U.S. Mayors Demand Change to Federal Policy, End to Crackdown on Medical Marijuana in Their Cities

Mayors from across the United States gathered in Las Vegas this past weekend for the 81st annual U.S. Conference of Mayors. In a watershed moment, mayors voted unanimously yesterday to adopt a  resolution "in support of states setting their own marijuana policies without federal interference." The resolution was introduced in advance of the conference by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and co-sponsored by 17 other mayors from across the country. Yesterday's passage of the resolution came just days after medical marijuana advocates issued an alarming report detailing how the Obama Justice Department has spent nearly $300 million to undermine medical marijuana laws in the U.S.

"Ultimately, this is about whether local and state governments can develop, adopt, and implement public health laws without heavy-handed interference by the federal government," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, which authored "What's the Cost?" an extensive report issued earlier this month on the economic and social costs of the federal government's war on medical marijuana. "This resolution is emblematic of the frustration experienced by local and state officials, which will continue until the federal government ends its attacks on medical marijuana." More than 100 million people, or 34 percent of Americans, currently live in states with medical marijuana laws.

The resolution says that despite differing views on how to treat marijuana in their cities, mayors believe "states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana policies work best to improve the public safety and health of their communities." Specifically, the resolution calls for an end to "federal interference," and a fundamental change to federal policy on marijuana. Until that happens, the U.S. Conference of Mayors "urges the President of the United States to reexamine the priorities of federal agencies to prevent the expenditure of resources on actions that undermine the duly enacted marijuana laws of states."

Mayors and other local officials have been at the forefront of resistance to the federal government's attack on medical marijuana. After the Obama Justice Department filed an asset forfeiture lawsuit last July against the landlords of Harborside Health Center, California's largest dispensary, the City of Oakland quickly filed its own lawsuit to challenge the federal government's actions. Last month, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag similarly filed a forfeiture lawsuit against the landlord of Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), one of California's oldest dispensaries. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, along with four City Council members and other state and federal officials, publicly condemned the federal action and have committed to intervene in support of BPG and its patients.

Despite this resistance, the federal campaign appears unrelenting. Earlier this month, Michigan medical marijuana patient and organ transplant recipient Jerry Duval surrendered to federal authorities to serve out a 10-year prison sentence at a cost to taxpayers of more than $1 million. In 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spent four percent of its budget on the medical marijuana crackdown. Having conducted at least 270 paramilitary-style raids during the past four years, Obama's DEA spent approximately $8 million to carry them out. However, the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on raids was dwarfed by the amount spent on investigative efforts preceding raids, indictments, and lawsuits, which has totaled more than $200 million. In addition to sending hundreds of letters threatening to prosecute property owners, the Obama Justice Department is expected to spend more than $10 million on lawsuits aimed at forfeiting the property of those in full compliance with state law.