Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2014

Currently: 76° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Raids baffle pot users with legal standing in Nevada

Image

Steve Marcus

James Parsons, licensed medical marijuana patient and president of Medical Cannabis Consultants of Nevada, smokes marijuana at his home as Licensed medical marijuana patient Justin Martin looks on Tuesday, October 26, 2010. Parsons was one of several Las Vegans who was targeted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Metro Police in a crackdown Sept. 8 on individuals who grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. Parsons is legally registered with the state to harvest marijuana for medicinal purposes but his business and Summerlin home were raided. To this day he has still not been charged.

Reader poll

Should medical marijuana dispensaries be legal in Nevada?

View results

Medical Marijuana

James Parsons, president of Medical Cannabis Consultants of Nevada, poses at the business Monday, October 25, 2010. Parsons was one of several Las Vegans who was targeted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Metro Police in a crackdown Sept. 8 on individuals who grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. Parsons is legally registered with the state to harvest marijuana for medicinal purposes but his business and Summerlin home were raided. To this day he has still not been charged. Launch slideshow »

Medical Marijuana

James Parsons, licensed medical marijuana patient and president of Medical Cannabis Consultants of Nevada, smokes marijuana at his home as Licensed medical marijuana patient Justin Martin looks on Tuesday, October 26, 2010.  Parsons was one of several Las Vegans who was targeted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Metro Police in a crackdown Sept. 8 on individuals who grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. Parsons is legally registered with the state to harvest marijuana for medicinal purposes but his business and Summerlin home were raided. To this day he has still not been charged. Launch slideshow »

James Parsons still doesn’t know why he and a volunteer employee spent the afternoon of Sept. 8 in handcuffs after authorities raided his medical marijuana consulting business as well as his rented Summerlin home in a crackdown on pot dispensaries throughout the Las Vegas Valley.

“It was just a smash and grab robbery,” Parsons said while collecting the final scraps of his shuttered business. They didn’t touch his financial records, he said, but “they took stuff that I believe they could sell at a police auction.”

The raids confused Parsons, a state-registered medical marijuana user who insists he never sold the drug. And they have exposed what medical marijuana advocates say is a glaring weakness in Nevada’s medical marijuana law — a ban on dispensaries, which they say makes it difficult for many patients with AIDS, cancer or other ailments to buy pot for pain relief and appetite stimulation. Their only legal alternative: grow their own marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. And that raises another weakness in the state law — it says patients can possess marijuana plants, but not the seeds to grow them.

“When the law was passed we tried to have the state grow the plants and distribute the marijuana to patients, but the Nevada Legislature didn’t want to get involved,” said Las Vegas political consultant Dan Hart, spokesman for the group that got the voter-approved law passed in 2000.

The simple solution, advocates say, is to make medical marijuana dispensaries legal in Nevada.

If Parsons gets to prove his innocence — he hasn’t been charged — it would run counter to last fall’s announcement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who ordered federal prosecutors to lay off medical marijuana patients who are following their state laws.

But because none of the undisclosed number of raids has led to arrests, the acts — conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Metro Police and other agencies — remain shrouded in secrecy. The U.S. attorney’s office will only say that no charges have been filed in connection with the raids and that the search warrants remain sealed.

The Las Vegas raids, following those in other states where medical marijuana is legal, are not necessarily inconsistent with Holder’s announcement because it came with a caveat. Authorities would still make busts if they thought growers and sellers were violating state laws. But where does that leave individuals such as Parsons, who say they are merely law-abiding consultants?

As owner of the federally tax exempt nonprofit Medical Cannabis Consultants of Nevada, all Parsons said he did was offer advice on how to apply for a state medical marijuana registration card, make referrals to physicians who prescribe marijuana, and show clients how to cultivate the plant. He had also planned to sell smoking pipes, herb grinders, hydroponic equipment and other paraphernalia.

“They came after me on the belief I am selling cannabis,” Parsons said. “Wrong. I am a patient resource center. I can’t wait to go to court to prove that.”

But Parsons, 34, has more than a shuttered business on his mind. He’s fighting eviction from his home, brought about after Metro wrote a Sept. 30 letter informing the landlord that he was in violation of a Las Vegas nuisance ordinance because marijuana “was being sold or possessed for sale” at the residence. Parsons is angry, saying he wasn’t arrested or charged with a crime and that he can legally grow pot as a registered patient.

So, he asks, what is the nuisance?

“I’m a legal patient, but I’m considered guilty until proven innocent in this state,” he said. “Every law that Metro can enforce, I’m following. So why does Metro continue to terrorize me and my family?”

Parsons’ friend T. Matthew Phillips, a civil rights attorney who practices in California but lives in Las Vegas, said he generally supports law enforcement but sees no way Metro can defend the letter.

“In my opinion, Metro absolutely cannot do what they’re doing,” he said. “It amounts to extortion.”

But Officer Bill Cassell, a Metro spokesman, said police don’t need an arrest to notify landlords of a nuisance under city code. Definitions of a nuisance include a property that is the subject of a search warrant and a place used to unlawfully sell, manufacture or store a controlled substance.

Cassell also said the letter makes no mention of eviction — saying that’s left up to the landlord. “We are not trying to get anyone evicted,” he said.

Last week found Parsons clearing what was left of his rented office space at 800 N. Rainbow Blvd. He arrived at this point after spending his childhood as a military brat and enlisting in the Marine Corps.

Two hours after the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, Parsons — who was stationed at Quantico, Va., as a computer programmer — was in a detail of Marines sent to serve as needed. He spent the next two weeks patrolling the Potomac River.

After his honorable discharge in 2002, he moved to Las Vegas and worked in restaurants.

Frustrated by the struggle to find information on the state medical marijuana program and finally locate a Las Vegas physician willing to prescribe the substance, Parsons became a consultant to help others like him. He opened for business in March 2009 and has since helped more than 450 people get state registration. As of August, 2,242 Nevadans had medical marijuana cards, with an additional 165 applications pending.

Click to enlarge photo

James Parsons, president of Medical Cannabis Consultants of Nevada, poses the business Monday, October 25, 2010. Parsons was one of several Las Vegans who was targeted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Metro Police in a crackdown Sept. 8 on individuals who grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. Parsons is legally registered with the state to harvest marijuana for medicinal purposes but his business and Summerlin home were raided. To this day he has still not been charged.

After the raid, Parsons and a volunteer employee spent more than three hours in handcuffs, part of it face down on the sidewalk near his business. He estimates 25 to 30 law enforcement officers participated, many armed with high-powered weapons. Agents took his paraphernalia, marijuana plants, computers, assorted paperwork, video games and his Suzuki Reno automobile, he said, adding they knocked a hole in a door while searching inside his business.

He said agents seized no more than eight ounces of marijuana, which is eight times the limit under state law. But Parsons said the law also allows patients to possess more if they can prove it is medically needed and that they have a physician’s approval. Parsons’ doctor permitted him to possess as much as 64 ounces, he said.

“Why would they conduct a paramilitary raid against a disabled United States veteran operating under the law?” Parsons said. “All they should have done is called and asked and I would have met them with everything they wanted at the front door.”

Although the Drug Enforcement Administration, Metro and other agencies involved in the raids have not disclosed the number or identities of individuals or businesses that were targeted, the DEA periodically publishes legal notices in The Wall Street Journal that detail money it has confiscated. The confiscations in Las Vegas the day of the raids included $20,106 from Reynalda Barnett, former owner of Dr. Reefer Institute, $3,549 from the Happiness Consultants and $1,807 from owner John Birmele, $999 from Nature’s Way, and $905 from Organic Releaf. Neither Parsons nor his business were listed, for reasons he does not know.

Under Nevada law, patients may obtain marijuana by growing their own or having a registered caregiver do so. Marijuana dispensaries are legal in California, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island, but not in Nevada.

But that did not stop numerous medical marijuana consultants such as Parsons from setting up shop in the valley.

Dave Schwarz, executive director of medical marijuana advocacy group Sensible Nevada, said as many as 25 consultants opened shop. He said he thinks some were illegally dispensing marijuana.

“There are patient advocates who say the law is gray and have questioned whether dispensaries are legal but if you take a strict interpretation of the law, dispensaries are illegal,” he said. “We believe the law should be modified to allow for dispensaries.”

When Nevada voters approved the medical marijuana law, the sponsor of the initiative, Nevadans for Medical Rights, had hoped that the Legislature would either establish a state-run marijuana supply network or permit licensed dispensaries. Hart, the group’s spokesman, said those options would have made it easier for patients to get marijuana.

“There wasn’t an appetite to do that when they developed the regulations,” Hart said. “They saw a system where the patients would grow their own as the easy way out. It was a less-than-ideal situation.”

It still is, said Dr. James Tinnell, who prescribes medical marijuana to Parsons and other patients.

“A lot of patients have problems growing the plants,” Tinnell said. “Having cooperatives or dispensaries could answer that problem.”

With medical marijuana legal in 14 states, and with many advocates complaining that the federal government has larger, more dangerous targets in its war on drugs, Holder announced October 2009 that the Justice Department would no longer prosecute medical marijuana users in states where it is legal. The caveat, contained in a memo written by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, was that federal authorities would still prosecute growers and sellers it thinks abuse state medical marijuana laws.

Since Holder’s announcement, this policy has been carried out in raids on medical marijuana dispensaries or growers in California, Michigan and Colorado before the Las Vegas crackdown.

Asked how the Las Vegas raids jived with Holder’s announcement, DEA Special Agent Sarah Pullen in Los Angeles simply said: “We’re following the guidance from the attorney general.”

But the DEA, which is part of the Justice Department, has never supported medical marijuana use under any circumstance. The agency insists on its website that medical marijuana is medically risky and unnecessary because patients can opt for Marinol, a prescribed drug that has a synthetic version of THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana.

Phillips’ response is that the DEA and other federal agencies are doing the bidding of the pharmaceutical industry, which he said views medical marijuana as competition.

“The DEA is really being lame by going after the easiest prey,” Phillips said. “It’s nothing more than medical profiling. It doesn’t take much skill or cunning to go after the medical marijuana guy.”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 19 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. Yes, shouldn't the Government be promoting "green jobs" and entrepeneurship not trying to destroy it? I don't use use illicit drugs but let's get real here, the war on drugs has been a complete failure and any marijuana smoker can get it anywhere in the US if he or she wants. Just in the last week four American citizens were killed at the border, possibly by cartels or their affiliates and a 14 ton seizure of marijuana occurred, in Tijuana I believe. Only a relatively small portion of the amount the cartels are trying to get in is seized, the rest of it ending up in North America. Let's just legalize it and tax it, that shouldn't cause use to increase, it's already being used by those so inclined. Quality will go up and it will drive the price down and take some of the business away from the cartels. Maybe then we will be able to redirect law enforcement and prosecutorial resources where they belong, investigating terrorism or some Wall Street banksters, perhaps???

  2. Alcohol was also illegal once and smuggling made mafia cartels and Joe Kennedy very rich. Once it was legalized and taxed, the Government made money.

    Alcohol is much more destructive then marijuana to the user, so what is the problem?

  3. Furthermore, the issuance of the nuisance letter and its justification here borders on fascism. So, you can issue a nuisance letter merely because a property is subject of a search warrant? What if the search warrant is in error and there was not proper justification for it in the first place? Here the individual appears to be following the law in regards to storing a controlled substance, absent any other evidence that he was selling it, so that requirement for the issuance of the nuisance letter doesn't seem to have been met either. Then the Metro officer's statement, we're not trying to get anyone evicted", duh, is disingenous at best. If you are a landlord and you get one of these nuisance letters regarding your tenant aren't you going to take action against your tenant, including possibly eviction, to prevent further action by the police and city in regard to your property? Unreal.

  4. Thanks for the CHANGE Obama - aka Bush III.

  5. Chunky says:

    What people do in the privacy of their home is their own business unless it's harming someone else.

    He supports the use of medical marijuana for LEGITIMATE needs when there are no other alternatives.

    He supports an individuals right to smoke marijuana in the privacy of their home the same as someone has a drink.

    What he doesn't support are those who get their "card" based on a series of "right answers" given to a doctor or someone whose business model is to help the average Joe/Jolene get weed to get high.

    Nor does Chunky support someone without genuine medical needs living a lifestyle of being high all-day or everyday any more than he would someone getting drunk all-day or everyday.

    Chunky finds it ironic that Mr. Parsons is smoking for his health, yet he's ruining his lungs and throat with smoke.

    And finally, the biggest problem Chunky has is whether these marijuana users (legit or not) out there operating a motor vehicle under the influence? Do the prescriptions warn of operating machinery / drowsiness like other drugs? Do the police have a test and benchmark level for intoxication like they do for alcohol?

    The politics behind legalization are perplexing and Chunky somewhat agrees with the comment(s) above that the government and big business simply haven't figure out how to tax and profit from it.

    That's what Chunky thinks! Now, go vote!

  6. Looks like Metro violates people's property rights by sending out letters to Landlords. No court, no crime, just punish the person by sending out a letter. I would sue Metro for slander and libel. Also, Gillespie was saying that: "people should grow their own" on a local hate talk radio show. But as the article states, you can't legally get the seeds.

    Looks like besides "eminent domain" the Government has one more way of taking people's property. Why anyone would vote for Gillespie I don't know.

    This is another good reason for people to stop cooperating with Metro in any fashion. Notice how Metro has not caught the people that allegedly killed the school teacher. Guess they are to busy making pot busts. I wonder if that teacher murder went down the way Metro claims? Maybe he was killed by some law enforcement agency for some reason? Either deliberately or by mistake? After all, Gillespie lied about the Manor-Darling crash saying at least three times that: "the emergency equipment was on," "the lights and siren were on," etc. even though 5 witnesses said they were not on. Of course, those witnesses were chased away at the scene and called "liars" by the cops.

  7. Chunky, what they need to do is perform studies on the effect of marijuana while driving. However, I doubt that will happen.

  8. According to radio doctor Dr. Dean Edell, studies have shown that pot drivers do much better than alcohol drivers. One of the major cause of accidents not talked about is "macho" for a lack of a better term. Often used to describe a bad attitudes in aircraft pilots, this seems to be something afflicting Metro with it's track recording of reckless driving and fatal accidents.

  9. The last I heard was that the Federal Goveremetn has banned the growing of Pot was banned back in
    either the 20's or 30's. It was used to make
    Hemp rope at the time. As far as I know the law
    is still on the books but not enforced except in
    selective cases. Many states have numerous laws
    on the control, sale and distribution of Pot.
    But it still remains a violation of U.S. Law.
    Maybe they trying to say Obama and is minions
    aren't gettig their cut so they going to shut down
    the usage until they can TAX it to death.

  10. I saw that "Trader Joe's" had a new product "Hemp Drink." maybe Metro will go out and raid them? Of course they don't sell donuts.

  11. GOINGBUST...
    Did you even READ THE ARTICLE???
    Clueless, I tell you.

  12. RENTSAMSON...Michael Feldman...
    I find this VERY DISTURBING.
    Metro and the Feds are using Anti-American, highly suspect tactics to harrass law-abiding citizens...
    THIS MUST STOP!!!

    Right, Lar???

  13. "By JerryWayne: Chunky, what they need to do is perform studies on the effect of marijuana while driving. However, I doubt that will happen."

    Chunky says this is a perfect news story/project for the Sun or local TV! They've done it under controlled courses to illustrate the effects of drinking, they should do both pot and alcohol! One ounce alcohol for some measure of weed!

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  14. The key here is the acronym DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), a federal agency controlled by federal law. Federal law always takes precedence over state law. And Marijuana, it's production, distribution, transportation, sale and possession are against federal law. The DEA doesn't work for or come under the state of Nevada or any other state and doesn't abide it's laws.

    While I personally disagree and believe medical marijuana should be legal for use as prescribed by a doctor licensed by the feds and state to do so, to patients legally registered and permitted to possess and use it; and the feds ought to license, produce and distribute it as they used to in the 70s during an experimental program in which the weed was rolled and packaged identically to cigarettes except for lack of a tax stamp. The quality and quantity was controlled and the 'packs' were sealed just like cigarettes. Then they could regulate the quality and regulate it under the FDA.

    In the case of marijuana, the feds are correct in enforcing federal law, their hypocrisy resulting from unequal enforcement.

    Those in states like CA and Nevada who "don't understand" the DEA's enforcement using compliance with state law are placing their faith in the wrong pew and without a leg to stand on.

    Regardless of my or others feeling on marijuana production, sale and use, until federal law is changed to allow and regulate it, it is against the law and legally so. Common sense would dictate that enforcement actions come to some more than others based on actions and appearances. Rightly or not that's human nature and the sight of a bong puffing hippie looking dude claiming medical need flies in the face of experience. The rat on dispensaries comes from states like CA where dispensaries and doctors writing scrips are little more than thinly disguised pot shops with questionable legality and a file cabinet full of investigations where undercover 'patients' entered and received a prescription based on false and unexamined complaints of minor maladies. Too often pot shops fronted by quacks with real affiliation to legitimate medical practice outside of dispensing pot or it's prescriptions.

    So, when I read 'I don't understand' I can neither sympathize nor 'understand' why the self described victim doesn't 'understand'. Maybe they're too fogged over to comprehend the finer points of state versus federal law and who has peremptory authority.

  15. LVMPD has managed AGAIN to trample on the RIGHTS of citizens by STORM TROOPING a place of buisness, forcing buisness owners at GUN POINT on the ground to be hog tied while the police pry unobstructed thru all his property, siezing whatever they please. Upscounding with legitimate buisness property at gun point is no way to run a local police dept. The LVMPD seems to have WAY too much time on their hands. I agree, he should sue the City.

  16. Lord Acton: Power Corrupts, and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely...!
    Another good Example, we continue to build NEW PRISONS to Accomodate, NON VIOLENT OFFENDERS!!!
    Ask yourself who's BENIFITTING, from this NONSENSE???

  17. John Gault (Ayn Rand)...
    If we were Magically able to have all people obey all Existing Laws; New Laws would have to be passed to keep all the Enforcers Empoyed!!!

  18. Rowdy Yates, Please give us your Badge #???

  19. Many Posters Harp on the FACT , that FEDERAL LAW TRUMPS State LAW. I ask U, is it possible that FEDERAL LAW, IS WRONG, and driven by "SPECIAL INTERESTS", and their POLITICAL LOBBYS???