Showing Schwarzenegger the Way

February 15, 2008 | Don Duncan
This morning, the San Francisco Chronicle published an op-ed piece authored by California Senator Carole Migden and Board of Equalization Chairwoman Betty Yee decrying the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) crack down on medical cannabis and the impact it has on property owners, state coffers, and legal patients. The letter urges the federal government to “back off and respect state compassionate use laws that authorize a network of responsible, law abiding and tax-paying medical marijuana providers.” This is a far cry from the usually sensationalized rhetoric to which we are more accustomed, and is a breath of fresh air – and common sense – for patients and their loved ones statewide. Senator Migden introduced Senate Joint Resolution 20 into the State Legislature this month calling for an end to the federal interference that she says costs the state millions of dollars in lost revenue, forces medical cannabis providers underground, and harms legal patients. If adopted, the resolution will send the strong message to Washington, DC, that California lawmakers remain committed to fully implementing the 1996 voter initiative that legalized medical cannabis in the state and to ending federal persecution of patients and providers. Board of Equalization Chairwoman Betty Yee joined the Senator in criticizing the impact the DEA raids, saying that federal interference and intimidation cost the state millions of dollars in lost tax revenue and badly needed jobs. As Chairwoman of the elected body charged with assessing and collecting sales tax for the cash-strapped state, Yee has a special interest seeing to it that medical cannabis facilities remain open and pay their fair share. She worries, however, that providers will be forced to close their doors or move underground to avoid federal attacks – a very real concern. The significance of having a State Senator and the Chairwoman of the Board of Equalization speak out on behalf of medical cannabis should not be missed. Elected officials are just now feeling the hardship caused by DEA interference – which escalated to new heights last year with more than 50 raids, several indictments, and more than 300 letters threatening property owners who rent to medical cannabis facilities with prosecution and civil asset forfeiture. US House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers is finally getting some high-level support for his stance against the DEA tactics and promised investigation. The op-ed piece was timely, appearing in Migden and Yee’s hometown paper on the same day the ASA Chief of Staff Rebecca Saltzman, Legal Director Kris Heremes, and I met for the first time with representatives from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s’ office to discuss federal interference and what the Governor can do to help. It is too soon to know if the Governor will take visible action in response to ASA’s grassroots campaign, but Senator Migden and Chairwoman Yee are certainly pointing him in the right direction. With today’s op-ed, these two leaders join police veteran and Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty, and thousands of medical cannabis advocates in calling on the Governor to defend patients’ access and the will of voters. We may be approaching a sea change in the state and federal debate over medical cannabis, but what happens from here depends on whether or not grassroots advocates can persuade the Governor and Legislature to put their considerable clout behind Representative Conyers’ effort to stop DEA interference in California. Local and state leaders should stand up… and the Governor should lead the way.
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