Thursday, July 19, 2007

More on DEA's war on patients

I learned a little more today about the DEA's assault on medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles. As noted previously, the DEA has sent letters to 120 or 150 (news accounts vary) landlords of cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles informing them that if they don't stop the illegal marijuana distribution on their property they'll be subject to felony charges that could bring 20 years in prison and having their property forfeited (seized, or to be plain, stolen). Few property owners, no matter how sympathetic, relish facing that, so many have told their renters to get out.

Then just this week, the DEA issued indictments against a chain of cannabis dispensaries in central California, along with ones in Morro Bay, Bakersfield and Corona. The DEA emphasized that they had made (gasp!) profits, as if there were any other way to sustain an operation. When I talked to Dale Gieringer, director of Cal NORML, he said all of those dispensaries had had raids or other run-ins with the DEA in the past and it wasn't that surprising they had been targeted. Te reason for targeting, of course, is that they were for the most part well-run and successful, and the DEA just couldn't stand it.

I was surprised to learn that there are a number of other cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles that had not been targeted by the DEA forfeiture letters. Dale said for the most part those that had made themselves prominent, especially by advertising, were targeted. Only clubs in Los Angeles city were targeted. The prominent West Hollywood clubs were not. Quite a few others in L.A. -- 50 to 75 perhaps -- have been operating with a much lower profile and have been left alone.

Forfeiture threats are a relatively efficient way to snuff out dispensaries. The DEA doesn't have enough agents in Southern California to go after them one by one, and doing so is bad PR. If the DEA is successful in closing a significant number, of course, the upshot will be that more patients will have to rely on the black market, with all its uncertainties and risks. So like most drug enforcement actions, the result is to strengthen dealers skilled at concealment and sometimes violence. The drug warriors and cartels are symbiotic creatures, and it's hard to tell which side is more existentially criminal.

This instance of conspicuous -- perhaps symbolic, perhaps even desperate -- enforcement just might increase support for the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would direct the DEA not to spend any funds going after patients and caregivers in states that have adopted medicinal marijuana laws. It's likely to come up in the House next week.

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