Posted by George Pappas
1. DEA Raids 4 L.A. Dispensing Collectives, Spark Community Uproar; White House Response
DEA carried out four simultaneous “smash and grab” raids on medical cannabis dispensing collectives in Los Angeles this week (Beach Center Collective, Venice Alternative Healing, Marina Caregivers, and Alternative Caregivers Discount Collective). It was the second time that the agency – still staffed with holdovers from the Bush Administration – had defied President Obama’s campaign pledges not to undermine state medical cannabis laws since he took office.
The aggression by DEA spun the community into an uproar as protests were immediately scheduled and ASA membership called on the White House in droves to implore President Obama to fulfill his pre-election promises to end the raids. Since the first raid under Obama on Jan. 22nd, thousands of phone calls have been placed to the White House asking the President to take action. And on Wednesday the President responded. White House Spokesman Nick Shapiro issued a statement to the Washington Times, saying, “The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind.”
The following morning, over 130 protesters organized a response to the raid in front of the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles. Though still angry over the DEA’s “smash and grabs”, the tone of the protest was much lighter given the statements made by the White House the previous evening. Participants chanted “DEA go away” and blew up a banner which indicated that perhaps DEA hadn’t “gotten the memo” that the raids were against the stated policy position of President Obama. However, its likely that a new DEA administrator won’t be seated until April or May, and the community is greatly concerned about the actions of a rogue DEA in that time. ASA activists should be ready to continue to act in case DEA again undermines the will of the President and continues to raid.
2. Congress to DEA: Lift Restrictions on Cannabis Research
In another action directed against what is shaping up to be a “rogue agency”, 16 Members of Congress sent a letter this week to the Department of Justice and DEA in response to the “11th hour” Bush Administration denial of a long-standing request to lift restrictions on medical cannabis research. For over eight years, DEA (now under Acting Administrator Michelle Leonhart) had delayed a decision to grant a license to one of the nation’s top botanists, Prof. Lyle Craker, to grow medical cannabis at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst strictly for government-approved research. Then, less than a week before Bush was to leave office, against the 2007 ruling of the DEA’s own Administrative Law Judge, and after eight years of no response, Leonhart denied the petition, upholding the restrictions on researching cannabis.
The Congressional letter addressed to new Attorney General Eric Holder and authored by Rep. John Olver (D-MA) urged the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to act “swiftly to amend or withdraw” Leonhart’s decision. For more than forty years, the federal government has allowed no other source to produce cannabis for medical research, as they do other drugs, impeding both research and the ability to bring it to market. Then in February 2007, DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner ruled to end that monopoly, stating that it was not in the public interest.
The letter also states that forty-five members of the House of Representatives, Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, as well as a broad range of scientific, medical and public health organizations including the Lymphoma Foundation of America, the National Association for Public Health Policy, and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation have all written to DEA in support of Professor Craker’s efforts.
“Given President Obama’s commitment to end federal enforcement in medical marijuana states, it stands to reason that he would be in favor of expanded research into this important medication,” said Caren Woodson, Director of Government Affairs with Americans for Safe Access. “His Department of Justice has the opportunity to place science above politics and to facilitate unfettered research into medical marijuana.” The DEA took nearly two years to respond to Judge Bittner’s ruling and with less than one week before a change in Administration, acting-DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart rejected the ruling and denied Professor Craker’s application.
The ACLU, which represents Professor Craker in this matter, is requesting reconsideration and an opportunity to respond to new evidence used by the DEA in its rejection.
3. San Bernardino County to Continue Lawsuit Against Medical Cannabis Patients
Despite being rejected by 2 courts and denied even review by the CA Supreme Court, San Bernardino County supervisors voted in a closed session on Tuesday to rejoin San Diego County in an increasingly frivolous challenge to California’s medical cannabis law, attempting to bring the case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The two counties have been engaged in a 3-year losing battle after refusing to issue identification cards to patients legally qualified to use medical-cannabis. The cards are intended to avoid false arrests of law abiding, seriously ill people, and to make complying with California law easier on law enforcement.
As all courts have so far ruled against the counties, and legal experts consider it highly unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will grant review, continuing this action has been increasingly seen by members of the community as a waste of critical resources during a time of economic crisis.
San Bernardino Undersheriff Richard Beemer said at the Tuesday meeting that his deputies are trying to enforce federal law, even though Guidelines issued by the Attorney General, the top law enforcement official in the state, explicitly direct California police to follow California, not federal law.
Americans for Safe Access is currently engaged in litigation against Solano County for defying California law and not issuing the ID cards.