By Jacob Sullum
"At the end of the day, California law doesn't matter," a spokesman for André Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, says in Tim Fernholz's recent New Republic piece about the Justice Department's medical marijuana crackdown. Birotte, you may recall, tried to finesse this question byclaiming there is not a single medical marijuana dispensary in his district (which covers Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Bernardino, and San Luis Obispo counties) that complies with state law, which allows nonprofit distribution by patient collectives or cooperatives. But as Fernnholz notes, it is clear from the feds' indiscriminate enforcement actions that Birotte and California's three other U.S. attorneys do not care about such legal niceties:
The U.S. Attorneys' enforcement actions haven't been limited to...egregious state lawbreakers. Indeed, they've sent letters to non-profit cooperatives warning that they could be prosecuted and their property seized. In Mendocino County, DEA agents raided the farm of a grower known for working closely with the local Sheriff to regulate marijuana, down to individually marking each of his plants with a zip-tie to confirm that it was allowed by state law.
While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or [by] the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California. I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice's stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on significant traffickers of illegal drugs.
I traced the twists and turns of the Obama administration's medical marijuana policy in the October issue of Reason. Yesterday I noted that the forbearance promised by the president depends on the whims of federal officials in each state.