DEA to California Medical Marijuana Patients: Drop Dead 10/4/02

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In the wake of the DEA raid on the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) dispensary in Santa Cruz a month ago, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer bestirred himself long enough to dash off a letter to DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson and his boss, US Attorney General John Ashcroft, asking the feds to please butt out. The letter, which also went to all US Attorneys in California and the three DEA offices in the state, called the raids "wasteful, unwise and surprisingly insensitive," since California law allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The WAMM raid, Lockyer wrote, called into question the federal-state partnership to fight drug trafficking. "The apparent decision by the DEA to put any kind of priority on such raids demonstrates a lack of good judgment and seriously threatens to wreck the historic productive partnership of the DEA and California's state and local law enforcement, undermining our efforts to fight dangerous drugs and the major narco-terrorist organizations that manufacture and distribute them," Lockyer told the feds.

Lockyer asked for a meeting with federal officials to discuss the problem. He hasn't gotten a meeting, but he has now received a response from Hutchinson, and neither Lockyer nor the state's medical marijuana community will be pleased. The DEA will continue to raid marijuana operations, Hutchinson said, and will refuse to recognize any distinction between recreational and medical marijuana. "As long as marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, (the Drug Enforcement Administration) will continue its enforcement efforts targeting groups and individuals involved in its distribution," Hutchinson wrote in a September 30 letter to Lockyer.

Hutchinson also repeated the agency's dogmatic denial that such a thing as medical marijuana even exists. "Your repeated references to 'medical' or 'medicinal' marijuana illustrate a common misperception that marijuana is safe and effective medicine," Hutchinson wrote. "The scientific community has never determined this to be the case."

Hutchinson added that the DEA is "obliged by law" to seize marijuana even if no prosecution results, as is apparently the case with WAMM and with San Diego cultivator Steve McWilliams, whose garden was seized last week with no charges filed. He also contended that California's medical marijuana law is being "abused to facilitate traditional illegal marijuana trafficking and associated crime."

But medical marijuana advocates pointed out that many patients grow for themselves with no money or drugs changing hands and that some dispensaries, including WAMM, accepted no payment for providing medicine. Lockyer spokesperson Hallye Jordan told the San Diego Union Tribune Lockyer's office was still reviewing the letter but was pleased to get a response, no matter what the content. "The lines of communication are open," she said. "At least we're talking."

That may be good enough for Lockyer, but it's not good enough for the state's large and increasingly angry medical marijuana community. The stage appears to be set for a messy confrontation pitting the federal government against the state government, the federal government against the medical marijuana movement, and the medical marijuana movement against the state government, at least to the degree it refuses to protect the state's estimated 30,000 medical marijuana users.

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