Farr, others to target funding for medical pot crackdown

Jason Hoppin

Santa Cruz Sentinel:   05/07/2012

Rep. Sam Farr wants to tie the federal government’s hands when it comes to medical marijuana dispensaries, joining an effort to cut off funding for a burgeoning statewide crackdown.

Farr, D-Carmel, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., are spearheading a bipartisan effort that should hit the floor of the House of Representatives today. During debate on a bill that funds the Department of Justice, the trio are expected to introduce an amendment barring the use of funds to prevent states from implementing medical pot laws.

“It is time for the federal government to stop targeting the legal vendors that are providing safe access to this treatment, and instead focus limited resources on those who sell illicit drugs,” Farr said. “The amendment I will offer with my colleagues will work to assure funds under the Department of Justice do not target the safe access to treatment patients need.”

Jack Gillund, spokesman for San Francisco-based U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, declined to comment.

For months, federal law enforcement officials in California have targeted dispensaries through warning letters and even periodic raids that appeared to target large-scale operations. The crackdown has claimed several renowned dispensaries, which chose to shutter their doors rather than fight on.

Critics say the effort represents a broken promise by President Barack Obama, who previously vowed not to use federal resources on medical marijuana. Obama recently told Rolling Stone magazine his administration doesn’t go after patients, but that it cannot ignore federal law.

About 200 dispensaries have closed across California, including the venerable Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana and the Berkeley Patients Group. Locally, former Mid-County club Crème de Canna, located near a preschool, closed amid speculation that it had received a warning letter from the feds.

Attorney Ben Rice, who represents several local clubs, said the crackdown is being selectively applied, making it difficult for patients everywhere to have access to marijuana.

“You have different readings of the law from one town to the next. The feds get invited from communities where medical marijuana is not welcome,” Rice said. “What we’ve seen happen is some of the really well-organized and patient-based dispensaries have been shut down. You can’t tell me that every single dispensary in Santa Barbara is violating the law.”

Last week, 10 dispensaries in the Santa Barbara area received warning letters from prosecutors. The city of Monterey has passed a moratorium on clubs, while dispensary regulations in Santa Cruz County are suspended due to an ongoing court case.

“Some don’t want medical marijuana around and just call the feds in, and others are targeted because they’re perceived to be hurting law enforcement’s picture,” Rice said. “I think that hurts their narrative. There are some people in law enforcement who still just don’t buy medical marijuana as a legitimate form of medication.”

Though the raids have been criticized by everyone from Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., last week California’s congressional delegation began to push back in earnest. On May 2, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, issued a press release blasting the crackdown.

That is being followed by today’s expected action. Even if the effort to tie the Justice Department’s hands is unsuccessful, Rice praised Farr and Rohrabacher for bringing it forward.

“Absolutely,” Rice said. “It’s really important that they speak up.”