Four members of California’s congressional delegation, three from the Bay Area, have written a letter to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag protesting the continued federal crackdown against suppliers of medical marijuana whose activities have been deemed legal under state law.
The members of the House—Democrats Barbara Lee, George Miller, Sam Farr and Eric Swalwell—join a long list of state and local officials who have complained that the federal raids and legal attacks on dispensary operators and property owners who rent them space should stop. The letter argues that Haag’s actions appear “to directly counter the spirit of Deputy Attorney General Cole’s memo (pdf), and is in direct opposition to the evolving view toward medical marijuana, the will of the people and, by now, common sense.”
Haag’s hard line is part of the schizophrenic behavior exhibited toward medical marijuana by government. California gave medical marijuana a green light in 1996 with passage of the Compassionate Use Act and authorized non-profit coops to sell it in 2004. But federal law has criminalized pot since the early part of the last century.
President Barack Obama indicated when he took office that he did not support prosecuting those involved in medical marijuana. His position was echoed by federal officials, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, as late as early 2011. But the policy abruptly changed in October of that year when U.S. Attorneys in California started busting dispensaries and threatening property owners that hosted them.
In July 2012, the feds got aggressive with Harborside Health Center, the nation’s largest dispensary. Haag’s agents tacked notices of forfeiture on doors at Harborside’s two facilities in Oakland and San Jose. Harborside offers free yoga and acupuncture to its 1,100 regular customers, along with 40 strains of marijuana, bongs and hemp fedoras, as well as holistic services and classes, lab analysis and a library. It also provides “care packages to patients unable to afford their medicine.”
The dispensaries are still open while the court decides their fate.
The raids continued unabated despite occasional utterances from Holder and other officials that the federal government was going to maintain a low-key attitude about pot. Polls show the public likes medical marijuana and is OK with recreational pot, and in November 2012, the states of Colorado and Washington passed laws that legalized recreational marijuana to varying degrees.
As those two states prepared to roll out their programs, observers wondered how the feds would react. In August, the Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole released a memo (pdf) to clarify the U.S. Department of Justice’s marijuana policy and give guidance to federal prosecutors. He said all the right things.
The feds would keep a low profile as long as the states maintain a strong regulatory system. They wouldn’t mess with low-level users and would rely on state and local authorities to enforce “their own narcotics laws.” Perhaps most importantly, the memo reiterated the federal acceptance of large-scale dispensaries and said “prosecutors should not consider the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone” in assessing whether to bust it.
Haag was undeterred and responded that the memo was consistent with her own policies and actions. That policy included a statement she made a month earlier: “The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need.”