Going Rogue: U.S. Attorneys in California Defy Obama on Medical Marijuana

Instead of following the directive of the President and Attorney General on this matter, California U.S. Attorneys were blatantly ignoring the directive concerning compliance with state law.
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Last week, the Alameda County (CA) Board of Supervisors passed a resolution asking the Federal government to, "end Federal interference on the municipal and state laws allowing medical marijuana, and... requests that President Obama begin a discussion about the potential benefits of reforming federal laws on marijuana use in all forms, including medicinal and recreational uses." Their desire for clarification and support on this issue is understandable. Two of the oldest and most respected dispensaries in California, Harborside Health Center and Berkeley Patients Group, both in Alameda County, have been targeted by the Feds on numerous occasions, even in light of strict regulations imposed by their localities, and a squeaky clean track record of providing both a crucial public health service and a large amount of tax revenue.

On its face, the resolution sounds like a plea to start this conversation with President Obama; however, as we are now learning, this has less to do with orders from the POTUS, and more to do with the vendetta that the U.S. Attorneys in California have against well regulated medical marijuana facilities. The President has been clear about his intentions regarding medical marijuana for quite some time now. During his 2008 campaign, Obama stated that, "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." Then, in 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated that the Feds would only be going after medical marijuana businesses in violation of both Federal and state law. Although California's medical marijuana program is not administered on the state level, numerous localities, including Oakland and Berkeley, both in Alameda Co., developed their own regulations and processes for licensing and overseeing medical marijuana dispensaries.

In an effort to ensure compliance with state law, facilities like Harborside and Berkeley Patients Group worked closely with local officials to ensure they were in compliance. So, in 2011, when the four U.S. Attorneys in California announced a crackdown on medical marijuana businesses that were not complying with state law, these dispensaries should have been safe from prosecution. But, as it turns out, the U.S. Attorneys were not playing fair. Instead of going after businesses that were unlicensed or that had received complaints from the community, the U.S. Attorneys targeted some of the most well run and respected entities in the state, including Harborside, Berkeley Patients Group, the Vapor Room in San Francisco, and the Marin Alliance, which was the oldest dispensary in the state. Outrage ensued as supporters accused Obama of going back on his word and questioned the fiscal utility of this crack down. However, things are not always what they seem.

Recently, four cases brought by the U.S. Attorney's office in Southern California against landlords renting to dispensaries were dropped. In the process it was discovered that, instead of following the directive of the President and Attorney General on this matter, California U.S. Attorneys were blatantly ignoring the directive concerning compliance with state law, and were instead insisting that state level medical marijuana laws had no weight as long as marijuana was illegal on a Federal level. This was revealed via several emails from the Assistant U.S. Attorney that were obtained by the lawyer defending the dispensary owners and landlords. In the emails, Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Parham makes numerous statements about his office not acknowledging state medical marijuana laws, or the directive of the Attorney General on this matter with statements like, "I told her (defendant) that Congress would have to change the law before we would be persuaded to discontinue our efforts." And, "She (defendant) said that they were operating lawfully under state law. I explained the state/federal law issue to her and made it clear that we are enforcing federal law."

The recent resolution passed by Alameda County was courageous and reflective of the work the localities in the county have put into regulating medical marijuana. However, maybe it is misguided. Maybe instead of asking the Obama administration to call off their dogs, they should be asking them to investigate the activities of these U.S. Attorneys, as it is clear that they are not respecting the directives of the President or Attorney General, and have instead decided to go rogue, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs, huge amounts of tax revenue, and safe access to marijuana for patients in California.

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