WASHINGTON --- On the day Eric Holder was sworn in as the new U.S. Attorney General, the Drug Enforcement Administration conducted raids on at least one medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles and possibly two others in the area.
No arrests were made, but typical of such raids, money and medical marijuana were seized from the facility. Advocates are urging the new head of the Department of Justice to respect existing medical marijuana laws and end federal raids in California and other states.
As a follow-up to promises made by President Barack Obama during his election campaign, advocates are calling on the new president and his newly confirmed Attorney General to end federal raids in California and other medical marijuana states.
Then-Senator Obama stated in August 2007 that he "would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users...It's not a good use of our resources." Then, in March 2008 President Obama publicly commented that "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue."
Advocates have been waiting in anticipation of Holder's confirmation so that President Obama's new medical marijuana policy can be put into effect.
"As the new Attorney General, one of Eric Holder's top priorities should be to end these harmful raids on state-sanctioned medical marijuana providers," said Caren Woodson, director of government affairs with Americans for Safe Access, the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy organization. "And, until a new head of the DEA is confirmed, Holder has a responsibility to cease the existing policy being carried out by Bush Administration officials."
On January 22, 2009, only two days after President Obama took office, a Bush Administration holdover, acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, called for a raid on a South Lake Tahoe medical marijuana dispensary. While this was the first federal raid conducted under the Obama Administration, it was merely an example of more than one hundred DEA raids in California and other states over the past couple of years. "Attorney General Holder has the ability to halt this harmful and outdated policy," said Woodson. "And he should do so immediately."
Another immediate policy change that advocates are requesting of incoming Attorney General Holder is to end the federal monopoly on the cultivation of research-grade marijuana. As head of the Justice Department, Holder has the ability to work toward expanded medical marijuana research in accordance with DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner's 2007 recommendations, which found that medical marijuana research was "in the public interest."
"The DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) coordinate the obstruction of meaningful research on medical marijuana, and instead prioritize studying its harmful effects," said Woodson. "Attorney General Holder has the opportunity here to open up avenues for the development of a medicine that benefits hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S."
ASA has provided a comprehensive set of policy recommendations to the Obama Administration, including: 1) ending federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers, 2) expanding research into the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana, and 3) the establishment of a comprehensive federal policy that allows U.S. citizens to benefit from the therapeutic qualities of medical marijuana. These recommendations have been used and will continue to be used by ASA and its grassroots membership to seek meaningful policy change in this new administration.
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