Millions of taxpayer dollars spent undermining state and local medical marijuana laws
Sacramento, CA — The Obama Justice Department (DOJ) held a press conference in Sacramento today announcing an array of enforcement actions against medical marijuana producers and distributors as well as landlords throughout California. Patient advocates are calling President Obama’s enforcement effort harmful and unnecessary, representing a stark contradiction to his pledge of disengagement in medical marijuana states. [my bolding —rk] The DOJ claimed it was carrying out civil and criminal enforcement actions against medical marijuana providers and sending “warning” letters to property owners leasing to dispensary operators.
“Aggressive tactics like these are a completely inappropriate use of prosecutorial discretion [my bolding —rk] by the Obama Administration,” said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country’s largest medical marijuana advocacy group. “President Obama must answer for his contradictory policy on medical marijuana.” On the campaign trial and in the White House, President Obama pledged that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state [medical marijuana] laws.” [my bolding —rk]
California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said in a statement issued today that the DOJ enforcement strategy was “a waste of scarce federal resources,” [my bolding —rk] underscoring “the need for Congress to pass H.R. 1983, the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act.” H.R. 1983 would reclassify medical marijuana at the federal level and allow states to develop, implement and enforce their own laws.
This attack is the latest in a long line of federal intimidation tactics employed over the past few months by such agencies as Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). President Obama’s DOJ has conducted well over 150 federal raids in at least 7 states since taking office and his U.S. Attorneys sent letters earlier this year threatening local and state officials in 10 states with criminal prosecution if they adopted proposed medical marijuana laws.
By sending threatening letters to landlords, President Obama is taking a cue from his predecessor George W. Bush, whose Justice Department sent similar letters to more than 300 property owners throughout California in 2007. Despite the seriousness of letters sent by the DOJ under Bush, no criminal or forfeiture enforcement actions were ever pursued. It’s unclear if the federal government has the resources or inclination to act on these new threats in a significant way, but for the price of postage they have engaged in wholesale intimidation of the medical marijuana community.
Advocates argue that states should be allowed to enforce their own public health laws, including those concerning medical marijuana. “It is unconscionable that the federal government would override local and state laws to enforce its will over the will of the people,” said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. “States must be allowed to enforce their own laws without harmful interference from the Obama Administration.” California Attorney General Kamala Harris was apparently not warned by the DOJ about the heightened federal enforcement effort before today.
The DOJ enforcement effort comes as hundreds of demonstrations against Wall Street are continuing to occur across the country. These protests are, at least in part, questioning the federal government’s allocation of limited resources. Meanwhile, President Obama has chosen to expend federal resources to crack down on medical marijuana in states that have legalized its use. “By shutting down dispensaries, the Obama Administration is not only pushing legal patients into the illicit market,” continued Hermes, “it’s also wasting taxpayer dollars at a time of fiscal crisis.”