AG Holder Has Failed to Stop DOJ Interference when it comes to Medical Marijuana; Now, It's Up to Congress

Steph Sherer, Huffington Post (Op-Ed)

Congress will vote on a budget amendment tomorrow that will prohibit the Department of Justice (DOJ) from spending any funds on arrests, raids, and prosecutions of state authorized medical cannabis patients and their providers. The “Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment” to the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriations bill is being introduced by 10 House members, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

It’s no secret that federal and state laws are out of step with respect to medical marijuana. Thirty states so far have acknowledged the health benefits of cannabis by passing laws that legalize its medical use, yet the federal government has spent over 500 million dollars to interfere with and discredit these laws.

From the time President Obama took office, his administration has said that it would not spend funds to undermine the country’s medical cannabis laws. Underscoring this point, the DOJ has introduced a series of memos, instructing U.S. Attorneys to defer to local and state enforcement efforts. The most recent policy memorandum issued on August 29, 2013 reinforces that it is “not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals, or on their individual caregivers.” Yet, defiance from U.S. Attorneys in California, Montana, Michigan and other states has cost taxpayers more than $300 million under the Obama Administration alone, according to data published last year by Americans for Safe Access.

Support for the CJS amendment has grown in recent weeks after ongoing, aggressive enforcement actions that fly in the face of the DOJ directives. The current federal case that best Illustrates the problem is that of the Kettle Falls 5 in Washington State, where prosecutors are aggressively targeting individual patients accused of growing a modest amount of medical marijuana for their own personal use. The DOJ has spent $3 million so far to prosecute the Kettle Falls 5 with no end in sight. The four family members and a close friend claim they were in full compliance with state law, yet each face a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence with the possibility of life in prison. One of the defendants, 70-year-old Larry Harvey, isn’t expected to survive the minimum prison term.

Sadly, Mr. Harvey is not the first medical marijuana patient to find himself in such a horrifying predicament. In 2012, the first registered caregiver in the State of Montana, Richard Flor, died in federal custody while serving a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence. His business partner, Chris Williams, also received a 5-year mandatory prison sentence, despite their operation’s strict compliance with state law. They’re among several notable cases over the past couple of years in which the DOJ has sought stiff mandatory minimum sentences for medical marijuana, including Michigan cultivators Jerry Duval (10 years), his son Jeremy Duval (5 years) and John Marcinkewciz (5 years), along with California dispensary operators Aaron Sandusky (10 years) and Matt Davies (5 years). All of these defendants maintain that they were obeying state law, but were prevented from using such a defense in federal court.

Clearly, the policy changes made to date don’t go far enough. It’s time for Congress to take the crucial step of passing the “Rohrabacher-Farr” Amendment. By preventing DOJ funds from being spent to undermine state medical marijuana laws, scarce tax dollars can be used more judiciously. With support for medical marijuana hovering around 85% nationwide, there are no excuses for Representatives to vote against the amendment. A “No” vote means more taxpayer money fruitlessly spent and more lives harmed as a result. Please contact your Congress member today and urge them to support the “Rohrabacher-Farr” Amendment to the CJS appropriations bill.