Drug raids add up to federal intimidation

August 06, 2007

EDITORIAL, Freedom Newspapers

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has started playing hardball with medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles, but it’s unclear how far it will move beyond symbolic intimidation.

The DEA, which has discretion when it comes to setting priorities, would do well to abandon this effort to deprive seriously ill people of medicine to which they are entitled under state law. Such efforts are unworthy of it.

On July 6 the Los Angeles office of the DEA sent letters to a number of landlords — estimates in news stories range from 30 to 120 — who rent to medical marijuana, or cannabis, dispensaries notifying them that their tenants are violating federal law, and that as landlords they might be subject to a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and forfeiture (seizure, taking, stealing) of their property. Some dispensaries have already announced they will be closing their doors.

In an apparently unrelated action, the DEA also announced the indictments for violating federal marijuana laws of several operators of medical cannabis cooperatives in Central California, as well as one in Bakersfield, Calif., and another in Corona, Calif. All of these operations had been raided or put on notice previously, and none had received letters threatening forfeiture. All had paid sales taxes, an indication they were operating like normal businesses, at least in the eyes of the state.

Then the DEA raided 10 medical cannabis clinics in Los Angeles and arrested five people, reportedly none of them patients. That was the same day the L.A. City Council introduced an interim ordinance imposing a moratorium on new clinics until the city finds a better way to regulate them, and calling on the feds to end their crackdown.

To be sure, under federal law as currently interpreted — incorrectly in our view — all possession, use, production or sale of marijuana is strictly prohibited. California law permits medicinal use when recommended by a licensed physician. Federal law enforcement agencies are empowered to enforce federal law, while California law enforcement officials are required to enforce state law. So the DEA has authority to do what it did.

Whether it was a wise move is another question. It isn’t quite busting grandmothers in wheelchairs using cannabis to alleviate the effects of chemotherapy or multiple sclerosis. But it will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to acquire their medicine through relatively predictable, legitimate channels.

As Dale Gieringer, director of California National Association for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said, “This action will only serve to drive patients to the illegal market and aggravate marijuana crime.”

Last Wednesday’s raid also coincided with House of Representatives’ consideration of the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill. The amendment would have denied funds to the DEA for any enforcement activities against patients or caregivers in the 12 states that have authorized the medicinal use of cannabis. It got more votes than it had in previous years, but still failed, by a 262-165 margin (150 Democrats, 15 Republicans).

You would think that with terrorism and hard drugs the DEA would have better things to do than to try to keep useful medicine from sick people and nullify the laws of 12 states. There’s obviously a lot of work to do before that happens.

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