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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

California Congressmen Push Spending Cuts on Federal Marijuana Enforcement

Posted By on Wed, May 9, 2012 at 7:33 AM

click to enlarge Rep. Sam Farr wants to help budget-cutters - UCSC
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  • Rep. Sam Farr wants to help budget-cutters

National budget hawks incensed over San Francisco's supposedly profligate spending ought to spend a few minutes in Congress, observing the dollar requests submitted by federal departments.

Take the $28.2 billion, 111,998-employee federal Department of Justice, for example. The country's 12,000 employees in United States Attorneys Offices rang up just short of $2 billion in salaries, according to government figures. At the Drug Enforcement Administration, the 8,300 agents and other staffers rang up another $2.03 billion, figures show.

That's a big pile of cash, ripe for the trimming by budget hawks like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who had big plans to shave $500 billion from federal spending. And Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) would like to lend a hand.

Farr introduced an amendment to the DOJ spending bill currently in Congress that would strip from the feds any money used to "prevent states from implementing their own state laws" allowing medical marijuana. Small government and small spending? Now that should be in the Tea Partiers' wheelhouse.

Farr's amendment, along with Southern California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, and Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York, could come up for a debate on the House floor as early as Tuesday or Wednesday, according to David Beltran, a Farr spokesman. It would need a simple majority in order to pass.

This is seen as holding President Barack Obama accountable to his campaign pledge to stop using Justice Department resources on state-legal medical marijuana. This was, recall, a pledge seemingly backed up by Attorney General Eric Holder, and then contradicted by individual federal prosecutors.

In Northern California, this would theoretically mean less interference in state-legal medical marijuana from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, whose office has closed dispensaries in Berkeley, San Francisco, Marin County, and Santa Cruz. On Oct. 7, 2011, Haag and her counterparts in Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego began a coordinated crackdown on state-legal dispensaries, several hundred of which have closed.

It might not have prevented raids like the one on April 2 of Oaksterdam University in Oakland. That maneuver -- which effectively removed Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee from the equation and crippled the school, whose profits helped fund marijuana legalization measure Proposition 19 -- was performed by the Internal Revenue Service.

And its wording appears a bit nebulous. There's no mention of federal law -- which makes marijuana illegal, and which lawmakers such as Farr have the power to change, and which Haag has enforced all along. It appears the Justice Department could easily continue along its path closing California cannabis dispensaries, rightly claiming that it is merely enforcing federal law. If that gets in the way of states implementing their own laws, well, tell it to the judge.

It could eliminate federal assistance to state and local law enforcement, at least when it pertains to marijuana. It's unclear looking at raw budget figures exactly how that breaks down.

Even as a symbolic gesture, the push to stop spending money on medical marijuana is a worthy cause, according to Stephen Downing, retired deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

"If we can't count on the president to uphold his own campaign pledges not to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it's good to know we can at least count on some of our allies in Congress to try to force his hand," said Downing, who sits on the board of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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