Pot's new Cold War

Obama administration heightens tensions over medical marijuana

Jul 20, 2011 at 12:00 am

It was great to see my dear comrade Ed Rosenthal with Larry Gabriel in last week's Higher Ground. One of the greatest developments in American jurisprudence, in my experience, was when the San Francisco jury that was instructed to convict Ed for growing marijuana found out after the trial had ended that he had been cultivating the weed under contract to the city of Oakland.

I happened to be in San Francisco for the Rosenthal verdict, and was truly amazed the next day when the jury held a press conference to denounce the judge and prosecutor. Had they known the facts, seven members of the jury told the media, they would never have convicted the defendant. We need to hear this more often!

This week's column examines some other bizarre twists and turns in the battle against the War on Drugs. First, my readers will be happy to hear that opposition to the Dutch government's plans to bar "drug tourists" from the nation's 750 coffeeshops is starting to grow. DutchNews.nl reports that the city council of Tilberg has instructed the mayor "not to accept the system unless the government makes it compulsory."

This pleasant little university town, best known for its imaginative music festivals, has now joined Breda, Den Bosch and Eindhoven in opposing the legislation, along with the city councils of the Hague, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Maastrich — a good sign that the present system will prevail.

The report concludes that "Tilburg, like the other cities, is worried that turning coffeeshops into closed clubs will lead to an increase in street dealing." Duh!

Closer to home, the rabid new "tough nerd" government of Michigan and its crusading General of Attorneys William Schuette — leader of the unsuccessful opposition to the medical marijuana law — is using his post to undermine the law any way he can and is currently attempting to get it overturned in court, claiming the state law is pre-empted by federal law.

Rather than simply accepting the will of 63 percent of the voting public, Schuette keeps picking away at what he sees as weaknesses in the statute and is now teamed up with equally hostile legislators to force through measures to compromise patients' privacy, severely restrict when and where patients may cultivate, and take away the legal rights of patients to challenge overly restrictive ordinances.

The Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee has already approved Senate Bill 377, which would require medical marijuana patients' names and addresses to be sent to a database accessible by the Department of State Police with or without a warrant. This bill treats patients like criminal suspects and allows police agencies to go fishing for suspects without probable cause.

A second measure, SB418, is designed to prevent individuals from suing to overturn municipal ordinances that violate state law, like the local ordinances passed by several Michigan cities that prohibit "any activity that violates federal law."

Menwhile, Eartha Jane Melzer reports in The Michigan Messenger that the Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases in which people have been charged with crimes for their medicinal use of marijuana.

In the first case, from Shiawassee County, a registered medical marijuana patient was charged with drug crimes when police found pot growing outside his home in a dog kennel.

The second, from Oakland County, centers on the question of whether someone registered as a marijuana patient must have consulted a doctor after the law was passed and not before. In both cases, drug charges were dismissed by trial judges but restored by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, several municipalities have passed ordinances to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and conditions of personal use. Some maintain that the state law should address the means by which marijuana may be made available to patients, while members of the criminal law section of the State Bar of Michigan have gone an extra step forward in recommending that Michigan allow commercial grow operations and regulate the industry.

Now, back to General Schuette and his contention that Michigan's state marijuana law is pre-empted by the federal narcotics laws. In the latest ugly twist from our nation's capital, and in a political environment where Democrats and Republicans have found little common ground, Attorney General Eric Holder has abruptly reversed the Obama administration's hands-off stance toward states with medical marijuana laws.

"The medical marijuana movement is reeling," Phillip Smith reports in the Drug War Chronicle, "after the Obama Justice Department released a memo declaring that it might prosecute large-scale medical marijuana cultivation operations and dispensaries even in states where they are operating in compliance with state laws."

The memo, written by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, is a masterpiece of sophistry worthy of Harry Anslinger, the godfather of the War on Drugs, noting that "Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime that provides a significant source of revenue to large scale criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels."

The Justice Department's commitment to this twisted concept has been evident in the increased federal marijuana raids — purported to be at twice the rate of the Bush administration — and a recent round of what Smith calls "threatening letters from local U.S. Attorneys to governors and legislators in states considering or implementing medical marijuana distribution programs."

Cole's memo takes pains to point out that there has "been an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes. For example, within the past 12 months, several jurisdictions have considered or enacted legislation to authorize multiple large-scale, privately operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers. Some of these planned facilities have revenue projections of millions of dollars based on the planned cultivation of tens of thousands of cannabis plants."

Cole's memo stresses that the Justice Department "never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement and prosecution, even where those activities purport to comply with state law. Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law."

"Relations between the medical marijuana movement and the Obama administration are starting to feel like the Cold War," Smith writes, going on to quote Dale Gieringer of California NORML on the current state of the conflict:

"They want to put a stop to any large-scale distribution of medical marijuana, but all they're doing is prolonging the conflict between federal law and reality. We have to put pressure on Obama," Gieringer insists. "He owes us an explanation of his waffling on this issue, and certainly his failure to address rescheduling.

Why indeed? Legalize marijuana and all this horseshit goes away and our pitiful economy gets a huge boost from a thriving cannabis industry.