Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper 202-669-6330</p>
A nearly 15-year fight in the nation’s capital to allow patients suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS and other diseases to use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation has reached a crescendo, with the city naming six locations that will be allowed to grow medical marijuana legally under local law (including a company partly owned by celebrity talk show host Montel Williams). The announcement, which is sure to irk the Obama administration and some in Congress, comes at a time when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department are waging an unprecedented war on medical marijuana patients and providers in numerous states.
“The mayor and council should be commended for moving forward with DC’s medical marijuana program, even though the Obama administration has declared open season on medical patients and providers,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Medical marijuana will soon be growing just blocks from the White House and Congress – opponents of a compassionate marijuana policy need to realize that they’re on the losing side of history.”
DC voters first approved medical marijuana in 1998 but Congress blocked implementation of the ballot measure by prohibiting the district from enacting the law. That prohibition was repealed by Congress in 2009 and in 2010 the DC Council unanimously approved medical marijuana legislation, joining 16 states that allow patients to use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The DC law allows up to ten cultivation centers and eight medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the district. The locations of the medical marijuana dispensaries will be announced later this year.
Medical marijuana advocates worry about how the Obama administration will react. As a candidate for president, Obama said both that he supported the right of doctors to recommend marijuana to their patients, and that he would stop the federal government from wasting law enforcement resources on raiding, arresting and prosecuting people for medical marijuana, especially if they are complying with their state law. He made due on this promise in his first year in the White House. The Department of Justice issued guidance to US Attorneys urging them not to waste resources prosecuting people for medical marijuana who are in compliance with their state’s law.
In the last year, however, the Obama administration has changed course. The DEA has increased its raids on medical marijuana dispensaries. US Attorneys have sent letters to landlords who rent office space to dispensaries threatening to arrest them and seize their buildings under asset forfeiture laws. The Treasury Department has threatened to prosecute banks that open checking or savings accounts for dispensaries. The IRS has denied dispensaries the ordinary business expense deductions allowed for all other forms of businesses. The ATF has said that any medical marijuana patient who possesses a firearm will get ten years in federal prison. US Attorneys have even sent letters to state legislators and governors, timed to influence state decision-making processes, declaring that they might arrest people in their state if they pass a medical marijuana law or amend or expand existing medical marijuana laws.
Patient advocates worry that patients will lack access to the medicine they need if the Obama administration raids DC’s medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers. Unlike most medical marijuana states, DC law prohibits patients from cultivating their own marijuana. DC is also the only medical marijuana state to make it a crime for a patient to possess marijuana not bought from a dispensary. If the Justice Department shuts down DC’s medical marijuana dispensaries and cancer, HIV/AIDS and other patients are forced to buy marijuana off the streets, they will face arrest, prosecution and incarceration.
“Given the Obama administration’s ongoing war on medical marijuana dispensaries, it is irresponsible of the DC Council not to allow patients to grown their own – and it’s outright cruel to subject them to jail time for obtaining their medicine from whatever source they can,” said Piper. “The DC Council should pass emergency legislation providing for a back-up plan in case the federal government shuts down local dispensaries.”