Pages tagged "U.S. Attorneys"
National Lawyers Guild Report Condemns Federal Marijuana Policy, Calls for Reclassification of Marijuana for Medical Use
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) -- the country's oldest and largest public interest and human rights bar organization -- issued a report yesterday addressing the federal government's flawed policy on marijuana. According to its author NLG Senior Researcher Traci Yoder, High Crimes: Strategies to Further Marijuana Legalization Initiatives "analyzes the legalization process under way in the states, suggests strategies to further marijuana legalization initiatives, and highlights current obstacles to ending prohibition."
While significant attention is given to the adult use of marijuana, generally, the report recommends reframing drug use as "a social and public health issue and not a criminal justice problem," something we've been saying for years at Americans for Safe Access. High Crimes also recommends reclassifying marijuana for medical use. Citing the "[m]ounting scientific and anecdotal evidence" of marijuana's therapeutic benefits, the Guild rightly points out that "Rescheduling cannabis would allow for expanded medical research and use under international law."
The NLG report comes days after a report issued by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), detailing the social and economic costs of the federal government's war on medical marijuana. The ASA report entitled What's the Cost? is geared toward educating federal legislators on the consequences of that war, not only in terms of how it affects the prisoners, their families, and thousands of patients, but also how it impacts the average taxpayer and our federal budget.
Mayors from across the United States gathered in Las Vegas this past weekend for the 81st annual U.S. Conference of Mayors. In a watershed moment, mayors voted unanimously yesterday to adopt a resolution "in support of states setting their own marijuana policies without federal interference." The resolution was introduced in advance of the conference by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and co-sponsored by 17 other mayors from across the country. Yesterday's passage of the resolution came just days after medical marijuana advocates issued an alarming report detailing how the Obama Justice Department has spent nearly $300 million to undermine medical marijuana laws in the U.S.
"Ultimately, this is about whether local and state governments can develop, adopt, and implement public health laws without heavy-handed interference by the federal government," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, which authored "What's the Cost?" an extensive report issued earlier this month on the economic and social costs of the federal government's war on medical marijuana. "This resolution is emblematic of the frustration experienced by local and state officials, which will continue until the federal government ends its attacks on medical marijuana." More than 100 million people, or 34 percent of Americans, currently live in states with medical marijuana laws.
Last week, Kal Penn, who plays Kumar in the “stoner” film franchise Harold & Kumar, spoke to Huffington Post Live about President Obama’s marijuana policies. During the April 26th interview, Penn defended recent Justice Department attacks on dispensaries in medical marijuana states like California, citing articles he read from a Google search.
Unfortunately, we cannot always rely on a pliant mainstream media -- that too often quotes Justice Department officials without any counterpoint -- to provide consistently factual information.
Take, for example, the rationale that forms the basis for the Obama Administration’s most sweeping closures of dispensaries in California, Colorado and Washington State: they’re within 1,000 feet of a school. Using threats of asset forfeiture and criminal prosecution, the Justice Department has succeeded in shuttering hundreds of dispensaries in the past couple of years.
However, if Penn had done his homework, he would have found out that in California, where well over 500 dispensaries have closed for fear of retaliation by federal drug enforcement officials, dispensaries are only required to be at least 600 feet from schools:
No medical marijuana cooperative, collective, dispensary, operator establishment, or provider who possesses, cultivates, or distributes medical marijuana pursuant to this article shall be located within a 600-foot radius of a school.
Also glossed over by Penn was the Obama Administration’s callous attitude about the impact of these dispensary closures. Each of the shuttered dispensaries provided medical marijuana to hundreds, often thousands of qualified patients who are now left with little option to find a medicine that’s legal under state law.
And, believe it or not, the dispensary operators and their landlords who are warned with letters of imminent legal action are the lucky ones. The dispensaries that are targeted with aggressive SWAT-style raids stand to lose much more. At minimum, those dispensary operators can expect seized bank accounts, computers, patient records, and other property.
However, if there are arrests, federal defendants can expect 5-10 years in prison. Over the past few months, several state-compliant dispensary operators and cultivators have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, including California dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky (10 years), Michigan Cultivators Jeremy and Jerry Duval (5 years and 10 years, respectively), and John Marcinkewciz (5 years), as well as Montana cultivator Chris Williams (5 years). Another Montana cultivator, Richard Flor, died in federal custody last August while serving a 5-year sentence.
Indeed, Penn’s failure to understand the impact of the Obama Administration’s policies on medical marijuana is symptomatic of the lies being told to the American public and the impunity with which it’s being done. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have both claimed that they are not targeting those in compliance with state law, but refuse to confront the evidence that belies such pronouncements.
It’s about time that the federal government admits that the devastating and costly effects of its enforcement policies in medical marijuana states are unnecessary and unproductive. All patients are asking for is a compassionate and even-handed policy that treats medical marijuana like a public health issue.
Sadly, but not unexpectedly, last week the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a petition for rehearing filed be Americans for Safe Access in ASA v. DEA. After more than a decade of legal wrangling with the federal government over the medical efficacy of marijuana and its relative lack of abuse potential, the D.C. Circuit gave great deference to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) position that marijuana has no proven medical value. In doing this, the D.C. Circuit not only ignored voluminous evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy, but it held the petitioners to a standard above and beyond that advanced by the government itself. Out of thin air, the Court interpreted the phrase “adequate and well-controlled studies” to require FDA-approved Phase II or Phase III studies, rather than the common meaning of the term. A similar such standard as that interjected into the proceedings by the Court at the last possible moment had already been rejected by the same Court and others in the cases of Grinspoon v. DEA, 828 F.2d 881 (1st Cir. 1987) and Doe v. DEA, 484 F.3d 561 (D.C. Cir. 2007). This, coupled with the failure of the Court even to consider marijuana’s lack of abuse potential, was the basis for ASA’s recent petition for rehearing.
Unfortunately, for medical marijuana patients and others, the extremely small number of active judges on the D.C. Circuit makes rehearing en banc (by the entire circuit) next to impossible. Because there are only eight active judges on the D.C. Circuit, en banc review is extremely rare, with only one petition granted by this Court last year. Thus, the next legal step is to challenge the DEA’s action in the Supreme Court of the United States through a petition for writ of certiorari , which must be filed within ninety days. This opens the possibility for arguments that exceed those allowed under the recently denied petition for rehearing. It also provides an opportunity to raise awareness of this wrong-headed approach to medical marijuana at the highest judicial level.
Stay tuned for more details on the upcoming appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in ASA v. DEA.
Little is known about the subpoena, other than it was issued in October to the Mendocino County Auditor-Controller's Office for records of funds paid to the county under its medical marijuana ordinance, County Code 9.31. Undoubtedly, the lack of information has to do with unwillingness by the Justice Department to come clean about its interference in the implementation of local and state medical marijuana laws. The offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Attorney could “neither confirm nor deny” that a subpoena was issued, and local officials are also not talking.
In 2010, the DEA raided the legal crop of Joy Greenfield, who was the first cultivator to register with the Sheriff’s Office, in the widely popular program that raised about $500,000 of new revenue for the county. Under the local law, which was abandoned in March after threats from the Justice Department, the Sheriff’s Office sold zip ties for $25 per plant to show that they were being grown in compliance with state law.
No arrests were made in the Greenfield raid, but all of her and her patients’ medicine was destroyed. The DEA reared its ugly head again in October 2011, with the raid of Matt Cohen’s farm, Northstone Organics. Like Greenfield, Cohen was in full compliance with the law. Sheriff Tom Allman commented at the time that, “As far as I know, Matt Cohen and Northstone Organics were following all of the state laws and local ordinances that are in place.” Matt, too, avoided arrest, but his entire crop was destroyed and he was intimidated from continuing to grow.
Escalating its effort to undermine Mendocino’s cultivation ordinance, in January the U.S. Attorney’s Office threatened to file an injunction against the program and seek legal action against county officials who supported it. However, the forced termination of the program was apparently not enough for the feds. Nearly a year later, the Justice Department now appears to be seeking private and outdated information that should be under the sole purview of local officials.
This, of course, raises a number of important questions beyond the sweeping impact of divulging private patient records to federal law enforcement.
- What are the motivations of federal officials in seeking this information?
- Who is being targeted and why?
- If the program is no longer in effect, why are these records important to the federal government?
- Shouldn’t privacy laws and the state’s Medical Marijuana Program prevent such invasive tactics by the federal government?
Regardless of how you answer these questions, the actions of the Justice Department are anything but “just” and, likely, violate the rights of California patients. Because of this, ASA intends to get to the bottom of the subpoena and take whatever actions are necessary to keep patients and their providers out of harm’s way. Our hope is that when all of this subsides, the Mendocino cultivation program will be operational once again.
Finally, President Obama has spoken about his aggressive stance toward medical marijuana. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, his statements are underwhelming, inaccurate and do nothing to address medical marijuana as a public health issue. In response to a question from Rolling Stone on why his administration is conducting more medical marijuana raids than the Bush administration, President Obama failed to come clean on reasons for the breadth and intensity of the attacks, which significantly escalated since he took office.
What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana…
Actually, what Obama said on the campaign trail in 2008 was that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state [medical marijuana] laws.”
The shell game continued with Obama declaring that, as President, he “can’t ask the Justice Department to…‘ignore…a federal law that’s on the books.’”
In fact, Obama has complete discretion to let local and state authorities enforce their own medical marijuana laws. When affirming that discretionary authority in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court also questioned the wisdom of going after medical marijuana patients.
Obama then declared that his Justice Department should use “prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize [its] resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.”
That, however, seems to beg several questions, not the least of which is “how does one determine what “things” are “really doing folks damage?” Why is that not the purview of local and state officials to enforce? And, is the federal government doing more damage than it’s supposedly preventing? Keep in mind that the damage his administration has inflicted also impacts the fiscal bottom line of local and state governments. In California, dispensary closures precipitated by the federal crackdown have robbed the state of millions of dollars in lost taxes.
The president seems to seek cover with his comment that, “there haven’t been prosecutions” of medical marijuana users. But, even if it was true, and it’s not (all of the more than 60 people indicted on his watch use medical marijuana), this reasoning would still not justify the SWAT-style raids and the fear and intimidation they create. Nor would it justify the purging of lawful medical marijuana businesses from commercial banking institutions, or the IRS requirement that dispensaries pay taxes on gross proceeds, thereby ensuring bankruptcy, or discrimination against patients in public housing and the Veterans Administration.
At the end of the day, whether or not Obama’s Justice Department decides to prosecute whom it considers “wrongdoers,” qualified patients are still being denied a safe and legal means of obtaining their medication.
Even Obama’s “Drug War” excuses don’t match those of his U.S. Attorneys who are directly engaged in the attacks. The president erroneously stated that, “The only tension that’s come up” has been “commercial operations” that may be “supplying recreational users.” However, U.S. Attorneys have made little reference to targeting medical marijuana businesses because they’re allegedly selling to non-patients. The prevailing excuse has been simply that dispensaries are federally illegal or that they are too close to schools and other so-called “sensitive uses” (according to federal standards, not to local or state standards).
Obama’s weakest rationale for continuing the assault on medical marijuana patients is that he “can’t nullify congressional law.” However, the president can realistically do a number of things to address medical marijuana as a public health issue. First of all, Obama could introduce a bill that would carve out an exception for medical marijuana patients and providers. In fact, he doesn’t even have to introduce his own legislation, he could simply throw his weight behind HB 1983, a bill that would do just that. The president could also issue an executive order, not to change federal marijuana statutes but to exclude medical marijuana so as to let the states enforce their own laws.
Additionally, the president, through his executive powers, could also reclassify marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I substance -- a dangerous drug with no medical value. Yet, he and his Drug Enforcement Administration choose not to. In addition to four governors who have filed rescheduling petitions within the last year, Americans for Safe Access has a pending federal lawsuit that seeks reclassification.
At some point, President Obama is going to run out of excuses. Until then, please join ASA in urging him to do the right thing.
Late last year, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag successfully shut down Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM), the oldest operating dispensary in California, by threatening its landlord with asset forfeiture. It didn’t seem to matter that MAMM had the staunch support of Fairfax public official and members of the community. It was, truly, the end of an icon.
Then, news came out this week that the federal government had won in its effort to shut down Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), another historical icon in the medical marijuana community. Despite support from the Chamber of Commerce and its neighbors, BPG and its landlord were targeted by Haag for being too close to two private schools. Notably, teachers from one of the schools Haag is ostensibly trying to “protect” have spoken out in defense of BPG.
While Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates joined the chorus of support for BPG, calling it a “high-class operation,” with “no complaints,” and “compliments from neighbors,” he stopped short of standing up to the federal government. Instead, Bates said in a statement that, “We’re really sorry to see them close up.”
However, no sooner than it was announced that BPG would be shutting its doors, the dispensary refuted the news. In a statement issued on Thursday, BPG Chief Operating Officer said, “BPG is not closing.”
Berkeley Patients Group remains dedicated to providing safe and affordable access to its patient-members, while working to preserve the jobs of its 70+ employees… We have been looking to relocate for several years and look forward to announcing our new site, soon.
Maybe they won’t have to wait for Mayor Bates to grow a spine after all.
In contrast to Berkeley’s trepidation, other Bay Area cities have shown bold leadership on medical marijuana. Both San Francisco and Oakland have recently permitted several new dispensaries. While Haag has been threatening numerous San Francisco landlords, which has resulted in a handful of dispensary closures in the so-called “Sanctuary City,” three new facilities have just been permitted. In Oakland, four new dispensaries were licensed this week, doubling the number facilities in that city.
Cities like San Francisco and Oakland are examples of how to stand up to federal intimidation. We need more local officials to take their lead and develop local laws that recognize the needs of patients in their communities, not the fickle demands of the federal government.
California Attorney General Calls Federal Government “Ill-Equipped” to Enforce State’s Medical Marijuana Laws
In a series of letters sent by California Attorney General Kamala Harris yesterday, the state’s top law enforcement official railed against the recent federal crackdown on medical marijuana and called on the state legislature to clarify the law.
Harris sent a letter to the California’s four U.S. Attorneys who in early October announced with great fanfare an intensified campaign targeting the state’s medical marijuana growers and distributors. In her letter, Harris condemned the federal government’s attempt to enforce violations of local and state medical marijuana laws:
The federal government is ill-equipped to be the sole arbiter of whether an individual or group is acting within the bounds of California’s medical marijuana laws when cultivating marijuana for medical purposes.
Harris also sent a letter to multiple state legislators, calling on them to clarify California’s medical marijuana laws, especially with regard to the rules on distribution. Citing “unsettled questions of law and policy,” Harris urged action by the legislature:
Without a substantive change to existing law, these irreconcilable interpretations of the law, and the resulting uncertainty for law enforcement and seriously ill patients, will persist.
Harris emphasized the “premium” that California law places on “patients’ rights to access marijuana for medical use.” In her letter to State Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and State Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), Harris cautioned the legislators on abridging the rights of patients:
In any legislative action that is taken, the voters’ decision to allow physicians to recommend marijuana to treat seriously ill individuals must be respected.
Lack of clarity in California’s medical marijuana law, however, is not an invitation for the federal government to interfere in its implementation. Harris is right to condemn this federal interference and the harm it causes law-abiding patients. After 15 years, it’s about time that Proposition 215 and its call to “implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana” was realized.
Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder answered questions before the House Judiciary Committee on his Justice Department’s handling of the now-famous federal ATF operation, “Fast and Furious.” During the hearing, Rep. Polis (D-CO) asked a series of questions on medical marijuana. Holder responded that the October 2009 Ogden memo de-emphasizing marijuana enforcement in medical marijuana states was still in effect. Specifically, Holder said that, “we will not use our limited resources,” to target people who “are acting in conformity with [state] law.” This seems to equate with the Ogden memo and the pledge that President Obama made before and after taking office. There’s only one (big) problem…the Justice Department is currently on a rampage in medical marijuana states, spending tax dollars like there was no fiscal crisis.
Over the past year, Obama’s Justice Department has spent millions of dollars raiding more than one hundred dispensaries in at least 7 states. Holder’s U.S. Attorneys have also sent threatening letters to public officials in 10 medical marijuana states, attempting to undermine the same laws that Holder purports to respect. In California, U.S. Attorneys are not only using raids to spread fear and intimidation, they are also threatening landlords with criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture if they continue leasing to medical marijuana dispensaries.
In March, the Obama Administration conducted the largest set of coordinated raids on medical marijuana facilities yet. No less than 8 federal agencies, including the DEA, FBI, EPA, ATF, OSHA, IRS, and ICE, worked with 22 local law enforcement agencies to execute 26 search warrants in 13 cities across Montana. A number of people were later indicted and are now dealing with federal prosecutions. At the time of the raids, the Justice Department complained of state law violations, but cases currently under way indicate the opposite.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard is trying to prevent several defendants from using a state law defense at their federal trial. To be robbed of a defense is a travesty, but unfortunately all too common in federal medical marijuana cases. Thaggard’s comments in an August court filing, however, underscore the hypocrisy of the Justice Department’s policy on medical marijuana:
Montana’s medical marijuana laws have no relevance to the present prosecution…
So, how long will President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and the U.S. Attorneys on a rabid attack against medical marijuana be able to prop up their Orwellian policy of saying one thing and doing another? Only time and a whole lot of pressure will tell.
On Friday, President Obama’s Justice Department (DOJ) made clear its motivations to disrupt and undermine California’s medical marijuana laws. However, advocates argue that last week’s announcement by the state’s four U.S. Attorneys, which included threats against property owners, comes after months of aggressive DOJ attacks in several medical marijuana states. SWAT-style raids and threats of criminal prosecution against local and state officials has become emblematic of Obama’s policy on medical marijuana, a far cry from his pledge on the campaign trail that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.”
Yet, just as Obama’s confusing war on medical marijuana has reached a fever pitch, condemnation could be heard from several state and federal officials in California. Some state legislators and members of Congress are refusing to be intimidated by this latest round of threats from the federal government. Congressional members Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA), as well as State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) all decried the recent DOJ announcement in California.
In a statement issued to Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Congressman Rohrabacher called the DOJ effort “a waste of scarce federal resources.” In a separate statement issued to ASA, Congressman Farr had this to say:
Medical cannabis continues to be prescribed by physicians to patients suffering from painful and serious illnesses, as a means to minimize their pain and support their recovery. For that reason it is important that patients continue to have safe access to the medication they need. California has adopted clear regulations that allow patients to do just that, it is unfortunate that the Federal Government has decided to target these legal vendors instead of focusing those resources on those who sell illicit drugs.
State Senator Mark Leno told the Los Angeles Times that the DOJ strategy was a waste of precious resources at a time of fiscal crisis:
They’re wasting money they don’t have. This is not the issue of the day. This doesn’t create jobs. This does not keep the security of the nation intact. It doesn’t clean the environment. If anything, they should be demonstrating leadership in resolving the conflict between federal and state laws. Until we deal with that, we’re going to be going around in circles here.
Assembly member Tom Ammiano had perhaps the strongest words of condemnation in a press release issued shortly after the DOJ press conference on Friday. Ammiano said that the attack on medical marijuana would cost the state “millions in tax revenue and harm countless lives.”
I am bitterly disappointed in the Obama Administration for this unwarranted and destructive attack on medical marijuana and patients’ rights to medicine. [Friday’s] announcement by the Department of Justice means that Obama’s medical marijuana policies are worse than Bush and Clinton. It’s a tragic return to failed policies that will cost the state millions in tax revenue and harm countless lives. 16 states along with the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws -- whatever happened to the promises he made on the campaign trail to not prosecute medical marijuana or the 2009 DOJ memo saying that states with medical marijuana laws would not be prosecuted? Change we can believe in? Instead we get more of the same.
Notably, Congressman Rohrabacher’s statement had a prescriptive solution:
[The DOJ announcement] underscores the need for Congress to pass H.R. 1983, the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act.
He’s right. People across the country should contact their member of Congress and urge them to pass H.R. 1983, a bill that would reclassify medical marijuana and allow states to develop, implement and enforce their own laws without interference from the federal government.