Pubdate: Fri, 30 Dec 2005
Source: Austin Chronicle (TX)
Column: Weed Watch
Copyright: 2005 Austin Chronicle Corp.
Author: Jordan Smith
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Cited: Gonzales v. Raich
Cited: Congressional Research Service report
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Sioux hemp)


DEA agents have been doing their very best impression of the Grinch 
this month by carrying out a string of raids at medi-pot dispensaries 
in San Diego and San Francisco, Calif. On Dec. 12, a contingent of 
agents simultaneously executed 13 warrants in San Diego County, 
seizing dozens of pounds of marijuana, computer equipment, and 
patient files from the store front operations that provide sick and 
dying medi-mari patients who use the drug in accordance with the 
state's Compassionate Use Act. Then, on Dec. 20, agents struck again, 
in an early-morning raid at the San Francisco home of Steve and Cathy 
Smith who run the HopeNet medi-pot dispensary, which, in part, 
subsidizes the cost of medi-pot for low-income patients.

Agents seized 126 plants, cash, computers, and, possibly, patient 
files from the Smith's home, said Hilary McQuie with the medi-pot 
patients advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. News of the raid 
sparked a protest outside the HopeNet office, where approximately 100 
patients stood in the rain staring down DEA agents who sat in their 
cars for several hours before leaving. Although the patients thought 
that meant victory, the agents returned at about 6pm, after the 
patients left, to raid the dispensary, said McQuie, after hitting 
HopeNet's warehouse facility where agents seized another 500 plants.

"I am totally in shock and bewildered," Steve Smith told the San Jose 
Mercury-News. "I don't know how I am going to take care of my 
patients. Some are dying right now."

Interestingly, the feds have yet to file criminal charges against any 
of the people involved with the San Diego or San Francisco 
operations. The December raids in California are the most 
high-profile busts the feds have undertaken since the U.S. Supreme 
Court ruled this summer that the government, under the Commerce 
Clause, may pursue medicinal marijuana patients, and their suppliers, 
for violating the Controlled Substances Act, which bans the use of marijuana.

In Gonzales v. Raich, a majority of the court opined that because 
marijuana is illegal under federal law, even California's wholly 
intrastate medi-pot industry may actually have some collateral effect 
- -- either positive or negative -- on the illegal trafficking of pot 
across state lines, thus allowing the feds to stick their noses into 
what would otherwise be considered state business. In the years 
before Angel Raich filed suit against the government in an effort to 
ban their interference, the feds had been on a veritable rampage of 
medi-pot raids.

While Raich was pending that activity slowed.

Since the June decision, things have been relatively quiet -- at 
least until last week. To McQuie, the raids feel like attempts at 
federal intimidation. "But it's not working," she said, noting that 
many of the dispensaries shut down by the San Diego action were open 
for business the very next day. "There is a need," she said. "If they 
close one [dispensary], another will open. So [this strategy] isn't 
going to work."

While federal drug cops in California have been busy taking medi-pot 
away from sick people, feds in South Dakota last week continued their 
quest to deny a group of American Indians on the Pine Ridge 
Reservation the ability to grow and sell industrial hemp. On Dec. 12, 
lawyers for Alex White Plume and members of his Lakota Nation family 
argued that the family should have a chance to challenge the DEA's 
assertion that they must first obtain government permission to grow 
industrial hemp on the family's reservation land. From 1999 to 2002, 
the White Plumes planted their crop and each year federal narcos came 
onto the land and destroyed the plants, before the DEA in 2002 
sought, and in late 2004 won, an injunction against the family, 
barring the White Plumes from planting hemp without DEA approval.

According to the government, hemp -- which contains only trace 
amounts of tetrahydrocannibinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in 
marijuana, and as such is not grown or sold as a consumable drug -- 
is equal to marijuana and is thus prohibited under the Controlled 
Substances Act. As such, according to the DEA, the White Plumes are 
barred from growing industrial hemp, which is commonly used in food, 
body care products, and numerous consumer textile products.

Ironically, hemp farming was perfectly legal in the U.S. until the 
1970s (when changes to the CSA made continued cultivation untenable), 
and the feds actually encouraged hemp farming during World War II. As 
it stands, the U.S. is now the only "developed" nation without an 
"established" hemp crop, according to a report released this spring 
by the Congressional Research Service. So far, the DEA's skewed view 
of what constitutes a "drug" is the only real obstacle standing 
between farmers and hemp seeds.

According to the DEA, hemp farming would somehow increase the "covert 
production" of narcotic marijuana, which in turn would hinder their 
(otherwise successful?) war on drugs.

Ostensibly, the DEA allows for controlled hemp farming -- but only by 
permit, and the agency has awarded a total of one (which has since 
expired) to growers in Hawaii -- and has yet to rule on several 
permit requests, including a 6-year-old application filed by a North 
Dakota researcher. As such, the White Plumes' lawyers argue, the 
DEA's insistence that the Lakota need permission to continue their 
Pine Ridge operation is simply ludicrous -- a contention obviously 
not lost on members of the three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit 
Court of Appeals, which is currently considering the White Plumes' 
appeal. Indeed, as it stands, products made from hemp are perfectly 
legal, but, because of the DEA and the CSA, hemp products 
manufactured in the U.S. are made from hemp that is legally imported 
from Canada and Europe. "It seems a little asinine to me" that hemp 
can be imported to, but not grown in the U.S., Judge Arlen Beam 
commented during oral arguments in St. Louis. "It doesn't make a lot 
of sense," he continued, that the government would think the Native 
American economy is "better enhanced" by casino gambling, than by 
"productively utilizing the land" by growing a sustainable commodity 
like hemp. Indeed, the White Plumes' recent attempts to grow hemp 
were part of a multiyear contract with two U.S. hemp companies, which 
would've brought the White Plume family approximately $180,000 in 
income -- quadrupling the family's current income on the Pine Ridge 
reservation where the unemployment rate hovers around 60%.

None of that is relevant, however, argued Assistant U.S. Attorney 
Mark Salter. "The reality is that hemp is marijuana," Salter said. 
And the White Plumes "never asked for permission." But the White 
Plumes say they simply don't need the DEA's permission to farm hemp 
on their land. The power to farm whatever crop they can was granted 
by two treaties, including the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, between 
the Lakota and the U.S. government, long before the DEA was even a 
twinkle in the federal eye. The Lakota have actually been farming 
hemp since the time of those treaties, argue the White Plumes' 
lawyers, and as such, the feds have no power to stop them now. In 
granting an injunction last year, attorney David Frankel argues, the 
court "completely ignored relevant Indian law, the treaties, [and] 
the Constitution."

A decision in the case is expected early next year.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake