Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
Late last week US attorneys announced a crackdown on the “large, for-profit medical marijuana industry” in California.
[The attorneys sent] letters of warning to landlords and lien holders of places in which marijuana is being sold illegally, “civil forfeiture lawsuits against properties involved in drug trafficking activity” and numerous criminal cases. The latter refers to arrests in recent weeks related to cases filed in federal courts in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno, all part of an effort that [US attorney Benjamin] Wagner claimed has resulted in the seizure of hundreds of pounds of marijuana, tens of thousands of plants and hundreds of thousands in cash.
In 1996, California became the first state in the US to legalize medical marijuana, and since then, dispensaries and growing operations have multiplied and prospered in California. In a domino effect, 15 states– including Arizona– have followed suit and created boutique laws regulating the sale, cultivation, and distribution of medical marijuana, AND cities and counties have created lower tiers of regulations to control where dispensaries and growing operations can be located and who can grow their own marijuana.
Even with layers upon layers of legislation, the bureaucrats and politicians have not been able to really control the spread of marijuana use. According to US government statistics, 16.7 million Americans 12 and older used marijuana at least once in the previous month (2009 data). Marijuana is believed to be the most widely used illegal “drug” in the US.
A poll released in August 2011 revealed that 55% of Americans support full legalization of marijuana— with Democrats (63%-33%) and Independents (61%-34%) favoring marijuana legalization and most Republicans (46%-56%) oppose the change. An ABC News poll from 2010 showed 81% of Americans support medical marijuana. Many states, counties, and cities have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.
With such widespread use of marijuana, majority support for legalization, and a burgeoning industry: What’s the big deal? Why are the feds cracking down now, when they have allowed this industry to grow and spread for 15 years? Because they’re making money. Legislation in California, Arizona, and other states dictates that medical marijuana should be a nonprofit industry. (What’s up with that? Aren’t we a country of capitalists?)
From FOX News in LA…
Pot shops around Southern California have been raided, including a growing operations in Riverside County. In Orange County, federal agents moved to seize a property in a forfeiture action on Thursday, and Drug Enforcement Agents raided several shops in San Diego County.
Federal agents announced Friday that medical marijuana shops operating outside of state law must close within 45 days or face civil and/or criminal prosecution.
“While California law permits collective cultivation of marijuana in limited circumstances, it does not allow commercial distribution through the store-front model we see across California,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said yesterday.
Warning letters have been mailed to dozens of pot shops and landlords that have been targeted.
Marijuana advocates said it was waste of federal resources.
A year or more ago, as many as 1,000 pot shop were in business in and around Los Angeles as confusion reigned over state and local laws regulating marijuana.
Back to my question: Why crack down now? My personal theory is that this is all Governor Jan Brewer’s and Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne’s fault. Arizona voters legalized medical marijuana in 2010– much to the chagrin of our Nanny State government. Since that passage, the state, county, and city governments in Arizona have thrown up dozens of roadblocks to implementation (ie, strict local zoning laws for dispensaries and growers, licensing fees*, a steep $130 annual fee* for medical marijuana cards, physician referrals, etc.)
The biggest roadblock Horne and Brewer could come up with was a full-on legal challenge to the federal government (something Arizona relishes). Horne and Brewer are asking the feds to clarify the question of legality. How can medical marijuana be legal, when marijuana is illegal? Can state employees be arrested for participating in the distribution of marijuana? Even though 1000s of Arizonans have jumped through the hurdles, paid the annual fee, and now hold a medical marijuana cards, Horne has halted implementation of the law until he receives a ruling from the federal government.
The federal government’s stance on medical marijuana is untenable. In some ways, the policy of looking the other way while marijuana use proliferates is like the government’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. “Hide your sexuality, and we won’t prosecute you.” “Hide that joint, and we’ll pretend you’re not smoking pot.”
US attorneys are challenging and shutting down a well-established, wide-spread, successful industry in because distributors are making money– not unlike the German brewers who were targeted by the temperance movement. Except for the temporary prohibition of alcohol— which led to widespread illegal use– what other product or industry has been persecuted like this? The sale of other mood-altering and sometimes-addictive drugs– pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and tobacco– is legal in the US and those industries do not have nonprofit status forced upon them. Why marijuana?
Maybe the time has come for legalization. I believe that the US attorneys are forcing a lawsuit (or multiple lawsuits) by cracking down on the country’s largest medical marijuana businesses. The patchwork of marijuana laws across the US is silly and inefficient, and the nonprofit requirements for medical marijuana are contrary to the country’s pro-business, for-profit underpinnings.
Many progressives have been disgruntled with President Obama’s conciliatory behavior toward Congressional conservatives; they feel that he has too often given in or compromised too early. Obama’s administration is not without progressive milestones. He increased the minimum wage, passed landmark healthcare reform, passed banking reform, repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, extended unemployment benefits, funded 1000s of teacher salaries and other public jobs when the states went broke, caught Osama bin Laden, tried to pass the DREAM Act, and continues to try to protect social safety net programs from Republican raids. What if he brought home the big kahuna– legalization of marijuana?
One of the reasons President Roosevelt and progressives repealed the prohibition was that the country needed that tax revenue from the sale of alcohol; our country could use the tax revenue from the sale of legal marijuana now. For this reason, some economists have predicted that legalization of marijuana is inevitable. Tom Horne and Jan Brewer may have pushed this issue forward.
*P.S. The 1000s of medical marijuana cardholders who have paid $130 for a card and the dozens of businesses who have rented space and paid state fees and have been prohibited from conducting legal business by Horne’s political lawsuit should sue the state.