Thursday, October 6, 2011
Feds Go “Passive-Aggressive” in Fight Against Medical Marijuana
Sending in the IRS instead of knocking down doors.
It’s official: The Obama administration has thrown off the gloves, repudiating Attorney General Eric Holder’s vow of two years ago that the federal government was not interested in prosecuting “state-legal” cannabis activity. Instead, a flurry of action is underway, intended to signal that the DOE and DEA are out to put a stake through the heart of the medical marijuana industry as a whole. Marijuana, however it is used, remains wholly illegal under federal statutes, and federal law enforcement officials insist such laws trump any state laws aimed at allowing the sale and use of cannabis.
During the last 30 days:
-- The DEA raided medical marijuana clinics in Tempe, Arizona.
--The Rhode Island governor reneged on an earlier pledge to okay medical marijuana in his state, saying that any such activity would make the state a target for federal prosecution.
-- Federal prosecutors seized the bank accounts of medical marijuana shops in Sacramento, claiming a series of “irregular deposits.”
--The IRS decreed that the biggest marijuana dispensary in California cannot deduct ordinary business expenses on its taxes.
--A study of marijuana for posttraumatic stress disordered descended into “regulatory limbo,” as Brian Vastag reported for the Washington Post, after the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the only legal source of cannabis for researchers, refused to hand over government marijuana to the study authors because of “a number of concerns” about research protocol.
--A California Appellate Court ruled that the statute allowing marijuana dispensaries in Long Beach is in violation of federal law, which will force a long and arduous rewrite of the permitting laws for that city, and presumably other cities as well.
The irony is that California’s medical marijuana industry, the first in the nation, may have survived the SWAT team attacks of the Bush years, only to fall victim to renewed regulatory fervor under President Obama’s watch. And, as I reported earlier at The Fix: “Britain’s giant GW Pharmaceuticals received U.S. patent approval for the use of Sativex, its nasal spray for treatment of advanced cancer pain composed of—yes, that’s right—a combination of the two primary chemicals found in cannabis. Since then, Sativex has made it all the way to Phase III clinical testing in a bid for FDA approval. At the moment, the company’s chances of producing a cannabis based pill are looking very good.” Meanwhile, so-called “whole-plant” marijuana research is getting squeezed out.
And now comes word that federal prosecutors are following up with a giant crackdown on all California dispensaries. Associated Press reports that U.S. attorneys sent letters this week to at least 16 pot dispensaries, “warning the stores they must shut down in 45 days or face criminal charges and confiscation of their property even if they are operating legally under the state’s 15-year-old medical-marijuana law.”
Sources say that cease-and-desist letters from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in California had been received by some dispensaries, stating the “violations of the federal law referenced…. is a federal crime,” and further stipulating that the penalties could include property forfeitures and 40 years of prison time, reports Chris Roberts at SF Weekly.
And the Associated Press obtained copies of letters sent to San Diego dispensaries, in which federal prosecutors claim that marijuana shops are illegal and subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions. “Real and personal property involved in such operations are subject to seizure by and forfeiture to the United States… regardless of the purported purpose of the dispensary.”
The action follows warning letters that were sent to dispensary owners and state officials by federal prosecutors in June, which strongly hinted that state employees might be liable for prosecution as well. A California attorney told SF Weekly that the feds were now embarking on a more effective “passive-aggressive” approach to shutting down the medical marijuana industry. “They’ve systematically changed their approach,” said the attorney. “Probably after talking to a PR professional.”
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