The DEA's aggressive medical marijuana enforcement activities have put California law enforcement agencies in a difficult position, caught between upholding state laws and maintaining their traditional cooperative ties with federal drug squads. Now San Jose Police Chief William Landsdowne has resolved that dilemma by pulling his officers out of the DEA task force that raided the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (http://www.wamm.org) in Santa Cruz early last month. Landsdowne told the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday that his officers had better things to do than help the feds raid pot clubs. "I think the priorities are out of sync at the federal level," he said, adding that he supports the state's medical marijuana law. "The problem in California right now is methamphetamines, not medical marijuana."
Lansdowne criticized the DEA for putting his officers in the middle of a conflict between state and federal law. WAMM had been operating since 1996 in cooperation with and with the approval of city and county law enforcement officials, Landsdowne said. "It's unfair to put our officers in a position of deciding how they're going to enforce a law that's in conflict with local law," he said.
And in the case of medical marijuana, Landsdowne came down firmly on the side of state law. "I think the public made the decision for us that if it's well-managed, it's legal," he said. "Our district attorney believes that, the state believes that, and I believe they're correct, so long as there are controls in place."
San Jose's refusal to cooperate with the DEA task force is the latest crack in what was once a solid wall of solidarity between state and federal law enforcement officials. San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan has publicly invited the DEA to stay out of his town. And during the WAMM raid, local sheriff's deputies refused to intervene to rescue DEA agents trapped in WAMM's backyard by patients who blocked the way out. Those agents were freed only upon the release of WAMM founders Mike and Valerie Corral later the same day.
"The DEA's raids on the medical marijuana patients and hospices seem to have shocked the consciences of a lot of people whose consciences aren't easily shocked," said Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a press release lauding the chief's decision. "I suspect that other police chiefs will soon follow in the footsteps of Chief Lansdowne."
"This is very encouraging," agreed California NORML's Dale Gieringer. "We hope to see this happen elsewhere," he told DRCNet. "We've already had resolutions of non-cooperation in Berkeley and San Francisco, and this just shows how over the top and out of line the WAMM raid was. Maybe the government will begin to realize how indefensible its actions were."
The DEA is showing no sign of that. When the Chronicle asked DEA San Francisco spokesman Richard Meyer (who must have one of the toughest jobs around) about Landsdowne's decision, Meyer replied: "He's certainly entitled to his opinions, and we have great respect for him," Meyer said. "However, the federal law is very clear when it comes to marijuana, and our mandate is to enforce the laws."
[Ed: DEA chief Asa Hutchinson has authority to reschedule marijuana as a medicine with the stroke of a pen -- just as DEA's administrative law judge, Francis Young, recommended be done in 1988. Attorney General Ashcroft and President Bush also have this authority. They can and should do so now, not falsely claim that their hands are tied.]