Yesterday, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) issued "What's the Cost?" a report on the federal war on medical cannabis (marijuana). This important report tallies the various types of federal interference by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against medical cannabis patients and their providers, while sharing stories of the individuals caught in the middle.
Since its founding in 2002, ASA has been tracking the adoption and implementation of state medical cannabis laws, compiling raw data on actions taken by the DOJ to thwart successful implementation of these laws. Over the years, the DOJ has employed an array of tactics, including paramilitary-style raids on individual patients and state-authorized dispensaries, asset forfeiture actions against property owners (usually the landlords of dispensaries), and bullying tactics designed to pressure elected officials against adopting or implementing medical cannabis laws. The report summarizes the human and monetary costs of enforcing an unpopular and outdated federal policy that sustains this heartless war on medical cannabis.
"What's the Cost?" confirms how much the U.S. Justice Department has spent over three presidential administrations to investigate, raid, arrest, prosecute, and imprison hundreds of medical cannabis patients and their providers -- nearly half a billion dollars. Far outspending all of his predecessors, the report reveals that President Obama has dedicated nearly $300 million to such enforcement efforts, despite his repeated pledges to not use Justice Department funds in this way.
In 2011 and 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spent four percent of its budget on the medical marijuana crackdown. Having conducted at least 270 paramilitary-style raids during the past four years, Obama's DEA spent approximately $8 million to carry them out. However, the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on raids was dwarfed by the amount spent on investigative efforts preceding raids, indictments, and lawsuits, which has totaled more than $200 million. Over the past two years alone, the DOJ has effectively shuttered more than 500 dispensaries in California, Colorado, and Washington State by sending letters to landlords, threatening criminal prosecution and seizure of their property.
While we were drafting the report, the cost estimates had to be updated to reflect two more raids, a series of asset forfeiture threats against landlords in Washington State, and the surrender of three individuals to begin serving 5-year mandatory minimum sentences. While the report was being formatted, Michigan cultivator and organ transplant recipient Jerry Duval began serving a 10-year prison term, which will not only be detrimental to his health but according to the Huffington Post is also expected to cost taxpayers more than $1 million. In addition, at least another hundred letters went out to landlords in California, and US Attorneys filed two more asset forfeiture lawsuits. By the same estimates used in the report, those actions would add another $10 million to the amount President Barack Obama has spent on this senseless war.
The battle for safe access to medical cannabis in the US spans more than 40 years and includes each branch of the federal government, as well as almost every state legislature in the country. Yet, medical cannabis is one of those issues that seems far from the lives of most Americans -- that is, until they or a loved-one needs it. I, myself, didn't pay attention to the issue until 2001, the year my doctor recommended I use cannabis. But our government is waging a war that puts our most vulnerable citizens in the crossfire, and every American has a responsibility to do something about that. We elect our federal representatives who authorize those wars and we pay taxes that fund them. Therefore, we also hold the key to ending such harmful policies.
"What's the Cost?" focuses on the most intense part of this battle being waged by the federal government, which began in 1996 when states began passing medical cannabis laws. If you live in the US, chances are you've heard something about the conflict between federal law and the numerous states that have adopted their own medical cannabis laws. By taking advantage of our federalist form of government, those states have chosen to implement a set of laws that depart from federal policy.
Unfortunately, the federal government continues to push back against the proven medical value of cannabis, abusing its prosecutorial discretion by targeting patients and their providers even in states that have adopted their own laws. Hundreds of thousands of sick and injured Americans are caught in the middle of that epic battle.
Every war has casualties and a price tag. The war on medical cannabis is no different. It's not simply a battle of politics and laws that takes place in legislatures and courtrooms. It is a war that is being waged in our neighborhoods on a daily basis, adversely affecting millions of people every year, and costing the U.S. taxpayers hundreds of million dollars. Yet patients will not be deterred. As long as research supports the therapeutic value of cannabis and physicians continue to recommend it in order to treat the symptoms of serious and chronic illnesses, patients will seek it out.
Each of the individuals profiled in this report diligently followed state law and/or the advice of a physician. It is our hope that by putting a human face on this issue, we can stop these expensive and harmful attacks, and inspire sensible policy reform aimed at harmonizing state and federal laws.
In addition to exposing the cost of the federal government's enforcement actions, I want to acknowledge the scores of Americans who have stood up in the face of this misguided policy to demand compassion, scientific integrity, and respect for the will of the people. They have inspired a nation to change. My heart goes out to all the individuals profiled in this report, as well as their families, and all those who have suffered in silence.
Together, as a nation, we must change federal law so that our sick and dying can battle their illnesses instead of their government.
It is Time for Peace for Patients!