Pelosi Has ‘Strong Concerns’ About Federal Crackdown on Medical Marijuana; Read Statement

The Berkeley Patients Group shut its doors last week. (Michael Montgomery/California Watch)
Nancy Pelosi has weighed in on the recent federal crackdown on the medical marijuana industry in California. Her statement, released yesterday…

San Francisco – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement today in response to recent federal government actions threatening safe access to medicinal marijuana for those who are seriously ill or enduring difficult and painful therapies:

“Access to medicinal marijuana for individuals who are ill or enduring difficult and painful therapies is both a medical and a states’ rights issue. Sixteen states, including our home state of California, and the District of Columbia have adopted medicinal marijuana laws – most by a vote of the people.

“I have strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medicinal marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California, and undermine a policy that has been in place under which the federal government did not pursue individuals whose actions complied with state laws providing for medicinal marijuana.

“Proven medicinal uses of marijuana include improving the quality of life for patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other severe medical conditions.

“I am pleased to join organizations that support legal access to medicinal marijuana, including the American Nurses Association, the Lymphoma Foundation of America, and the AIDS Action Council.

“Medicinal marijuana alleviates some of the most debilitating symptoms of AIDS, including pain, wasting, and nausea. The opportunity to ease the suffering of people who are seriously ill or enduring difficult and painful therapies is an opportunity we must not ignore.

“For these reasons, I have long supported efforts in Congress to advocate federal policies that recognize the scientific evidence and clinical research demonstrating the medical benefits of medicinal marijuana, that respects the wishes of the states in providing relief to ill individuals, and that prevents the federal government from acting to harm the safe access of medicinal marijuana provided under state law. I will continue to strongly support those efforts.”

The statement comes on the heels of an online petition asking Pelosi to…

…stand with us in defending medical cannabis dispensaries and patients from persecution, to advise President Obama about the unwarranted persecution of medical cannabis patients and dispensaries, to call for an investigation of the constitutionality of California dispensary closures, and to facilitate setting up a emergency medical cannabis distribution system for catastrophically ill patients whose physicians recommended medical cannabis as part of their treatment in the district you represent.

Other local Democrats have called on the Obama administration to cease and desist shutting down dispensaries, and lawmakers from other states where medical marijuana is legal have also objected.

Last week, Rolling Stone published an interview with Obama in which he defended the amped up enforcement on medical cannabis over the last half-year…

Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What’s up with that?

Here’s what’s up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law.

I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.” What I can say is, “Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.” As a consequence, there haven’t been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

The only tension that’s come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, “This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.”

That’s not something we’re going to do. I do think it’s important and useful to have a broader debate about our drug laws. One of the things we’ve done over the past three years was to make a sensible change when it came to the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. We’ve had a discussion about how to focus on treatment, taking a public-health approach to drugs and lessening the overwhelming emphasis on criminal laws as a tool to deal with this issue. I think that’s an appropriate debate that we should have.

If that reasoning sounds familiar to followers of this issue, it may be because it’s similar to that expressed in comments made by Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, who announced with her colleagues last October that they would be targeting medical marijuana dispensaries and growers, plus their landlords. The prosecutors have been true to their words; that’s exactly what’s happened and is continuing.

In March, KQED’s Michael Montgomery sat down with Haag, who for the first time explained her rationale for the amped up enforcement. Some of her language echoes Obama’s in the Rolling Stone inteview…or vice-versa.

The reason that the four California U.S. Attorneys announced our efforts together is that we were all experiencing the same thing, which is that everyone was saying we were hearing and everyone was saying the U.S. attorneys are not going to take any actions with respect to marijuana in California because of the 2009 Ogden memo. [Note: The 2009 memo written by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden that laid out enforcement guidelines for federal prosecutors in regard to medical marijuana.] So it’s fair game. We can have grow operations, we can have dispensaries, we can do anything we want with respect to marijuana because the Department of Justice in 2009 in the Ogden memo said that the California U.S. attorneys will not take action.

That was incorrect. And we felt that we needed to send a message that it wasn’t correct. I actually felt that it was more fair to send a message because, for example, I was hearing from Oakland that it was going to issue licenses and allow large-scale grow operations in warehouses. And what was described to me was that they were going to be quote “Walmart-sized.” And I was hearing that everyone believed that would be okay and that my office would not take any action. And I knew it isn’t okay, it is a violation of federal law.

When you’re talking about that scale grow-operation across the bay in Oakland it wouldn’t be something that I could ignore. I didn’t think it was fair to stand by, be silent, let people pull licenses in Oakland, put millions of dollars into setting up a grow operation in a warehouse and then come in and take an enforcement action.

Since the U.S. attorneys’ declaration of stepped-up enforcement last October, hundreds of medical marijuana facilities in California have shut down after letters were sent to them or their landlords threatening legal action by the federal government. In the Bay Area, a veritable Who’s Who in the industry have succumbed to threats of imprisonment, fines, and forfeiture of assets. Berkeley Patients Group, Oaksterdam, the Marin Alliance For Medical Marijuana, and Medithrive in San Francisco are just four that have shut their doors.

  • Anonymous

    The focus on drugs is believed to have redirected law enforcement resources that have resulted in more drunk driving, and decreased investigation and enforcement of violent crime laws. In Illinois, a 47% increase in drug arrests corresponded with a 22% decrease in arrests for drunk driving. Florida researchers have similarly linked the focus on low level drug arrests with an increase in the serious crime index.”

    Drug Policy, Criminal Justice and Mass Imprisonment, by Bryan Stevenson

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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