Pubdate: Thu, 27 Dec 2001
Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Copyright: 2001 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.
Page: 34
Author: Daniel Forbes
Cited: Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center
California NORML
Bookmarks: (Forbes, Daniel) (Ashcroft, John) (Hutchinson, Asa) (Cannabis - Medicinal) (Terrorism)


Who Sent The Anthrax? Who Knows? The Feds Are Too Busy Cracking Down On 
Medical Marijuana And Physician-Assisted Suicides.

AT A TIME when seventy-three percent of Americans support allowing doctors 
to recommend medical marijuana, the Drug Enforcement Administration is 
moving fast to shut down patient cooperatives in California. Only a month 
after ardent drug warrior Asa Hutchinson was confirmed as the agency's new 
chief, agents raided the office of a doctor and her lawyer husband in Cool, 
California, who focused their shared practice on advising medical-marijuana 
clients. More than 6,000 confidential patient records were seized. In 
Lockwood Valley, near Los Angeles, two dozen agents tore up hundreds of 
plants on a ranch that supplied the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center. 
In Octoher, hundreds of plants and thousands of patient files were removed, 
and bank accounts frozen, at the LACRC, a well-established club known for 
carefully selecting only very ill patients.

The no-notice raids followed last May's Supreme Court ruling that marijuana 
distribution for medical use is not exempt from federal law, and subsequent 
calls for action by members of Congress. The Clinton administration chose 
not to prosecute members of medical-marijuana cooperatives - John Coleman, 
a thirty-two-year DEA agent, says, "I don't think they had an interest in 
it, frankly." Bush nominee Hutchinson was ambiguous about medical-marijuana 
enforcement during pre-confirmation questioning by the Senate. But the day 
he assumed command, on August zest, he declared his intention to "send the 
right signal" regarding medical marijuana. "You're not going to tolerate a 
violation of law," he told the Associated Press. "Within thirty minutes of 
his confirmation," says Keith Stroup, executive director of the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, "Hutchinson made it clear 
that the feds are not going to look the other way."

Even in the aftermath of September 11th, Attorney General John Ashcroft and 
DEA chief Hutchinson are not embarrassed to use precious resources to 
target such cooperatives as the LACRC, which is run by Scott Imler, who 
himself suffers from epilepsy. Their tough new policy is a direct attack on 
California's approved ballot initiative, Proposition 215, which permits the 
cultivation and use of small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes, and 
on similar laws in seven other states.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, says 
the local raid had "been in the works for a while." It may have been 
prompted, in part, by a letter to Ashcroft from Mark E. Souder, R-Ind., 
chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees federal drug policy, 
following the Supreme Court ruling. Souder wrote, "We urge you to now move 
swiftly to give effect to that ruling throughout the United States with 
respect to 'medical marijuana' provisions contrary to the court's unanimous 

Souder also requested that the General Accounting Office, the investigative 
arm of Congress, determine how the eight states with medical-marijuana 
provisions are overseeing these new laws. Paul Jones, the GAO official in 
charge of the effort, says he received Souder's request in June and 
currently has "three or four" full-time staffers working on it.

Oddly enough, the GAO's first move was to visit the LACRC, purportedly to 
learn how the organization worked. Imler charges that the four analysts who 
came to the club took scant interest in his diligent records. Instead, they 
pressed him on where he got his pot. He showed them his grow room with its 
hundreds of plants and also mentioned his off-site suppliers, Lynn and Judy 
Osburn, who grew substantial amounts for the club at their home in Ventura 
County. Hearing this, Imler says, the GAO analysts left in a great hurry. 
Within an hour, a search warrant was signed for the Osburns, who were 
raided the next day. "It was strictly coincidental - to my knowledge, there 
was no connection," says Jones. Within weeks, the L.A. club was hit as 
well. Thirty armed agents carried out seizures of medicine, computers and 
equipment, despite opposition by members of the West Hollywood City 
Council, who protested outside. Since 1996, when the club was founded, the 
council and the sheriff's department have been supportive of the group.

No one connected with the LACRC has been charged to date; in a trial, the 
government would have to face California jurors' reluctance to convict 
medical-marijuana defendants. But the center is effectively out of business 
solely through the execution of a search warrant. Before the Supreme Court 
decision in May, the federal government sought injunctions to close down 
Bay Area clubs; now it just engages in what one club director refers to as 
"smash and grab" raids.

Speaking for the DEA, Mrozek defends the L.A. seizure as "a legitimate 
investigative technique," akin to gathering evidence from a stock-- fraud 
operation. But Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., objected, saying, "I'm 
surprised and concerned that the LACRC was a top priority for the DEA. I 
would think they should focus on more significant threats."

Cannabis-club operators throughout California are fearful. One government 
official says, "The Bay Area is next on the hit list, yes, at some point." 
The official adds, "It's my understanding the government is going to move 
against all the clubs."

California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer says that three or four Bay 
Area clubs have reported surveillance, with several cars with tinted 
windows repeatedly parked outside. One young arthritis patient, Jeff 
Horner, was recently visited by ten armed DEA agents at his Oakland home 
and pressured to go to a club one or two were mentioned as possible targets 
- - to buy marijuana clones to turn over to the DEA. Despite Horner's 
refusal, Gieringer expects "a big sweep" any day now. In early November, a 
San Francisco cooperative that served 1,200 patients pre-emptively shut down.

SICK PEOPLE AREN'T HUTCHINSON'S only targets - so are drug-- test cheaters. 
On October 9th, the DEA issued a new rule outlawing all food - such as 
pasta or beer - made with hemp, which might contain trace elements of THC, 
the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. In the past few years, some 
people who have failed drug tests have kept their jobs by claiming they 
hadn't smoked pot but had eaten food such as cheese or a veggie burger made 
with hemp oil. This policy shift attempts to prevent such excuses. Clothing 
made with hemp is not affected - yet.

"The recent enforcement action is indicative that we have not lost our 
priorities in other areas since September uth," said Justice Department 
spokeswoman Susan Dryden. But the Bush administration's priorities on the 
issue of medical marijuana are completely at odds with those of the public.

[sidebar by Erika Casriel]


ON NOVEMBER 6TH, DURING a week in which he announced a top-to-bottom 
"wartime reorganization and mobilization" of the Justice Department and 
law-enforcement agencies, Attorney General John Ashcroft found the time to 
issue a memo and a twenty-four-page brief threatening Oregon's doctors. His 
directive aims to override a law, passed twice by Oregon voters, that 
allows doctors to issue prescriptions that may hasten the deaths of the 
terminally ill.

His action is a radical move for a man who has been a devout advocate of 
states' rights for the past forty years. "Here is a person who defied court 
orders during his tenure as attorney general and governor of Missouri with 
respect to desegregation of the St. Louis schools, saying the federal 
government was exceeding its authority," says Ralph G. Neas, president of 
the civil-liberties group People for the American Way.

Under current law in Oregon, a doctor cannot administer a lethal dose; a 
patient must ingest the drug himself. The Death With Dignity Act has been 
operating for four years in the state, where about 29,000 people a year die 
but where only seventy people so far are recorded to have died through 
assisted suicide.

Coming in the midst of the anthrax scare, Ashcroft's attack on the 
physician-assisted-suicide law surprised people in Oregon. "It's almost 
touching that the attorney general found a moment for us," wrote a 
commentator in The Oregonian. But Ashcroft is only following up, at a 
higher level, on a crusade he launched years ago with other senators. He 
supported bills in 1998 and zooo that would have amended the Controlled 
Substances Act to criminalize assisted suicide. And last year, during a 
campaign appearance, George W. Bush vowed to challenge Oregon's law, 
saying, "Controlled substances to control pain are fine, to take a life is 
not fine." This year, both the National Right to Life Committee and the 
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pressured Bush and Ashcroft on this 
issue. While Bush's decision to allow some stem-cell research disappointed 
the groups, the Oregon crackdown has encouraged them.

No one in Oregon's congressional delegation knew this decision was coming, 
not even Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, an enemy of the assistedsuicide law. 
But Scott Swenson, executive director of Oregon Death With Dignity, says 
that the administration's attempt at stealth has backfired. "They did this 
on Election Day, in the middle of a war - they wanted this thing buried, 
but it didn't work." Ashcroft's legal standing is uncertain: States have 
always had jurisdiction over the regulation of medical practice, and the 
Controlled Substances Act has yet to be amended to give new authority to 
the federal government. Now a brutal court battle looms between the Oregon 
attorney general and the Justice Department. "Given everything the country 
is going through right now," said Oregon's Gov. John Kitzhaber, "why John 
Ashcroft picked this moment to inject this divisive issue into the public 
debate is just beyond me." 
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