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Court rules against Florida officials on medical marijuana
Court Issues | 2019/07/09 01:40
A Florida appellate court ruled that the state's approach to regulating marijuana is unconstitutional, possibly allowing more providers to jump into a market positioned to become one of the country's most lucrative.

If the ruling stands, it could force state officials to lift existing caps on how many medical marijuana treatment centers can operate in Florida.

Tuesday's ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee was another setback for Florida officials trying to regulate the burgeoning marijuana industry more tightly. It mostly affirmed a lower court's ruling that the caps and operational requirements violated the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in 2016.

Ever since, the law has been a subject of debate in the legislature and courts. It was unclear whether Florida officials would appeal the ruling.

Florida now has more than 240,000 people registered with the state to legally use medicinal marijuana, according to the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. They are served by 142 dispensaries across the state, the majority operated by about a half-dozen medical marijuana treatment centers that grow their own crop, process it and sell it — a business model known as vertical integration.

That business model and the limited number of treatment centers were points of contention for Tampa-based Florigrown, which sued the state after being denied a license.



Census, redistricting top remaining Supreme Court cases
Court Issues | 2019/06/24 00:50
The Supreme Court enters its final week of decisions with two politically charged issues unresolved, whether to rein in political line-drawing for partisan gain and allow a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Both decisions could affect the distribution of political power for the next decade, and both also may test Chief Justice John Roberts’ professed desire to keep his court of five conservatives appointed by Republican presidents and four liberals appointed by Democrats from looking like the other, elected branches of government. Decisions that break along the court’s political and ideological divide are more likely to generate criticism of the court as yet another political institution.

In addition, the justices could say as early as Monday whether they will add to their election-year calendar a test of President Donald Trump’s effort to end an Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation. The court’s new term begins in October.

Twelve cases that were argued between November and April remain to be decided. They include disputes over: a trademark sought by the FUCT clothing line, control of a large swatch of eastern Oklahoma that once belonged to Indian tribes and when courts should defer to decisions made by executive branch agencies.

But the biggest cases by far involve the citizenship question the Trump administration wants to add to the census and two cases in which lower courts found that Republicans in North Carolina and Democrats in Maryland went too far in drawing congressional districts to benefit their party at the expense of the other party’s voters.

The Supreme Court has never invalidated districts on partisan grounds, but the court has kept the door open to these claims. The court has struck down districts predominantly based on race.



Carnival will pay $20m over pollution from its cruise ships
Court Issues | 2019/06/05 16:47

Carnival Corp. reached a settlement Monday with federal prosecutors in which the world’s largest cruise line agreed to pay a $20 million penalty because its ships continued to pollute the oceans despite a previous criminal conviction aimed at curbing similar conduct.

Senior U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz approved the agreement after Carnival CEO Arnold Donald stood up in open court and admitted the company’s responsibility for probation violations stemming from the previous environmental case.

“The company pleads guilty,” Arnold said six times in a packed courtroom that include other senior Carnival executives, including company chairman and Miami Heat owner Micky Arison.

“We acknowledge the shortcomings. I am here today to formulate a plan to fix them,” Arnold added

“The proof will be in the pudding, won’t it?” the judge replied. “If you all did not have the environment, you would have nothing to sell.”

Carnival admitted violating terms of probation from a 2016 criminal conviction for discharging oily waste from its Princess Cruise Lines ships and covering it up. Carnival paid a $40 million fine and was put on five years’ probation in that case, which affected all nine of its cruise brands that boast more than 100 ships.

Now Carnival has acknowledged that in the years since its ships have committed environmental crimes such as dumping “gray water” in prohibited places such Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and knowingly allowing plastic to be discharged along with food waste in the Bahamas, which poses a severe threat to marine life.

The company also admitted falsifying compliance documents and other administrative violations such as having cleanup teams visit its ships just before scheduled inspections.

Seitz at an earlier hearing threatened to bar Carnival from docking at U.S. ports because of the violations and said she might hold executives individually liable for the probation violations.

“The concern I have is that senior management has no skin in the game,” Seitz said, adding that future violations might be met with prison time and criminal fines for individuals. “My goal is to have the defendant change its behavior.”

Under the settlement, Carnival promised there will be additional audits to check for violations, a restructuring of the company’s compliance and training programs, a better system for reporting environmental violations to state and federal agencies and improved waste management practices.


A loophole could keep young terror suspects out of US courts
Court Issues | 2019/05/07 17:15
The Justice Department's ability to charge minors for supporting terrorist groups has been hampered by a 2018 Supreme Court decision, forcing prosecutors to hand off at least one such case to local authorities in a state without anti-terrorism laws.

The court's decision in a case unrelated to terrorism opened a loophole that could allow young supporters of groups like the Islamic State to skate on charges from the federal government.

The legal gap was highlighted by the case of Matin Azizi-Yarand , who was sentenced in a Texas state court last month after plotting to shoot police officers and civilians at a suburban shopping mall in an Islamic State-inspired rampage planned to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

In most cases like this, federal prosecutors would have brought terrorism charges. But U.S. prosecutors in Texas didn't charge Azizi-Yarand because he was 17 at the time and considered a minor under federal law.

Federal law allows prosecutors to charge anyone supporting or working with a State Department-designated terror group, even if the person was not in contact with the group. But to charge a juvenile with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, the attorney general would have to determine that the suspect committed what's known as a "crime of violence" under federal law.

The Supreme Court struck down part of that law last year, finding it too vague to be enforced in the case of a Philippine man who was facing deportation over burglary convictions. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court's more liberal judges, finding that the law crossed constitutional boundaries and that the law was not specific enough because it failed to adequately define what would be a violent crime.


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