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Justice Department

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director December 5, 2011

    The guest column below published in the MetroWestDailyNews is from former NORML board member and Lifetime Award recipient Richard Evans —

    From MetroWestDailyNews:

    It was a curious coincidence last month, that as PBS was broadcasting the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary, Prohibition, describing the Hoover Justice Department’s last-gasp crackdown on alcoholic beverages in the late 1920s, prosecutors in the Obama Justice Department were announcing a crackdown on medical marijuana in California, threatening to confiscate the property of people “involved in drug trafficking activity,” which is fedspeak for providing pot for sick people.

    After nearly a decade under the Volstead Act, the utter futility of enforcing public abstinence from alcohol was evident to all but prohibition’s stakeholders – chiefly police, prosecutors and bootleggers. Despite the draconian penalties imposed by the 1926 Jones Act, which turned Volstead violations into felonies, booze remained generally available. Similarly, despite the draconian penalties of the Nixon-era Controlled Substances Act, and nearly a million arrests annually, marijuana has proven itself ineradicable, and, indeed, has become a part of our culture. (more…)

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 26, 2011

    US News & World Report‘s ‘Debate Club’ is hosting an online forum right now regarding the question: “Should federal authorities be able to close medical marijuana dispensaries in California?”

    The forum includes rational commentaries from various drug policy reformers, including myself and MPP‘s Morgan Fox. Predictably, the debate also features several irrational essays from professional drug warriors such as Kevin Sabet, Peter Bensinger, and John Redman — who make claims like “We have seen that dispensaries have increased drug use and crime, and they are linked to numerous robberies, muggings, and murders” and “Marijuana, with 468 different chemicals and more cancer-causing agents and tar than tobacco cigarettes, is also a dangerous highway and workplace hazard.”

    Fortunately, visitors can not only respond to these allegations on the US News & World Report website here, but they can also vote ‘down’ the commentaries that they disagree with. (Not surprisingly, the present point total of the Sabet/Bensinger/Redman essays is a combined total of -1031.) Conversely, ‘Debate Club’ visitors can vote ‘up’ the viewpoints they support.

    To join the debate, click here.

    An excerpt of my commentary appears below.

    Obama Should Keep Promise on Medical Marijuana

    As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama stated, “The basic concept of using medical marijuana … [is] entirely appropriate,” and pledged, “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws on this issue.”

    As president, Obama promised, “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide [the] decisions of my administration.”

    Yet recent actions of the administration belie these assurances.

    … If the federal government is truly concerned about the diversion of medical marijuana or its potential abuse in California then it would be better served to encourage–rather than to discourage–local and statewide efforts to regulate this industry accordingly. The Obama administration’s proposed actions in California will only result in limiting patients’ regulated, safe access to medicine. It will also cost California jobs and needed tax revenue.

    Legislating medical marijuana operations and prosecuting those who act in a manner that is inconsistent with California law and voters’ sentiment should be a responsibility left to the state, not the federal government. It is time for this administration to fulfill the assurances it gave to the medical cannabis community and to respect the decisions of voters and lawmakers in states that recognize its therapeutic efficacy.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 6, 2011

    Much has been made in the mainstream media in recent weeks regarding the federal government’s attempts to intimidate states into dropping their medical marijuana programs. But much less media attention has been paid to the reality that in several states, lawmakers are continuing to move forward with medical cannabis legalization efforts despite the Justice Department’s recent rhetorical smack-down.

    Here’s a run down of the latest statewide developments and what you can do to help.

    Connecticut: Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Public Health on Tuesday decided in favor of Governor’s Bill 1015, which amends state law to “authorize an individual to use marijuana for medical purposes as directed by a physician.” Members of the Judiciary had previously endorsed the bill, which is backed by Gov. Dan Malloy, in April. “States have a right to decide this for themselves,” Michael P. Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s senior criminal justice adviser told The Connecticut Mirror this week. If enacted, Connecticut will become the sixteenth state since 1996 to authorize the state-sanctioned use of cannabis when recommended by a physician. You can support this effort via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    Delaware: Lawmakers are in the final stages of making Delaware the sixteenth state to allow for the physician-authorized use of marijuana. On Thursday, May 5, House lawmakers approved an amended version of Senate Bill 17, The Delaware Medical Marijuana Act. Senate Bill 17 amends state law so that physician-supervised patients with an authorized “debilitating medical condition” can possess and use marijuana for medical purposes. The measure would also provide for the establishment of non-profit “compassion centers” that would be licensed by the state to produce and dispense medical cannabis. Because House lawmakers made amendments to the Senate version of the bill, the measure must return to the Senate for an additional vote. In March, members of the Delaware Senate voted 18 to 3 in favor of the measure. You can learn more about this measure and how to support it via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    Ohio: Legislation that seeks to legalize the physician-supervised use of medical marijuana was reintroduced this week in the Ohio Legislature. House Bill 214, the Ohio Medical Compassion Act, amends state law so that physician-supervised patients with an authorized “debilitating medical condition” can possess and grow marijuana for medical purposes. Full text of the measure can be read here. HB 214 would allow qualifying patients to possess up to two hundred grams of usable marijuana and twelve mature cannabis plants. Qualifying patients from other medical marijuana states would be provided legal protection under this measure. HB 214 has been referred to the House Committee on Health and Aging, but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing. You can contact your state lawmakers in support of this measure here.

    Vermont: Vermont lawmakers have cleared the way for the enactment of the state-licensed distribution of medical marijuana. On Thursday, May 5, House lawmakers voted 99-44 in favor of Senate Bill 17, which allows for the state-sanctioned sale of marijuana to qualified patients. Under the bill, four dispensaries may be established to serve up to 1,000 patients. House lawmakers overwhelmingly decided to pass the measure despite warnings from the US Department of Justice claiming that the operation of such facilities could place citizens and state officials in conflict with federal law. Senators previously passed a version of SB 17 in April and are expected to concur with the minor changes made by the House. State Gov. Peter Shumlin supports the measure. Vermont lawmakers legalized the use of marijuana as a medicine in 2004, but the law presently provides no legal source for cannabis aside from home cultivation.

    Currently, both Colorado and New Mexico authorize the state-sanctioned distribution of cannabis.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 15, 2010

    The mainstream media is in a frenzy over statement’s issued today by the Justice Department alleging that the office will “vigorously enforce” federal anti-marijuana laws in California, regardless of whether voters enact Proposition 19 this November.

    Even if Prop. 19 passes, federal drug laws will be ‘vigorously’ enforced, official says
    via The Los Angeles Times

    The nation’s top federal law enforcement official said the Obama administration would “vigorously enforce” drug laws against people who grow, distribute or sell marijuana for recreational use even if California voters pass a measure to legalize it.

    U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., in a letter sent Wednesday to nine former chiefs of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, wrote, “Let me state clearly that the Department of Justice strongly opposes Proposition 19. If passed, this legislation will greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts to the detriment of our citizens.”

    The initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot would allow Californians 21 and older to grow up to 25 square feet and possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It also allows cities and counties to authorize cultivation and sales. Several cities, including Oakland, appear poised to do so if the law passes. [Author’s note: Oakland appears poised to do regardless of whether Prop. 19 passes or not.]

    Holder’s letter was made public Friday.

    … Possession and sales of marijuana are illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. In his letter, Holder wrote: “We will vigorously enforce the CSA against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”

    To which I’d respond: So what? Of course the Obama administration is wedded to America’s failed prohibition policies. After all, it is their policy.

    And of course the voters of California cannot change the federal Controlled Substances Act via a statewide vote. Nobody ever claimed that they could.

    However, here’s what is noteworthy. Despite the claims of various Prop. 19 opponents that the measure is in ‘direct conflict‘ with federal law or is somehow ‘unconstitutional‘ and would thus be ‘preempted’ by the Feds, at no time today did the federal government challenge the fact that Californians have the legal right to determine their own marijuana policies. Rather, the federal government simply reinforced that they remain of the opinion that marijuana ought to be criminally outlawed — a position that is out-of-step with the American public’s sentiment.

    Furthermore, Californians have been here before, and not just in 1996. Seventy-eight years ago this November, Californians overwhelmingly voted for the repeal of a morally, socially, and economically failed public policy – alcohol prohibition. Voters did not wait for the federal government to act; they took the matter into their own hands. And they will do so again this November.

    Finally, it goes without saying that the federal justice department — verbal bluster aside — lacks both the resources and the political will to take on the role of targeting and prosecuting the estimated 3.3 million Californians who are presently consuming cannabis for non-medical purposes. These duties are relegated to state, not federal, law enforcement officials. Just as medical marijuana has existed as a legal market in California, in obvious violation of federal Controlled Substances Act, Prop. 19 will too remain the law of the land post-November 2.

    Which ultimately begs the question, “If a government’s legitimate use of state power is based on the consent of the governed, then at what point does marijuana prohibition — in particular the federal enforcement of prohibition — become illegitimate public policy?” Perhaps it is time to ask President Obama and United States Attorney General Eric Holder?

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 29, 2009

    Count me among those pleasantly surprised — no, make that stunned — to see both the mainstream media and the blogosphere grilling the Obama administration over last week’s DEA offensives against medical marijuana providers in California and Colorado.

    Today, noted San Francisco Chronicle commentator Debra Saunders weighs in on the issue, reminding readers that the DEA’s raids are precisely the sort of things that President Obama — when he was a candidatepledged to end.

    Two things Obama could do on medical marijuana
    via The San Francisco Chronicle

    [excerpt]

    So will Obama keep his word by directing federal drug agents to concentrate on going after drug kingpins instead of sick people?

    I understand that Obama has bigger issues on his plate, which probably is why the White House has yet to respond to my Tuesday query. That said, this issue is vital to many Californians with health problems.

    … Obama has made much of his commitment to “restore science to its rightful place.” Here’s his chance.

    Journalist Maia Szalavitz also expresses her dissatisfaction with both the Justice Department and the new Commander and Chief in an excellent op/ed published today on HuffingtonPost.com

    Obama sends drug warriors to UN, DEA to CA: stop fighting Bush’s wars
    via HuffingtonPost.com

    [exceprt]

    This is not the 70’s or even the 80’s or 90’s– like Bush’s economic policies, his drug policies have visibly and risibly failed. The main power drug warriors have left is politicians’ outsized fear of their past success. Don’t give them undue credit–and don’t underestimate how the ground has shifted in favor of sane, humane drug strategy, not war.

    In short, it’s becoming increasingly clear that neither the American public nor the mainstream media are any longer willing to accept the ‘drug war as usual.’ Is the White House?

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