Feds Demand Medical Marijuana Records in Michigan

December 29, 2010

CriminalJustice.Change.org, Kelley Vlahos

Medical marijuana advocates in Michigan are crying foul in the wake of recent demands by the federal government that the state health department turn over the records of seven legal medical marijuana patients.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S.

attorney's office has asked a judge to order the Department of Community Health to comply with an earlier subpoena for the records of seven people with Michigan user and caregiver cards.

The request was made on behalf of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which would not comment on the case; there is no additional information available on whose records are being targeted. According to the report, the DEA first asked for the records in June. So far, the health department has declined because of a privacy provision in the Michigan law, according to the AP.

Michigan's medical marijuana law, one of 15 in the U.S. today (Arizona voters were the latest to approve one this past November) has been in effect since 2009. Voters there passed the new law by referendum with 63 percent of the vote in 2008.

This is the second time in a month that the DEA in Michigan has made headlines: earlier, DEA agents raided a warehouse outside Lansing, netting all of 40 plants (keep in mind, while the DEA would not comment Tuesday on the disputed subpoena request, a DEA spokesman said its agents only target "large scale drug trafficking organizations"). One report from Phillip Smith at the Drug War Chronicle said that  in order to get at the cache of 40 plants, "heavily armed state and federal lawmen" raided a space caregivers had leased from the owner of Capital City Care Givers on Nov. 30, "breaking windows, throwing smoke grenades, and seizing thousands of dollars worth of equipment."

The proprietor, Ryan Basore, said his operation was completely legitimate, indicating that there were two legal, licensed caregivers operating within the leased facility. In Michigan, each caregiver can grow up to 12 plants for five patients and another 12 plants for themselves if they are a legal patient.

Critics say the state and federal cops went over a local judge's purview and instead got a federal warrant in Grand Rapids to conduct the raid. The DEA did not comment further at the time, citing the "ongoing investigation."

"These tactics and the continued attempts to undermine local and state medical marijuana laws must be stopped," charged Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, in an email to Change.org. "The Obama Administration should stop trying to enforce federal marijuana laws when medical use is clearly evident or, more importantly, President Obama should change federal law to reflect the scientific evidence of marijuana's medical efficacy."

Michigan activists like Charmie Gholson, editor of The Midwest Cultivator, complain that Michigan will someday "be like California," in that local and county prosecutors and law enforcement agencies that do not agree with the state's medical marijuana laws will continue to raid, arrest and prosecute legal users, growers and caregivers, putting the medical marijuana community on the defense.

"We're building coalitions. We're doing what we can, on a local and national level, to say, 'hey, we need help here,'" Gholson told Change.org, insisting that the Obama administration has the last word. It can take marijuana off the list of Schedule I controlled substances, Gholson said; in other words, legalize it federally.

"Who is is going to hold the Obama administration accountable and finally reschedule marijuana on a federal level? That is what we need to do."

Activists often refer to U.S Attorney General Eric Holder's 2009 memo telling federal authorities to stand down on raids and the prosecution of growers and users operating within state law in California. The raids have not stopped, however, nor have the prosecutions. And Obama has not made further pronouncements where medical marijuana is concerned. The attorney general's office did, however, say it would continue to prosecute what it considered illegal use and possession under federal law if California voters had decided to legalize marijuana on the November ballot. The legalization initiative ultimately failed, with 53 percent of Californians voting "no" and 46 percent voting "yes."

Gholson said the two year old Holder memo has no teeth, and until the administration steps in, activists feel as though they are facing a Goliath.

"We're working on educating and informing and gathering up the funds to fight this on a legal level, but it's the DEA for godsakes, why would they listen to us? They answer to the Obama Administration," Gholson said. Ultimately, they take orders from Attorney General Eric Holder.

Meanwhile, Hermes said there were similar raids in Saginaw County around the same time as the disputed subpoenas were issued. "No one has been prosecuted as a result of those raids, but the rationale for the raids was clear: intimidate the patient community and undermine efforts to implement state law."

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