Pubdate: Sun, 16 Dec 2012
Source: Cullman Times, The (AL)
Copyright: 2012 Associated Press
Author: Paul Elias
Page: 5A


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - President Barack Obama says he won't go after 
pot users in Colorado and Washington, two states that just legalized 
the drug for recreational use. But advocates argue the president said 
the same thing about medical marijuana - and yet U.S. attorneys 
continue to force the closure of dispensaries across the U.S.

Welcome to the confusing and often conflicting policy on pot in the 
U.S., where medical marijuana is legal in many states, but it is 
increasingly difficult to grow, distribute or sell it. And at the 
federal level, at least officially, it is still an illegal drug everywhere.

Obama's statement Friday provided little clarity in a world where 
marijuana is inching ever so carefully toward legitimacy. That 
conflict is perhaps the greatest in California, where the state's 
four U.S. Attorneys criminally prosecuted large growers and launched 
a coordinated crackdown on the state's medical marijuana industry 
last year by threatening landlords with property forfeiture actions. 
Hundreds of pot shops went out of business.

Steve DeAngelo, executive director of an Oakland, Calif., dispensary 
that claims to be the nation's largest, called for a federal policy 
that treats recreational and medical uses of the drug equally.

"If we're going to recognize the rights of recreational users, then 
we should certainly protect the rights of medical cannabis patients 
who legally access the medicine their doctors have recommended," he said.

The government is planning to soon release policies for dealing with 
marijuana in Colorado and Washington, where federal law still 
prohibits pot, as elsewhere in the country.

"It would be nice to get something concrete to follow," said William 
Osterhoudt, a San Francisco criminal defense attorney representing 
government officials in Mendocino County who recently received a 
demand from federal investigators for detailed information about a 
local system for licensing growers of medical marijuana.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said he was frustrated by Obama's comments 
because the federal government continues to shutter dispensaries in 
states with medical marijuana laws, including California.

"A good step here would be to stop raiding those legal dispensaries 
who are doing what they are allowed to do by law," said the San 
Francisco Democrat. "There's a feeling that the federal government 
has gone rogue on hundreds of legal, transparent medical marijuana 
dispensaries, so there's this feeling of them being in limbo. And it 
puts the patients, the businesses and the advocates in a very untenable place."

Obama, in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, said Friday that 
federal authorities have "bigger fish to fry" when it comes to 
targeting recreational pot smokers in Colorado and Washington.

Some advocates said the statement showed the president's willingness 
to allow residents of states with marijuana laws to use the drug 
without fear of federal prosecution.

"It's a tremendous step forward," said Joe Elford, general counsel 
for Americans for Safe Access. "It suggests the feds are taking 
seriously enough the idea that there should be a carve-out for states 
with marijuana laws."

Obama's statements on recreational use mirror the federal policy 
toward states that allow marijuana use for medical purposes.

"We are not focusing on backyard grows with small amounts of 
marijuana for use by seriously ill people," said Lauren Horwood, a 
spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner in Sacramento. "We are 
targeting money-making commercial growers and distributors who use 
the trappings of state law as cover, but they are actually abusing state law."

Alison Holcomb, who led the legalization drive in Washington state, 
said she doesn't expect Obama's comment to prompt the federal 
government to treat recreational marijuana and medical marijuana differently.

"At this point, what the president is looking at is a response to 
marijuana in general. The federal government has never recognized the 
difference between medical and non-medical marijuana," she said. "I 
don't think this is the time he'd carve out separate policies. I 
think he's looking for a more comprehensive response."

Washington voters approved a medical marijuana law in 1998, and 
dispensaries have proliferated across the state in recent years.

Last year, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed legislation that would have 
created a state system for licensing medical dispensaries over 
concern that it would require state workers to violate the federal 
Controlled Substances Act. For the most part, dispensaries in western 
Washington have been left alone. But federal authorities did conduct 
raids earlier this year on dispensaries they said were acting outside 
the state law, such as selling marijuana to non-patients. Warning 
letters have been sent to dispensaries that operate too close to schools.

"What we've seen is enforcement of civil laws and warnings, with a 
handful of arrests of people who were operating outside state law," 
Holcomb said.

Eastern Washington has seen more raids because the U.S. attorney 
there is more active, Holcomb added.

Colorado's marijuana measure requires lawmakers to allow commercial 
pot sales, and a state task force that will begin writing those 
regulations meets Monday.

State officials have reached out to the Justice Department seeking 
help on regulating a new legal marijuana industry but haven't heard back.

DeAngelo said Friday that the Justice Department should freeze all 
pending enforcement actions against legal medical cannabis providers 
and review its policies to make sure they're consistent with the 
president's position. He estimated federal officials have shuttered 
600 dispensaries in the state nationwide.

DeAngelo's Harborside Health Center is facing eviction after the U.S. 
attorney in San Francisco pressured his landlord to stop harboring 
what the government considers an illegal business.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom