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The federal government indicted three people yesterday in Montana, continuing its campaign to undermine medical marijuana laws across the country. The indictment against Jason Burns, Joshua Schultz, and Jesse Leland who were providing medical marijuana to state-qualified patients in Montana, is a result of 26 raids executed in March by no less than 8 federal agencies and an array of local law enforcement.
Despite an October 2009 Justice Department memorandum de-emphasizing federal enforcement against medical marijuana, President Obama has been responsible for more than 100 aggressive SWAT-style federal raids in at least 7 states since taking office. Yesterday’s indictment is added to a list of more than 2-dozen similar medical marijuana-related indictments in the past 2 years.
Whether or not you agree that medical marijuana patients and providers accused of local or state law violations should be tried in state court – we certainly do – they should be given a chance to defend themselves. Unfortunately, patients and providers prosecuted in federal court are prevented from using a medical or state law defense. U.S. Attorneys know this and use it to their advantage to unfairly try medical marijuana defendants like Burns, Schultz, and Leland. Whether they are accused of making a profit or somehow violating state law matters not in federal court and it will never be raised as an issue at trial. In fact, federal prosecutors will even object to the words “medical marijuana” being used in front of the jury.
Let’s call a spade, a spade. The federal government goes after medical marijuana providers because it’s easy. People bold enough to commit federal civil disobedience every day to bring medical marijuana to patients who need it and are qualified to use it do not hide in the shadows. Many are listed in the phone book or on other public lists. They often run storefront businesses and some even advertise. Federal enforcement against medical marijuana providers is like picking low hanging fruit.
Once in federal court, U.S. Attorneys need only to show that marijuana was present and that it was being provided to another person and, presto, you can convict anyone on an array of federal felonies. If the provider places his or her proceeds in a bank, you can add money laundering and other financial offenses to the list of felonies.
The problem is that the federal government isn’t just racking up more points in its insatiable “war on drugs,” it’s also, and more importantly, playing with people’s lives. In a letter sent earlier this week to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Congressional members Barney Frank (D-MA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) explain that targeting medical marijuana providers:
harms the people whose major goal is to seek relief from pain wholly caused by illness.
Holder would do well to heed the Congressmen’s words and let local and state officials enforce their own medical marijuana laws. It makes economic sense and it brings this country closer to addressing medical marijuana as the public health issue that it is.