Medical Marijuana Backers Stage Protests Across US

June 05, 2002

By Todd Zwillich, Reuters Health,

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - Activists criticizing the US government's partial crackdown on the medical use of marijuana launched a nationwide string of protests at Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) offices Thursday.

Federal police arrested 10 protesters who had chained themselves together here outside of Justice Department headquarters, federal police confirmed.

Activists said they were protesting DEA plans to crack down on "cannabis clubs" in California, cooperatives that grow marijuana and distribute it to patients with AIDS, cancer and other ailments.

Protests were also planned for Thursday afternoon outside of DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia and at 55 other DEA offices around the country, according to activists.

A federal district judge in San Francisco is expected to issue a permanent injunction early next week against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative and four other similar organizations in California. Judge Charles Breyer already issued a temporary injunction against the cooperatives in October 1998 and ordered federal marshals to occupy the Oakland club when members defied his order in May 1998.

Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an interview that DEA officials have raided five "buying clubs" in California since October.

"Instead of five raids since October we might see five in the next week" after the court issues its ruling, he said. As many as 20 similar clubs currently operate in the state, he said.

Parts of the case went before the US Supreme Court earlier this year, which ruled 5 to 3 that medical necessity is not an allowable defense against federal drug charges. Cooperatives brought their case back to federal court in California arguing that federal officials were violating states' rights and individual doctor-patient relationships by cracking down on the clubs.

"The federal government for political reasons having nothing to do with healthcare has been blocking patients' access to medical marijuana," said Robert Raich, an attorney representing the cannabis clubs.

California is one of eight states that allow individuals to grow or use small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes as long as the use is ordered and supervised by a doctor. California's cannabis clubs, while not legal under state laws, have largely been ignored by state and local authorities there.

But federal drug officials have vowed to take further action against the clubs.

"Cannabis is illegal under federal law," said Thomas Hinojosa, a DEA spokesman. The cannabis clubs "are actually marijuana distribution centers. We will enforce the Controlled Substances Act," he said.

Hinojosa said that the DEA views state medical marijuana laws as "lacking scientific basis." But the agency has largely ignored individuals in those states who grow and use marijuana for their own medical use.

While the agency does consider such users criminals, "that appears to be a local law enforcement issue. We target organizations," Hinojosa said.


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