Don’t make a bad situation worse.

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Patrick Nightingale“I Think I Got Arrested”
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Go Slow Approach Only Cares About Lawsuits, Not Medicine

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

For the Pennsylvania Medical Society to pretend that there are not literally hundreds of peer reviewed clinical studies on the medical efficacy of cannabis for a wide variety of conditions is shameful and disgusting. Their testimony proffered at the hearing last week in Harrisburg just ignored the fact that 23 other states have legalized medicinal cannabis. The PA Medical Society couldn’t even be bothered to check with, for example, the Colorado Medical Society to see what their professional colleagues in a medicinal state had to say. But, Dr. Karen Rizzo I think summed it up perfectly when she told NBC out of Philadelphia that even if it were legal doctors wouldn’t recommend it because of fear of being sued. Surprisingly she didn’t bother to check with malpractice carriers in Colorado or Washington or even bother to see if a physician in a medicinal state had, in fact, ever been accused of professional negligence. Their opposition is ignorant and based solely on controlling medical malpractice insurance premiums and not in treating patients with a non-toxic treatment alternative. Their opinion should be disregarded in its entirety.

Here is an article in the Pittsburgh Business Times, regarding the “Go Slow” approach that flies in the face of evidence and reason.

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Patrick NightingaleGo Slow Approach Only Cares About Lawsuits, Not Medicine
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Half-Truths and Outright Lies

statecapitolSitting through the SB3 testimony of medical ‘professionals’ from the Pennsylvania Medical Society, while they denied even the existence of the LUDICROUS amount of research studies done regarding medicinal marijuana, was too much to take.

Rather than get myself all worked up again refuting the drivel they had the unmitigated gall to utter, in the state capitol no less, I am sharing the following link, which is also an organization of medical professionals.

Lies, Damned Lies and the Pennsylvania Medical Society

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Patrick NightingaleHalf-Truths and Outright Lies
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A Conversation with a Frustrated Friend

MarijuanaA friend of mine, someone who has been a strong supporter of the legalization efforts of NORML, recently broached the topic with more than a little exasperation.

“How much more evidence do they need!?” he said in a most animated way. “The research is there! Study after study! The FDA approves prescription drugs that don’t have one tenth of the research time given marijuana!”

It’s hard to argue with him. The clinical studies. The medical benefits studies… But he wasn’t done, yet.

“Doctors! F***ing doctors are already prescribing marijuana to patients in how many states!?” Why would doctors risk prescribing it if it didn’t help their patients? I mean, it’s not like dealers give them kickbacks the way big pharma does!”

Again, he makes a good point. Doctors do, in fact receive incentives’ from pharmaceutical companies to prescribe their medications. Doctors are also increasingly embracing marijuana as a legitimate form of treatment for a wide variety of conditions.

“How can politicians even begin to think they know better than doctors about medicine?” he continued. “Even the police will admit it’s harmless and often a waste of their time. But they have quotas to meet and it’s an easy citation to write up. The odds of a shootout have to be virtually non-existent when busting someone on a simple possession charge.”

Marijuana is the most non violent of any substance consumed by man to get a buzz. Even caffeine, or the lack thereof, can cause someone to experience road rage in a traffic jam. Marijuana smokers are much more likely to just chill and wait it out.

My friend paused and then said, “You know I love you man. The work you’ve done with NORML… I would be hard pressed to name anyone who has worked harder to bring about reform, but all this damn legalese and procedural stuff is killing momentum. State Bill # one million, something something… It’s confusing for the average person. It’s incredibly frustrating for those of us who are informed, let alone for the patients and parents of children in need of medicine. I really think we need to refocus and streamline the effort. Just point out the common sense, provable reasons legalization makes sense. The waters keep getting muddied by biased asshats like Nancy Grace and Republican lawmakers interested in making deals– holding medical marijuana hostage so they can privatize liquor stores in Pennsylvania… It’s maddening!”

Yes, it does get pretty frustrating, and my buddy is right. Being an attorney, I bring all available evidence to light, but maybe we’re overloading the average person with too much terminology and procedural matters. Maybe we should just start focusing on the children in desperate need of medicine, the average people whose lives get disrupted by a simple possession charge.

Fortunately, in Governor Tom Wolf, we have an ally in Harrisburg. We need to strike while the iron is hot. We need to keep the ‘grass roots’ (pun intended) aspect of this campaign alive. We need to contact our state representatives and let them know we support legalization now. We need to let them know we’re watching how they vote, and their vote will likely influence OUR vote in the next election. And most important of all, we need YOUR voice.

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Patrick NightingaleA Conversation with a Frustrated Friend
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Q&A: Medicinal Marijuana. Still Illegal Under Federal Law

sentencing guidelinesThe current budget passed by Congress and signed by President Obama halts funding for the DEA to prosecute Medicinal Marijuana users and sellers in states where it is legal, but what does this mean in the overall landscape of legal reform?

There have been several headlines in major mainstream media outlets touting this as ‘virtually legalizing” medical marijuana, which is far from the truth.

The only thing the spending bill does is, not authorize funds that the DEA would use to investigate medical marijuana users and sellers in states that authorize it. It does not invalidate the Supremacy Clause, nor would it necessarily prohibit the DEA from investigating illegal drug activity under the guise of a legal MMJ business.

So there has been no significant change to the law itself?

None. It simply denies funds that the DEA would earmark, or specifically use, to target anyone otherwise operating in compliance with state MMJ law. It doesn’t change the law at all. All it does is tell the DEA that they will not receive any funding for actions to investigate anyone just because they are in violation with federal law.

Doesn’t this mean Congress is basically admitting it has medicinal value, thereby refuting the Schedule 1 Drug classification status?

It’s evidence of a shift, in terms of congressional support for legalization, but it’s not an explicit admission of medicinal value. This could change in nine months when Congress introduces the next spending bill. Remember the Obama administration has taken a very lax attitude towards marijuana law in general, but there’s no guarantee that trend will continue.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Federal government is not violating the Constitution in prosecuting MMJ cases—even in states where it’s legal.  Isn’t it still possible the DEA could act anyway– i.e.; the Commerce Clause?

Certainly the Commerce Clause in cases of MMJ sales—especially when crossing state lines, or even the Supremacy Clause, as long as federal law is what it is today. One must keep in mind, as far as the Federal government is concerned, everything CO, OR, WA, AL, DC and Guam, as well as the other medicinal states, is 100% illegal under federal law. Totally illegal.

In the Supreme Court ruling, the case involved someone growing a small number of plants for personal medicinal use. Is the reason it’s being sold relevant?

Absolutely – even if they allow the states to proceed with legalization experiments, they will quite likely act if it goes from state to state, in clear violation of not only the controlled substances act, but also federal jurisdiction pursuant to the Commerce Clause. Marijuana leaving the legal state and ending up in the illegal state is still a very big deal.

So although this signals a political shift, the war is far from over?

Far from over.

Marijuana remains federally regulated as a Schedule I prohibited substance. It remains Schedule I in PA as well. The efforts to defund the DEA are intended to protect citizens of medicinal marijuana from federal prosecution where they are otherwise in compliance with state law. Unfortunately we’ve seen numerous examples of the DEA acting aggressively in medicinal states.

Until Congress is ready to act on the matter of changing the classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medicinal value, we’re likely to see further prosecutions, regardless of how they are funded.

Our concern at Pittsburgh NORML is this may cause members to relax their efforts here. Something we cannot afford to do if we want to see reform in the coming year. We have a new Governor who favors some form of decriminalization. We need to strike while the iron is hot.

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Patrick NightingaleQ&A: Medicinal Marijuana. Still Illegal Under Federal Law
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We’re Not Reinventing the Wheel

marijuana law reformThe frustration can be overwhelming at times.

A parade of legal and medical experts. Countless studies. Average people stepping forward to tell their own stories of relief from medical conditions– conditions prescription medications didn’t help. Parents standing in front of news crews and our elected representatives, sharing the pain of a sick child being denied medication approved by their doctor. Seemingly endless committees, all weighing in on something with a wealth of information available, like no one knows what marijuana does. Hearing after hearing…

And despite all this, and more evidence coming to light every day, our legislature is seemingly debating this issue in a vacuum.

And now, thanks to the State House “tabling” the original bill, we’re faced with doing it all over again.

It’s enough to drive anyone crazy.

Pennsylvania is closer than it’s ever been to legalization, at least for medicinal marijuana, but we’re still a long way from making it happen, mostly because our legislature refuses to recognize we are not starting from scratch here.

It’s now legal in 4 states. The largest city in Pennsylvania has even moved to decriminalize marijuana possession. Are our representatives so out of touch with their constituents, they cannot see the forest for all the trees?

Maybe it’s a matter of politics. The kind of back room bargaining that is all too familiar in the history of Pennsylvania.

It’s been suggested the status of alcohol sales may be the real reason the Pennsylvania State House is willing to utterly ignore the examples of successful legalization and functioning marketplaces that already exist in Colorado and Washington state.

The fact is, the Republican party may be holding medicinal marijuana–real medicine, desperately needed by real people– hostage to their desire to privatize alcohol sales in the state. That, maybe, if that happened, they’d be willing to go along with some form of legalization.

That’s the only explanation I can find for why they are treating legalization like we’re reinventing the wheel.

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Patrick NightingaleWe’re Not Reinventing the Wheel
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The Financial Waste of Illegal Marijuana

marijuana law reformSince Colorado legalized marijuana, we’ve seen numerous stories about the windfall of tax revenue reaped by the state. Money that is being used for education and social services.

What we’ve heard less about is the windfall reaped by the tax payers of Colorado no longer funding law enforcement efforts to interdict marijuana sales.

Consider the case here in Allegheny County of Jennifer Chieu, convicted of being the ringleader of a group that imported marijuana from California to the Pittsburgh area. The multi-million dollar ring was investigated extensively, eventually 19 people including Chieu.

(Read the Post-Gazette article here.)


Had Pennsylvania followed the lead of what are now 4 states with total legalization, they would have literally put Chieu out of business, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the costs of this single investigation, while reaping tax revenue for improving roads, services, education and drug treatment options for truly destructive drugs like heroin. Add to that the costs of imprisoning 19 people for periods of up to 11 years, and the cost of this one bust easily goes over the million dollar mark.


As an attorney, I actually work against my own financial interests fighting for legalization. After all, those people getting busted for pot need a lawyer. But I don’t want to earn money from injustice on a scale that infects the whole legal system with waste and encourages people like Chieu to take a chance at big money. And it truly breaks my heart that I sometimes find myself defending people whose only crime was seeking desperately needed medicine.


Marijuana cases clog up the court system with non-violent offenders. They occupy the time of Police, forcing them to waste resources arresting people for something even most cops will admit is harmless.


As was recently seen in the city of Philadelphia, minorities are arrested for marijuana possession at an alarmingly higher rate than whites, even though usage is proportionally equal. This was at the core of their city council’s recent decision to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana. You can bet that for a major metropolis that like most big cities is strapped for cash, the costs of policing marijuana use also played a significant role in their decision. Although that’s short of legalization, it does remove the stigma of a drug arrest appearing on the record and reduces it to a summary offense, requiring a greatly reduced amount of resources for the city to enforce.


So the next time you read a story about how much tax revenue is being generated by legal marijuana in states like Colorado or Washington, consider the millions of dollars being saved– Dollars that law enforcement can now direct toward protecting the public from real crime.

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Patrick NightingaleThe Financial Waste of Illegal Marijuana
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Marijuana Legalization Efforts in Washington, Oregon, Colorado -The Response

For the past few years, marijuana law reform has been a major topic throughout the United States. No matter where you live, this is something you have likely heard about.

For those who are not up to date, there are three states making big waves at the present time: Washington, Oregon, and Colorado.

On November 6, 2012, the law in these three states could change forever. It is at this time that voting will take place related to some form of marijuana legalization.

Additionally, Arkansas and Massachusetts will be voting on the use of medical marijuana within their borders.

What are the Polls Saying?

Let’s face it: when it comes to a topic like this, nobody wants to wait around for the results. Instead, everybody wants to speculate on what is going to happen when voting begins.

While nobody knows what is going to happen next month, numbers are currently polling favorably in regards to the legalization of marijuana. Over the past 5 to 10 years, support for legalization has continued to grow – this is particularly true in the three states that have recently moved to the forefront.

Could it Really Happen?

No matter what the polls say at the present time, there are obvious concerns for those in favor.

The last time any state voted on marijuana legalization was in 2010. At this time, California’s Prop. 19 was voted down despite the fact that things appeared to be moving towards legalization in the Golden State.

What does it mean for Residents?

Colorado Amendment 64, for example, is aimed at adopting a progressive marijuana drug policy. With this in mind, residents of the state (age 21 and older) would be permitted to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Additionally, people would be able to legally grow up to six marijuana plants per single family dwelling.

While public consumption would not be allowed, marijuana sales would be permitted at specific retail outlets.

How will the Feds React?

Despite the fact that three states will be voting on the legalization of marijuana, it is unknown how the federal government will react if one or more measure is passed. Their options include:

  • Attempt to block implementation of the law
  • Respect the decision of voters in the states
  • Arrest those who are involved in the retail and wholesale side of the business

While there is no way of knowing what the future holds, don’t think that the feds are sitting back right now and ignoring these developments. Did you know that the Department of Justice in Colorado has shut down more than 20 medical marijuana dispensaries?

Remember this: even if marijuana legalization passes on the state level, it will continue to be a crime to possess the drug under federal law.

Jeff Dorschner, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, sums it up by saying: “We don’t know what will happen if it passes. There are a variety of options, none of which I can discuss.”

November 6th is right around the corner. While everybody will have their eyes on the presidential election, don’t overlook the importance of what is going on in Washington, Oregon and Colorado (as well as Arkansas and Massachusetts).

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Patrick NightingaleMarijuana Legalization Efforts in Washington, Oregon, Colorado -The Response
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US Contradicts Medical Marijuana Policies with Cannabis Patent

The United States government holds a patent on marijuana medicine and has for nearly a decade. In fact, this story has repeatedly made the rounds in various news outlets, always with the same degree of public outcry, but never any real backlash capable of generating action. Instead, the War on Drugs has slogged messily on for the last 9 years – largely targeting marijuana users and distributors – based on the same government’s claim that cannabis has no medical value. If that’s not a hypocrisy worthy of investigation, then it’s clear that the public isn’t fully aware of the implications this raises, necessitating a call for more intense disclosure.

US Patent 6630507 was issued to “The United States of America as Represented by the Department of Health and Human Services” in 2001. In lay terms the patent extended to the DHHS is for a marijuana-based medicine, which is a troubling concept considering the government’s current stance on marijuana. However, the contradiction between today’s drug policies and the medical usefulness of cannabis are found in the first two sentences of the abstract that describes the patent claim:

“Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.” (1)

Contradiction aside, the patent gives the US government an exclusive right to manufacture this particular type of cannibinoid-based medicine until 2021. Therefore, even if there wasn’t an active drug war against the plant, obtaining the medicine or something similar would be virtually impossible.

US Patent 6630507 is especially hypocritical considering that the recent medical marijuana movement was largely based around the same types of medical benefits clearly noted by the US DHHS. In fact, it was precisely these benefits that led 16 States to pass medical marijuana legislation after significant public support.

But despite the US patent on marijuana, the federal government has launched an offensive against law abiding medical marijuana users and providers, sending technically and morally innocent people to federal prison in the process, while destroying a growing and powerful industry with boots-on-the-ground force.

The message is confusing but appears to be one of control; some factions of the government believe that marijuana has clear and applicable medical uses, has actually patented this usage potential yet not produced any evidence that it’s being put to use for the good of the public health, and deals heavy-handedly with people who are involved in the medicinal marijuana industry.

What Can be Done?

The obvious response is to vote, but there’s more to it than that alone. You must also communicate with your congress-people and local representatives. So few people do this and most don’t realize that it does make a difference, and their offices will generally respond to you. Pressure them to take action on issues like this.

Additionally, if you’ve been the target of confusing marijuana laws, don’t give in – fight for your rights. Call the number at the top of your screen now for an immediate consultation if you’ve been charged with a marijuana crime. With decades of experience in the field and practice on both sides of the law, we have the insider knowledge you need to maintain your reputation and dignity. Call us now.

(1) Patent References Cannabis as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants Patent 6630507 as Reported on PatentStorm, Accessed 09/13/2012

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Patrick NightingaleUS Contradicts Medical Marijuana Policies with Cannabis Patent
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The Obama Administration’s Confusing Marijuana Reform Stance

The Obama administration’s stance on marijuana reform – especially where related to medical marijuana – is confusing at best and a betrayal of the American people at worst. Surprisingly, despite the fact that the Presidential election is literally around the corner, democrats are not holding the Commander in Chief accountable for what by any standard should be considered a flip-flopped policy. And being that the democrats are the supporting party for the medicinal marijuana movement, it appears that on this issue, the Obama administration is off the hook, because the republicans certainly aren’t going to pressure this issue into a higher state of publicity.

Of course, the immediate argument on the side of the democrats is that Obama merely inherited a War on Drugs that was already 40 years in the making. However, his original platform based on “Change” appeared to be working early in his term, as federal agencies focused less attention on medical marijuana growers, users and suppliers, letting states create their own legislation for medical and general marijuana reform. In fact, under the Obama administration, 16 states passed medical marijuana legislation, including Obama’s home state of Hawaii.

For a short time it appeared that the federal government was going to keep its hands off state level marijuana programs, and medical marijuana dispensaries, websites, suppliers, growers, testers, reviewers and of course patients made use of the programs by the thousands. The medical marijuana industry seemed to be working – patients were getting the treatments they needed and jobs were created in a field that had never existed before.

But in early 2011, something changed. Suddenly the federal government began targeting, raiding and arresting people involved in many levels of medical marijuana programs. The people arrested were often normal, law-abiding and contributing members of society who were properly licensed to grow, possess or distribute medical marijuana and were operating within the laws of the state they live in.

According to the federal government’s behavior, state’s rights in this regard are not protected. So what was the catalyst in the Obama administration that prompted this change? We can’t be sure.

But the ramifications of this switch in policy have been far-reaching. Consider the case of Richard Flor, who owned several successful medical marijuana dispensaries in the state of Montana; all operating legally according to the state’s laws. Flor, his wife and son were all arrested and incarcerated in federal prison for their roles in these dispensaries.

Richard Flor died after serving just a few months of an unknown sentence in federal prison as a result of his numerous medical conditions, including diabetes and dementia. His wife and son remain in prison, serving 2 and 5 years sentences respectively for operating a business within the laws of their state. (Steigerwald, Lucy Montana’s First Registered Medical Marijuana Caregiver Dies in Federal Prison Hit & Run Blog August 31, 2012.)

So while the issue might have temporarily escaped the attention of democrats at the moment, it’s only going to return when things settle down after the election. This is an American oversight at the moment that almost certainly will be corrected.

If you’ve been the victim of backwards marijuana laws, call 412-454-5582 for an immediate, confidential consultation. We may not be able to predict government sentiment toward marijuana, but we can help you mount a compelling drug defense in the event you’ve been targeted. Call us now.

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Patrick NightingaleThe Obama Administration’s Confusing Marijuana Reform Stance
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