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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.