Turns out the federal Justice Department's almost-yearlong crackdown on state-legal medical cannabis has nothing to do with hard-line drug warriors, forfeiture numbers, President Barack Obama's reelection effort -- or even marijuana itself.
Shutting dispensaries in California, Colorado, Montana, and Washington is all an attempt at political misdirection, with a state-legal industry as the unfortunate collateral damage, according to journalist Martin A. Lee.
Attorney General Eric Holder directed his prosecutors to dismantle legal weed so that he could distract Republican congressmen and Justice Department officials from his mishandling of the "Fast and Furious" gun-walking scandal, Lee, the author of an upcoming social history of marijuana, said in an article published this weekend on Truthout.
It's not the wildest attempt at finding meaning behind the crackdown, an effort for which the Justice Department seems to have limited enthusiasm and even less political support. Though it does conveniently ignore a few key points -- including the fact that prosecutors cracked down on marijuana months before anyone had heard of "gun-walking."
Lee's offering, which was widely circulated and read within the marijuana movement over the weekend, contains no "smoking gun": no unearthed documents, no new testimony or other sources, not even an unnamed administration official (which was the basis upon which a July GQ article promising a rollback of the Drug War in Obama's second term rested).
Lee relies instead on correlation: It was on Oct. 7, 2011, that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and a Holder scourge, received a letter from the attorney general in which Holder defended his handling of "Fast and Furious." That was the same day Holder played the "ace up his sleeve," according to Lee -- the day which the four U.S. prosecutors in California announced the statewide crackdown on dispensaries at a Sacramento press conference.
"The Justice Department green-lit a scorched earth campaign against
medicinal cannabis in order to placate law enforcement and control the
damage from the Fast and Furious scandal by deflecting attention to
other matters," Lee writes. "The DEA waged an all-out vendetta against what Proposition 215 had
unloosed. The drug police weren't just going after the bad apples; they
were going after every apple in the barrel."
Fast and Furious's existence became known after U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in a skirmish with Mexican nationals in Arizona in December 2010. The guns were linked to Fast and Furious.
Never mind that as a distraction, the marijuana crackdown has failed miserably: late Sunday, Issa announced plans to sue Holder to force the release of documents that Issa says will reveal the attorney general's knowledge of and participation in the scheme. This follows a House vote in which Holder was found in contempt.
And never mind still that Holder had his eyes on marijuana in the months before Terry's death. In October 2010, Holder warned California officials that the Controlled Substances Act would be "vigorously enforce[d]" if Proposition 19 passed and adult-use marijuana became legal in California.
Holder's attorneys were also working on the marijuana issue before Fast and Furious entered the Washington lexicon: U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag warned Oakland officials in a Feb. 2011 memo that federal action could be coming.
Later that summer, in a missive signed by DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart and Deputy Attorney General James Cole, federal officials stated again that enforcing drug laws is a "core priority," especially when considering large, organized operations.
Also, never mind that the Justice Department's new war on marijuana has been conducted without -- at least in the Bay Area -- a single armed law enforcement officer. Haag has shut down seven dispensaries in San Francisco and more in Berkeley and Marin using property forfeiture notices, sent to landlords via registered mail.
And, as SF Weekly noted on Friday, Justice Department officials have conveniently ignored all of San Jose, where all dispensaries break local law.
Holder has performed poorly as attorney general as far as the marijuana issue is concerned, repeating on record assurances that only operations that break state law attract federal attention. This has been shown to be untrue, time and again. But if Lee is right, and this is a failed publicity effort, it would be within the character Holder has revealed to date.
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