Bill to stop medical cannabis dispensary seizures introduced in Congress

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With recent federal crackdowns on medical cannabis dispensaries across California, a bill that would stop the federal government from seizing lawful dispensaries — such as the one that was closed down in Berkeley in May — was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives last week.

The legislation — introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and eight co-sponsors on Aug. 2 — would prevent the U.S. Department of Justice from using forfeiture laws to seize property from medical marijuana dispensaries that are compliant with state laws. The bill would not apply to dispensaries that do not follow state regulations.

“We should be protecting and implementing the will of voters, not undermining our democracy by prosecuting small business owners who pay taxes and comply with the laws of their states in providing medicine to patients in need,” Lee said in a press release.

Berkeley Patients Group, the oldest and largest of Berkeley’s three medical cannabis dispensaries, closed May 1 after receiving a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office warning the dispensary that it was in violation of a federal law that stipulates that dispensaries cannot be located within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds. However, California law only requires a 600-ft. distance between schools and dispensaries, and the dispensary has continued to operate via delivery.

On Oct. 7, 2011, the U.S Department of Justice announced a statewide effort to enforce regulations on the marijuana industry throughout California, which has resulted in contention between federal and state law. Since its announcement, the U.S. Department of Justice has sent letters to owners of commercial marijuana stores, warning them that they were not complying with federal laws and could be subject to closure, according to the department’s press release.

“Although all marijuana stores are illegal under federal law, I decided to use our limited resources to address those that are in close proximity to schools, parks and playgrounds and operations so large that they constitute marijuana superstores,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in a statement.

According to Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access — a group that advocates for the legal use of medical marijuana nationwide — more than 400 cannabis dispensaries have been shut down across the state since May 1, with well over a dozen in the Bay Area.

Last month, federal authorities moved to seize Harborside Health Center in Oakland — one of the largest dispensaries in California — and just last week, two dispensaries in San Francisco were shut down.

Hermes said despite hundreds of letters sent, the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted fewer than 10 property owners and took action on only a handful of marijuana stores.

“That’s been the weapon that the federal government has used to close some of the most popular dispensaries in the area … (but) the dispensaries abide by local laws and pay their taxes,” said Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The bill is being considered in committees, but many speculate that chances of the bill even passing through the committees are slim due to the Republican majority in Congress.

However, Dan Rush, chair of the Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission and director of the Medical Cannabis and Hemp Division at United Food Commercial Workers International Union, said support for the bill has gained momentum statewide.

“Congresswoman Lee is a hero,” Rush said. “She is defending union jobs, workers, and patients and … she’s found more and more support among congress members because this is the right thing to do.”

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  • MikeParent

    Let’s see who stand against this and campaign against them, wherever they are. They’re either ignorant or corrupt, as is the idiot posting negative votes on these posts!

  • Krymsun

    I feel the groundswell of support growing for the legalization of cannabis is very near its tipping-point.
    The logic of doing so is so undeniable, irrefutable and finally, enough people understand why.

    On this issue, I divide people into four categories: Those who get it, those who don’t get it, those who can’t, and those who won’t.

    Advocating legalization to those who already get it is simply preaching to the choir. This can make for a fun rally, and if loud enough, may help raise awareness among the other groups, if only that this issue hasn’t gone away.

    Of course, those who won’t actually do get it (at least in part), but refuse to concede the inevitable. For them, the reasons to do so are outweighed by other, more personal than global reasons not to agree with the growing majority who see the light. Largely they maintain their stance out of greed or fear.

    Of those who don’t yet get it, some may be educable. Those who aren’t, can’t be taught. Period.
    When those who can learn do grasp the facts, they will chose either to be of those who get it and agree, or those who won’t.

    Approaches to a solution have included suggestions that we shall have to have a Constitutional Amendment to achieve the goal. I see this as a tactic for indefinite delay, insisting on a vocal super-majority before enacting the necessary change. Another is to lobby Congress for legislative relief, despite that this body has consistently shown their reaction to the ‘drug problem’ has been to continually increase penalties, military interdiction both foreign and domestic and ever bloated, wasted budgets to oppose acceptance with ever greater efforts. Now the drug problem is less about what the drug can do to users, than what the Law can do to grower/producers, deliverers/distributors, and users, similar to pharmaceuticals whose side-effects are worse that the condition the pill treats. As a Vietnam veteran, I find this comparable to the incident, of which it was said that the village was destroyed, in order to save it.
    Obviously the Legislative-branch approach not only isn’t working, it has been counter-productive, making the problem consistently worse, recalling the definition of insanity: doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different result. Such repetitive craziness might only maintain a status quo, but handing a congressional committee scientific evidence reliably initiates such a negative response that it should be a clear indicator that Congress is not competent to decide this matter.

    Of the other two branches of our government, some have advocated petitioning the President and/or other Executive branch offices. Need I say how that has been going? The best reactions have been for such efforts to be ignored, or dismissively swept under the rug. Occasionally interactions with our executives reveal that appointed officials are willing to exhibit such blatant stupidity so nearly incredible in their recalcitrance, obfuscation or conceit that I find it either hilarious or outrageous. This arrogance may stem from a belief that they won’t be made to make the change by Congress, nor the popular vote.

    The tipping-point I sense, the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back, could be via the third branch of the government. The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed to hear oral arguments in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medical value. The D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments reviewing the scientific evidence regarding the therapeutic value of marijuana which are scheduled to take place Tuesday, October 16, at the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse in downtown Washington, DC. This could force the D.E.A. to reschedule cannabis. Future historians may record this decision as what inevitably lead to legalization.

  • I_h8_disqus

    Why doesn’t Lee just call up her fellow Democrat, President Obama, and ask him to stop directing the attorney general to prosecute? Why is anyone speculating that this bill will die in committee because of the Republicans, when it is a Democrat who is doing the prosecuting? The Republicans should just pass this through so the Democrats can fight amongst themselves about what they stand for.

  • Lee’s bill, H.R. 6335, is called the Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act.
    Kinda lackadaisical reporting not to mention that. It is a good bill and you should write your reps and tell them to support it. If you are on twitter you can use this congressional twittert directory to tell Ur Representatives 2 support and vote for hr 6335.