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Latin America: Mexico Prohibition Violence Catches Washington's Eye, New Initiatives Pending

When lawmakers in Washington managed to tear themselves away from the AIG bonus scandal, much of their attention this week was focused on Mexico. With prohibition-related violence there showing no sign of a let-up -- more than a thousand people have been killed already this year -- legislators held a number of hearings this week to assess the threat and see what the Obama administration plans to do about it.
DEA Spanish-language poster targeting Mexican trafficking organization (2007)
At a joint hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) warned that Mexican drug trafficking organizations posed a direct threat to the US. Citing a recent Justice Department report, he said they have a presence in at least 230 US cities.

But Durbin also said some of the blame resides north of the border. "The insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States keeps the Mexican drug cartels in business every day," he said.

"The facts about what is going on in Mexico are staggering, imposing an enormous threat to the United States," concurred Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

In the face of increasingly shrill congressional demands to "do something," Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, who oversees the border as head of the Northern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee the administration is working on an integrated plan to address the seemingly unending violence, much of it taking place in the border towns of Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, and the Mexican cities on the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

He said likely measures would include efforts to clamp down on the flow of guns into Mexico, tightening border security, and increased support for the Mexican military. "I think we'll have good plans come out of this work this week," he said.

Renuart also hinted that the new plan could involve more boots on the ground in the border region. "Certainly, there may be a need for additional manpower," he said. "Whether that is best suited or best provided by National Guard or additional law enforcement agencies, I think, this planning team will really lead us to," he told the committee.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón has deployed some 50,000 troops in his war against the cartels, including some 8,500 who occupied Juárez and took over policing duties there last week. But Calderón's two-year-old offensive has only led to increasing levels of brutal and exemplary violence. More than 2,000 people died in the cartel wars in 2007, more than 5,000 last year, and the pace of killings this year should yield similar numbers.

But DEA chief of intelligence Anthony Plácido told the joint committee that the escalating violence was a "desperate attempt" by traffickers to fight off the government offensive. "DEA assesses that the current surge in violence is driven in large measure by the government of Mexico's offensive against these traffickers who, in turn, perceive themselves as fighting for a larger share of a shrinking market," he said.

With passage of last year's Mérida Initiative, the US has pledged some $1.4 billion in anti-drug aid to Mexico over the next three years. The first tranche of that aid has already been delivered, providing Mexico with helicopters and sophisticated surveillance equipment.

On Wednesday, in the week's first concrete action to crack down on the border, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was sending 50 Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents to the border to try to cut down the flow of weapons headed south.

If Obama Supports Medical Marijuana, What About Hemp?

On the heels of Obama's hugely popular decision to end the DEA's raids on medical marijuana providers, it's worth looking into some of the other absurd federal drug policies that interfere with states rights and common sense.

Hemp cultivation isn’t technically illegal in the U.S., but you need a special permit from the DEA, and if you ask for one they'll call you a hippie and tell you to go f@#k yourself.  Seriously, try it. I applied last year and this is the response I got:

Dear Mr. Morgan,

We have finished processing your application to "grow hemp so I can make cool snacks and rope and stuff." We regret to inform you that you are a hippie and you can go screw yourself.

Yours cruelly,

Michele Leonhart,
Acting Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration

P.S. Your blog sucks and if you put this letter in your blog, we'll burn down the Chipotle next to your office.

That about sums it up. Honestly, I don’t even get why this is an issue. Hemp isn’t drugs. Why DEA gives a damn if people want to cultivate hemp is completely beyond me. Near as I can tell, they're relying exclusively on the argument that people will surreptitiously grow marijuana in their hemp fields, which is preposterous because you can't do that. Hemp will cross-pollinate and destroy any commercial marijuana in its vicinity. It's the anti-pot.

Thus, I tend to assume that DEA's animosity towards hemp is merely a symptom of the broader culture war surrounding marijuana in general. They'll concede nothing to the reform community, even when their intransigence requires them to obstruct legitimate economic activity based on flimsy reasoning.

Of course, now that we have a president with the guts to tell DEA when they're out of line, there's simply no reason this issue can’t move forward. Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia have all passed laws authorizing hemp cultivation and eagerly await the federal go-ahead. Efforts to legalize hemp are also underway in Minnesota and in California, where a hemp bill died on the governor's desk (Schwarzenegger cited conflict with federal law as his reason for rejecting the legislation).

Hemp won't save our economy, but it can provide income for many good, hardworking people. We lead the industrialized world in the importation of hemp and it would make a great deal of sense to start producing it ourselves.

Obama administration ends DEA raids in California!

Dear friends:

When I spoke with Barack Obama at a Capitol Hill reception in September 2004 (two months before his election to the U.S. Senate), he said he agreed with me that states should have the right to determine their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference.

That was the beginning of a series of events that culminated two days ago, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced — while standing next to the current DEA administrator — there will be no more DEA raids on medical marijuana establishments in California or elsewhere. This is significant, given that Holder is the "top cop" of the nation and the boss of the DEA!

Medical marijuana patients, dispensary owners and staffers, growers, MPP staffers, and other activists are breathing a sigh of relief ... having been terrorized by the Bush administration for eight years.  How did we get to this point?

Please watch this one-minute video clip of Obama responding to one of our campaign volunteers in New Hampshire on August 21, 2007, in the heat of the presidential primary campaign ...

After that, Obama publicly reiterated that he would discontinue Bush's policy, including in an interview with the editorial board of an Oregon paper. And, since Obama was elected, we've kept in touch with high-level staffers in the White House and on his transition team, as a way of keeping this issue on their radar screen until the policy was officially changed. 

Then, when Bush holdovers in the DEA raided five medical marijuana dispensaries in California in the days after Obama took office on January 20, MPP barraged the media and MPP members barraged the Obama administration to demand an end to the DEA's raids (and to fire the Bush holdovers).

And, of course, MPP and a host of other organizations — including conservative groups like Citizens Against Government Waste — have built support for the annual vote (from 2003 to 2007) on the House floor for an amendment that would have forbidden the DEA and the Justice Department from spending taxpayer money to subvert state-level medical marijuana laws.

All of this advocacy by thousands of patients, dispensary owners, volunteers, paid lobbyists, medical associations, and so many others has paid off. You did it; we all did it.

Now it's time for us to take our work to the next level by (1) enacting medical marijuana laws in Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York; (2) improving California's and Rhode Island's existing medical marijuana laws in order to provide licenses to dispensaries in both states; (3) reopening the federal "compassionate IND program" so that patients in all 50 states can obtain legal access to medical marijuana; and (4) passing our medical marijuana ballot initiative in Arizona in November 2010.

Please consider making a financial donation to all of this work.  Thanks so much ...

Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

REPORTER:  "Right after the inauguration, there were some raids on California medical marijuana dispensaries. Was that a deliberate decision by you, by the Justice Department? As a prediction of policy going forward, do you expect those sorts of raids to continue? (muffled) The president said during the campaign —"

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER:  "Well, what the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing here in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign, he is formally and technically and by law my boss now, and so what he said during the campaign is now American policy."

Press Release: Attorney General Eric Holder Says Obama Administration Will End Bush's Policy of Arresting Medical Marijuana Patients and Providers

For Immediate Release: February 26, 2009 For More Information: Bill Piper at 202-669-6430 or Tony Papa at 646-420-7290 Attorney General Eric Holder Says Obama Administration Will End Bush’s Policy of Arresting Medical Marijuana Patients and Providers In response to a reporter’s question yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal. His statement was the second time this month that the Obama Administration indicated they would discontinue President Bush’s controversial policy of arresting medical marijuana patients and providers. President Obama said on the campaign trail last year that he would end the raids. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided a medical marijuana dispensary in California on the day President Obama took office and raided several dispensaries on the day Eric Holder took office. Asked yesterday if such raids were going to continue, Holder said “No.” "What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. What he said during the campaign is now American policy." In a statement a few weeks ago, a White House spokesperson said, "The President believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind." "Within 24 hours of taking office President Obama signaled his Administration would eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity and support federal funding for syringe exchange programs," said Ethan Nadelmann executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Now his attorney general is saying the Administration will let states set their own marijuana policies. While certainly not a high priority, it seems clear that the President wants to treat drug use as a health issue not a criminal justice issue."

Prohibition: Salvia Mania Sweeps State Legislatures as Bans Spread Across County

After more than five years of examination, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has yet to find that salvia divinorum is dangerous or addictive enough to merit placement as a scheduled drug under the Controlled Substances Act, but that isn't stopping legislators across the land from moving to criminalize it or restrict its sales despite the lack of any real evidence that it does anything more than take its users on a psychedelic journey of a no more than a few minutes duration.
salvia leaves (photo courtesy
Since the plant was first banned in Delaware in 2004, a handful of states each year have made efforts to prohibit the increasingly popular psychedelic. This year, the trickle is turning into a tide despite a rising chorus of opposition from scientists, researchers, public health experts, and people who believe they should be able to control their own consciousness.

The Nebraska legislature voted 44-0 last Friday to add salvia and its active ingredient, Salvinorin A, to Schedule I of its controlled substance list, the same as LSD and psychedelic mushrooms. The state of Nebraska is going to save its youth from themselves by sending them to prison for up to five years for having some leaf or extract, and up to 20 years for selling it.

The man behind the campaign to ban the plant, Attorney General Jon Bruning, pronounced himself satisfied. "I'm pleased with the legislature's vote today to ban salvia," Bruning said. "I think it is important that salvia not be allowed to be used by members of the public."

Nebraska's northern neighbor, South Dakota, is on the verge of doing the same. A bill pronouncing the salvia "threat" an emergency easily passed the House two weeks ago and a Senate committee this week. Under the emergency legislation, a ban would go into effect immediately upon the governor's signature of the bill.

And the Kentucky House Tuesday voted 99-0 to make it illegal to possess, buy, sell, or cultivate salvia. The sponsor of that bill, Rep. Will Coursey (R-Benton) told his colleagues the plant was a safety risk.

Meanwhile, similar bills have been filed or proposed in Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas.

Thirteen states -- Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Virginia -- have classified salvia as Schedule I under state drug laws. Three more -- Louisiana, Maine, and Tennessee -- restrict the sale of the plant. Maine and California ban it only for minors.

Feature: End of an Era? No More DEA Raids on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, US Attorney General Says

In response to a question at a Wednesday news conference, US Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal under state law. The announcement marks the fulfillment of a President Obama campaign promise, and it marks the end of 13 years of stubborn federal resistance to state medical marijuana programs.


DEA raids of medical marijuana facilities in California continued after Obama's election in November and even after his inauguration last month. Holder was asked if those raids represented Justice Department policy under the new administration.

"Shortly after the inauguration there were raids on California medical marijuana dispensaries. Do you expect these to continue?" the reporter asked, noting that the president had promised to end the raids in the campaign.

"No," Holder responded. "What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. What he said during the campaign is now American policy." (Watch the video here.)

Nearly 75 million Americans live in the 13 states where medical marijuana is legal. But because of the federal government's refusal to recognize state medical marijuana laws, dozens of dispensaries in California have been raided by the DEA, typically in over-the-top paramilitary-style operations. More than a hundred people are facing prosecution, sentencing, or are already imprisoned under draconian federal marijuana laws because of their roles in operating dispensaries.

"There has been a lot of collateral damage in the federal campaign against medical marijuana patients," said Steph Sherer, medical marijuana patient and executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation's largest medical cannabis advocacy organization. "We need to stop the prosecutions, bring the prisoners home, and begin working to eliminate the conflict between state and federal medical marijuana laws."

At an ASA press conference hastily called for Thursday afternoon, Sherer elaborated. "I'm overjoyed to finally hold a press conference with some great news," she said. "Today is a victory and a huge step forward in what has been at times a cruel and tragic period. My outrage over the raids was shared by millions of Americans, and now our collective voice has been heard in Washington. We look forward to working with the Obama administration to harmonize the conflicts with state laws once and for all."
Charlie Lynch (from
But for some patients and dispensary operators, the damage has already been done. Larry Epstein operates a legal medical cannabis dispensing collective in Marina Del Rey, California, that was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on February 4, despite President Obama's statements on the campaign trail indicating a change in federal policy.

"We had been operating as a legitimate cooperative dispensary per California law for a number of years," said Epstein. "But the DEA came in here as if we were operating an illegal drug cartel. They stole all our property, all our product, and froze our bank accounts. Now, we can't pay our taxes; that's part of what they stole. It's devastating when they do those types of actions, never mind the hundreds of patients who rely on our facility to get their medicine."

Heather Poet operates a medical cannabis dispensing collective in Santa Barbara, California. The Justice Department has pressured her landlord to evict the collective using threats of prosecution and civil asset forfeiture. Her case prompted US Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) to ask Attorney General Holder to stop any and all prosecutions of property owners in a February 16 letter.

"Our landlord has twice been threatened by the US Attorney for the Central District of California, most recently just last month," Poet said. "If he did not initiate the termination of our lease for the 'illegal use' of his property -- we were operating legally under California law -- they would begin forfeiture proceedings against his property. That's when I contacted Rep. Capps. Within a week, she had contacted ASA and begun working on that letter. We are so grateful and proud of her for working so quickly to protect our rights and those of our patients. This has been a real travesty for so many sick people in California who have had to worry. Now, thousands of people will be able to breathe easier."

One person who isn't breathing easier just yet is Charles C. Lynch, a Morro Bay dispensary operator arrested and convicted on federal marijuana distribution charges. Lynch faces the dubious distinction of being perhaps the last person sent to prison under the federal war against medical marijuana; he faces at least a five-year mandatory minimum sentence when he is sentenced March 23.

"I became a medical marijuana patient in 2005 and decided we needed a dispensary here in the San Luis Obispo area so patients didn't have to drive 90 miles to Santa Barbara," Lynch explained. "Before I opened the dispensary, I called the DEA and asked them their policy. They told me it was up to the cities and towns, so I got a business license from the city of Morro Bay, and opened up on April 1, 2006. The mayor, the city attorney, and council members all came by to visit the facility. We even joined the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. I did everything I thought was necessary to run a legitimate business."

But thanks to a recalcitrant local sheriff who, lacking any basis under state law to go after the dispensary, sicced the DEA on it, Lynch's dispensary was raided. "In March 2007, they raided me, took all my money and froze my bank account. They made it sound like I was selling drugs to children in the schoolyard. The city of Morro Bay reissued my business license -- the DEA had stolen it, too -- and I reopened for business. Two weeks later, the DEA threatened my landlord with forfeiture unless he evicted us for good, so on March 16, 2007, the dispensary closed for good."

That has been sufficient to slake the fed's thirst for vengeance in many dispensary raids: Trash the premises, steal the money and property, and drive the business out of existence. But in other cases, federal prosecutors wanted an extra pound of flesh and actually prosecuted dispensary operators. Charles Lynch falls into that unfortunate latter category.

"On July 17, 2007, I woke up to federal agents banging down my door with an arrest warrant for federal marijuana distribution charges," Lynch related. "I had a spotless record, but I had to post a $400,000 bond to get out of federal detention. The DEA and the sheriff did everything in their power to defame me, destroy me, and destroy my life. Now, I have been found guilty on five counts of distribution and await sentencing. I'm filing for bankruptcy, my friends are scared to talk to me because the feds are breathing down my neck. They've destroyed my life."

Clearly, Attorney General Holder's announcement Wednesday is a major breakthrough for the medical marijuana movement. Just as clearly, there are still messes to clean up and injustices to be righted. It is only when there is no one remaining in or threatened with federal prison for helping sick patients that the medical marijuana movement will have achieved real justice.

US Attorney General Says Ending DEA Raids “Now American Policy”

Beginning of the End:
US Attorney General Says Ending DEA Raids “Now American Policy”

Dear ASA Supporter,

Speaking at a press conference on Feb. 25 with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that ending federal medical marijuana raids "is now American policy." The Attorney General’s comments are the latest sign of a sea change in federal policy prompted by a groundswell of grassroots pressure by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and our allies. They came as a response to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids carried out by Bush Administration holdovers in California in January and February.

ASA needs your support to keep grassroots pressure on the Attorney General. Please support ASA today.

President Obama indicated he would end the DEA raids during his presidential campaign, a position reiterated by the White House following DEA raids in raids which took placeon February 4. In response to a question last night about DEA raids at medical marijuana facilities in California, Holder said, "What the President said during the consistent with what we will be doing here in law enforcement. He was my boss in the campaign....He is my boss now. What he said in the campaign is now American policy."

Medical marijuana patients and advocates, who have mounted a massive grassroots campaign to influence the new Administration’s policy, cheered the Attorney General’s comments. 72 million Americans live in states where medical cannabis is legal, but federal law prohibits its use under any circumstances. More than 100 Americans are currently facing prosecution, sentencing, or serving time in prison for medical cannabis offense right now. ASA needs your help to ensure that the emerging change in federal policy signals an end to prosecutions and brings those already serving time for medical cannabis offenses home to their families.

ASA has provided recommendations for a new national medical cannabis policy to President Obama and the 111th Congress earlier this year. We are working overtime now to be sure those recommendations are heard in this new era of compassionate federal policy. Please support ASA in this effort.


Don Duncan
California Director
Americans for Safe Access

Law Enforcement: DEA Spent $123,000 on Administrator's Flight to Colombia

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has a fleet of 106 airplanes, but instead of using one of them, the agency spent $123,000 to fly Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart to Colombia last fall, the McLatchy Newspapers reported Monday. Oh, and it paid another $5,830 to a contractor to arrange the flight with an outside company.
Big Spender: DEA acting administrator Michele Leonhart
The trip came as the nation was sliding into its worst economic crisis in recent memory and the federal budget deficit was approaching heretofore unknown territory. It came just weeks before Detroit auto executives were royally reamed by Congress for flying to Washington in their corporate jets to beg for bailouts.

"Was it excessive? I guess you could look at it that way, but I don't think so," said William Brown, the special agent in charge of the agency's aviation division. He explained that the plane that would normally carry Leonhart was undergoing scheduled maintenance. "I understand the concern about costs for these things. But we do our best to keep costs under control. I think the DEA is very conservative compared to other agencies."

Typically, if a DEA plane is not available for official trips, the agency can borrow one from another federal agency. Although Brown had a week to prepare for the trip, he said he did not even consider that. "It would definitely be more cost effective for us to borrow somebody else's resource," he said. "But they're going to have to pay for it, as well."

Another option would have been a commercial airliner, but Brown said Leonhart and other officials were under "specific threat" in Colombia. But he refused to be more specific, and an unnamed US Embassy official in Bogota said he was unaware of any specific threats.

While the $123,000 flight was only a drop in the DEA's budget, it raised a red flag, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "It looks bad," Ellis said. "Clearly, the DEA or any federal agency should be watching their budgets more closely in these difficult times."

A Failed Drug Strategy Isn’t the Only Way DEA Wastes our Money

Looks like someone forgot to tell DEA about the economic crisis:

WASHINGTON — The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration spent more than $123,000 to charter a private jet to fly to Bogota, Colombia, last fall instead of taking one of the agency's 106 planes.

The DEA paid a contractor an additional $5,380 to arrange Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart's trip last Oct. 28-30 with an outside company.

The DEA scheduled the trip as the nation was reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades and the national debt was climbing toward $10 trillion. Three weeks later, lawmakers slammed chief executive officers from three automakers for flying to Washington in private jets as Congress debated whether to bail out the auto industry. [McClatchy]

Of course, a DEA official assures us that this was all necessitated by a security threat:

Brown said the administrator couldn't have taken a commercial flight because she and other officials who were traveling with her were under "specific" threat in Colombia at the time. He wouldn't reveal details about the threat, saying only that it was of a "sensitive law-enforcement nature." He added that the threat prompted him to conclude that "a government aircraft would provide a level of security not available on a commercial aircraft."

Makes sense, but…

A U.S. official in Colombia, however, said that officials there weren't aware of any threat against Leonhart other than the general insecurity in the country due to the drug trade.

Interesting. Seriously, how much longer is going to take the Obama Administration to replace Michele Leonhart? Crap like this is nothing compared to the medical marijuana raids, but it serves as yet another reminder that DEA is a rogue agency that just does whatever it wants all the time.

Feature: DEA Raids More California Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, Prompting Obama Administration to Reiterate Pledge to Stop Them

(Please participate in our action alert and our Facebook petition.)

DEA agents raided four medical marijuana dispensaries in the Los Angeles area Tuesday, hitting two in Venice, one in Marina Del Rey, and one in Playa del Rey. The raids come nearly two weeks after President Obama took office and on the same day that Eric Holder was confirmed as head of the Justice Department, the agency that oversees DEA operations. They mark the second such incident taking place under the Obama administration, the first being a January 22nd raid of a medical marijuana dispensary in South Lake Tahoe.
DEA and SFPD dispensary raid, May 2008 (courtesy Bay Area Indymedia)
President Obama made repeated campaign pledges to halt the raids on dispensaries operating within California's medical marijuana laws, and by Wednesday night, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro was telling the Washington Times that the raids would end once new DOJ officials are appointed.

"The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind," Shapiro said.

The raids came a day before the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) announced it had commissioned a poll by Zogby International that found overwhelming support for ending the DEA raids. The poll asked the question: "During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would stop federal raids against medical marijuana providers in the 13 states where medical marijuana has become legal. Should President Obama keep his word to end such raids?"

More than two-to-one in all geographic, demographic, and political groups answered "yes." Overall, 72% of respondents said stop the raids.

No one was arrested in Tuesday's raids, but as is typically the case, DEA agents broke down doors and seized marijuana destined for patients as well as cash and computers. Several dispensary operators told California activist organizations that agents acted even more aggressively than usual.

"Those raids were little more than piracy," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "The conduct of the agents was unprofessional and vindictive. They call them 'investigations,' but they just go in there and steal medicine and money and smash things."

Gieringer cited reports he had received that DEA agents destroyed surveillance cameras at at least one location, possibly destroyed a computer hard drive at another, and took bags of cash without counting it or providing a receipt from another.

"Whose interest does that serve?" asked Gieringer. "And not counting the cash, that's a real no-no. This whole thing needs to be investigated; it's not serving any legitimate purpose. And they picked on places that were modest, well-controlled, legal under state law, and no trouble to anybody. That's pretty scummy."

Drug War Chronicle contacted all four dispensaries hit by the DEA Tuesday, but in each case, either no one was available or no one was willing to talk about the raids. Nor did Los Angeles DEA spokesperson Sarah Pullen, who usually talks to the Chronicle, respond to repeated requests for comment.

Pullen did talk to the Los Angeles Times, but she didn't have much to say. "I can't get into details as to the probable cause behind the warrants except for the fact that they're dealing with marijuana, which is illegal under federal law," she said.

But Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), said allegations of DEA misconduct during raids are nothing new. "We have received repeated reports of DEA agents not counting cash or providing receipts, as well as instances of agents damaging surveillance cameras placed in facilities to record what is going on inside and outside," he said. "A few months ago in Long Beach, while the federal agents were smashing video cameras, other cameras were recording them doing so and sending the images to an off-site server, so, in this case, at least, we have video evidence of them doing just what they are again accused of."

Hermes also noted that even without the extracurricular activities, the DEA raids on dispensaries are heavy-handed and thuggish. "If you look at them smashing doors and windows and leveling any property in a facilty, that's pretty routine, and has been happening for the past couple of years," he said. "They go in with paramilitary gear, with flak jackets, automatic weapons, sometimes even wearing ski masks, destroy what's inside, and take medicine, money, computers, and patient records, and trash the place."

"This is upsetting," said Bruce Mirken, San Francisco-based communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It's impossible to know at this point how high up this was authorized or whether it was Bush holdovers still doing what they've been doing, but candidate Obama made a promise on this, and it's time for him to keep it," he declared Wednesday, prior to the White House response appearing in the media.

"That should mean it's time for a major housecleaning at DEA, and that's the right thing to do, not only morally, but also politically," Mirken said. "California voted for Obama, as did 11 of the 13 medical marijuana states, including traditionally Republican states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico that flipped into the Obama column in the November elections. And medical marijuana outpolled Obama in Michigan. There is no downside for Obama in doing the right thing."

Mirken was singing a significantly happier tune by Thursday morning. "The White House comments last night are very significant," he said. "This is a historic break with 13 years of federal policy since Proposition 215 passed in 1996. The simple decision that federal resources should not be used to undermine state medical marijuana laws is a fundamental change from the policies pursued not only by Bush, but also by Clinton," he said.

"A lot will depend, of course, on the follow-through," Mirken continued, "but this is a clear signal to the folks at DEA that the game has changed. Now, we will have to see what happens next, both with ensuring that the raids actually stop, and more broadly, that the Obama administration adopts the general theme about respecting science and basing policy on facts rather than ideology. This, I think, marks the beginning of the end of a tragic and stupid federal policy, and all I can say is thank god."

During the long-lived presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama stated in August 2007 that he "would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users... It's not a good use of our resources." In March 2008, he reiterated that: "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue."

Two months after that, an Obama spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle: "Voters and legislators in the states -- from California to Nevada to Maine -- have decided to provide their residents suffering from chronic diseases and serious illnesses like AIDS and cancer with medical marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering. Obama supports the rights of states and local governments to make this choice."

Not surprisingly, ASA, the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group, jumped in with calls for President Obama and Attorney General Holder to turn promises into policy. "As the new Attorney General, one of Eric Holder's top priorities should be to end these harmful raids on state-sanctioned medical marijuana providers," said ASA director of government affairs Caren Woodson. "And, until a new head of the DEA is confirmed, Holder has a responsibility to cease the existing policy being carried out by Bush Administration officials. Attorney General Holder has the ability to halt this harmful and outdated policy," said Woodson. "And he should do so immediately."

Other drug policy groups joined the chorus as well. "When President Bush was on the campaign trail in 2000 he promised not to interfere in state medical marijuana laws, but that turned out to be a lie as the DEA proceeded to terrorize medical marijuana patients and providers by raiding dozens of dispensaries across California," said Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "President Obama said on the campaign trail that these raids would end under his administration and millions believed him. We hope these recent raids don't represent official administration policy and that Obama will order federal agencies in no uncertain terms to stop harassing medical marijuana patients and providers in California."

"President Obama needs to show federal agencies who is boss," said DPA national affairs director Bill Piper. "If he doesn't put a halt to these raids, the DEA will continue to undermine his campaign promises."

By Thursday morning, ASA was tentatively congratulating the White House for its reiteration of those campaign pledges. "More than 72 million people live in a state that has enacted laws that authorize the limited use and distribution of cannabis for therapeutic use," Woodson said. "The White House's comments have provided patients and their loved ones a sense of relief, and we hope the President and our Attorney General will keep this pledge in mind when considering appointments to the DEA and Office of National Drug Control Policy."

Perhaps, finally, a new day is dawning when it comes to the federal government's stance on medical marijuana. But the weeks and month to come are what will tell.

Drug War Issues

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