March 2018

California ‘weed fortress’ had 35,000 marijuana plants inside, cops say

Southern California police seized 35,000 marijuana plants from a weed “fortress” and shut down an operation they believed was bringing in millions of dollars a month.

San Bernardino Police said they detained eight people Wednesday when police and federal agents raided a warehouse that was converted into a multi-level grow house. They said the once-abandoned warehouse was recently outfitted with a 12-foot fence, “fortified doors” and surveillance cameras.

Investigators also raided three properties all owned by Stephanie Smith, 43, of Pacific Palisades, and found marijuana plants in each residence.


Smith was being investigated but she was not arrested or charged with a crime, police said. The eight people detained at the warehouse were also not charged.

CBS Los Angeles reported Smith was taking in millions of dollars per month. 

Police found marijuana plants in three properties owned by Stephanie Smith.  (San Bernardino Police Department)

Authorities began investigating the operation after they received complaints from neighbors beginning two months ago, CBS News reported.

Police said the four-story warehouse contained thousands of marijuana plants. The property’s electric bill was a staggering $67,000 a month, police said.

San Bernardino Police Lt. Mike Madden called the operations “the biggest grow” he has ever seen in his 26 years on the force.


Although marijuana was legalized in California, the state required people who grow the plants to have the necessary licenses and permits, Madden explained. Smith did not have the proper requirements needed to grow

“Marijuana has been legalized, but there are stringent requirements,” Madden said. “It’s not that you just get to set up shop where you want to set up.”

Recreational marijuana sales in the state begin on Jan. 1 but medical marijuana has been legal in California for decades.

Police told CBS Los Angeles the marijuana discovered “would go up in smoke.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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More pregnant women are using pot, study finds

(CNN)More pregnant women seem to be using pot — sometimes to ease the nausea of morning sickness or heightened anxiety — and a new study suggests that this slight rise in marijuana use is most pronounced among those younger in age.

The prevalence of marijuana use among a sample of moms-to-be in California climbed from 4.2% to 7.1% from 2009 through 2016, according to a research letter published in the journal JAMA on Tuesday.
Among pregnant teens younger than 18, marijuana use climbed from 12.5% to 21.8%, and among women 18 to 24, marijuana use climbed from 9.8% to 19%, the researchers found.
    That research involved only certain women in California, but a separate study of pregnant women across the United States, published in JAMA in January, found that those who reported using marijuana in the previous month grew from 2.37% in 2002 to 3.85% in 2014. The women were 18 to 44.

      This is your body on weed

    Doctors caution that the health effects of marijuana on a fetus remain unclear but could include low birth weight and developmental problems, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the chemicals in marijuana, like tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, could pass through a mother’s system to her baby.
    The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that “women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue marijuana use” and “to discontinue use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in favor of an alternative therapy.”
    Additionally, “there are insufficient data to evaluate the effects of marijuana use on infants during lactation and breastfeeding, and in the absence of such data, marijuana use is discouraged,” according to the recommendations.

    Why more pregnant women are using weed

    The new research involved 279,457 mothers-to-be, 12 and older, who were in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California health care system. The study participants completed questionnaires about their marijuana use and took a cannabis toxicology test during their standard prenatal care visits from 2009 through 2016.
    The women were screened for marijuana use at approximately eight weeks’ gestation.
    The researchers found that the prevalence of marijuana use, based on self-reports or toxicology results, soared among all age groups, but the biggest rise was among those 24 and younger.
    “We were concerned to find that the prevalence of marijuana use in pregnancy is increasing more quickly among younger females, aged 24 and younger, and to see the high prevalence of use in this age group,” the study’s lead author, Kelly Young-Wolff, licensed clinical psychologist and research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, wrote in an email.
    For other age groups, the researchers found that marijuana use rose from 3.4% to 5.1% among women 25 to 34 and from 2.1% to 3.3% among women older than 34.

      Getting clean while pregnant

    Pregnancy in adolescents has been linked to increases in behaviors such as drinking and marijuana use, and pot use could have a disproportionate effect on the increase seen among teens in the study because the adolescent participant group had fewer members than the adult groups.
    For instance, moms-to-be younger than 18 years were only 1.4% of the overall sample in the study, but 18 to 24 were 15.8%, 25 to 34 were 61.6%, and older than 34 were 21.2%.
    Additionally, “we were unable to distinguish prenatal use before versus after women realized they were pregnant,” Young-Wolff wrote.
    “Marijuana is detectable in urine approximately 30 days after last use and this varies with heaviness of use and marijuana potency,” she said. “it is possible, but unlikely, that some toxicology tests identified prepregnancy use.”
    The findings also were limited to data on pregnant women within one health care system in a limited geographic area of California.
    All in all, “the paper is not surprising, and the findings of a rise in marijuana use during pregnancy is consistent with recent attention to marijuana and legalization in various states,” said Dr. Haywood Brown, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the new study.
    An advantage of the study, he added, was that women not only self-reported marijuana use but also were screened for marijuana — and he thinks the study findings are age-related, as the largest increase in marijuana use was among adolescents and young adults.
    As the study showed the highest increase in marijuana use among women 24 and younger, that age group might hold clues as to why there has been an overall increase, said Dr. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, professor and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Southwestern’s William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital.
    “Think about marijuana use from their perspective, especially in Northern California. California legalized medical marijuana use in 1996, so they have grown up with the idea of it not only not being illegal but being a medical therapy,” said Horsager-Boehrer, who was not involved in the study.
    “With the proximity to Oregon and Washington, they also have experience with any use being legal,” she said. “So I think the idea that use is rising is just because of the greater legal exposure to marijuana that women have today versus 20 years ago.”
    Young-Wolff noted in her email that the study itself did not investigate reasons for the rise in marijuana use among pregnant women.

    Doctors warn against drinking, too

    Along with advising against marijuana use, doctors have long advised pregnant women to avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
    As it turns out, the research remains unclear as to just how little a pregnant woman could drink without harming her child.
    But doctors in the US warn that drinking any alcohol while pregnant could come with medical risks, such as the possibility of miscarriage, stillbirth, or physical and behavioral problems in the baby.
    Guidelines in the United Kingdom also note that if you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, the safest approach would be not to drink alcohol at all.

    See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

    “I have found that women frequently fall into two groups during pregnancy. There are those who want to reduce risks of bad things happening to as close to zero as possible and improve outcomes any way they can. These women start folic acid, lose weight and reduce medication exposure of any kind before becoming pregnant. They absolutely don’t smoke, drink or use any drugs during pregnancy,” said Horsager-Boehrer, who is an editor of the Your Pregnancy Matters blog.
    “Then there’s the other group who take a more pragmatic view of pregnancy. They know there are potential risks involved with many decisions they make involving medication exposure, alcohol use and smoking, but they decide those risks are acceptable, especially if the risks are not well-defined or conclusive,” she said.
    “For individual patients, I think they need to ask themselves what their goals are for the pregnancy and how they are going to achieve them — essentially make a decision on which camp they are going to be in,” she said.

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    Colorado Senate Dems make a hilariously great case for legal pot.

    Earlier today, real-life “Dukes of Hazzard” villain Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III announced plans to crack down on marijuana in states that have legalized it.

    In a three-paragraph Justice Department memo, Sessions directed U.S. attorneys to disregard past policy about turning a somewhat blind eye to pot when it came to the more than two dozen states that have legalized it for medicinal or recreational use, saying, “Today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.”

    Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

    The official Twitter account for the Colorado state Senate Democrats took aim at Sessions’ push in a thread equal parts informative and amusing.

    Legal weed has been around in Colorado for quite awhile, with voters approving a medical marijuana ballot measure way back in 2000, and giving the thumbs up to recreational use in 2012.

    By most accounts, legal weed in Colorado has been a pretty big hit  — which Colorado’s Senate Democrats laid out in excruciating detail.

    Hearing news about Sessions’ plan to fight the states on this, they kicked off an epic Twitter thread with what’s just a clearly great joke: “We’ll give Jeff Sessions our legal pot when he pries it from our warm, extremely interesting to look at hands.”

    With that one-liner out of the way, they laid out a really strong case for letting states handle this. For one, it’s really, really been great for the economy. “Since legalization, marijuana has generated $617,767,334 in tax revenue,” read one of the tweets. “Instead of going to drug cartels, that money helps fund our schools and addiction treatment programs for more dangerous drugs.”

    They went on to list a number of projects funded by the state’s “Build Excellent Schools Today Act” program, which gets some of its funding from marijuana taxes.

    “Is your school’s roof TOO NICE?” another tweet read. “Jeff Sessions is on the case.”

    They concluded as they started: with a joke. “If only there was some way we could mellow him out,” they pondered.

    Public opinion on marijuana legalization continues to steadily climb, marking Sessions for the political anachronism that he is.

    According to an October poll from Gallup, 64% of Americans think it’s time to legalize pot. The truth is that most people simply don’t care what others decide to do with their body and their free time. By and large, it’s not dangerous — at least no more than alcohol or cigarettes — and its reputation as a “gateway” to harder drugs has been mostly debunked.

    Sessions’ vendetta against marijuana is widely known. He’s said “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and in the 80s remarked, “I thought those guys [the Ku Klux Klan] were OK until I learned they smoked pot,” and as recently as last March, suggested that it’s just as dangerous as heroin. We get it, Jeff. You don’t like pot.

    Even Donald Trump seems to know that public opinion isn’t on the side of regressive Drug War-era enforcement, going so far as to say that his attorney general wouldn’t do what his attorney general is doing right now (Trump lies a lot, guys).

    Even Cory Gardner, Colorado’s Republican senator, understands that beefing up federal enforcement of anti-pot laws isn’t what the country needs right now, threatening to use his power to grind Justice Department nominees to a halt. Gardner votes in line with the Trump’s and Sessions’ agendas nearly 95% of the time, so this type of fierce opposition should send a strong message.

    If there’s one thing we can all learn from this, it’s how hollow the convictions of those who champion “states’ rights” and “small government” can be.

    Whether it’s in fighting states’ abilities to enact their own laws around pot, micromanaging what a woman can do with her uterus, demanding to know what a trans person’s genitals look like, or dictating who has the right to protest for racial justice and how they should do it, “small government” often means complete authoritarian control. Perhaps these politicians should heed a bit of their own rhetoric. “Don’t tread on me,” right?

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    Vegas stoners can now pick up weed from a drive-thru

    Image: Shutterstock / Atomazul

    The largest recreational marijuana store in the country just opened what it claims is the first fast food-style weed drive-thru.

    NuWu Cannabis Marketplace aims to serve customers in less than a minute from the time they place their orders from their cars, store representatives told the Las Vegas Sun. The dispensary poached drive-thru managers from fast food chains to handle the parking lot chaos and take orders while customers are in line.

    The Las Vegas Sun reports that NuWu’s drive-thru is a converted $30,000 bank teller window, made of bullet-proof glass and framed with bullet-proof Kevlar material. Surveillance cameras monitor both inside and outside of the impenetrable window. 

    This massive weed marketplace, located on Native American tribal lands in Las Vegas, opened its doors on Oct. 16. Benny Tso, the chairman of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, told the Los Angeles Times at the end of the month that the dispensary was drawing in 300 to 500 customers each day. 

    Image: SNAPCHAT

    Customers in vehicles will be able to choose from a limited selection of the dispensary’s expansive inventory. The drive-thru will offer about 15 flower, edible and concentrate products. 

    Licensed dispensaries have been legally able to sell marijuana for recreational use to anyone over 21 years old since July 1. 

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    Jeff Sessions Marijuana Adviser Wants Doctors to Drug-Test Everyone

    A adviser on marijuana policy to Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to see doctors make drug testing a routine part of primary-care medicine and force some users into treatment against their will, he told The Daily Beast.

    Dr. Robert DuPont was among a small group of drug-policy experts invited to a closed-door meeting with Sessions last month to discuss federal options for dealing with the rapid liberalization of state marijuana laws. California became the sixth state to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use on Jan. 1.

    DuPont, 81, is one of the most influential drug warriors of the past century. He began his career as a liberal on drug control in the 1970s, calling then for the decriminalization of marijuana possession and launching the first U.S. methadone treatment program for heroin in Washington, D.C. in 1971. By the 1980s, he shifted to the right, popularizing the claim marijuana was a gateway drug.

    At the December 2017 meeting with Sessions, DuPont was slated to present on the effect of marijuana on drugged driving, a topic on which he has proposed some radical ideas.

    A national model bill he helped write in 2010 called on law enforcement to test anyone stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence for all controlled substances, and arresting them if any trace at all shows up in their systemregardless of the amount. While the bill includes an exemption for drivers who consumed a drug pursuant to a prescription, it would not apply to medicinal-marijuana users because doctors are not currently allowed to prescribe pot, only offer a recommendation for its use.

    The bills language makes clear that these people will still face sanction even if they live in a state in which medical marijuana is legal.

    [The] fact that any person charged with violating this subsection is or was legally entitled to consume alcohol or to use a controlled substance, medication, drug, or other impairing substance, shall not constitute a defense against any charge, it reads.

    But even thats not the worst of it.

    The bill includes a section prohibiting the Internal Possession of Chemical or Controlled Substances.

    Any person who provides a bodily fluid sample containing any amount of a chemical or controlled substance… commits an offense punishable in the same manner as if the person otherwise possessed that substance, it reads, adding in a footnote: This provision is not a DUI specific law. Rather, it applies to any person who tests positive for chemical or controlled substances.

    Asked to comment on whether Sessions was aware of DuPonts proposal to penalize drug users who may not even be under the influence behind the wheel, and if he supports it, a Justice Department spokesperson chose to focus on the dangers of driving while intoxicated.

    "The Controlled Substances Act was enacted by Congress to comprehensively restrict and regulate numerous drugs, including marijuana, said DOJ spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam, in a statement provided to The Daily Beast. Further, the attorney general agrees with the Centers for Disease Control that driving while impaired by marijuana is dangerous as it negatively affects a number of skills required for safe driving.

    Futile for Addicts to Help Themselves

    On closer inspection, DuPonts proposal is part of a plan to expand the use of drug-testing technology to root out users, and the threat of prosecution to compel them into treatment, where they will be tested even more.

    Early last year, The Daily Beast conducted a lengthy interview with DuPont as he was shopping around a radical proposal called the New Paradigm for Long-Term Recoveryto address Americas festering overdose crisis. It would include a massive expansion of drug testing in addiction medicine.

    Drug testing is the technology of addiction medicine, but its underutilized, he said. We want [drug screens] to be routine in all medicine. The health-care sector in general should approach addiction in the same way as diabetes, and that includes monitoring. Doctors already check for things like cholesterol and blood sugar. Why not test for illicit drugs?

    Calling his platform the opposite of harm reduction, DuPont said the goal of his plan is to promote long-term results… and greater accountability in the treatment sector.

    Among other things, he proposed giving doctors the authority to compel suspected substance abusers into treatment against their will. Once in treatment, patients could face as much as five years of monitoring, including random drug tests.

    People dont understand that referral to treatment is futile for an addict on their own, DuPont told The Daily Beast. Right now, the public really thinks that if we provide treatment the addicts will come and get well… thats not true. So lets use the leverage of the criminal-justice system, thats what the programs in the New Paradigm want to do.

    Turning a Profit Off Drug Testing

    DuPont presents his proposal as evidence-based, but its hard to separate his strong promotion of drug testing from his close personal and financial connections to the drug testing industry.

    In the 1970s he was the nations drug czar under Nixon and Ford, and was the first Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, until his increasingly radical views (he called for drug testing all parolees and sending them back to prison if they failed) forced his resignation in 1978.

    After leaving federal service, DuPont joined the former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Pete Bensinger, to cash in on urine testing. The firm they founded, Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, provided drug testing services to some of Americas largest corporations.

    Doctors already check for things like cholesterol and blood sugar, why not test for illicit drugs.
    Dr. Robert DuPont

    In 1991, while running the firm, DuPont introduced the idea of mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients in a policy document published by the Heritage Foundation. DuPont recommended not only testing the adults on public assistance but also their children.

    Later that decade, DuPont co-authored research with the founder of a firm called Psychemedics promoting the companys new hair testing technology.

    In 2000, while he was a shareholder and a paid consultant for the company DuPont testified before a Food & Drug Administration panel on drug testing where he advocated for expanding hair testing into federal workplaces. Dismissing the appearance of a conflict of interest DuPont told the panel: I don't think of myself as an employee or an advocate particularly for Psychemedics, but for drug testing generally.

    The FDA approved the companys first hair follicle test two years later, and today Psychemedics is a multi-million dollar a year business that's in the process of a profitable expansion into South America.

    This is a running theme for DuPont. For instance, Stephen Talpins, an attorney who helped DuPont author his model drugged driving bill, formerly was a vice president at Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc., which makes the SCRAM alcohol and location monitoring system used by many courts.

    Now DuPont is listed as a scientific adviser on the website of global drug-testing startup called CAM International Ventures. That company was founded in 2013 by David Martin, former president of the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association, and includes among its staff other prominent members of the drug testing industry.

    Still, DuPont rejects the idea that there is any financial motivation behind his fixation drug testing.

    I find it bizarre to think that my interests after all these years were financial, he told The Daily Beast. I just think, there is a financial incentive in drug testing, but the reason Im interested in drug testing is that there is an interest from the disease standpoint.

    With a dozen more states expected to consider legal marijuana measures in 2018, and even Republican lawmakers like Trey Gowdy questioning the federal governments hard stance on the drug, its unlikely even a die hard anti-pot crusader like DuPont can turn back the tide, but that doesnt mean he cant make a few more bucks trying.

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    Lawyer Promised Their Weed Was Legal, But It Landed Them in Jail

    Marsha Yandell was getting ready for lunch when a SWAT team appeared on her lawn and shouted over a bullhorn to smoke her out.

    It was February 2015, and the former registered nurse tried to tell Florida cops that she had paperwork for her cannabis plants. The documents, she claimed, showed she and her hubby Scott were allowed to grow medical marijuana.

    Yandell was tackled and zip-tied once she emerged, while her husband phoned their attorney from inside the house. The lawyer, Ian James Christensen, had legally greenlighted their home-grow operation and provided them with a patient ID card.

    Scott, then an engineer, was cuffed and charged, too. The couple faced a slew of felonies, including manufacturing cannabis and possession of cannabis with intent to sell or deliver, and decades behind bars.

    The Yandells lost their home and their jobs. They took a plea deal in return for $15,000 in fines, three years of probation, and 100 hours of community service, court records show.

    Nine months after their arrests, Christensen closed his law firm. He eventually left Florida and faces a federal lawsuit by the Yandells accusing him of legal malpractice. (A default judgment against Christensen was entered this month.)

    Last week, the 30-year-old one-time barrister was disbarred for falsely telling his sick clients they could possess, use, and grow cannabis. Christensen claimed cops couldnt touch them as long as they had his Official Legal Certification and (phony) patient ID cards. At the time, medical marijuana wasnt even legal in the Sunshine State.

    Two other peoplean Iraq War contractor with PTSD and his girlfriendwere arrested and prosecuted after following Christensens advice, a state bar investigation found.

    Along with the Official Legal Certification, Christensen provided clients with grow signs they could post at their homes to announce they were cultivating medical marijuana, a Florida Supreme Court ruling stated.

    In a Jan. 18 decision, the court ruled that Christensen erroneously advised his clients and gave them legally meaningless certifications based on determinations made by a physician not licensed to practice medicine in the State of Florida.

    Christensen continued to insist on the correctness of his clearly erroneous legal positions even when facing disciplinary proceedings, the document states.

    We will not tolerate such misconduct by members of The Florida Bar, the panel wrote in their decision.

    Christensens attorney, D. Gray Thomas, released a statement suggesting his client never intended to harm anyone.

    A young lawyer thought at the time that he was serving his clients rights and best interests, and was advising them appropriately, Thomas said. He thought he was raising a valid position on their behalf supported by existing Florida legal precedent on the defense of medical necessity.

    In court papers, Thomas wrote that Christensen opened his own solo firm, unmonitored by an experienced law firm or attorney.

    Christensen, in an affidavit, said, …I am extremely remorseful for the harms caused to my clients based on my naive persistence and misplaced confidence in what I was doing harms which I did not intend.

    But Andrew Bonderud, an attorney for the Yandells, called Christensen a scam artist.

    He has demonstrated a level of intransigence and arrogance that is remarkable, Bonderud told The Daily Beast. He had lots of opportunities to be persuaded that what he was recommending was hazarding all of his clients, and he ignored them.

    Its a level of recklessness that cannot be explained away by an innocent misunderstanding, Bonderud added.

    While Marsha Yandell is happy with the disbarment, she says her life is still in pieces. She and her spouse moved to Oregon for a fresh start, but her criminal record bars her from being employed as a nurse. I dont want this to ever happen to another vulnerable patient, ever again, she told The Daily Beast.

    Yandell was a registered nurse for 25 years and lost her license after pleading guilty to possession of cannabis with intent to sell and possession of paraphernalia. Her husband, an engineer for 15 years, also lost his job at Verizon, she says.

    Were very educated people, however, we are not educated in law, Yandell said.

    Before she found Christensens firm, Yandell was suffering from fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, and spinal stenosis. Desperate to ditch the daily pharmaceuticals she took to ease the pain, she attended a cannabis seminar and learned of Christensens business, Health Law Services (HLS).

    Indeed, Christensen launched the IJC Law Group in July 2013, less than three months after being admitted to the bar. At the time, he had no training in the area of medical marijuana, the Florida Supreme Court found.

    The attorney launched HLS in February 2014, and incorporated the Cannabinoid Therapy Institute five months later, court papers state.

    Christensen charged HLS clients $799 a pop for a medical necessity evaluation. If his firm determined a need for weed, it would provide patients with the Official Legal Certification and a homemade ID card claiming the clients had a marijuana prescription.

    The identification was not affiliated with any government agency.

    HLS website erroneously claimed Floridas medical necessity doctrine would protect patients from law enforcement if they could prove they used pot for medical reasons. Therefore, if a patient can prove to a law enforcement officer that cannabis is the safest medication available to treat their diagnosed condition, they are NOT subject to arrest, the website stated.

    Meanwhile, Christensens Facebook page boasted of being the first law firm to develop a process to assist you TODAY so you may rest easy knowing you have a valid legal option to use this safe non-toxic medicine.

    He claimed to have a team of expert physicians, attorneys, and experienced marijuana professionals. Yet, according to the Yandells lawsuit, one of those experts claimed to be a lawyer but didnt even have a bachelors degree.

    The Yandells met Christensen in June 2014 and paid him $799 each after they received a medical interview by a doctor, whom they later learned wasnt even licensed to practice in the state of Florida.

    At the time, Marsha Yandell was desperate for a cure.

    I was eating 15 pills a day with every doctor in Jacksonville saying, Im sorry youre feeling so bad, but theres not a lot I can do, Yandell said.

    When I met these people, and they told me they had a way out of that whole rat race that I was living I was like, Hell yeah, I will try anything, Yandell recalls. If somebody would have told me to scrape asphalt off the left side of the highway and eat it, I would have done that.

    The couple later showed Christensen their home cannabis plants, and the budding attorney allegedly restated that the operation was legal.

    Christensen found ways to add validity to his practice by creating a website where law enforcement could search for and confirm whether patient ID cards were valid, Yandell told The Daily Beast.

    She and her husband continued to cultivate marijuana until January 2015, when a former friend and HLS patient made a false 911 call about them, the lawsuit states. (Yandell said the pal was angry when she stopped growing his medicine for free. He allegedly told police he heard gunshots at the Yandell residence.)

    According to the lawsuit, Christensen told the Yandells they had nothing to worry about and that his firm would contact the Saint Johns County Sheriffs Office to discuss the couples marijuana operation. There is no record, however, that Christensen ever contacted the agency.

    One month later, the SWAT team raided their home and seized their vehicles and other valuables.

    The Yandells paid HLS $3,000 in cash, in addition to filing fees, to have Christensen represent them after their first arrest.

    When cops busted the couple a second time in March 2015, they hired a new attorney. They pleaded guilty to avoid lengthy prison sentences, becoming homeless, broke, convicted felons, their complaint states.

    Their landlord later won a $25,000 judgment against them for lost rent and damages to the home from the police raid.

    The Yandells werent the only victims of Christensens alleged scheme, court papers filed in the disbarment case reveal.

    In June 2014, Matthew Young and his girlfriend, Lynne Nesselroad, sought advice on Floridas medical marijuana laws.

    Christensen sent Young to his Cannabinoid Therapy Institute for an exam. Afterward, Christensen told Young he could grow and use weed for his medical conditions which include PTSD and brain injury.

    Three months later, Christensen provided Young with a patient ID card and Nesselroad with a card identifying her as his qualified caregiver. Christensen was listed on both ID cards as their Licensed Florida Counsel.

    In November 2014, Young and Nesselroad were arrested for trafficking marijuana and possession and manufacture of cannabis. Cops laughed when Young showed them Christensens paperwork, court papers state.

    Christensen charged the couple $8,000 to defend them, but a judge disqualified him as their attorney because he was a witness in the case. When Young and Nesselroad tried to get a refund, Christensen allegedly told them the money was gone.

    The State Attorneys Office dropped all charges against the couple in July 2015, and they became cooperating witnesses in an ongoing investigation, the Tampa Bay Times reported. That month, a judge also ordered Christensen to repay the $8,000.

    Young had spent 1,600 days in Iraq as a military contractor. His tour left him with broken bones, PTSD, and brain injury from concussions he sustained during explosions. His attorney, Shawn Gearhart, told the Times that he also contracted HIV while working as a field medic and was later diagnosed with AIDS.

    It calms everything, Young told the Times. Without cannabis my head is like a tornado and a hurricane all at the same time.

    According to the Times, state attorney Bruce Bartlett said that without Christensens guidance, Young and Nesselroad wouldnt have faced their predicament. These people have been punished enough, Bartlett said.

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    Heavy marijuana use linked to rare vomiting illness

    For 17 years, Chalfonte LeNee Queen suffered periodic episodes of violent retching and abdominal pain that would knock her off her feet for days, sometimes leaving her writhing on the floor in pain.

    “I’ve screamed out for death,” said Queen, 48, who lives in San Diego. “I’ve cried out for my mom who’s been dead for 20 years, mentally not realizing she can’t come to me.”
    Queen lost a modeling job after being mistaken for an alcoholic. She racked up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills, and her nausea interrupted her sex life. Toward the end of her illness, Queen, who stands 5-foot-9, weighed in at a frail 109 pounds.
      Throughout the nearly two decades of pain, vomiting and mental fog, she visited the hospital about three times a year, but doctors never got to the bottom of what was ailing her. By 2016, she thought she was dying, that she “must have some sort of cancer or something they can’t detect,” Queen said.
      But she didn’t have cancer. She had an obscure syndrome called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a condition only recently acknowledged by the medical community. It affects a small population — namely, a subset of marijuana users who smoke multiple times a day for months, years or even decades.
      There’s no hard data on the prevalence of the illness. But in California and Colorado, which have loosened marijuana laws in recent years, emergency physicians say they’re seeing it more often. One study in Colorado suggests there may be a link.
      Dr. Aimee Moulin, an emergency room physician at UC-Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, said she has seen a rise in the number of cases since California voters legalized recreational marijuana last November. She expects to see another increase after commercial sales are permitted starting in January.
      Doctors say it’s difficult to treat the condition. There is no cure other than to quit using marijuana, and many patients are skeptical that cannabis is making them sick, so they keep using it and their vomiting episodes continue.
      Doctors can do little to relieve the symptoms, since traditional anti-nausea medications often don’t work and there are no pills to prevent the onset of an episode. Patients may need intravenous hydration and hospital stays until the symptoms subside.
      “That’s really frustrating as an emergency physician,” said Moulin. “I really like to make people feel better.”
      Diagnosing the syndrome can also be frustrating — and expensive. There is no blood test to link the stomach ailment with marijuana use, so physicians often order pricey CT scans and lab tests to rule out other medical problems.
      Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome was first documented in Australia in 2004. Physicians have historically misdiagnosed it as the more generic cyclic vomiting syndrome, which has no identifiable cause or, as in Queen’s case, acute intermittent porphyria (AIP).
      “Five years ago, this wasn’t something that [doctors] had on their radar,” said Dr. Kennon Heard, an emergency physician at the University of Colorado in Aurora, who co-authored the Colorado study showing a possible tie between the liberalization of marijuana and a surge of the vomiting illness. “We’re at least making the diagnosis more now.”
      One surefire sign of the illness is when patients find relief in hot showers and baths. Queen said she would vomit repeatedly unless she was in a hot shower — so she’d stay in there for hours. Toxicologists say the heat may distract the brain from pain receptors in the abdomen but, like the syndrome itself, that phenomenon is not well understood.
      The exact cause of the condition is still a mystery. Toxicologists say the chemical compounds in marijuana may throw off the normal function of the body’s cannabinoid receptors, which help regulate the nervous system.
      Some people may be genetically predisposed to the syndrome, or marijuana’s potency or chemical makeup may have changed over time, said Dr. Craig Smollin, medical director of the San Francisco division of the California Poison Control System, who also works as an emergency physician at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.
      The vomiting link to cannabis is counterintuitive to many, because of its widely known reputation as an anti-nausea remedy for cancer patients.
      “A lot of times, people just don’t believe you,” said Dr. John Coburn, an emergency physician at Kaiser Permanente in south Sacramento. Even after being told that quitting may help, some patients will visit the hospital multiple times before they stop smoking marijuana, Coburn said. “I can’t really tell you why. I mean, why do people ride motorcycles without helmets on?”
      Cameron Nicole Beard, 19, of East Moline, Ill., said she struggled to believe her doctors about the link between pot and severe vomiting.
      “Who wants to be told you can’t smoke marijuana, when you think marijuana can help?” said Beard, while recovering from a marijuana-related vomiting episode at a University of Iowa hospital in Iowa City, Iowa, last month. She said she had lost 20 pounds in 10 days.
      Although there’s still no magic cure for a patient’s marijuana-related hyperemesis, Moulin and other doctors say they’re getting better at treating the symptoms, using old anti-psychotic medications and cream for muscle aches.
      Dr. Heard said the cases in Colorado seem to have leveled off. But without hard data, and because the overall numbers are small, it’s hard to say for sure. Heard said he doesn’t believe cases of the pot syndrome increased after recreational use was legalized in 2012, because chronic users probably already had medical marijuana cards.

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      Chalfonte LeNee Queen is still struggling to completely quit marijuana, but her symptoms are down to a dull stomachache. She now smokes a couple of times a day, compared with her near-constant use in the past. She said it’s the only thing that works for her depression and anxiety.
      Queen is back to a healthy weight and hasn’t been to the hospital in a year. She said she wouldn’t want to discourage anybody from smoking weed; she just wants people to know heavy use can bring them some serious misery.
      “Now, if I get sick, as sad as I’ll be and as upset and disappointed with myself as I would be, at least it’s a freaking choice,” she said.

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      Study Suggests Marijuana Could Help HIV Patients Maintain Their ‘Mental Stamina’

      No, marijuana doesn’t solve everything. There is data to suggest it helps with chronic pain, and low enough doses help to relieve stress, but it’s safe to say that far more research needs to be done before any firm conclusions are made.

      A brand new study, published in the journal AIDS, that looks into such links has made a rather striking suggestion. Namely, the anti-inflammatory properties of components of medical marijuana may help HIV patients retain their mental stamina for longer periods of time.

      According to the work led by Michigan State University (MSU), a decline in cognitive abilities occurs in up to 50 percent of HIV patients. If more work does happen to corroborate this finding, this particular application of the erstwhile drug will be indisputably substantial.

      “It’s believed that cognitive function decreases in many of those with HIV partly due to chronic inflammation that occurs in the brain,” lead author Norbert Kaminski, the Director of MSU’s Institute for Integrative Toxicology, explained in a statement.

      “This happens because the immune system is constantly being stimulated to fight off disease.”

      Taking blood samples from 40 HIV-positive patients, who varyingly did or did not use marijuana, the team isolated selections of white blood cells, before directly studying the effect marijuana had on them.

      Monocytes are the largest type of white blood cell. cenksns/Shutterstock

      Specifically, they looked at monocytes, a type of white blood cell that originates in bone marrow before quickly entering the bloodstream. Monocytes can turn into two different types of cell, those that mark foreign bodies that need to be destroyed, or those that actually do the destroying.

      So-called CD16+ monocytes often release certain proteins during their responses to infection, which can lead to inflammation within the body. This self-defense measure is often useful, but sustained inflammation can cause some damage. With no way to destroy the virus, these monocytes keep up this pro-inflammation response.

      As the MSU researchers found, though, those that didn’t smoke marijuana had a far higher level of inflammatory cells compared to those who did imbibe, suggesting the substance has an anti-inflammatory property. In vitro experimentation using THC and isolated white blood cells seemed to confirm this.

      “In fact, those who used marijuana had levels pretty close to a healthy person not infected with HIV,” Kaminski added.

      Less inflammation in the brain could potentially help them maintain normal brain functions for far longer, they suggest.

      Some caveats are needed, though. This was a small population size, so it’s too early to definitively describe a relationship between marijuana’s tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the behavior of the immune system. It’s also noted that elevated numbers of CD16+ monocytes are “implicated” in HIV-linked inflammation of the brain, but a concrete cause-and-effect link appears to remain elusive.

      Additionally, this wasn’t a longitudinal study, so you can’t yet say with confidence that those that smoke marijuana – which itself comes with some health risks in some cases – did have a better cognitive state after the fact.

      Still, it’s definitely an interesting study, and one that more research will shed additional light on.

      HIV is currently incurable – but contemporary anti-viral treatment does allow many of those afflicted by it to live an essentially normal life. In fact, it is now possible to produce (proof-of-concept) functional cures for the virus.

      As is often apparent, most of the research that makes the headlines involves the hunt for a cure. The sort of work featured in this new study, which looks at how to mitigate the dangerous effects of the virus on the patient during their lifetime, is not often focused on as much – so novel work, like that conducted by MSU, is always welcome.

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      Trump administration aims to crack down on legal marijuana

      Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to announce today that President Donald Trump‘s administration will reverse an Obama-era policy that instructed the federal government to take a hands-off approach with states that decide to legalize marijuana.

      Instead, Sessions is expected to say federal prosecutors will have the ability to decide how to enforce pot laws.

      The decision to flip to a harsher stance on marijuana comes amid a majority of Americans believing cannabis should be legal for recreational use and just days after California allowed shops to sell legal, recreational pot.

      The Associated Press first reported on the administration’s expected decision.

      Several states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, with some states—such as New Jersey—expected to follow suit. Despite growing momentum from states, pot is still illegal under federal law.

      Recent polls found 94 percent of voters support adults using marijuana legally for medicinal purposes and 64 percent of Americans think pot should be made legal.

      Under the new rules, Sessions is expected to say U.S. attorneys will now have the ability to decide how to enforce marijuana laws and direct said enforcement. The 2013 guidance from the Obama administration protected legalized cannabis from federal intervention as long as it did not interfere with other priorities.

      Sessions has long had an adversarial view on pot. Last summer he asked Congress to give him authority to go after medical marijuana patients and distributors, which was rebuffed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

      On the campaign, Trump said legal marijuana should be left up to the states.

      Sen. Cory Gardner (D-Colo.) said today that this move by Sessions broke a personal promise to him.

      Gardner is now threatening to hold up judicial nominees if Sessions and the administration do not reverse their stance.

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      Dennis Peron, father of medical marijuana in California, dies at 72

      Activist was prominent in San Francisco gay community and co-wrote California Proposition 215, legalizing medical pot

      Dennis Peron, father of medical marijuana in California, dies at 72

      • Activist was prominent in San Francisco gay community
      • Peron co-wrote California Proposition 215, legalizing medical pot

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