By M. Allister Greene
A license gives peace of mind that you are doing everything right and by the books in the eye of the law, but as state and federal governments fight over the jurisdiction of state’s power over the legality of medical cannabis, licenses have become a placebo when what’s needed is a cure. In almost every state with a medical cannabis program, crackdowns continue to become a roaring battle of scare tactics, and in most cases, unlawful search and seizures, and arrests by the Federal government as they kick down the borders of each state.
As the raids spreads like gangrene, many states are left questioning the Obama administration and its promise not to spend resources that are already stretched thin. Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder was questioned by Representative Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, during a Dec. 8 Justice Department oversight committee meeting about past statements from the Obama administration. Polis raised questions about medical cannabis programs and raids in other states, to which Holder responded, “What we said in the memo we still intend, which is that given the limited resources that we have, and if there are states that have medical marijuana provisions […] if in fact people are not using the policy decision that we have made to use marijuana in a way that’s not consistent with the state statute, we will not use our limited resources in that way.” Yet the Department of Justice has still been announcing crackdowns both current and planned in other states that have medical cannabis programs.
Polis’s concern comes from the fact that his state of Colorado has regulations written into their state Constitution. His example of the crackdowns in California does not have a state-wide functioning regulatory authority, unlike his state, and he wanted assurance that they should have additional protection in Colorado against federal intervention. A few days after being promised that no waste of resources would be spent, federal authorities announced on Dec. 14, 2011, that they are considering a crackdown of medical cannabis businesses in Colorado after the start of the New Year. With dispensaries and cultivation sights as targets, if they are in what is currently an undecided distance from a school and other location, then the Federal Government might find it fit for a raid. (http://www.gazette.com/articles/denver-130198-expand-fed.html)
With 16 states now having laws to allow for the medical use of cannabis, each state is in battle with the ongoing War on Drugs, and what it means in their state. In Montana, on Nov. 16,, 2011, federal agents served 12 search warrants to cannabis businesses, warehouses, and homes. One of the higher profile cases among the targeted businesses was Big Sky Health owned by Jason Washington, a former Grizzlies quarterback, in which his Big Sky conference championship ring was confiscated along with many other jewelry items from his home during the raid. Though he has not been charged, nor has it even been stated that he was not in accordance’s with Montana Medical Cannabis laws, they have yet to return his ring or his personal items. Other raids that day took place in Missoula, Kalispell, Somers, and Whitefish, with a total of 80 pounds confiscated with the 12 search warrants. (http://www.ravallirepublic.com/news/state-and-regional/article_41b2862b-7500-5aae-8d47-d7e1f81a8a12.html)
On Dec. 15,, 2011, in Helena, Montana three men—Joshua Schultz, Jesse Leland, and Jason Burns—were all sentenced to a year in federal prison for a raid carried out in Mar. 2011. All three J’s pled guilty for different charges associated with the sale and cultivation of cannabis, but Judge Charles Lovell did not follow a 24 to 30 month minimum sentencing guideline, giving only one year instead because of how unusual the case was. Because the three defendants were following state law, this case boldly confronted State laws against Federal laws when regarding medical cannabis. (http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/586ffb04306a442f9eb39d386fd040b5/MT–Medical-Marijuana-Raids/)
A day before the raid of Jason Washington in Montana, the state of Washington had its own raids of about 12 dispensaries in King, Pierce, and Thurston counties by federal agents under the guises that they were breaking state law, though not proven in evidence in most of the cases so far. The raids included The Healing Center, Olympia Lacey Cross, Cannabis Outreach Services, Triple D’s, Patient Resource Center, G.A.M.E. Lounge in White Center, Evergreen Medicinal, and The Herbal Connection.
Along with the raids that day, the Drug Enforcement Administration Seattle Office released this statement: “The DEA will exercise its investigative authority to pursue criminal actions for any violation of federal law, when warranted. This includes investigating organizations or individuals that grow, manufacture or distribute any illegal drug to include marijuana, and those who rent or maintain a property to facilitate drug trafficking,” never once mentioning the state’s own laws in which they were operating. A part of the battle in Washington is the lack of a dispensary licensing system that the Governor has threatened to veto. Yet the State voted to allow the medical use of cannabis, in 1998 with Initiative 692, and have yet to pass a legal way to purchase their medicine on an as needed basis, only allowing self grows and caregiver status which creates more of a black market for dealing of medicine. (http://www.nwcn.com/home/133936318.html).
Taking one step south, Oregon is dealing with some of the same issues with the less-than-legal system to distribute the legal medicine voted into law in 1998, as well with Oregon Ballot Measure 67, but has yet to fully pass any licensing system for dispensaries, though they did try in 2010 with Measure 74. Between the end of Sept. and the middle of Oct., federal agents raided gardens throughout the state with four quick bursts, targeting mostly grow-ops. Keith Rogers’s property was among one of the locations raided during the second burst in Sept. Rogers was allowing 20 people to grow on his land so he could rent out space and save on his rental properties. Rogers claims to have made sure each person growing was within their legal limits and had all their documentation for either themselves or their patients from whom they give care. For 20 growers, allowed at the maximum to grow 24 plants each, the grow-op would be allowed 480 plants; if growing for four patients, six plants each. The grow-op had 451 “plants” seized, but many were small, broken, or dead in that count, leaving only about 350 as the real number of plants useable for distribution as medicine. So they were under their limits, because almost all 20 farmers were growing a few plants fewer than legally allowed. (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016359885_apormedicalmarijuana1stldwritethru.html)
The already slow Midwest, with Michigan the only state in the region allowing for the medical use and referral of cannabis as treatment, which passed in 2008, has had both federal crackdowns and increased local authorities resisting the laws already passed in their state. Throughout the year many raids have taken place targeting patients, as well as the growers and dispensaries, all acting within laws passed in 2008. Blue Water Compassion Centers was raided on Dec. 8, 2011, under the suspicion of illegal trafficking, yet authorities have yet to release such evidence. Many areas in Michigan have been trying to deny legal companies, often using only a handful of complaints as reason to push legitimate businesses and patients rights as voted on and approved in 2008 out of their counties. (http://www.mlive.com/news/saginaw/index.ssf/2011/12/police_search_richville_medica.html)
Earlier in the year in Maine, on Mar. 30, two patients were raided under the authority of the DEA and the U.S. Probation Office. Even though allowed by State law to be a medical patient and to be under probation, the male resident was targeted to make another Federal case. Both residents were within their legal limits and had everything well locked up in their house. Since in the care of the federal system, the male defendant in this case has lost one leg and is possibly going to lose his other later on in life. (http://eastcoastmarijuana.net/news-outrage-maine-patients-raided/)
In the summer of this year, Colorado had many new regulations put into order which caused many canna-businesses to close. One of the laws stopped any felony offender from owning, and in some areas participating in, the businesses, even if the case that made them a felon came after the state passed medical use of cannabis laws in 2000, and by the state’s rules they were within the the law. Many of the other regulations passed dealt with zoning, security, and the purchasing of products for sale, as well as permits and fines, that all went into effect by mid-summer of 2011. (http://www.talkleft.com/story/2011/3/19/11247/7455)
California, the epicenter of change, often with the topic of cannabis law reform, was the state most hit with federal raids. This past year alone, between raids and business closing in fear of raids, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union who has been working to unionize the California cannabis workers, has stated that almost 20 percent of stores state-wide have closed down. The IRS has also caused issues when declaring that California clinics can not deducted all regular business operation expenses from their tax returns, making its almost impossible to make the businesses viable. This all comes after the state failed to pass Prop 19 in the Nov. 2010 election, in which the state would have made the cultivation of the cannabis plant fully legal for any purpose for adults over the age of 21, while still keeping all of their medical laws intact. Now, even operating fully within the law, medical business, growers, and patients can face federal raids with court cases turning more and more people into criminals and felons. As the crack-down closes many stores, the black market has started to fill the space for medical patients in need with inflated prices once again. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/07/federal-crackdown-forces-medical-marijuana-shops-to-close_n_1133850.html)
Any patient, grower, or business now has to hunker in fear of the loud thuds of the night as their state’s medical cannabis laws wrestle the challenge of the Federal Government and courtrooms. Even in states yet to face an increase in raids, many of the U.S. attorneys in Hawaii, Arizona, Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island have issued warning letters referencing a 2009 Ogden memo that states their position “rigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.” (http://www.mainemedicalmarijuana.org/medical-marijuana-and-federal-laws/)
The DEA and federal prosecutors at this point will break laws to make a case, even having undercover agents use their actual medical conditions to have a doctor recommend medical cannabis—even for conditions such as cancer. They then walk into a dispensary with all their papers in order, so they can pick up evidence. This is all on the smoke-trails of New Jersey preparing to implement their state’s plan to distribute cannabis to almost strictly terminally ill patients after 86 percent of voters supported over two years before. In 2010, the state’s senate passed the Compassionate Care Act, but Governor Chris Christie kept delaying it until now. Christie’s administration released a statement at the end of Nov. stating that they perceived they should be able to avoid any federal prosecution and the medical program will be up and running in 2012. Will this be the one state to avoid prosecution, or will all of Christie’s flip flopping on the issues and backward provisions meant (as he now claims) to protect New Jersey from federal prosecution, prove to hold up as well as a flame in orbit above the earth, or will they crash and burn like a roach into the atmosphere?
The United State’s virus of crackdowns on cannabis has already spread to Amsterdam, as the High Times Cannabis Cup was raided on the Nov. 23, 2011, by Dutch authorities. So, after 24 years of a wonderfully memorable event, will the U.S.’s 2011 crackdowns be the start of the breakdown of cannabis culture’s rise to acceptance.
By M. Allister Greene