An aggressive federal offensive targeting medical marijuana providers, growers and patients in California is rapidly energizing common citizens and elected officials alike in support. The raid September 5 against the Santa Cruz Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (http://www.wamm.org) may mark the beginning of a real anti-federal mobilization in California.
In late breaking news, DRCNet learned Thursday evening that the DEA had struck again, this time raiding the Genesis medical marijuana dispensary in Petaluma and an associated garden in Sebastopol and arresting Genesis owner Robert Schmidt, who was being held by the DEA as of Thursday afternoon. Americans for Safe Access (http://www.safeaccessnow.org), the coalition that has spearheaded protests against previous raids, has issued an emergency alert calling for demonstrations at federal buildings across the country on Monday. According to ASA, large numbers of plants were seized, witnesses reported an ambulance at the scene, and Schmidt had been charged with assaulting an officer.
"We are shocked that the DEA would make medical marijuana its top priority while the rest of the county is at a high state of alert," said ASA executive director Steph Sherer. "While the country was on orange alert on September 11, 30 DEA agents were busily plotting an attack on the medical marijuana community. The president warned us of an attack," Sherer continued, "but he didn't tell us it would be from our own government."
The Santa Cruz raid has been denounced by the local sheriff's department, which failed to intervene when angry WAMM patients blocked DEA raiders from leaving the WAMM garden they had just destroyed, as well as by members of the Santa Cruz city council and other state political figures -- including Attorney General Bill Lockyer, long criticized by medical marijuana advocates as too flaccid in supporting the law.
Santa Cruz city council members are not limiting themselves to angry words. City officials announced this week that they will join a medical marijuana giveaway at City Hall next week to send a message to the Justice Department that medical marijuana is welcome in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz residents approved Proposition 215, the 1996 medical marijuana initiative, by a 74% margin. In 2000, the city council approved an ordinance allowing medical marijuana to be grown and used without a prescription.
"It's just absolutely loathsome to me that federal money, energy and staff time would be used to harass people like this," vice mayor Emily Reilly told reporters as she announced she would participate in handing out medical marijuana to sick people at City Hall.
While the city of Santa Cruz has passed a resolution denouncing the raid, the City Hall action is not an official city event. City officials and members of the public will be allowed to use city facilities for the protest, the city attorney explained.
The DEA's San Francisco spokesman pronounced himself flummoxed by the announced event. "Are you serious?" Richard Meyer asked the Associated Press when told of the giveaway. "That's illegal. It's like they're flouting federal law," he said. "I'm shocked that city leaders would promote the use of marijuana that way. What is that saying to our youth?"
[Editor's note: It could well be saying to our youth that marijuana, like morphine, cocaine, sedatives, tranquilizers and many other substances, has legitimate medical uses and that drug war totalitarianism should not interfere with medical care.]
If the DEA is "shocked" at the Santa Cruz giveaway, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has aroused himself long enough to send a letter to DEA head Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General John Ashcroft complaining about the raids and asking for a meeting to discuss the matter.
"I must question the ethical basis for the DEA's policy when these raids are being executed without apparent regard for the likelihood of successful prosecution," Lockyer wrote. "Whether or not the US Attorney decides to file in the Santa Cruz case, my Department is aware of other recent DEA-initiated raids involving as few as six marijuana plants in which no charges were ever filed, and no convictions were obtained. Conversations with DEA representatives in California have made it clear that the DEA's strategic policy is to conduct these raids as punitive expeditions whether or not a crime can be successfully prosecuted."
The US Attorney's office in San Francisco announced this week that Valerie and Michael Corral, the operators of WAMM, would join the growing list of those raided but not prosecuted. Such tactics make sense for the DEA in California. Raids effectively destroy the operation in question, and the federal government doesn't have to worry about actually winning a case in a state where the electorate voted for medical marijuana.
"A medicinal marijuana provider such as the Santa Cruz collective represents little danger to the public," Lockyer wrote, "and is certainly not a concern which would warrant diverting scarce federal resources away from the fight against domestic methamphetamine production, heroin distribution or international terrorism to cite just a few far more worthy priorities."
Whether the Lockyer letter will lead to any concrete response remains to be seen. According to Lockyer spokeswoman Hallye Jordan, DEA head Hutchinson called to acknowledge receiving the letter, but no meeting has been set. There has been no response from the Justice Department, Jordan told DRCNet. And like her boss, Jordan used the medical marijuana issue to plump for increased funds for the state's Campaign Against Marijuana Production (CAMP), which she characterized as "seizing a million plants from Mexican narco-traffickers, as opposed to medical marijuana that would benefit seriously ill and dying patients."
"We are pleased to see the Attorney General finally responding to this crisis," said ASA executive director Stephanie Sherer. "We hope he will follow up," she told DRCNet.
While Lockyer scribbled to the feds, medical marijuana supporters took to the streets in cities in Northern California and across the country last weekend, demonstrating at federal buildings in 15 cities and the Justice Department in Washington, DC, Sherer said.
More protests are scheduled for September 23 at the sentencing hearing for convicted medical marijuana grower Bryan Epis, who faces a federal mandatory minimum prison sentence. A coalition led by ASA will lead those protests. But now, given Thursday's raid on Genesis, immediate attention will turn to Monday's emergency response protests. "We really want to get people to turn out, even if it's just a few of you," said Sherer. "Last week, we had two people in with a sign in front of the federal building in Austin, and they were quoted on the AP wire."
As California's political class slowly mobilizes in support of the state's medical marijuana law, as editorial page writers chime in to denounce the raids, and as medical marijuana supporters and their allies take to the streets, the federal government may have finally found the confrontation it has been so assiduously seeking.