CANNABIS CULTURE – While some are celebrating recent announcements by the United States Department of Justice regarding the enforcement of marijuana laws in the US, a more sober analysis of federal cannabis laws is deeply disturbing.
It’s been eight months that Attorney General Eric Holder has promised a decision on the Federal response to Colorado and Washington legalizing weed. Instead of a real answer, Holder offers us Drug War Lite. No let up in DEA raids, no mass release of nonviolent pot prisoners, no relief for medical marijuana growers or dispensaries, no end to arrests and prosecutions, but lighter sentences for some and another promise to respect state laws.
In recent remarks at the American Bar Association convention in San Francisco, Holder even publicly acknowledged and praised US Attorney for northern CA, Melinda Haag, just prior to his remarks about the unintended consequences of the drug war, suggesting that the war against medical marijuana will continue unabated. Melinda Haag has been an outspoke opponent of medical marijuana and has personally targeted some of the best run dispensaries in her jurisdiction, such as Harborside, Berkeley Patients’ Group and Richard Lee’s Blue Sky. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is only in its 5th year and yet it has conducted a record 170 DEA raids, resulting in 61 Federal indictments. Compare that to George W. Bush’s eight year legacy of 40 DEA raids, resulting in just one federal indictment.
“How dare the attorney general come to San Francisco and talk about drug policy and completely fail to address medical cannabis,” Steve DeAngelo, proprietor of what’s been billed as “the world’s largest pot shop,” told The Huffington Post. “Of all the reforms that should be made, certainly the first should be to get medicine into the hands of people who are suffering.”
Although Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memo and testified before the U.S. Senate last week that the DOJ would not go after individuals in compliance with state marijuana laws, the department’s policy is non-binding and leaves much up to the discretion of U.S. Attorneys, many of whom have worked aggressively to undermine such state laws. Notably, after the DOJ memo was issued last month, U.S. Attorneys in at least three states (CA, MT and WA) have said publicly that they would continue to aggressively prosecute medical marijuana providers.
In his remarks, Holder also observed that “too many people of color have been arrested.” Under the Obama administration, a larger percentage of people of color have been arrested than in Apartheid South Africa. How many more? According to the Prison Policy Initiative, incarceration rates of Apartheid South Africa, at its racist worst, are no contest. Under the Obama administration, the current incarceration rate is five times greater for people of color than at anytime in South Africa.
According to legal scholar Michelle Alexander, more African Americans are under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850. Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, offers a devastating account of a legal system doing its job perfectly well. We have simply replaced one caste system (Jim Crow) for another one (imprisonment, parole, detention) that keeps the majority of minorities in a permanent state of disenfranchisement. Nothing in Eric Holder’s speech offers any real fix to the our current Jim Crow justice system.
One organization that is not buying the Holder pronouncements is Americans for Safe Access. Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Sam Farr (D-CA) joined medical marijuana advocates, as well as multiple family members of imprisoned medical marijuana patients for a press conference in the District on Wednesday, September 18th, to urge Congress to restrict Department of Justice (DOJ) funding for enforcement in medical marijuana states. Patient advocates planned to drawing attention to the more than $100,000 per day that the DOJ continues to spend on medical marijuana enforcement.
Patients advocates are also rallying Congressional support for HR 689, the States’ Medical Marijuana Prevention Act, introduced in February by Congressman Blumenauer. HR 689 would restrict the DOJ from enforcing federal law against medical marijuana patients, as well as against pharmacies or other entities “authorized to distribute medical marijuana from obtaining, possessing, or distributing marijuana to authorized individuals.” HR 689 also recommends that marijuana be reclassified for medical use under the Controlled Substances Act.
Wednesday’s press conference was held on the same day as U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences. The committee, which scheduled hearings after recent non-binding policy statements were made by the Obama Administration, heard testimony from a panel of witnesses describing the need to reform federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Watch a webcast of the hearings.