Attorney General Eric Holder "lied" to members of Congress when he insisted that the only targets of the federal Justice Department's medical marijuana crackdown were breaking state law, cannabis advocates said today.
On Thursday, Holder told the House Judiciary Committee the same mantra he and the four California U.S. attorneys have been repeating since Oct. 7, when a statewide crackdown on the state's legal medical marijuana industry began: Only profit-making, state law-breaking marijuana dispensaries have been shut down. Unlike Bush, the Obama Justice Department has gone after only "those individuals (and) organizations that are acting out of conformity ... with state laws," Holder told Rep. Jerrold Nadler, (D-N.Y.)
Yet since the crackdown began, neither Holder nor his subordinates have shown any proof to back up his claims -- and indeed, dispensaries in Marin, San Francisco, Berkeley and now Los Angeles have been targeted for closure despite records of compliance and howls of protest from local government.
Holder -- the country's top law enforcement official -- is lying, California NORML director Dale Gieringer said.
Holder is correct in saying that his Justice Department has broken with the trend set by predecessors John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez: neither Republican attorney general was able to shut down eight Bay Area dispensaries without so much as a raid.
In San Francisco, all licensed dispensaries passed annual compliance checks from inspectors at the Department of Public Health, and generated only 11 citizen complaints in five years. Nonetheless, to date five have been closed, and four more targeted for closure, by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.
In a January interview, Haag said that the dispensaries were not breaking state law per se, but were merely "too close" to parks or schools. City law requires a 1,000-foot barrier between pot clubs and schools; looser state law requires only a 600-foot boundary.
In Mendocino County, Holder's lawyers have also interfered with local law enforcement: federal pressure shut down Sheriff Tom Allman's unique "zip-tie" program, in which pot growers received verification that they were legal in return for fees.
And the Berkeley Patients Group on San Pablo Avenue was shut down by Haag's office, despite protests from Mayor Tom Bates that the dispensary generated nothing but compliments.
This litany of abuses makes a mockery of Holder's statement to Congress, Gieringer said.
"Just days ago, the DOJ announced a new round of landlord letters in Los
Angeles County. Targets included the Hope Collective in Whittier,
which had been operating in full accordance with an ordinance approved
by the city council in 2006," he wrote in a statement. "The collective's director, Robert Ortiz,
says he was careful to operate transparently and in compliance with city
rules, applying for an operating permit in 2009, and only opening in
2010 after receiving a conditional use permit with 49 conditions