Denver -- Colorado has made an unusual plea to federal authorities: Let our colleges grow pot.
In a letter sent last month, the state attorney general's office asks federal health and education officials for permission for Colorado's colleges and universities to "obtain marijuana from non-federal government sources" for research purposes.
By Michael Komorn
Steve Oates, a medical marijuana patient residing in Goodyear, Arizona, was raided by members of the local police department, DEA, and SWAT Team in March of 2013. Like many medical marijuana patients, he didn’t feel comfortable asking strangers or surfing Craigslist to find out where he could obtain his cannabis, so applied to grow his own. He was approved by the state in what was a pretty “seemless, easy process” and began growing his medicine in a room in his guest house. Later on he met other patients who desired to grow their own cannabis as well, so made room for them to grow with him.
The raid on his home took place at 6:30 AM. Oates recalls being awakened to the sound of, “‘bang! bang! bang!’ on the door, and next thing you know you hear the crash of a battering ram.” The police confiscated more than he was legally allowed to possess, though not all of the cannabis belonged to him. This was a moot point in the court’s view.
After preliminary hearings, the court and prosecutor told Oates that he had two options: accept a plea that said he possessed under two pounds of marijuana with no jail time, or face a trial that would leave the judge no choice but to send him to prison for 3-5 years if convicted. Oates, who feared what would happen to his family if he were locked up, took the plea. Little did he know, the terrifying raid and criminal process would be the least of his problems.
The Goodyear police department brought the case to the Arizona Attorney General, Tom Horne, who then slammed Oates with more than $455,000 in civil asset forfeiture. Civil Asset Forfeiture was initially intended for major drug dealers, heads of cartels, and Al Capone types. It basically means that the government can seize any property or finances that it feels have a connection to illegal activity. The government then sues the property, instead of the individual, so there doesn’t have to be a conviction in order for them to seize, and often times, keep it.
Today, police across the country slam anyone who has been caught with even the smallest amount of any drug with civil asset forfeiture. In fact, the practice of civil asset forfeiture is how many police departments fund themselves and are able to purchase fancy cars and equipment that was intended for the military.
This is especially true in Arizona, where police departments get to keep any property or finances seized for themselves, unlike in other states. Not to say that police in other states haven’t found a loophole to allow them to keep what is not theirs (see: Equitable Sharing-How Local Cops Get Around State Law to Steal Your Stuff).
Between the property, cash, bank accounts, and legal fees, Oates says he’s lost closer to $600,000 as a result of this raid on his collective medical marijuana grow. Oates’s attorney argues that various agencies targeted his client instead of going after truly dangerous criminals, gangs, or drug dealers who are operating across state lines because they knew he had money and was an easy target. This has become a rampant problem that plagues police departments across our country, with violent crime on the rise, and over 50% of our jails and prisons filled with nonviolent drug offenders. Reflecting on Oates and the increased militarization of our police, we must ask ourselves who is playing the role of criminal and who the victim?
The Michigan Attorney General’s office filed a formal complaint with the Licensing and Regulation Division (LARA), alleging that a physician failed to require patients to produce medical records and “failed to maintain those records,” prior to and after recommending patients for medical marijuana. The first question raised is, will the Attorney General’s investigation extend to all doctors, or is this only an issue because it involves medical marijuana?
Through the four-year history of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), the physician certification process has been a hot topic, with opponents of the Act routinely criticizing this aspect of the law. To some, these doctors are helping patients find relief through medical marijuana in light of professional risk, complaints and potential criminal investigations. Opponents, however, maintain that obtaining one’s medical marijuana card is too easy, citing that as of one year ago, more than 90 percent of the state’s 64,000 patients were using medical marijuana to treat severe pain, muscle spasms or nausea. A year later, the state has more than 130,000 registered medical marijuana patients.
One fact often overlooked is that LARA has an entire page on its website devoted to pain management, and nearly 30 percent of Michigan’s residents have sought treatment for an acute pain condition in the past year.
The current legislative process and proposed bills being discussed in Michigan’s House and Senate are opening a potentially dangerous debate, not trusting physicians to make the right decision and injecting politics into our right to privacy in healthcare. No other prescription or diagnosis is as scrutinized as a medical marijuana recommendation, despite doctors being tasked with control, regulation and administering thousands of other substances throughout their careers.
If Michigan policymakers truly want to protect the medical marijuana community and ensure safe access to medicine, they need to focus on amending the Public Health Code, not the MMMA or attacking those recommending the medicine. Doing so would first allow and recognize the use of medical marijuana and protect recommending physicians, preventing physicians from shying away from medical marijuana for fear of prosecution.
The issue of medical marijuana is a public health issue, not a public safety issue. In order for the MMMA to truly work as intended, and to give the voters of Michigan what they approved, the state needs to trust and rely on board-certified physicians, not politicians, to make proper decisions about the use and recommendation of medical marijuana.
US Attorney General Eric Holder “Cautiously Optimistic” About Marijuana Legalization
During a visit to the federal courthouse is Charleston, US Attorney General Eric Holder explained that he is :cautiously optimistic” about recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado.
When asked where he saw the future of marijuana, however, Holder wasn’t so positive. “I think there might have been a burst of feeling that what happened in Washington and Colorado was going to be soon replicated across the country,” he stated. “I’m not sure that is necessarily the case. I think a lot of states are going to be looking to see what happens in Washington, what happens in Colorado before those decisions are made in substantial parts of the country.”
Holder also explained that he is pleased with the compliance with the Department of Justice’s eight marijuana-related enforcement priorities. “I think what people have to understand is that when we have those eight priorities that we have set out, it essentially means that the federal government is not going to be involved in the prosecution of small-time, possessory drug cases, but we never were,” Holder said. “So I’m not sure that I see a huge change yet, we’ve tried to adapt to the situation in Colorado with regard to how money is kept and transacted and all that stuff, and try to open up the banking system.”
Despite feeling optimistic, Holder did say that the progress in Colorado and Washington is being closely monitored by the Department of Justice. He said, “If we conclude that they are not being done in an appropriate way, we reserve our right to file lawsuits.”
Washington, D.C. -- The Obama administration would be willing to work with Congress if lawmakers want to take marijuana off the list of what the federal government considers the most dangerous drugs, Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday.
"We'd be more than glad to work with Congress if there is a desire to look at and reexamine how the drug is scheduled, as I said there is a great degree of expertise that exists in Congress," Holder said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing. "It is something that ultimately Congress would have to change, and I think that our administration would be glad to work with Congress if such a proposal were made."