Pages tagged "Department of Justice"
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.
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.
Earlier this month, in response to federal attacks by California’s U.S. Attorneys, several local and state officials spoke out against the aggressive interference in their medical marijuana laws. State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) held a press conference with patients and advocacy groups, including Americans for Safe Access. The message was clear: the federal government must “stand down.”
On October 19th, Senator Leno stated the following:
I urge the federal government to stand down in its massive attack on medical marijuana dispensaries, which will have devastating impacts for the state of California. At a time when resources are precious and few, federal officials have chosen to waste time and money in an ambush that will harm countless patients who will no longer be able to safely access doctor-prescribed treatments. Our federal dollars, especially during a down economy, would be better spent on activities and programs that save jobs and help people in need. Instead, this ill-timed offensive would have no positive impacts on our state and would only force more Californians into unemployment.
Assembly member Ammiano also declared that:
Instead of supporting state efforts to effectively regulate medical marijuana in accordance with Prop 215, the Obama administration seems committed to re-criminalizing it. This destructive attack on medical marijuana patients is a waste of limited law enforcement resources and will cost the state millions in tax revenue and harm countless lives. I urge President Obama to reconsider this bad policy decision and respect California's right to provide medicine to its residents.
In a separate statement, State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) also blasted the decision to shut down licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in the city:
Medical marijuana dispensaries are helping our economy, creating jobs, and most importantly, providing a necessary service for suffering patients. There are real issues and real problems that the US Attorney’s Office should be focused on rather than using their limited resources to prosecute legitimate businesses or newspapers. Like S-Comm, our law enforcement agencies – both state and local – should not assist in this unnecessary action. Shutting down state-authorized dispensaries will cost California billions of dollars and unfairly harm thousands of lives.
Most recently, California Attorney General Kamala Harris spoke out against the recent federal crackdown:
Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill. … While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California. I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.
Even local officials are speaking up. Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen called the federal raid on a medical marijuana collective licensed by the county, “outrageous.” Supervisor McCowen said in a written statement, “if the federal government truly wants to protect public safety,” it should change its strategy of:
[R]aiding medical marijuana growers who are doing everything they can to operate in full compliance with state and local law.
Perhaps the feds should take heed, lest more officials from across the state speak up in defense of patients and state law.
Today, in a joint effort between Congressional Representatives and Americans for Safe Access, several members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama expressing "concern with the recent activity by the Department of Justice against legitimate medical cannabis dispensaries in California that are operating legally under state law." The letter, headlined by Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and signed by Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Pete Stark (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Bob Filner (D-CA), noted that California was only the latest state hit in the federal government's campaign against medical marijuana.
This year alone has seen aggressive SWAT-style federal raids in at least seven medical marijuana states, as well as threats of criminal prosecution by U.S. attorneys against local and state public officials. It is our strong position that local and state governments must be allowed to develop, implement and enforce their own public health laws with regard to medical cannabis.
The members of Congress further stated that:
[I]t is more urgent now than ever to reschedule marijuana as a legitimate controlled substance for medicinal purposes.
Specifically, they requested that the Obama administration either reschedule cannabis as a Schedule II or Schedule III drug or that they publicly support the adoption of legislation that would remove cannabis from its current place in Schedule I. The letter comes on the heels of the Department of Justice's most recent attempt to circumvent California's 15 year old medical cannabis law.
In the beginning of October, California's four U.S. attorneys sent letters to at least 16 landlords and property owners who rent buildings or own land where dispensaries provide safe access to medical cannabis, notifying them that they were violating federal drug law. The letters warned that the dispensaries must shut down within 45 days or the landlords and property owners will face criminal charges and confiscation of their property - both real and personal - even if they are operating legally under the state's medical cannabis law.
This latest instance of federal interference is in stark contrast to the spirit if not the precise letter of the Obama Administration's policy on medical cannabis and though the DOJ is now claiming that President Obama had no prior knowledge of these latest enforcement tactics, the signers of the Farr-Rohrabacher letter urge the President to show respect for patients and their providers by changing federal policy and providing them with safe access to their medicine rather than pushing them back into the illicit market. Whether or not their pleas fall on deaf ears remains to be seen.
Earlier this year, on April 21st, the Washington State legislature passed SB 5073, a bill that would have established a licensing system for the dozens of medical marijuana distribution centers that existed to provide much-needed medication to thousands of patients throughout the state. Notably, the legislature passed the bill after Governor Christine Gregoire sought and received feedback from the Obama Justice Department. U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby wrote that growing facilities, dispensaries, landlords, financiers, and even state employees “would not be immune from liability under the CSA (Controlled Substances Act).” In other words, anyone remotely connected to the production and distribution of medical marijuana could be criminally prosecuted under federal law. Yet, the legislature must have seen through these threats of intimidation because it passed SB 5073 anyway.
Less than a week after SB 5073 was passed, on April 27th, U.S. Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking “further clarification” on the Justice Department’s position on “federal prosecution in states that have enacted laws authorizing medical use of marijuana.” Specifically, Congressman Inslee sought clarification on whether the Justice Department would really “prosecute a state employee who is operating in full compliance with SB 5073.” Unfortunately, nearly 6 moths later, Congressman Inslee is still waiting for a response.
Not-so-coincidentally, a day after the congressman sent his request for clarification, the federal government conducted several aggressive law enforcement raids in Spokane, Washington and later indicted multiple dispensary operators under federal law. A day after that, Governor Gregoire vetoed the parts of SB 5073 that included the establishment of medical marijuana production and distribution regulations.
Apparently, this was a thought-out, well-conducted strategy by the Obama Administration to undermine the efforts of Washington State legislators to establish sensible public health policy with regard to medical marijuana. And Washington is not alone. Similar derailments of public health policy happened in Arizona, California, Montana, and Rhode Island, to name a few.
Thursday, Congressman Jay Inslee sent a follow-up letter to Attorney General Holder, reminding him that the Justice Department has:
[F]ar more critical functions than preventing some of our Nation’s most vulnerable residents from getting the relief they need.
Once again, Congressman Inslee asked for:
[A] detailed justification as to why the Justice Department is focusing such a substantial portion of its limited resources in this area.
This is yet another example of the push back from federal legislators on President Obama’s confusing war against medical marijuana. He would do well to respond and, better yet, President Obama should reconsider his harmful and indefensible policy.
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.
Two weeks ago, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), under the Obama Justice Department, issued a memorandum instructing firearms dealers not to sell to lawful medical marijuana patients. The ATF memo -- an affront to patients’ Second Amendment rights to be sure -- was just the latest in a long list of policy statements and threatening letters from the federal government aimed at undermining the rights of medical marijuana patients. However, this particular effort against gun owners has people riled up more than usual.
After finding out about the ATF memo, Montana’s congressional delegation -- Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), and U.S. Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jon Tester (D-MT) -- blasted the decision. In response, Tester wrote a letter to the ATF last week, urging the agency to “immediately reconsider [its] misguided effort.” Rep. Rehberg and Senator Baucus made similar condemning remarks.
In defense of patients, Senator Tester wrote:
It is unacceptable that law-abiding citizens would be stripped of their Second Amendment rights simply because they hold a state-issued card authorizing the possession and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
In Michigan, the ATF is being especially proactive. Americans for Safe Access has received reports that the federal government is using information obtained from the state’s medical marijuana program to serve search warrants and forfeiture notices on patients with legally possessed firearms.
The ATF memo comes after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a notice to state and local housing authorities that accommodation need not be given to legal medical marijuana patients and that eviction from public housing was an acceptable option.
Also earlier this year, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) issued an order, increasing the enforcement responsibilities of banks to ensure against criminal and illicit activity. This order has been used to deny or cancel banking services for countless legally operating medical marijuana dispensaries across the country. According to a Denver Post editorial from today:
[L]ast week, the lone bank in the state that openly worked with the [medical marijuana] industry closed an estimated 300 marijuana-related accounts for fear that the companies are breaking federal law.
In a now-famous move, the Obama Justice Department sent out a series of letters this summer to public officials in at least 10 medical marijuana states, threatening criminal prosecution for implementing public health laws. This had a deleterious effect on several local and state laws in Arizona, California, Montana, Rhode Island and Washington to name a few.
More recently, however, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that Harborside Health Center -- possibly the largest licensed medical marijuana distribution facility in California -- could not deduct its operating costs and must pay taxes on gross income. Besides the possibility of putting Harborside out of business, this could have a devastating effect on local distribution across the country.
The ATF memo and other examples of intolerance by the federal government illustrate the need for a federal policy that treats medical marijuana as a public health issue. As such, urge President Obama to develop a comprehensive policy on medical marijuana. Also, people should urge their Member of Congress to pass HR 1983 to reclassify medical marijuana, HR 1984 to restore banking services for the medical marijuana community, and HR 1985 to allow dispensaries to deduct their operating expenses when paying federal taxes.
A Nevada trial court judge threw out an indictment Monday against Leonard Schwingdorf and Nathan Hamilton, two medical marijuana dispensary operators arrested in federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and local law enforcement raids on several Las Vegas facilities last year. This was the first legal disposition since the Obama DEA raided at least 5 area dispensaries on September 8, 2010, indicting 15 people as a result.
When dismissing the indictments, Nevada District Judge Donald Mosley called the state’s law “mind boggling.” Judge Mosley further questioned the legislature’s failure to craft a law that benefits patients:
[W]hy don't they (the Legislature) make up their mind if they want to make it legal or not…I can't make any sense out of this law.
Judge Mosley also asked about the law:
Are people supposed to give it away? I mean it just makes no sense.
Although all 15 indictments stemming from last year’s raids were initially filed in federal court, only 7 remain as federal cases. The rest of the indictments, two of which were tossed earlier this week by Judge Mosley, were transferred to state court.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, defendants have called the state law “paradoxical because it allows patients registered with the state to possess the herb, but makes it illegal to obtain it.”
Mosley agreed with defense attorneys in their allegations that prosecutors withheld important medical-related information from the grand jury that indicted Schwingdorf and Hamilton.
Seven federal prosecutions are still pending as are another state case, which will be heard Friday by District Judge Doug Smith. An indictment against multiple operators and the vagueness of Nevada’s medical marijuana law will again be at issue this Friday.
After nine years of delay, the DEA finally denied the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) petition to reschedule marijuana. While this may superficially seem like a setback, it now allows us to get a more fair hearing in federal court. We even had to to file a lawsuit in federal court to compel any action on this decision, so it is a step in the right direction that we received a final administrative action on the rescheduling petition to set the stage for a court battle. Now, we can present our evidence to a tribunal that will listen.
Already, Time posted an article concluding that science demonstrates the following:
if an appeals judgment were based on scientific evidence, rather than political considerations this time around, it's easy to imagine a very different outcome.
Similarly, the International Business Report posted an article entiled, "Did U.S Government Miss the Mark with Medical Marijuana Ruling?" You can guess the answer (or click on the link for the result). The short of it is that we are getting a chance in court and we need to make the most of it. And we will.
More by a confluence of circumstances than by design, the federal government made clear this past week its intolerance to medical cannabis as well as its intolerance to the independence of local and state governments to decide their own public health policies. The irony of the U.S. Department of Justice issuing formal threats against the autonomy of local and state officials on the eve of Independence Day is not lost on many who are paying attention to this latest power grab by the federal government.
When was the last time you remember local and state officials being threatened en masse with criminal prosecution by the federal government for implementing their own public health laws? This egregious attempt by the fed to seize unwarranted authority over the states should be a concern not only to the medical cannabis patient community, but also to those who believe in the importance of local autonomy in a federalist system of democracy.
There are, however, historical demons in our states’ rights closet too, not the least of which is the amalgam of state laws enacted to resist federal desegregation efforts during the Civil Rights era. However, there must be ways to protect people from harm and bigotry using our federalist system of government, without ceding omnipotence to the fed and giving up the rights of states and their localities to care for the health and welfare of their people. There is no doubt that the fed is attempting to set a precedent that will allow them to usurp control from local and state governments and inhibit their ability to pass their own public health laws.
This is a time to rise up in opposition to the federal government and its abuse of authority. This is not a time to cower and buckle to intimidation. The States of Arizona, California, Montana, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington have either suspended or gutted parts of their medical cannabis programs in response to threats from U.S. Attorneys. However, the State of Delaware recently passed the country’s 16th medical cannabis law, including the licensing of distribution centers, despite awareness by the legislature and Governor Jack Markell that the new law contradicted parts of federal law. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill to regulate and license medical cannabis distribution centers in his state despite a threatening letter sent by U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin to Vermont’s Public Safety Commissioner.
If local and state officials want to maintain their independence, they must take a cue from the States of Delaware and Vermont and stand up to the federal government. Governors, state attorneys general, legislators, county supervisors, city council members and others must join together and fight back against this latest encroachment.
To be sure, medical cannabis patients are not going away. If the federal government refuses to recognize the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and develop a sensible public health policy, then states must be allowed to do so in its place. As we celebrate our freedom from government tyranny on this July 4th, let’s also be resolute in our stand against tyrannical acts by the Obama Administration.