Recently, there has been a plethora of media coverage on the marijuana debate, and particularly President Obama's written statement to the DEA outlining the new federal position on states that allow medical marijuana. In the memo, President Obama tells U.S. Attorneys that they should avoid prosecuting people that use or distribute medical cannabis as long as they are in accordance with state laws. While this sounds like a major victory for the medical community, in reality this does not change much.
The "new" policy that has been written out by Obama is really just a reiteration of what federal policy has been ever sense he arrived in office. Obama has been interviewed on the subject many times previous to this written statement, and in all of these discussions he has stated that he does not want to waste federal resources trying to circumvent state laws on the issue. While the policy sounds good, unfortunately the DEA has felt it not necessary to follow. Sense Obama has taken office, there have been at least 22 raids on medical dispensaries in California that have been organized by, or assisted by, federal agents. One of the clubs raided by the DEA in San Francisco was shut down because of what the DEA called "irregularities in the collection of state sales tax." This has nothing to do with violations of state drug laws. When was the last time a bank or pharmacy was raided by federal agents at gun point for irregularities in their state tax forms? Maybe this is why the President now feels it necessary to provide the policy to federal law enforcement in writing.
Unfortunately even this written statement holds little weight with the DEA, particularly in California. Because of the language of the policy, federal agents can still raid medical dispensaries that they feel are out of accordance with state laws. Where this becomes a problem is when officials with opposing views on the subject interpret state laws differently for different districts. This visibly true in the Los Angeles area and San Diego.
The DA of San Diego has been against the medical movement from the get go and continues to shut down San Diego dispensaries with the help of the DEA. In addition, the District Attorney of Los Angeles Steve Cooley has recently published an opinion that, in his mind, renders 99% of the over 800 dispensaries in the LA area illegal because they all use over the counter sales. This would leave legal room for the DEA to assist in raiding all of these Los Angeles clubs because the DA of that area deems them illegal by state law. However, this legal interpretation that Steve Cooley has made public, does not follow the guidelines that California Attorney General Jerry Brown issued in March that clearly state that collectives can charge for cannabis sativa as long as they only take in enough revenue to cover overhead and operating expenses.
All of this media hype and mixed messages from officials are leaving the actual picture of the cannabis sativa debate very divided for those involved, and even more clouded and unsure for the people observing. A clearer picture needs to be drawn about the legal stature and enforcement of cannabis for both the people onlooking the debate and the people debating if any sort of workable solution is going to be formed for the either the legalization or medical use of marijuana.
Until next time,
The Cann Ban Man