Congresswoman Pushes Back Against DEA Attacks on Medical Marijuana

Washington, DC -- Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) sent a letter Friday to incoming U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder decrying threats by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Attorney's Office against property owners that lease to state-sanctioned medical marijuana providers. Since the summer of 2007, the DEA has issued letters to at least 300 landlords in California threatening federal criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture if they continue to lease to medical marijuana dispensaries. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) had never acted on the DEA threats until recently when property owners in Capps' district of Santa Barbara received an ultimatum on January 7th - evict their tenants within 45 days, by February 21st, or face the consequences.

Friday's letter from Rep. Capps is "urging the Department of Justice, Office of the United States Attorney, to act swiftly to suspend the enforcement threats against the property owners in California who are in compliance with local and state law."  The same medical marijuana dispensaries being threatened with closure by the DOJ have been licensed under a local ordinance adopted by the City of Santa Barbara earlier in 2008. Yet, since the DOJ letters were first sent in 2007, most of the dispensaries in Santa Barbara have been evicted by threatened landlords or have closed voluntarily to avoid possible legal ramifications.

"We applaud Representative Capps' leadership in opposing DEA intimidation," said Caren Woodson, Director of Government Affairs with Americans for Safe Access, the medical marijuana advocacy organization that worked with Rep. Capps on the letter to Holder. "Given public statements by President Obama about changing the medical marijuana policy at the Department of Justice, these recent actions are unnecessarily harmful and completely indefensible." When campaigning for president, Senator Obama repeatedly stated in public that he was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." The White House affirmed this position in a February 5th statement to the Washington Times.

In defiance of President Obama's position on the use of Justice Department funds to enforce federal marijuana laws in medical marijuana states, the DEA has conducted several raids on dispensaries since the president's inauguration on January 20th. "It's unclear why the DEA and the U.S. Attorney's Office is continuing the outdated policies of the Bush Administration," continued Woodson. "But, the newly-seated Attorney General has the power to, and should, immediately suspend all medical marijuana enforcement efforts."

Advocates estimate that approximately 400 dispensaries help provide medical marijuana to a majority of the more than 200,000 qualified patients in California. In August of 2008, State Attorney General Jerry Brown issued guidelines recognizing the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries and offered a set of recommendation for how such facilities could comply with state law. In 2005, the California Board of Equalization began collecting tax on the sale of medical marijuana, a revenue source for the state budget estimated by ASA at more than $100 million.

Further information:
Rep. Capps' letter to Eric Holder:
Recent White House statement on ending federal enforcement:
January 7th Justice Department letter to landlords:
CA Attorney General Guidelines issued in August 2008:
ASA Fact Sheet on medical marijuana sales tax:

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