Michigan Medical Marijuana Activists Spotlight ‘Unjust’ Federal Attacks

May 28, 2013

Katie Rucke, MintPress News

Medical marijuana advocates held an event in Michigan on Tuesday to condemn what they describe as unjust attacks by the Obama administration on the state’s law-abiding patients and caregivers. The timing of the event comes just days before four Michigan medical marijuana patients and their caregivers are to surrender to the federal authorities and serve prison time.

Despite the fact that 18 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana, the federal government has continued to target patients who use the drug for therapeutic purposes. Since President Barack Obama took office in 2008, the Justice Department has aggressively prosecuted more than 100 medical marijuana patients and providers across the nation. None of these patients were able to defend themselves on the grounds that medical marijuana was a medical necessity or allowed by state law.

Tuesday’s event was intended to raise awareness and support among the general public regarding the federal crackdown.

Among the speakers was medical marijuana patient Jerry Duval, 53, a kidney and pancreas transplant patient with coronary artery disease, Type 1 diabetes, glaucoma and a strict medication regimen. He was sentenced earlier this year to 10 years in prison and will surrender on June 11 to the Federal Medical Center Devens in Ayer, Mass. Devens is an administrative facility that houses male offenders requiring specialized or long-term medical or mental health care.

Dennis Forsberg, 59, his son, Lance Forsberg, 32, and Ryan Basore, 36, are the other three individuals from Michigan who inspired Tuesday’s event. Each man was sentenced to 3 to 4 years in prison for growing marijuana for patients in Michigan. They plan to surrender to the Federal Correctional Institution Morgantown in West Virginia on May 30.

In addition to the Michigan cultivators, several patients and dispensary operators have been sentenced over the past few months to several years in federal prison across the nation.

According to Kris Hermes, media liaison for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, medical marijuana patients are often targeted by the federal government as a result of local law enforcement calling in the Drug Enforcement Administration. In other cases, U.S. attorneys have targeted particular cultivators and distributors.

Hermes said that the fact that the Obama administration has so far been able to avoid scrutiny on the issue is outrageous. Given the nation’s current economic hardships, it’s not a good idea for the Justice Department to use its resources to go after people in compliance with state law, he said.

“Obama and (U.S. Attorney General Eric) Holder both have claimed they are not going after patients, but they are,” he said.

Jerry’s story

Michigan passed legislation legalizing medical marijuana in November 2008. By May 2009, Jerry Duval had obtained his medical marijuana license.

He told Mint Press News that marijuana was “extremely helpful” in helping him cope with the pain in his legs as a result of having diabetes. Marijuana also helped with his other medical conditions, including glaucoma and coronary artery disease, and helped him sleep at night.

Along with his two children, Jeremy and Ashley, Jerry Duval cultivated marijuana plants for himself and five other patients, a practice that is lawful in Michigan. Hermes said that Jerry Duval’s land was even inspected by local law enforcement officials, who verified that all of the plants were being grown in accordance with state laws.

But the state’s seal of approval didn’t protect Jerry Duval from being targeted by police. On June 16, 2011, Jerry Duval’s house was raided for the first time by local law enforcement after a neighbor complained about marijuana growing on the property.

Jeremy Duval and Ashley Duval were growing 12 plants for each of their five patients, in addition to themselves, which amounted to about 144 plants total. Jeremy Duval is currently serving a five-year sentence. Ashley Duval was not prosecuted.

Jerry Duval said that when law enforcement showed up, they found the marijuana was in compliance with state law. Since their search warrant had been issued by the state, the police did not seize the marijuana but did take his vehicles.

Eight days later, on June 24, law enforcement raided Jeremy Duval’s house. They didn’t find any marijuana but confiscated his computer. Law enforcement also showed up at Jerry Duval’s house to search the swimming pond on his property, which they believed was where Jerry Duval had hidden marijuana contraband. Nothing was found.

Two months later, on August 11, 2011, law enforcement came to Jerry Duval’s house again, but this time with a federal search warrant. Jeremy Duval had replanted 67 marijuana plants so he could supply the drug to medical marijuana patients. Though all 67 plants were in compliance with the state’s laws, federal officials insisted they were illegal, placing Jerry Duval at the center of a federal investigation.

He was convicted at a trial in April 2012 of manufacturing with intent to distribute marijuana, conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, and maintaining a drug premises. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“Jerry Duval and his 10-year sentence is emblematic of how the Obama administration has been undermining state medical marijuana laws, while persecuting patients who are in no way violating state law,” said Steph Sherer, executive director for Americans for Safe Access, which hosted Tuesday’s press conference. “President Obama and Attorney General Holder must start owning up to the unnecessary torment they’re forcing not only cultivators, but thousands of patients, to endure.”

According to a press release from Americans for Safe Access, in addition to his prison sentence, the Justice Department is trying to take Jerry Duval’s home and farmland, which is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The biggest thing that bothers me is that I’ve seen Obama on TV saying he was not going to use Justice Department resources to go after state [medical] marijuana patients,” but unfortunately Obama has gone after patients who are compliant with state law. “It’s unbelievable,” Jerry Duval said. “He reversed his word.”

Currently on federal probation, Jerry Duval has not been able to use medical marijuana because he is subjected to a urine test every month.

Jerry Duval has also filed a request for “compassionate release,” asking the Bureau of Prisons to reconsider his sentence given his medical condition.

National raids

According to Hermes, since Obama took office, there have been more than 200 medical marijuana raids — higher than the rate George W. Bush’s administration logged during his eight years in office. More than 100 people indicted were in medical marijuana states and Hermes said most, if not all, were in compliance with state law.

In response to all of the raids occurring across the U.S., the Americans for Safe Access and its members are mounting a campaign called “Peace for Patients” (#Peace4Patients). The Peace for Patients campaign is an effort to educate elected officials about the millions of federal dollars being spent on attacking law-abiding patients and their providers in medical marijuana states.

But the grassroots campaign is also urging members of Congress to vote this summer for legislation that would divert Justice Department resources from the kind of aggressive enforcement that has been occurring in medical marijuana states.

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