DEA Raids and Threats Against Landlords Used to Thwart Medical Marijuana Vote in Congress

July 19, 2007
Los Angeles, CA -- In a calculated attempt to thwart a vote next week in Congress that would strip the Department of Justice (DoJ) of funds used against medical marijuana (cannabis), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over the past week conducted multiple raids on medical cannabis providers and threatened landlords in the Los Angeles area with property seizure. By Tuesday, federal agents had raided at least five medical cannabis dispensaries in the southern California area and handed down numerous indictments. The raids followed a new tactic, exercised by the DEA last week, in which more than a hundred letters were disseminated to property owners in the Los Angeles area who are landlords for medical cannabis providers. The letters warned of a risk of arrest for landlords and the loss of their property if they continue to rent to cannabis providers. As a result, many facilities will be forced to close, thereby stifling access to medicine used by thousands of patients in the area.

One medical cannabis dispensary operator in Hollywood, Lisa Sawoya, who left a lucrative job selling high-tech hospital equipment, stated candidly in a Tuesday Los Angeles Times story, "I'm devastated. My landlord believes in cannabis as medicine. But they're taking the letter very seriously. So I'll be closing my doors at the end of this month."

This effort to undermine California's medical marijuana law comes after the DEA attempted to shut down more than ten facilities earlier this year in the Los Angeles area by executing para-military style raids with agents wearing ski-masks and guns drawn. "This is an example of using any means necessary by federal law enforcement in its continued attack on patients and the science behind cannabis as medicine," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a medical marijuana patient advocacy organization. "We will not stand for this type of intimidation. We intend to support landlords in their decision to rent to medical cannabis providers, and we urge Congress to take up this issue, not only on behalf of patients, but now also on behalf of landlords that have been brought into the crossfire."

In an effort to facilitate discussion, ASA has been meeting with landlords to help explain their rights and their options for how to proceed. Lawyers suspicious of federal abuse of power have also come forward to help. One such lawyer, Eliot Krieger, is a former Assistant United States Attorney in Los Angeles experienced in asset forfeiture law. "Quite simply, the federal government is placing innocent landlords, leasing space to tenants who are in full compliance with state law, at risk of losing their property." said Krieger. "Even if the government can legally seize the landlords' properties, this is a clear misuse of Department of Justice funds and taxpayer dollars."

Next week, a vote will occur in Congress that would prevent such tactics used by the Department of Justice (DoJ). The Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment would prevent the DoJ from interfering in the implementation of laws in the twelve states that have allowed for the medical use of marijuana. The amendment will be heard next week as part of the Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"This action by the DEA is an example of the insane use of scarce law enforcement resources," said Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) in a recent statement. "It is especially insulting the way in which these resources are being used to supersede the votes of local people to permit the legal use of medical marijuana."

Since June 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales v. Raich that the government had the discretion to arrest and prosecute medical cannabis patients and providers, the DEA has fully exercised that discretion by conducting scores of raids and, as a result, is currently prosecuting more than 100 patients and providers. Based on data made available by the DEA, Americans for Safe Access estimates that since June 2005, the DoJ has spent more than ten million dollars of taxpayers' money on federal arrests alone.

For further information, refer to:
The DEA letter to more than 100 landlords in the Los Angeles area: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/DEA_Landlord_Letter.pdf
ASA's one-pager on the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Hinchey_One_Pager.pdf
ASA's tabulation of cost to taxpayers associated with DEA raids: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/DEA_Raid_Cost.pdf

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