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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

U.S. Attorney Makes a Case to Legalize Marijuana in California

Posted By on Wed, May 29, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Now what are you gonna do with that?
  • Now what are you gonna do with that?

Obama's cops are finally for pot?

Sure, in a way. In Washington and Colorado, where small amounts of marijuana are legal for adults, the federal Justice Department isn't as interested in busting cannabis users, medical or otherwise, as the feds are eager to go after cannabis in California, a federal prosecutor noted.

That's because, according to Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California -- one of the four federal prosecutors who announced a crackdown on the state's legal weed in November 2011 -- the laws that have allowed the medical use of the plant for almost 17 years are just no good.

California is a "free-for-all" in Wagner's eyes, according to the Sacramento News and Review, which captured the rare explanation for the Obama Administration's prosecutions. The state-legal cannabis operations that make up 3 percent of Wagner's case load are in trouble because they're "loosely described," the newspaper reported.

The explanation is a puzzling one. After all, it's not loosely described state law that's landed medical cannabis providers like Scott Feil in prison and the state's biggest dispensary, Harborside Health Center, in risk of being put out of business -- it's federal law, which fairly plainly says all use of marijuana is illegal.

Not that anyone is defending California state law. This week, reforms to the 2003 Legislature bill and the 1996 ballot initiative that have led to dispensaries selling medical cannabis in California passed the state Senate. Though the "reforms" are merely a "ratification" of sorts of the 2008 guidelines for medical cannabis written by now-Gov. Jerry Brown.

Alleged violations of state law have been noted by the feds when writing federal charges, the Justice Department has said in the past -- but neither Wagner nor Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney for Northern California based in San Francisco, whose office has effected the shutdown of eight dispensaries in San Francisco and who has sued to shut down the biggest pot clubs in both Berkeley and Oakland, have ever identified what state laws the likes of HopeNet or Vapor Room have violated.

Harborside, Oakland's biggest taxpayer and the largest dispensary in the country, has in fact been successful in state court actions brought by its landlord -- it was obeying the law, as far as California courts have found.

Haag's office has filed property forfeiture actions against dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland, Marin County, and San Francisco.

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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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