Oakland Raids Highlight Clash of Cannabis Laws

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April 2, 2012; Source: Los Angeles Times

California has been the epicenter of the clash between state and federal laws concerning activities related to medical marijuana. Recently, even while the City of Oakland has approved permits that will double the number of nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries in the city from four to eight, federal prosecutors have been busy trying to shut down the existing dispensaries by threatening to seize property from landlords if they did not evict their dispensary tenants.

Then, yesterday morning, U.S. Marshals and agents with the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided three Oaksterdam University locations. Oaksterdam was founded as the first training college for those involved in the cannabis industry by medical marijuana activist Richard Lee, who also runs a dispensary and a museum connected to the school. The reasons for the raid were not immediately made clear, but the stand-off between the federal and state governments becomes ever more silly as 16 states and Washington, D.C. now deem it legal to dispense medical marijuana.

Lawmakers in five of those states protested the continuing persecution of medical marijuana facilities today in a letter, well worth reading, that is included below. –Ruth McCambridge

“Over the last two decades, 16 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to depart from federal policy and chart their own course on the issue of medical marijuana, as states are entitled to do under our federalist system of government. These states have rejected the fallacy long promoted by the federal government—that marijuana has absolutely no accepted medical use and that seriously ill people must choose between ignoring their doctors’ medical advice or risking arrest and prosecution. They have stopped using their scarce law enforcement resources to punish patients and those who care for them and have instead spent considerable resources and time crafting programs that will provide patients with safe and regulated access to medical marijuana.

States with medical marijuana laws have chosen to embrace an approach that is based on science, reason, and compassion. We are lawmakers from these states.

Our state medical marijuana laws differ from one another in their details, such as which patients qualify for medical use; how much marijuana patients may possess; whether patients and caregivers may grow marijuana; and whether regulated entities may grow and sell marijuana to patients. Each of our laws, however, is motivated by a desire to protect seriously ill patients from criminal penalties under state law; to provide a safe and reliable source of medical marijuana; and to balance and protect the needs of local communities and other residents in the state. The laws were drafted with considered thoughtfulness and care, and are thoroughly consistent with the American tradition of using the states as laboratories for public policy innovation and experimentation.

Unfortunately, these laws face a mounting level of federal hostility and confusing mixed messages from the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice, and the various United States Attorneys. In 2008, then candidate Obama stated that as President, he would not use the federal government to circumvent state laws on the issue of medical marijuana. This promise was followed up in 2009 by President Obama with a Department of Justice memo from former Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden stating that federal resources should not generally be focused ‘on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.’ This provided welcome guidance for state legislators and administrators and encouraged us to move forward with drafting and passing responsible regulatory legislation.

Nonetheless, the United States Attorneys in several states with medical marijuana laws have chosen a different course. They have explicitly threatened that federal investigative and prosecutorial resources ‘will continue to be directed’ towards the manufacture and distribution of medical marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law. These threats have generally been timed to influence pending legislation or encourage the abandonment of state and local regulatory programs. They contradict President Obama’s campaign promise and policy his first year in office and serve to push medical marijuana activity back into the illicit market.

Most disturbing is that a few United States Attorneys warn that state employees who implement the laws and regulations of our states are not immune from criminal prosecution under the federal Controlled Substances Act. They do so notwithstanding the fact that no provision exists within the Controlled Substances Act that makes it a crime for a state employee to enforce regulations that help a state define conduct that is legal under its own state laws.

Hundreds of state and municipal employees are currently involved in the licensing and regulation of medical marijuana producers and providers in New Mexico, Colorado, Maine, and California, and have been for years. The federal government has never threatened, much less prosecuted, any of these employees. Indeed, the federal government has not, to our knowledge, prosecuted state employees for performing their ministerial duties under state law in modern history. It defies logic and precedent that the federal government would start prosecuting state employees now.

Recognizing the lack of any real harm to state employees, a number of states have moved forward. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie drew on his own experience as a former United States Attorney in deciding that New Jersey state workers were not realistically at risk of federal prosecution in his decision to move forward implementing New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. Rhode Island, Vermont, Arizona, and the District of Columbia are also in the process of implementing their state laws.

Nonetheless, the suggestion that state employees are at risk is have a destructive and chilling impact. Washington Governor Christine Gregoire vetoed legislation to regulate medical marijuana in her state and Delaware Governor Jack Markell suspended implementation of his state’s regulatory program after receiving warnings from the United States Attorneys in their states about state employees. Additionally, a number of localities in California ended or suspended regulatory programs after receiving similar threats to their workers.

We, the undersigned state legislators, call on state and local officials to not be intimidated by these empty federal threats. Our state medical marijuana programs should be implemented and move forward. Our work, and the will of our voters, should see the light of day.

We call on the federal government not to interfere with our ability to control and regulate how medical marijuana is grown and distributed. Let us seek clarity rather than chaos. Don’t force patients underground, to fuel the illegal drug market.

And finally, we call on President Obama to recommit to the principles and policy on which he campaigned and asserted his first year in office. Please respect our state laws. And don’t use our employees as pawns in your zealous and misguided war on medical marijuana.”

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-CA)

Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-WA)

Representative Antonio Maestas (D-NM)

Senator Cisco McSorley (D-NM)

Assemblymember Chris Norby (R-CA)

Representative Deborah Sanderson (R-ME)

Senator Pat Steadman (D-CO)

  • Chris in WI

    Why does this conversation get more complicated then it has to?

    Cannabis is about Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s your choice to consume WHATEVER you want. You can restrict driving or working after, BUT you CANT tell me I can’t stick Clorox in a needle and shoot it in my eyes in my own home if that’s what I CHOOSE to do. Wtf republicans talk about personal responsibility then want to tell you that you can’t smoke a joint because they fear (not have proof) it MIGHT make you do something bad.

    Well I personally think church makes people do horrible things (bomb abortion clinics, tell gays they are going to hell, etc) so I think we should prohibit churches… You know, for the good of the children!

  • Malcolm Kyle

    Excerpts from the Australian Drug Policy report titled: “The prohibition of illicit drugs is killing and criminalising our children and we are all letting it happen.”

    “For us, when we lost our son, we did not seek sympathy, we saw the injustice and craziness of our drug laws. We wanted people to focus on that, not on our suffering.” – Marion and Brian McConnell are founding members of ‘Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform’.

    “Many people who think of themselves as the beneficiaries of prohibition are really net losers. Parents are much more at risk of losing their children under prohibition than they would be if there was some kind of system where we had some measure of control over illicit drugs.” – Hon Professor Peter Baume AC, Former Chancellor of the ANU and Minister for Health in the Fraser Government

    “I think the idea that prohibition kills is an important one. So my plea is how can we get governments to buy into this issue? I think they need to see that what they are doing and not doing, is causing a lot of the harms. At some stage they have to be held accountable for allowing this to happen.” – Hon Professor Geoff Gallop AC, Former Premier of Western Australia

    “What we want governments to do is feel quite uncomfortable about the predicament they have put us in. They are running a system that is causing a whole lot of harm.” – Hon Michael Moore, CEO Public Health Association of Australia and former Minister of Health for the ACT

    “I am strongly in favour of legalising, regulating, controlling and taxing all drugs.” – Nicholas Cowdery AM QC Director of Public Prosecutions for NSW from 1994 to 2011

    “The key message is that we have 40 years of experience of a law and order approach to drugs and it has failed.” – Hon Dr Michael Wooldridge, Former Health Minister in the Howard Federal Government

    “The current policy of prohibition discredits the law, which cannot possibly stop a growing trade that positively thrives on its illegality and black market status. Like the failure of the prohibition of alcohol in the USA from 1920 to 1933, the current prohibition of illegal drugs is creating more harms than benefits and needs to be reconsidered by the Australian community.”

    “The move against prohibition is gathering momentum in other countries across the ideological spectrum as communities around the world place responsibility for the costs of prohibition where it belongs: with those legislators who continue, by default, to support the international prohibition approach.”

    “Beneficiaries of the current approach include the law enforcement industry, those who benefit from the occupancy of prisons and a thriving insurance industry that insures residents for the high rates of household crime. The converse of this is that law-abiding citizens are the biggest losers.”

    “Because the issue is trivialised in sound bites such as “Tough on Drugs” or “Soft on Drugs” the realities of prohibition are not seriously discussed and the major harms that result from this failed policy are not being addressed.”

    “By maintaining prohibition and suppressing or avoiding debate about its costs and benefits, it can be argued justifiably that our governments and other influential sectors of the community are standing idly by while our children are criminalised.”

    “It is time to reactivate Australian debate on this matter, drawing attention to the accountability of governments for allowing an unacceptable situation to persist , and the fact that the community has allowed this to happen.”

    “Drug taking undoubtedly produces serious harms to individual drug users and their families. Many of the harms to them, to others and to society at large are a result of the national policy of prohibition and criminalisation which, arguably, increases, rather than decreases, the risks of more people becoming drug dependent.”

    The discussion included 24 former senior state and federal politicians, experts in drug policy and public health and former law enforcement officers.


  • Jan Capaldi

    What a RIDICULOUS WASTE of taxpayer money this all is!!! Whose job is it to get the United States Attorneys in line??? Which states are these “rogue” U.S. Attorneys operating in??? Get ’em out of there, for heaven’s sake!!!