HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html U.S. Cracks Down On Medical Marijuana In California
Pubdate: Wed, 31 Oct 2001
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
Author: Greg Winter
Related: Medical Marijuana Center In Mourning
Bookmarks: (Cannabis - Medicinal) (Oakland Cannabis Court Case) (Cannabis - California)


LOS ANGELES, Oct. 30 -- Armed with a favorable ruling from the Supreme 
Court, the Bush administration has begun its first major crackdown on the 
distribution of marijuana for medical purposes, Justice Department 
officials say.

In the last month, federal agents in California have uprooted a marijuana 
garden run by patients, seized the files of a doctor and lawyer who 
recommended the drug for thousands of sick clients and raided one of the 
state's largest cannabis clubs, in West Hollywood, where more than 900 
people with ailments like cancer and AIDS bought the drug with the blessing 
of city officials.

The sudden rush of enforcement, coming three years after the last federal 
raid on a "medical marijuana" club in Oakland, represents the Justice 
Department's renewed attempt to impose federal drug laws in states that 
have legalized marijuana use for people who are sick or dying.

Basing its efforts on a unanimous Supreme Court decision last May, which 
effectively rendered the distribution of marijuana through large 
cooperatives illegal, the Justice Department said that more actions would 
probably follow, despite its current focus on fighting terrorism.

"The recent enforcement is indicative that we have not lost our priorities 
in other areas since Sept. 11," said Susan Dryden, a spokeswoman for the 

"The attorney general and the administration have been very clear: We will 
be aggressive," Ms. Dryden said, adding that the department did not 
differentiate between medical marijuana and other illegal drugs.

The recent raids have enraged local officials, who not only support medical 
marijuana clubs but also sometimes help to set them up. The City of West 
Hollywood, for example, co-signed the mortgage for the Los Angeles Cannabis 
Resource Center that was raided last week and helped to get the club listed 
as a member of the local chamber of commerce.

"This was a serious effort to provide relief for people who were ill," said 
Steve Martin, a councilman in West Hollywood. "The Bush administration is 
forcing sick people to become criminals."

Some medical professionals are equally concerned about the recent seizure 
of medical records and legal files from a doctor and her husband, a lawyer, 
who run a clinic of sorts in Cool, northeast of Sacramento. The pair, 
federal agents say, coached their patients how to evade arrest and supplied 
them with marijuana grown in their home and a greenhouse out back.

"Federal and state law enforcement authorities have no business interfering 
with the doctor-patient relationship," said Peter Warren, a spokesman for 
the California Medical Association, which supports using medical marijuana 
when other treatments have failed. "It's especially shocking in this time 
of national crisis that federal agents are out there tossing doctor's offices."

Federal officials did not specify why they have focused their efforts on 
California, as opposed to seven other states that have passed similar 
initiatives, saying they did not want to compromise investigations taking 
place elsewhere.

Some of those investigations, federal officials acknowledge, may be taking 
longer than anticipated, in part because the interest in cracking down on 
distributors of medical marijuana is not equally shared throughout the 
Justice Department.

Still, local politicians and advocates argue that California is a natural 
target for enforcement, since it has far more marijuana clubs than other 
states, with many more patients buying from them.

The recent enforcement actions have not yet resulted in any criminal 
charges, which would give rise to jury trials. In the past, the Justice 
Department has sought injunctions from judges, rather than face jurors who 
might be sympathetic to the idea of supplying those suffering from 
debilitating or terminal illnesses with marijuana. In a nationwide poll in 
March by the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of respondents said they 
supported allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana.

Justice Department officials said criminal charges might be forthcoming, 
and certainly were a part of their policy to thwart the illegal 
distribution of drugs, including medical marijuana. Even short of bringing 
charges, though, the recent enforcement actions have had their impact. Left 
without medical records to verify legitimate patients and, perhaps most 
important, devoid of any marijuana to pass out, the cannabis club in West 
Hollywood, for example, is effectively shut down.

In response, advocates of medical marijuana say they are looking at ways of 
bringing states directly into the business of distributing the drug, 
something the Supreme Court ruling did not specifically prohibit.

The constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana in Nevada 
last year, for instance, specified that the state must make sure that 
patients there can obtain the drug legally. As a result, the state is 
asking the federal government to supply it with marijuana for those in 
need, providing a model that advocates would like to duplicate in future 
ballot measures.

"If these initiatives passed, then how would the administration enforce 
federal law? By arresting the governor?" asked Bill Zimmerman, executive 
director of the Campaign for New Drug Policies, which helped draft the 
eight medical marijuana measures that have passed. "It would produce too 
much of a crisis."
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