60-Minutes Highlights Medical Cannabis Dispensaries and Interference by the Feds

September 24, 2007 | Kris Hermes
A 60-Minutes episode, which aired on Sunday, September 23, 2007, has finally shed some light on one of California's medical cannabis (marijuana) predicaments. The fact that 60-Minutes has chosen this moment in time to educate the U.S. public on medical cannabis, eleven years after the passage of Proposition 215, indicates that something is amiss. However, the episode focuses on a narrow aspect of the issue and fails to provide proper context. For example, 60-Minutes chose to focus exclusively on California law and the distribution system that was designed as a result of that law. But, the episode also questions the validity of medical marijuana without sufficiently discussing the vast amount of research and history that would provide the program with its evidence. Regardless, any "unintended consequences" from the Compassionate Use Act (Prop 125) are not due to the way the law was drafted, as 60-Minutes guest Scott Imler suggests, but to a reluctance by the federal government to respect the will of California voters. Prop 215 was drafted to be inclusive of illnesses and conditions for which cannabis was known to be effective. While we may want to pontificate about whether people are really using it medically or if there is abuse in the system, it is ultimately up to a patient and her doctor to determine if cannabis is appropriate. If there is a question about abuse, it becomes the domain of the California Medical Board, which has its own medical cannabis guidelines for physicians. Federal raids are not a proper response to allegations of abuse. It was the hope that Prop 215 would compel "federal and state governments to implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana." But, because of a refusal by the federal government to acknowledge marijuana's medical efficacy, not only has this "plan" not been realized, but tactics are also being used to hinder that "distribution" and undermine state law. Ever since the June 2005 U.S. Supreme Court gave it the discretion, in Gonzales v. Raich, to arrest and prosecute medical cannabis patients, the federal government has consistently used Drug Enforcement Agents (DEA) to conduct paramilitary-style raids with flak-jackets, ski-masks, and automatic weapons drawn. With the 60-Minutes focus on the DEA raid of California Patients Group serving as a graphic example, the feds have intensified this tactic over the past few months. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of DEA raids, with medical cannabis dispensaries being shut down over entire regions of the state. Another tactic used by the federal government to undermine California's medical marijuana law, not mentioned by 60-Minutes, is to threaten landlords with asset forfeiture and criminal prosecution if they continue to lease to dispensaries. More than 150 letters have been sent, mainly to landlords in southern California. Given that limited DEA resources would prevent the government from acting on most (or all) of its threats, this tactic amounts to nothing more than intimidation. It is with admirable resolve that dispensary operators across the state remain undeterred and continue to provide a much-needed medicine to patients. Dispensaries are a community-based solution to a problem of access to medical cannabis in California. This is what access looks like with a federal government resistant to taking part in the implementation of state law. Would distribution look different if cannabis could be prescribed? Probably. Would we see it in pharmacies? Possibly. But, until, as the 60-Minutes episode suggests, the federal government changes its policy toward medical cannabis, we will see people needlessly harassed, arrested, prosecuted, jailed, and deprived of a medicine that works for them.
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