Activist sues, says medical marijuana violates federal law

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HILO — A longtime marijuana activist facing criminal charges of selling marijuana for running a now-defunct medical marijuana collective is suing in an attempt to stop the opening of state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

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HILO — A longtime marijuana activist facing criminal charges of selling marijuana for running a now-defunct medical marijuana collective is suing in an attempt to stop the opening of state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court by Mike Ruggles of Mountain View, names as defendants Gov. David Ige, state Health Director Virginia Pressler, state Attorney General Douglas Chin, and the four companies awarded state licenses to grow and sell marijuana, and those companies’ owners.

The suit alleges the state’s medical marijuana dispensary law is a violation of federal racketeering and drug laws.

“The state cannot license people to break federal law and that’s exactly what they’ve done with these dispensaries. How does California do it? You’ll notice Act 228 (Hawaii’s medical marijuana law passed in 2000) mirrors California’s medical marijuana law word for word. Dispensaries in California are not regulated, and that’s how they get around (federal law). You see, the state cannot give citizens a license to break federal law. What they can do is ignore federal law being broke.”

The California Department of Public Health regulates the medical marijuana identification card program. Its website said the department’s medical marijuana program “does not have jurisdiction over medical marijuana cooperatives, dispensaries, or collectives. For questions related to these areas, please contact your local city or county business licensing office.”

Marijuana is still listed by the U.S. government as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which means it is against federal law to possess or distribute it. The federal government under the Obama administration has taken a hands-off approach, however, with states whose laws allow the medicinal or recreational use of marijuana. There also has not been a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on any challenges to those laws.

Ruggles’ lawsuit also claims that under the state’s dispensary licensing program, which will eventually phase out caregivers and not allow patients to grow their own cannabis, many patients won’t have a legal way to obtain medical cannabis.

“They’re basically trying to make money off the backs of sick and poor people,” he said. “Next year, no more caregivers. Year after that, patients won’t be able to grow at all. They’re trying to funnel us into eight dispensaries, with owners who have local faces but mainland and international money backing. So basically, they’re trying to make money off of the backs of sick and poor people.

“They’re looking to have their eight friends make millions breaking federal laws but basically denying us.”

A spokeswoman for Ige said in a Monday email that “neither DOH nor the AG have been served or seen the complaint, so there isn’t anything we can say about it. Once it is served, we will have to review it before taking appropriate action.”

Ruggles, 58, operated Alternative Pain Management Puuhonua LLC until he was raided in September by local police and charged with numerous drug-related charges including three Class A felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison. If Ruggles is convicted of more than one Class A felony, however, the state could seek an extended sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Ruggles has filed numerous lawsuits against the county and the police, including an active state lawsuit claiming police entered his property without a warrant on June 14, 2012, and illegally confiscated his medical marijuana under the guise of a “compliance check.” Police have denied his allegations.

Ruggles said he wants the state “to admit that you can’t … make a state license to break federal law, and they’ll drop my criminal case — because I wasn’t doing a damn thing wrong. I was following the law and paying taxes.

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“Basically, the collective is the only legal way to (dispense medical marijuana). And I’m going to prove it in federal court.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.