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News (Media Awareness Project) - US CA: Backlash To Crackdown Grows
Title:US CA: Backlash To Crackdown Grows
Published On:2011-10-19
Source:East Bay Express (CA)
Fetched On:2011-10-23 06:00:59

Legal Funds and Protests Are Countering the Federal

Marijuana activists in California are gearing up this week for a
flurry of statewide protests during President Obama's October 25 visit
to the Bay Area, and then again for the election in the first week of
November. The recent federal crackdown, in other words, is galvanizing
the weed community. "We're pushing them back," said Stephen DeAngelo,
founder of Harborside Health Center in Oakland. The medical cannabis
club has started a legal defense fund to fight a recent $2.5 million
IRS bill. "We're already beginning to regain momentum from this
outrageous travesty of a federal assault."

Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, said new donors
are coming out of the woodwork to bankroll the patient lobby group.
"For better or worse, the Obama administration is making its own
lemonade out of lemons," he said. "Its aggressive tactics are drawing
attention to its ridiculously expensive policy on medical marijuana."

"I think this protest on Tuesday [October 25] may be the first unified
show of support with a cohesive message," added Matt Cohen, founder of
Northstone Organics in Ukiah. "I think [the new crackdown] will backfire."

Cohen knows something about federal overstepping. He's a prominent pot
grower and supplier who is supervised by the Mendocino County
Sheriff's Office, but the federal Drug Enforcement Administration
raided his home on October 13, seizing 99 plants. Cohen was not
arrested, but the raid was among the boldest in a series of federal
actions that started with a press conference on October 7. Four US
attorneys said the medical marijuana industry in California has been
hijacked by profiteers and that the government would target exporters,
profit-makers, and businesses in close proximity to schools and parks.
Dozens of threatening letters have been sent to marijuana business
landlords across the state this month, including three in San
Francisco and several in Oakland. Sixteen letters also went out to
Fresno landlords. The letters threaten property forfeiture for
violating federal drug laws.

Taken together, the cluster of actions makes it clear that the federal
government is going after major violators of the federal Controlled
Substances Act while rattling its saber to everyone else. It's had the
effect of putting a halt to dispensary permitting in multiple cities
and has terrified operators and growers. It also buttresses local
opposition to new dispensary permits, allowing locals to cite federal
ire as a reason to delay or stop new clubs from opening.

David Goldman, a leader of Americans for Safe Access San Francisco,
said the City of San Francisco may have stopped issuing dispensary
permits since the press conference. And permits for 39 clubs in
Sacramento are now in limbo, reports state. Oakland attorney Robert
Raich said potential landlords for new clubs in the city have also
been threatened with forfeiture, discouraging property owners from
taking part in Oakland's plan to license four more

But the crackdown also speaks to the desperation of the Department of
Justice, which has watched the number of medical marijuana patients in
California grow to one million and the number of clubs in the state
reach 2,000. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition spokesman Tom Angell
paraphrased Gandhi, saying, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at
you, then they fight you, then you win." "They're fighting us now," he
continued. "They're terrified of public acceptance of marijuana."

The entire saga is little more than a rerun of past saber-rattling and
it will backfire, Goldman predicted. "Under the Bush administration,
Department of Justice sent forfeiture letters to all of California
landlords with marijuana businesses and not one forfeiture took
place," he said. "But it's effective. Back then about half the clubs
in San Francisco closed."

The federal government is clearly trying to make an example of
Harborside and Northstone, the two most prominent state-legal stores
and growers in California, Goldman said. "They're pretty big. The
federal government likes to go after the low-hanging fruit."

Cohen agreed. He does not know if Northstone Organics will re-open,
but the raid has scared all the other legal growers in the Mendocino
County program. Operators across the state are panicking, too,
especially in battleground cities like San Diego, as well as Los
Angeles and San Jose. Wherever there is local police opposition to
clubs, the federal government is more than happy to pile on.

The industry and patients vastly outnumber law enforcement, however,
and the possibility of taking 2,000 clubs to federal jury trials in
California is not an option, most say. At worst, the witch hunt delays
activist efforts to normalize the herbal remedy. "This is merely
intimidation," Hermes said. "It should be obvious after the publicity
stunt they pulled last week."

The US attorneys have already begun retreating from statements made
earlier in the month. Notably, US Attorney Laura Duffy has started to
back-pedal from her threat to go after newspapers that publish medical
pot ads, saying that jailing journalists and editors was not a
priority and she was speaking only for her own office. The Huffington
Post also published statements from US attorneys saying they were
acting independently of the White House.

"We're seeing a significant walking back of all this," DeAngelo said.
"They overreached. They underestimated the degree of public support
and they've been forced to back up."

Complacent activists have also been jolted awake by the events,
Goldman said. "It shows you [that] these people don't believe in our
Constitution, our Bill of Rights, and they're willing to engage [in]
deeply repressive tactics and it gives us the opportunity to point it

"It's without a doubt the largest coming together of the medical
cannabis movement since Prop 215," DeAngelo added. "It's a time of
great peril and time of great promise. The federal government has
greatly overstepped where public opinion is. It shows how absurd and
counter-productive it is and we've been able to build support for our
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