New Mexico Patient Caught in Crossfire of Federal War Against Medical Marijuana Laws

August 29, 2007
Carlsbad, New Mexico -- A Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and local law enforcement task force yesterday raided the Carlsbad home of Leonard French, a wheelchair-bound, licensed medical marijuana patient. Although no charges have been filed yet, a press release issued after the raid by the Pecos Valley Drug Task Force stated that charges are expected. The raid and subsequent seizure of French's six medical marijuana plants contradicts statements made by DEA Administrator Karen Tandy after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Gonzales v. Raich, in June 2005, that "we don't target sick and dying people."

Yesterday's effort to deprive a New Mexico patient of his medical marijuana is the latest in a series of actions by the DEA that appear to be aimed at undermining state-sanctioned laws established to protect patients and their caregivers. "We can now dispel the false assurances made by the federal government that medical marijuana is not a priority," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. "It is time for our government to be held accountable for the lives it is ruining as a result of its misguided policies."

Coinciding with increased raids on medical marijuana providers in California, the DEA has also been active in other states. In January, DEA agents raided the Seattle, Washington-based patient advocacy group CannaCare, seizing hundreds of plants that were destined for patients across the state. In April, a federal grand jury convened from Yakima, Washington, subpoenaed the medical records of at least 17 patients from the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program in connection with an investigation involving the two states. A federal judge is expected to rule soon on an effort made to quash the subpoena.

Earlier this year, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which works in collaboration with the DEA, made threats of prosecution against New Mexico state employees. Frustrated by New Mexico's recently adopted medical marijuana law, the federal government sought to hinder the creation of a state-operated distribution system for patients, a provision in its new law. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson countered threats by the federal government in a letter addressed to President G.W. Bush. In the August 17 letter, Governor Richardson defended physicians and state employees, and argued that the "most vulnerable of citizens [should not] fear their government because they take the medicine they need."

The effort to undermine New Mexico's medical marijuana law was revealed in the Task Force press release issued after the raid on French's home: "Citizens of New Mexico need to be aware that they can still be prosecuted on the federal level even though New Mexico has a law permitting marijuana for medicinal use."

An unprecedented number of raids in California over the past few months, as well as threats of federal asset forfeiture and prosecution made to landlords renting to medical marijuana providers, illustrates the priority that the federal government has placed on the effort to roll back advances made by 12 states in protecting their patients from law enforcement interference.

"Now that Attorney General Gonzales has resigned, this is an opportunity for President Bush to acknowledge the negative impact of his policies concerning medical cannabis," said Sherer. "It’s time for the president to heed the position of 80 percent of Americans in support of safe and legal access to medical cannabis and put an end to these damaging federal actions."

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