Entries in Marijuana (36)


Teen Held as Sex Slave at California Pot Farm, Authorities Say

Lake County Sheriff's Office(SACRAMENTO, Calif) -- A missing 15-year-old girl was held captive in a metal box on a California marijuana farm, where she was forced to work and used as a sex slave, according to a federal complaint filed this week.

Ryan Balletto, 30, and Patrick Pearmain, 25, are charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and using a minor in a drug operation. Balletto also faces a charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, according to the complaint.

Federal authorities said the alleged marijuana-growing operation had been under investigation for 18 months, according to the complaint.

In April, after conducting a flyover of property owned by Balletto and detecting what was believed to be two greenhouses full of marijuana plants, authorities from the Lake County Sheriff's Office began preparing a search warrant.

The case became more complex when, on April 29, according to the complaint, the Los Angeles Police Department contacted the Lake County Sheriff's Office for "urgent assistance" after detectives received information a missing teen was being held against her will on Balletto's property.

Police visited Balletto's home the same day, but found nothing, according to the complaint.

The next day, the missing teen called authorities on a cellphone to say she was doing "OK" and was with Balletto in Sacramento, Calif., according to the complaint.

Police traced the called to West Sacramento, Calif., and located the teen at a hotel with Pearmain, where, according to the complaint, they found condoms, a pregnancy test, and an apparent script for the teen to use when she called authorities to say she was safe.

Pearmain was arrested and the minor was taken into protective custody.

On May 1, while executing a search warrant on Balletto's alleged extensive marijuana operation, authorities said they located Balletto inside a camp trailer and took him into custody.

A 4-foot-long metal box with air holes and human hair found inside was located on the property and appeared to have been "altered to imprison a human," according to the complaint.

Various contraptions that appeared "consistent with sexual bondage and sadomasochism" were also found during the search, the complaint said.

The teen told authorities she was kept in the box for three days and was given water through a hose, according to the complaint. The box was hoisted into the air and tilted, according to the authorities, so the water would "wash her off and rinse human waste from the inside of the box without letting her out."

A poem about life inside the box that appeared to have been written by the teen was found in Balletto's office during the search, the complaint said.

The teen described the marijuana operation as a "mission," according to the complaint, and said one of the reasons she was locked in the box was to protect the "mission."

According to the complaint, Pearmain told the teen they wanted to "help her" because she could "help them" because she was "good with trimming" the marijuana buds.

More than 1,000 marijuana plants were destroyed and a cache of weapons was seized from the property, according to the complaint.

The pair pleaded not guilty last week to the federal drug charges and were expected to appear again in federal court on July 31.

"Some in our community believe that marijuana grow operations are run by compassionate caregivers interested only in supplying medicine to the sick," U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said in a statement."Unfortunately, this case illustrates what we in law enforcement see -- marijuana grow operations that include heavily-armed, violent individuals, motivated by profit, carrying out abuses of vulnerable victims.

"In light of the details alleged in the complaint, we fear additional victims may have been subjected to similar treatment by the defendants, and we urge anyone with information about other such victims to come forward."

It was unclear whether Balletto and Pearmain have attorneys at this time.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Thousands of Pot Smokers Gather in Denver for 420 Rally

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- Tens of thousands of people are expected to gather and smoke marijuana in downtown Denver to celebrate April 20, a stoner holiday known as 420.

The celebration, to be held in the Denver Civic Center Park, is the largest 420 gathering, and is expected to see 80,000 participants.

“We've already met people from all over the country,” said Miguel Lopez, who organized the rally.

This is the first 420 celebration in Denver since Colorado passed Amendment 64, which makes it legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. The law does prohibit smoking in public, but with such  large numbers, officials say they won’t be targeting tokers, and instead will focus on crowd security.

“Even Amsterdam doesn't have the quality of legalization that Colorado does as far as marijuana,” said JJ Walker, the co-founder of My 420 Tours, the first pot-themed tour operator in the nation.

Washington State passed a nearly identical referendum, but Denver’s festivities are by far the largest.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Colorado Pot Clubs Celebrate Legal Marijuana in New Year

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(DENVER, Colo.) -- It was marijuana instead of champagne this year for some New Year's Eve revelers in Colorado, who lit up in private smoking clubs allowed for the first time under the state's new pot laws.

In Denver, people filled out an online application and paid a $30 fee to become part of Club 64, a private marijuana club named after the new pot law, Amendment 64. Members were advised of a private location in downtown Denver where they could attend a New Year's Eve party with other smokers.

"It went really well," said Robert Corry, an attorney who serves as general counsel for the group and helped shape the language of Amendment 64. "We rented out a retail shop for the evening. We had a DJ, music, some dancing, there was a bar and people brought alcohol, people brought food. It was a very warm, fun, happy evening."

Corry said that the idea for a members-only club had been in the works for years, and that Amendment 64 had been crafted specifically to allow for groups of private smokers. The initial gathering drew hundreds of interested smokers, Corry said.

"We're going to be getting together for periodic meetings and looking for a more permanent home. We hope to settle into a more stable spot in the future," he said. "We have a couple of hundred members at least, judging by last night. We're emerging from the shadows of prohibition, so there's' a lot of pent-up demand and interest."

Corry said he hoped the group would eventually have a space that functioned like a bar, with a food and drink menu. For now, smokers bring their own pot to the party. Under Colorado law, individuals may now possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow six marijuana plants. They are allowed to smoke in private places only, not in public.

The law passed by Colorado voters in November mandated that in 2013, the state legislature would establish laws governing the licensing and selling of marijuana commercially. Since it is still against federal law to sell or possess marijuana, no businesses in the state are selling pot yet, he said. Corry said he hopes that eventually, Club 64 will be able to do so.

Across the state, in Del Norte, business owner Paul Lovato invited friends and acquaintances to the White Horse Inn, a coffee shop he is building, where he said he hopes people will be allowed to smoke privately.

"I got (my permit) yesterday at nine in the morning, so I didn't have time to go in and really build anything, so I said, 'Hey, I have it, come on in, I'm open for business,'" Lovato said. "I invited people to come in and smoke, to basically be in a private location and smoke under Amendment 64. It was basically a gathering, with people smoking and enjoying their legal right to smoke."

He said a dozen people from the rural area around the inn showed up to celebrate, though he expects larger crowds once the shop is officially open.

Lovato said his goal is to operate a coffee shop that sells T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other pot-related gifts in one building on his property. In another building, he will offer a "smoking den" area with booths where guests can drink good coffee and smoke marijuana that they bring with them.

"The White Horse Inn is not a hash bar that sells or distributes marijuana," he said. "It's an Amendment 64-themed gift shop and coffee shop. There's no distribution."

Lovato said that local officials had expressed some concern about the White Horse Inn's gathering, and that he hoped to meet with officials soon to discuss plans for the inn's official opening, scheduled for April 20.

Though he and other groups and businesses may still be figuring out how to operate under Colorado's new marijuana laws, Robert Corry said he is thrilled that his work toward legalized smoking has been successful.

"The feeling was one of joy, really," he said. "This is what a lot of us in this state have been working for for the past decade. It was a real relief that we can finally get to this point."

"It was nice to exercise our freedom and celebrate a little bit. That's really what it's about. For us, we enjoy marijuana, but for me, it's so much more, it's about freedom, and it felt pretty free last night," he said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Casual Marijuana Use Now Legal in Colorado

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- Rocky Mountain High will take on a whole new meaning now after Colorado on Monday officially made the use and possession of marijuana legal for residents 21 and older.

Colorado follows Washington state, which formally legalized the drug last week.  Both states did so after voters approved measures in November.

Ironically, Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the law while at the same time opposing it.

He warned its proponents that lawmakers still haven't figured out how to square legalized marijuana with federal laws that still consider possession and use of the drug a crime.

Still, Hickenlooper's signature means casual use of the drug and limited home growing means Coloradoans don't have to fear getting in trouble with the police, that is, unless they do it in public.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Two Colorado College Students Face Assault Charges over Pot Brownies

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BOULDER, Colo.) -- Two University of Colorado Boulder college students are facing multiple felony charges, including assault, after allegedly giving marijuana-laced brownies to an unsuspecting professor and classmates during “bring food day” Friday, sending three of them to the hospital.

At about 10:20 Friday morning, police and paramedics responded to a campus building where a female professor was complaining of dizziness and was losing consciousness, according to a statement from the University of Colorado Boulder Police.

The professor was taken by ambulance to a hospital emergency room.  Later that afternoon, a female student was taken to a hospital for an anxiety attack, while another went to a hospital after she said she felt like she was going to blackout.

In all, police said, eight people were affected.  All the victims that went to the hospital have been released, police said.

“An investigation revealed that the three hospitalized victims -- and five other classmates -- were suffering from the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana,” University of Colorado Boulder Police said.  “Two students -- Thomas Ricardo Cunningham, 21, and Mary Elizabeth Essa, 19 -- baked THC-laced brownies for the class as part of a ‘bring food day.’  The professor and classmates were unaware that the brownies contained THC.”

Cunningham and Essa could not be immediately reached for comment.  They are facing felony charges, including assault in the second degree and inducing consumption of controlled substances by fraudulent means.

“It’s serious,” Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett told ABC News.  “People have to be able to make decisions about what happens to them.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Day One of Legal Pot Marred by Deaths at Alleged Wash. Growing Center

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- The first day of legal marijuana use in Washington State was marred by an attempted robbery ending with two deaths at an alleged pot-growing facility just south of Seattle.

The possession of pot became legal in the state Thursday after voters passed a measure decriminalizing it in November. Day two kicked off with more celebrations under the Space Needle tower, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, but the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department investigated an attempted robbery in Puyallup at an alleged growing center foiled by a homeowner who shot two alleged burglars in front of his 9-year-old son.

Officers say they arrived at the home of the man, 35, Thursday to find two masked men dead on the floor and marijuana plants in the attic, ABC affiliate KOMO-TV News reported.

While the law passed in November made it legal to carry and consume marijuana, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb of the Seattle Police Department said cultivating and selling the drug outside of medical dispensaries is still a crime.

“When you’re engaged in that type of criminal activity, there is an element of risk,” Whitcomb told ABC News Friday.

The legislation leaves Washington in a “murky place,” Whitcomb said. Smokers who have purchased marijuana from a street dealer are in the clear.

But the dealer “is still committing a felony,” he said.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle sent out a statement Wednesday reminding residents that pot is still illegal under federal law and cannot be brought onto federal property.

“Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law,” the memo from U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said.

Federal officials have not said whether they will take action in Colorado and Washington where possession laws now conflict with nationwide drug classifications, but Seattle Police told ABC News Thursday that federal agents were hands-off on pot smokers in the state.

In an ABC News poll released shortly after the election, 48 percent of Americans expressed support for legalizing marijuana.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Same-Sex Marriage, Marijuana Possession Now Legal in Washington

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Thursday marks a historic day for Washington state.  Not only is same-sex marriage now legal there, but possessing small amounts of marijuana is no longer against the law.

At midnight, both laws went into effect.  Hundreds of same-sex couples lined up for hours to be part of the historic day.

The first marriage licenses were handed out at 12:01 a.m.  Couples, however, will have to wait until Sunday for their ceremonies.  According to state law, a three-day wait is required after marriage licenses are issued for all couples.

Washington state voters approved same-sex marriage last month on Election Day.  They also passed a referendum legalizing marijuana for recreational use.  The measure legalizes small amounts of marijuana for people over the age of 21.

But as Sean Whitcomb of the Seattle Police Department says, residents shouldn't light-up in public.

"The idea of someone smoking in public?  They shouldn't be doing it, and if we deal with them, they could get a ticket," he says.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle also reminds people that "regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Federal Agent Killed When Drug Smuggler Rams Coast Guard Boat

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SANTA BARBARA, Calif.) -- A federal law enforcement officer was killed when a dope smuggler’s small craft rammed a Coast Guard boat in a midnight interception of a marijuana load off the California coast, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

Four suspects are in custody and a manhunt is under way for at least two others who may have escaped to a coastal island.

According to sources, the incident took place early Sunday morning, at approximately 1 a.m., when the Coast Guard intercepted two boats -- a pleasure craft and a panga boat, which is a small, fast launch -- near San Clemente Island, in Santa Barbara County.

The Coast Guard, according to initial reports, took the pleasure craft into custody and detained two occupants.

The Coast Guard cutter crew then lowered their smaller boat into the water in order to take custody of the individuals on the panga boat.  At that point, the operation turned deadly.

As the Coast Guard small craft approached the panga, the driver of the panga rammed it and actually drove over the top of the boat, striking two agents and killing one of them.

Other members of the Coast Guard team took the occupants of the panga into custody, making for a total of four suspects in custody -- two from the pleasure craft and two from the panga.

Sources said that authorities believed that two additional suspects were dropped off on Santa Cruz Island just before the interception of the two boats.

The Santa Barbara Sheriff's SWAT team was working with the U.S. Border Patrol on Sunday, searching Santa Cruz Island for additional suspects.

The small Coast Guard Boat that was rammed was taken to Oxnard.  Coast Guard officials said they planned to transport this boat, as well as the pleasure craft and panga boat, to the Coast Guard Base in the Port of Los Angeles.

According to sources, the Coast Guard Investigative Services are requesting assistance from the Los Angeles Police Department Scientific Investigation Division (SID) forensics unit and photo unit.

Arrangements are under way to secure the vessels at the Port until Monday morning, when SID can respond.

The panga was operated by Mexican nationals, and the cargo was marijuana, law enforcement sources said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Marijuana Legalization Celebrations May Be Premature, Lawmakers and Experts Say

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As marijuana supporters across the country rejoice at Colorado and Washington becoming the first states to legalize the drug recreationally, experts and lawmakers warn that the celebrations may be premature.

"I think this is the beginning of the conversation on legalization, not the end," former Obama Drug Policy Advisor Dr. Kevin Sabet told ABC News Wednesday.

"When you have the governors of both states [opposing it] as well as the president and Congress, who has already determined that marijuana is illegal, this is not going to be a walk in the park for marijuana enthusiasts," Sabet said.

In a groundbreaking move, Colorado and Washington voters passed referendums legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The drug is still banned under federal law.


Colorado's Proposition 64 to the state's constitution makes it legal for anyone over the age of 21 to possess marijuana and for businesses to sell it.

"The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement. "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly."

A similar measure on the ballot in Washington state legalizes small amounts of marijuana for people over 21.

Even though the measures have passed, they are likely to meet legal challenges very quickly.

Sabet predicted that the federal government would find a way to make clear that the passage of the amendments violates federal law and they won't "take this lying down."

"I wouldn't advise anyone to toke up just yet. This is going to be caught up in the courts. This is a to-be-determined situation," Sabet said. "The government has multiple avenues. They can wait until it's implemented, take action before it's implemented, reiterate what federal law is, send warning letters."

The avenue the federal government will choose remains to be seen, Sabet said, especially since the passage is unprecedented.

"If you look back, the only precedent is the medical marijuana situation," he said.

In 2005, the Supreme Court by an 8-0 margin struck down a California law that legalized medical marijuana in the state. The Court said Congress had the power to criminalize marijuana under the Commerce Clause.

He said that it may take a state's move toward implementation to spur the federal government into intervening.

"I think you're going to see very soon a response from the administration," he said. "It's completely premature for any legalization advocate to be celebrating at this point."

Nevertheless, the amendment's strongest proponents in Colorado celebrated the win.

"The people of Colorado have rejected the failed policy of marijuana prohibition," said Brian Vicente, co-director of the Yes on 64 campaign, according to ABC News Denver affiliate KMGH. "Thanks to their votes, we will now reap the benefits of regulation."

"It would certainly be a travesty if the Obama administration used its power to impose marijuana prohibition upon a state whose people have declared, through the democratic process, that they want it to end," Vicente said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) declined to discuss their plans moving forward.

"The Drug Enforcement Administration's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," the DEA said in a statement Wednesday. "In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. The Department of Justice is reviewing the ballot initiatives and we have no additional comment at this time."

A similar ballot issue to legalize marijuana in Oregon did not pass. In Massachusetts, voters approved legislation to allow marijuana for medicinal reasons, joining 17 other states that allow it.

When asked if the federal government may try to quickly quash the amendments as a way to prevent a potential future domino effect of other states following in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington, Sabet said a failed legalization could actually set the movement back.

"A lot is going to ride on what happens next in these two states," he said. "This very well may backfire because if this does not turn out so well, if implementation does not happen, the donors and millionaires that donated for this to happen may pause when doing it in other states."

"I think people should just pause before celebrating this," Sabet said. "The story is just beginning."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


What Happens If Washington State Legalizes Pot?

Hemera/Thinkstock(OLYMPIA, Wash.) -- Washington state probably won't influence the 2012 presidential race, but voters there could still leave the next president in a haze.

On Tuesday, Washington may very well become the first state to legalize the possession, cultivation and commercial sale of marijuana, both Republicans and Democrats say -- bringing the state into apparent conflict with federal law if voters approve Initiative 502, which would allow residents over 21 to buy pot from stores licensed and regulated by the state liquor board.

If I-502 passes, it remains unclear how the president, whoever he is, will respond.

The White House declined to comment to ABC News when asked whether President Obama would seek to overturn I-502, should it pass and should he remain in office. So did Obama's Office of National Drug Control Policy. Neither Obama's nor Romney's presidential campaign responded to multiple emails seeking comment over the weekend.

"We are not going to speculate on the outcome of the various ballot initiatives in each of the states," Department of Justice spokeswoman Allison Price wrote in an email.

Representatives of both political parties in Washington told ABC News that prospects for I-502 look good.

"I have no doubt it's gonna pass," Washington Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur told ABC News. The state GOP did not take a position on the measure, and no one raised it in an endorsement meeting, Wilbur said. "As liberal as the state is ... I wouldn't be surprised to see it at 55/45," Wilbur said, referring to percentages of the vote for and against.

"It's really hard to know what's going to happen," Washington Democratic Party spokesman Benton Strong said. "I think most of the polls look positive for it."

Their favorable handicapping is informed partly by automated polls, considered unreliable by ABC News, that predict the measure will pass by a comfortable margin. Major pollsters have not surveyed in Washington in 2012, focusing instead on competitive presidential-battleground states.

Washington's Republican and Democratic candidates for attorney general have pledged to defend it in federal court if it passes and is challenged, although both oppose the measure. Both men think a federal challenge is likely.

"If it does pass, and it looks like it may pass in this state, we will be exactly contrary to federal criminal law," said Reagan Dunn, the Republican candidate, at their September debate. Dunn was referring to the Controlled Substances Act, enacted under President Nixon in 1970. "Depending on who is the U.S. attorney, depending on who is the attorney general of the United States, we are very likely as a state to be sued and challenged in federal court on this issue." Dunn then touted his experience trying cases in federal court.

"If the voters approve the initiative, obviously my job is to defend that state law," said Bob Ferguson, the Democratic candidate. "It won't be easy. Anyone who says it will be easy is kidding themselves."

If I-502 passes, possession will become legal 30 days after Election Day, but regulated commercial sale would not begin until Dec. 6, 2013, after a year-long rule-making process granted to the state's health department. During that time, supporters hope to negotiate with the federal government and avoid a challenge.

Medical marijuana doesn't offer a clear picture of how the federal government would respond to I-502 passing, either. A total of 17 states, including Washington, plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and the Obama administration's approach to those state laws has drawn criticism from marijuana advocates. A 2009 Justice Department memo urged U.S. attorneys to avoid prosecuting medical-marijuana patients who follow state law; a later memo advocated prosecution of medical pot shops.

Regardless of whether Washington's initiative passes, marijuana legalizers have said they will continue to push state initiatives. After major state/federal issues have arisen in court over Arizona's immigration law and funding provisions in Obama's health-reform law, advocates are pushing marijuana to become the next major states' rights legal conflict.

"Only through a process of states challenging federal marijuana policy and demanding that they be allowed to regulate marijuana in a way that's socially responsible for local communities are we also going to see a change in federal policy," Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann told ABC News.

Since the candidates won't say how they'd handle such a scenario, Washington, Oregon and Colorado -- where similar initatives will also appear on the ballot Tuesday -- will have to wait and see if the issue is forced.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio