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Feature: Prince of Pot Marc Emery on Farewell Tour As US Prison Term Looms

Canada's Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, has less than a month of freedom remaining before he heads to the US border to be handcuffed and escorted to federal court in Seattle, where he will accept a plea bargain and probable five-year prison sentence for selling marijuana seeds over the Internet. But while he is resigned to years of imprisonment for his actions and beliefs, he is by no means giving up the fight and vows to reemerge stronger and more motivated than ever.
Marc Emery, on the Farewell Tour
Emery rose to prominence in the marijuana legalization movement more than a decade ago, after moving from Ontario to Vancouver, where he set up shop as a marijuana entrepreneur, operating cannabis cafes, establishing Cannabis Culture magazine, and operating the Marc Emery Seed Company. Always a thorn in the side of repressive authorities, Emery tussled repeatedly with Canadian bureaucrats, spoke out frequently and loudly (and at length) about the injustice of pot prohibition, founded the British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP), ran for office repeatedly, and, using the profits from his enterprises, donated generously to the reform movements in both Canada and the US.

His outspoken activism brought him to the attention of US authorities, and in July 2005, he and two employees, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, were arrested in Vancouver at the behest of the DEA on a US warrant charging them with marijuana trafficking for their seed sales. DEA administrator Karen Tandy crowed loudly at the time about shutting down a leading funding source for legalization eforts, but quickly backtracked when accused of undertaking a politically motivated prosecution.

After four years of legal tussles, Rainey and Williams accepted plea bargains that allowed them to serve probationary sentences in Canada. Now, Emery, too, has accepted a plea deal.

The agreement comes after Canada's Conservative government rejected a plea deal last year that would have allowed Emery to plead to a Canadian offense and serve his time in a Canadian prison. It was also clear that the Canadian government would not block his extradition to the US.

Faced with a possible life sentence if convicted on all counts, Emery agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to traffic marijuana, and will appear for sentencing in federal court in Seattle on Monday, September 21. But if he is to vanish into the American drug war gulag, it is going to be with a bang, not a whimper.

This summer, Emery and his young wife, Jodie, have been on a farewell tour, crisscrossing Canada to bid a temporary adieu to his legions of supporters. Emery is consistently drawing crowds in the hundreds and generating media coverage wherever he goes as he renews his longstanding call for marijuana legalization and urges supporters to agitate around getting him transferred to a Canadian prison to do his time.

And Emery is calling on his supporters to organize demonstrations on his behalf on Saturday, September 19, two days before his sentencing. Local demos are already set up in several dozen towns and cities, and more are welcome.

"There will be worldwide rallies for Marc," said Cannabis Culture editor Jeremiah Vandermeer. "There are already 50 cities on the list, and more signing up every day. We basically just want to show support for Marc and his cause and demand his freedom. We're also asking people to send respectful letters to the judge." (For more information on holding a rally or writing a letter, click here.)

"Marc is probably the most noted marijuana activist within the Americas," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "Much of that is due to his tremendous ego and publicity stunts, but that does not diminish the work he has done. He's always tried to use the political system to advance change, and he has certainly used his entrepreneurial talents as well, in publishing, seed sales, the hemp business, and his downtown Vancouver shop."

St. Pierre pointed out that Emery's activism was not limited to marijuana law reform. "If you are a Canadian, you have to respect the man because for all intents and purposes, Canadians have the equivalent of First Amendment rights only because of the cases he brought as a bookseller in the early 1990s," he said. "His contribution to free speech and knowledge really marks his life, and his cannabis activism is sort of a metaphor for that. He provided unsanctioned information about how to grow marijuana, its therapeutic value, the religious component, all that. Before his challenges to Canadian censorship laws, the government would have said you don't have the right to know that."

Before his incarnation as Prince of Pot, Emery was a libertarian bookseller in Ontario, and it was there that he brought repeated successful court challenges to Canadian censorship laws, including a battle to win the right to sell High Times magazine in the country.

Emery's activism also included pumping money into the drug reform movement, both in Canada and the US. While he was raking in the dollars with his seed company, much of the profits were being plowed right back into the fight.

"I've witnessed him giving money to virtually every drug reform group in the US, which puts him in the top 1% in the Americas," said St. Pierre. "He is in the elite in that respect, and unlike George Soros and Peter Lewis, who picked people to choose where their money would go, Marc's philosophy seemed to be let all the flowers bloom. It wasn't huge money, like Soros and Lewis, but it was a lot of money, and that's pretty remarkable."

Among the beneficiaries of Emery's munificence was the Seattle Hempfest, which could count on him to come up with a couple of thousand dollars for last minute expenses, the Drug Truth Network, and the US Marijuana Party, among others. Loretta Nall was head of the US Marijuana Party.

"Marc alone funded my activities from September 2002 until his arrest in 2005," she said. "The total amount was something on the order of $150,000. Even after he was arrested he continued to try and send money when he could despite his own major need for cash to pay his lawyers."

Nall became an activist after her home was raided by police in helicopters. When she wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper to protest the raid, she was arrested shortly later.

"Marc stepped in and hired an attorney for me, gave me a job a Pot TV News anchor and roving activist in the US. He funded my trip to Goose Creek South Carolina, Colombia, South America, the first DPA conference I ever attended and everything in between," Nall recalled. "While working for him he also paid for my daughter to have ear surgery which cost over $6,000 and he provided me with whatever I requested. Marc taught me practically everything I know about drug policy reform. He was my rock when I wanted to run away from Alabama and not fight because I was scared. He was and is my mentor. I owe him a great deal," she said.

"Marc Emery has been as important to the movement as Martin Luther King Jr. was to the civil rights movement here in Alabama in the 1960's," Nall continued. "No one individual has done more to promote outright rebellion -- peaceful of course -- of the unjust marijuana laws than Marc. No one has put their ass on the line for this cause more than Marc."

"We gave away $4.5 million for the movement," said Emery Wednesday from a hotel in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where he and Jodie continued his farewell tour. "We paid for the defense of early compassion clubs, like Philippe Lucas's, we've been paying their lawyer for years to litigate for them, we were the chief funder of the 1998 Washington, DC, medical marijuana initiative, we helped Dean Becker's Cultural Baggage/Drug Truth Network stay afloat, and now he's on hundreds of stations."

"The farewell tour is going great," Emery said. "It feels good. I love talking to and meeting people all across the country and inspiring them to do a lot of activism. And Jodie and I are having a wonderful time in our last month together. I'm blessed to be with such an intelligent, lucid, and lovely wife."

Emery, of course, is agitating to the bitter end. "I tell my Canadian audiences that I fully expect them to have legalized it by the time I get back. With all that's going on in Latin America, we're starting to see a huge group of countries not in sync with prohibitionist drug policies, and I will be disappointed if Canada hasn't joined that group."

He is also urging supporters to act on his behalf. "I'm urging Americans to lobby the Bureau of Prisons and Canadians to lobby the Ministry of Public Safety to get me transferred back to Canada," he said. "I'm also urging people to vote out the Conservative government here. The US and Canada have a treaty allowing nationals to serve their time in their home country, but the Conservatives are not taking back weed prisoners. We need people to vote this government out. In the meantime, we'll be hitting them with phone calls and emails. We have the people to swamp them."

But Emery is also preparing for his time behind bars. "I'll be writing a book based on my life, and I'll be holding myself to finishing a chapter every two weeks," he said. "I also plan on learning French and Spanish, French because I intend to become a Member of Parliament and want to be able to speak with all my constituents, and Spanish because it is the most widely spoken language in the hemisphere."

"There were several dozen seed sellers the US could have gone after, but they focused almost exclusively on Marc and now they are making him a martyr," said NORML's St. Pierre. "Unfortunately for the US government, they chose to martyr someone who is keen on martydom, and all those years he will have to spend in prison is just going to further personify him, certainly in Canada but also in the US, as someone who is being treated incredibly unfairly."

For a sense of how unfairly, one need only recall the last time Emery was convicted of seed-selling in Canada. In that 1998 case, he was fined $2,000. BC appeals courts more recently have suggested a proper sentence for seed-selling was a couple of months in jail and a year or two on probation.

Between that 1998 conviction and his 2005 arrest on US charges, Emery paid in more than $600,000 in Canadian income taxes. Canadian authorities did not bother him again, nor did they have any qualms about accepting his tax monies.

Now, Emery is preparing to become America's best known marijuana prisoner. "When they're out to get you, they're out to get you. It doesn't matter that they can't point to a single victim of my 'crimes,'" he said. "After 20 years of work, I can be the one person everyone will be aware of who is in prison for marijuana."

And he remains adamant about ending prohibition. "What is the public benefit in prohibition? There is none. We get more drugs, more drug use, more gangs, the treasuries are empty, the jails are full, but they don't care about that. The only thing important to a prohibitionist is suffering. They think we must suffer because we have a moral failing. They have a puritanical hatred for what we represent."

The forces of prohibition may have won a temporary victory in their battle to shut up the Prince of Pot. But it may well be a pyrrhic one.

Medical Marijuana: First California DEA Arrests Under Obama Took Place Last Week

A massive DEA operation featuring dozens of heavily armed agents and at least four helicopters ended with the arrests of five people in California's Lake County last week. According to California NORML, the arrests are believed to be the first since the Obama administration announced it would not persecute medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal unless they violated both state and federal law. The DEA seized 154 marijuana plants from Upper Lake resident Tom Carter, and arrested him, former UMCC dispensary operator Scott Feil and his wife, Steven Swanson, and Brett Bassignani. Carter is a registered medical marijuana patient and provider, and his wife, Jamie Ceridono, told the Lake County News he was growing for several patients and his grow was legal under state law. The genesis of the bust appears to lie with an alleged May deal between a DEA informant and Bassignani to purchase marijuana. According to documents filed by Carter's federal defenders late last week, the informant claimed to have arranged to buy marijuana from Carter and to have left a voicemail message for Carter to set up the deal. That same informant allegedly made a deal to buy marijuana from Bassignani. In the document, the federal defenders said prosecutors made no claim that Carter ever heard the phone message the informant allegedly called and that they set out no evidence linking Carter and the informant. "All the complaint says is that another individual, Mr. Bassignani, called the informant, claimed he worked for 'Carter Construction,' and arranged a marijuana deal," Carter's defense attorneys wrote. "The deal later took place, and the only other reference to Mr. Carter is the conclusory claim that the informant 'had agreed on the price with Carter.' No context, no specifics, and no other information is provided in the complaint which indicates that Mr. Carter in fact talked to the informant, arranged a marijuana deal, and indicated that he (Carter) was knowingly involved in a marijuana transaction." Moving that the two felony counts of marijuana trafficking against Carter be dismissed, the attorneys added: "This complaint is sadly deficient with regard to whether Mr. Carter has done anything to indicate that he conspired to break the law. It should be dismissed accordingly." It is unclear why Feil and his wife were arrested. They are neighbors of Carter and his wife. Carter and Feil are being held in Oakland, where they are set to have initial detention hearings today and tomorrow. Federal prosecutors have asked that Carter be held pending trial "on the basis of flight risk and danger to the community." Carter is a long-time resident of Upper Lake, prominent construction contractor, and community benefactor. "California already has enough federal marijuana criminals," said CANORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, "It's time for concrete changes in federal law." While the Obama administration has announced it would no go after law-abiding medical marijuana providers, the DEA has conducted at least two raids against providers in San Francisco and Los Angeles, although there have been no arrests in those cases. The administration has not announced any changes in federal laws or regulations around medical marijuana, and Bush appointees continue to serve in the DEA and the US Attorney's Office of Northern California, which is prosecuting the case.


Just Chiming in, I Thought Prohibition was supposed to save us from ourselves? To protect us in some way? I have to scratch my head......and not from dandruff. I think of my young Niece sitting in prison 19 years old. She went and got a friend some cocaine and in return she got to do a few lines. Well this friend wasn't such a good friend, she did this three times. She was charged and convicted for distribution of cocaine three counts, she was given 15 years in prison. She only has to do a year now..but she has to go through a year of active supervised probation and then be of good behavior for 20 years. My GOD man what the hell is wrong with our "FREE" society? I am so Damn furious about all the lives that our Government is ruining. People these are OUR children that are being persecuted for use of a substance that OUR government allows to be brought into OUR country. We have more people in jail for drugs than even China I think I mean come on enough is enough! It is nothing but a Money racket the damn local justice systems are cleaning up on all the entire system from confiscating houses and bank accounts fine you with heavy fine so they can hire someone to babysit you. Back to my Niece mind you I know her very well She lived with our family for awhile She is young and she was experimenting and out on her own for the first time in her life. All in all she was a very sweet, nice, naive, slightly rebellious but generally a good kid. Now she is a convicted FELON her life is ruined after spending the year in prison she has turned into a hardened person just to survive she is in with murderers and every other violent crimes. HOW is this helping us. Come on people HELP ME UNDERSTAND WHY WE ARE ALLOWING THIS KIND OF STUFF TO BE HAPPENING. ENUFF, I have vented Thank you

Trick Question on the DEA Job Application?

Anyone applying for a job at the Drug Enforcement Administration must answer this question:

That's funny, I thought there was no such thing as "legally prescribed" marijuana under federal law. Either this is an idiot test for prospective applicants, or we've come so far that the DEA is beginning to lose track of its own ideology.

Afghanistan: The DEA Is on the Way

The Obama administration has shifted gears in Afghanistan, rejecting the Bush administration's emphasis on opium poppy eradication in favor of attacking Taliban-linked drug trafficking networks as it increases the number of US military personnel in the country to nearly 70,000. Along with that increase in American servicemen and women in Afghanistan, the administration is also ramping up the DEA presence in the country.
opium poppies (incised papaver specimens)
The number of DEA agents in the country will increase five-fold this year, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun. The agency currently has 13 agents in Afghanistan; that number will jump to 68 by September and 81 by 2010. An unspecified number of additional agents are also being sent to Pakistan, through which a large portion of the Afghan drug trade flows.

Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the world's opium poppy supply, from which heroin is derived. One province now in the sights of a 4,000 strong US Marine expeditionary force, Helmand province, by itself produces more than half of all Afghan opium and if it were its own country, would be the world's largest opium supplier.

While all factions in Afghanistan have their fingers in the poppy pie, including numerous officials and warlords linked to the Karzai government, the US and NATO are especially interested in disrupting those portions of the drug trade that help finance the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban is estimated to make hundreds of millions of dollars a year from taxing poppy crops, acting as armed escorts for drug caravans, and running international drug trafficking operations.

In the past, the Taliban has benefitted from eradication campaigns in at least two ways. First, to the extent such campaigns are successful, they drive up the price of opium, which the Taliban has abundantly stockpiled. Second, the eradication campaigns have proven a fertile recruiting tool for the Taliban as farmers angry at seeing their livelihoods destroyed look to join those who ostensibly oppose eradication.

Industrial Hemp: Bill Passes Oregon Legislature, Heads for Governor's Desk

The Oregon House Monday passed SB 676 by a veto-proof margin of 46-11. The measure would allow for the production, possession, and commercialization of industrial hemp and its products. The measure passed the state Senate on June 19 an equally veto-proof 27-2 margin.
hemp plants
During the House debate, hemp supporter Rep. Jules Bailey (D-Portland) used visual aids to demonstrate the diversity of hemp products, waving around bags of hemp tortilla chips and non-dairy hemp milk. He also held up a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "Senate Bill 676 is about rope, not dope."

"I am glad that Oregon has joined the list of states that have agreed that American farmers should have the right to reintroduce industrial hemp as an agricultural crop," said bill sponsor Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-South Lane and North Douglas Counties). "By passing SB 676 with strong bipartisan support, the Oregon legislature has taken a proactive position to allow its farmers the right to grow industrial hemp, to provide American manufacturers with domestically-grown hemp, and to profit from that effort."

The industry association Vote Hemp said it was confident Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) would sign the bill. If he does, or if a veto is overridden, Oregon will become the ninth state to authorize industrial hemp production under state law. It remains forbidden by federal law.

"The time has come for the federal government to act and allow farmers to once again grow hemp, so American companies will no longer need to import it and American farmers will no longer be denied a profitable new crop," said Vote Hemp president Eric Steenstra. "Under current federal policy, industrial hemp can be imported, but it cannot be grown by American farmers. Hemp is a versatile, environmentally-friendly crop that has not been grown in the US for over fifty years because of a misguided and politicized interpretation of the nation's drug laws by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). While a new bill in Congress, H.R. 1866, is a welcome step, the hemp industry is hopeful that President Obama's administration will recognize hemp's myriad benefits to farmers, businesses and the environment," he added.

"We are looking forward to the opportunity to invest in hemp processing and production locally," says Hans Fastre, chief executive officer of Living Harvest, one of the numerous hemp product companies based in Oregon. "This bill represents another step towards heightening the hemp industry's profile within mainstream America and making hemp products more accessible to businesses and consumers."

If the bill becomes law, Oregon will become the second state to approve industrial hemp this year. Maine did so last month. Four other states, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and North Dakota passed resolutions or memorials urging Congress to allow states to regulate hemp farming this year.

The states that have okayed hemp production are Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia. North Dakota has even issued licenses to would-be hemp farmers for the past two years, but the federal prohibition has prevented any hemp planting.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda," by Gretchen Peters (2009, Thomas Dunne Press, 300 pp., $25.95 HB)

Gretchen Peters certainly has a sense of timing. She spent the last decade covering Afghanistan and Pakistan, first for the Associated Press and later for ABC News, and managed to bring "Seeds of Terror" to press just as the US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan begin lurching toward a new approach to drug policy there. Just this past weekend, the US announced it was giving up on trying to eradicate its way to victory over the poppy crop, and for the past few weeks, news accounts of US and NATO attacks on traffickers, opium stockpiles, and heroin labs have been coming at a steady, if not escalating, pace.
Afghan opium
Peters' thesis -- that the immensely lucrative opium and heroin trade is funding the Taliban and Al Qaeda to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, which they use to wage their insurgency against the West and allies in Afghanistan -- while portrayed as stunning and shocking, is nothing new to readers of the Chronicle, or anyone else who has been following events in Afghanistan since before the 2001 US invasion.

But where "Seeds of Terror" shines is in its unparalleled detail and depth of knowledge of the drug trade, the Taliban/Al Qaeda insurgency, the Pakistan connection, and the intricate and complicated linkages between the actors. With access to government and security officials from the US, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, and through interviews with everyone from simple famers to fighters to opium traders and even some amazingly high-up people in the international heroin trade, Peters is able to navigate and share with readers the murky, ever shifting nature of the beast.

She is especially useful in unraveling the various groupings that are simplistically referred to as "the Taliban." There is no single Taliban, Peters explains; there are rival warlords (Hekmatyar, Haqqani, Mullah Omar) running their drug empires and fighting to drive out the Westerners, their jihadist convictions clouded more each year in a haze of opium smoke and illicit profits. And then there are what are in essence criminal drug trafficking organizations. They, too, will identify themselves as Taliban for pragmatic reasons -- the intimidation factor, mainly -- but have little interest in holy war, except as it provides the chaotic cover for their underground trade.

Actually, as Peters details, the story goes back a generation further, to the last great American intervention into this Fourth World country on the other side of the planet. Then, during the Reagan-era sponsorship of the Afghan mujahedeen fighting to drive out the Soviet Red Army, millions of Afghans fled into refugee camps in Pakistan, and would-be warlords and foreign jihadis (including a young Osama bin Laden), tussled for the billions of dollars coming from Washington and doled out by Pakistani intelligence, or, alternately, from funding sources in Saudi Arabia.

Those warlords turned Pakistan, particularly the refugee-ridden Northwest Frontier territories into a leading opium producer during the 1980s, to ensure sources of funding for their armies, and secondarily, to turn as many Russian soldiers into junkies as they could. The Pakistani drug trafficking networks, including some very highly placed army and other officials, set up then are still the main conduits for the opium and heroin leaving Afghanistan today. Man, talk about your blowback.

Peters has a keen grasp of local affairs, knows how to write, and has constructed a gripping and informative narrative. But, faced with a counterinsurgency effort that has floundered, in good part because of profits from the illicit drug trade keeping the Taliban well-supplied with shiny new weapons, she cannot resist the temptation to try her own hand at recommending more effective policies. Here, unfortunately, she is decidedly conventional and unquestioning of the prohibitionist paradigm.

For example, the proposal floated by The Senlis Council in 2005 to simply buy up the poppy crop and divert it into the legitimate medical market gets remarkably short shrift. Peters devotes a mere paragraph to the plan, dismissing it as not pragmatic -- a position not universally held by experts.

Similarly, her policy prescriptions, while including such progressive developmentalist planks as alternative livelihood programs, strengthening institutions, and opening new markets for new crops, also include a call to "arrest or kill" drug kingpins, heroin lab chemists, and even mid-level traffickers. She also advocates air strikes against smuggling convoys, "smarter" counterinsurgency, and beefed up law enforcement against the "bad guys."

Peters' thinking on drug policy may be decidedly inside the box, but her contribution to our understanding of the complex nexus between the illicit drug trade in Afghanistan, local insurgencies, and global jihadi ambitions is important and chilling. This is the best layperson's guide to that nexus out there.

Medical Marijuana: Barney Frank Introduces Federal Bill to Get DEA Out, Reschedule as Medicine

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced legislation Monday that would reschedule marijuana as a Schedule II drug and eliminate federal authority to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Titled the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act (HR 2835), the bill currently has 16 sponsors and has been sent to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Barney Frank
Frank introduced similar legislation in the last two Congresses, but the bills never got a committee vote or even a hearing. Advocates hope that with a Democratically-controlled Congress and a president who has at least given lip service to medical marijuana, Congress this year will prove to be friendlier ground.

"We are encouraged by the federal government's willingness to address this issue and to bring about a more sensible and humane policy on medical marijuana," said Caren Woodson, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access. "It's time to recognize marijuana's medical efficacy, and to develop a comprehensive plan that will provide access to medical marijuana and protection for the hundreds of thousands of sick Americans that benefit from its use."

When it comes to reining in the feds, the bill would bar the use of the Controlled Substances Act or the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act for prohibiting or restricting doctors from prescribing marijuana and patients, caregivers, and co-ops or dispensaries from using, possessing, transporting or growing marijuana in accordance with state law.

The Obama administration has pledged to not use Justice Department resources to go after medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Still, the DEA has continued to target medical marijuana providers, prosecutors continue to file drug charges against providers acting in accord with state laws, and federal judges continue to sentence medical marijuana providers who followed state laws, but were convicted under federal drug laws.

Medical Marijuana: House Appropriations Committee Asks for Clarification of Federal Stance on Raids

The House Appropriations Committee Tuesday approved language seeking clarification of the Obama administration's stance on medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Attorney General Eric Holder has made several statements suggesting the administration would not seek prosecutions of people acting in line with state laws, but some DEA raids have occurred in California, medical marijuana providers continue to be sentenced to federal prison, and federal medical marijuana prosecutions remain in the pipeline, all leading to confusion about where the administration actually stands.
Rep. Hinchey addresses a 2005 press conference on medical marijuana, as Montel Williams awaits his turn at the podium
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) sponsored the addition of the following language: "There have been conflicting public reports about the Department's enforcement of medical marijuana policies. Within 60 days of enactment, the Department shall provide to the Committee clarification of the Department's policy regarding enforcement of federal laws and use of federal resources against individuals involved in medical marijuana activities."

Hinchey, along with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), has in past years sponsored the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would have barred the DEA from using federal funds to raid medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal. Now, despite Holder's remarks, Hinchey and the committee are seeking to remove any ambiguity in the administration's position.

The language is part of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related appropriation bill for fiscal year 2010. The full House will consider the measure sometime in the next few weeks.

"I'm very pleased that the House Appropriations Committee today approved a simple, straightforward provision that will provide clarity as to what the Obama administration's precise policy is on medical marijuana," Hinchey said. "I've been greatly encouraged by what President Obama and Attorney General Holder's public statements in support of states determining their own medical marijuana, but remain concerned about the matter since the federal government has still continued raids in states that permit the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. This provision will provide Congress with the transparency we need to determine whether any further legislative action is needed. It's imperative that the federal government respect states' rights and stay out of the way of patients with debilitating diseases such as cancer who are using medical marijuana in accordance with state law to alleviate their pain."

The move was good news for medical marijuana advocates. "We are glad to see the federal government finally moving toward sanity on medical marijuana," said Marijuana Policy Project director of government relations Aaron Houston. "No one battling serious illness and following their state's laws should live in fear of our federal government, and we look forward to clear assurances that suffering patients will be left alone."

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) also praised Hinchey and the committee. "ASA applauds Congressman Hinchey's continued leadership on this matter and welcomes the support for this provision by the House Appropriations Committee," wrote Caren Woodson, ASA director of government affairs. "I hope that this provision helps to clarify who, under the new policy, will arbitrate whether there has been any violation of state law. This is especially important for medical marijuana advocates to the extent that federal defendants are still prohibited from providing any evidence during federal trial that the activities for which they stand accused were done in accordance with state law. As such, ASA believes it is absolutely imperative that any alleged violation of state law be handled strictly within the state."

Holder Renews Pledge to Respect Medical Marijuana Laws

In case anyone forgot, the new administration promises to be nicer about medical marijuana:

ALBUQUERQUE — The nation’s top cop said Friday that marijuana dispensaries participating in New Mexico’s fledgling medical marijuana program shouldn’t fear Drug Enforcement Agency raids, a staple of the Bush administration.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking in Albuquerque during a meeting focused on border issues, including drug trafficking, said his department is focused "on large traffickers," not on growers who have a state’s imprimatur to dispense marijuana for medical reasons.

"For those organizations that are doing so sanctioned by state law, and doing it in a way that is consistent with state law, and given the limited resources that we have, that will not be an emphasis for this administration," Holder said. [New Mexico Independent]

Notwithstanding a couple of questionable raids that have taken place since Holder took office, it's good to hear him keep repeating this. The more he says it, the more scrutiny he'll be subjected to if DEA continues to push its luck. Personally, I'm not expecting the complete elimination of federal interference with state medical marijuana laws, but I think it will become clear over time that the situation has improved.

Still, Holder and Obama shouldn't get a pass on this ridiculous "limited resources" excuse for respecting state medical marijuana laws. The issue enjoys tremendous public support and there's no reason the new administration can’t come right out and acknowledge that the Bush policy was just cruel. Pretending it's about money is disgusting and wrong. Note to reporters: next time someone in the administration tries to portray the new medical marijuana policy as a matter of conserving law enforcement resources, ask whether they'd continue the raids if their budget was bigger.

Furthermore, the feds are still trying to put Charlie Lynch in prison for operating a perfectly legal dispensary in California. His sentencing will take place this Thursday, assuming it doesn’t get postponed yet again. Click here to email the Dept. of Justice and tell them to let Charlie go.

If these guys are sick of answering questions about marijuana policy, freeing Charlie Lynch is by far their best move.

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