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Amanda Reiman

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Incrimination Without Representation: The Silence of the Senate on Medical Marijuana

Posted: 09/04/2012 8:32 am

As Democrats gather for the National Convention to banter back and forth about the issues most important to Americans, one platform that is conspicuously absent is the Federal crackdown on medical marijuana.

Legal in 17 states, plus Washington, D.C. and on the ballot in three additional states this November (Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Arkansas), conflicts between statements made by the Obama Administration and the actions of U.S. Attorneys in the "wild west" have sent the program into a tailspin.

Even though medical marijuana has overwhelming support in the U.S. -- around 80 percent -- there has been noticeable silence on this issue among those who represent the patients who are suffering. More than one-third of the Senate represents the medical marijuana patients and businesses under attack, yet not one has come to their defense. And, what's worse, some may have even helped facilitate this crackdown via their support of the U.S. Attorneys responsible.

When Melinda Haag was appointed as the U.S. Attorney for Northern California in 2010, Barbara Boxer was thrilled. Having recommended Haag for the position, Boxer said, "I am so pleased the President has nominated veteran attorney Melinda Haag... She is well respected in the California legal community and will bring more than two decades of experience handling white collar crime cases to the U.S. Attorney's Office."

Two years later, Haag's interest in white-collar crime is tinged green. Almost immediately after coming into power, and suspiciously soon after Eric Holder was implicated in the Fast and Furious scandal, Haag and the other U.S. Attorneys in California began a systematic dismantling of the state's medical marijuana program, which was voted into existence by Californians in 1996.

The program has had its hiccups, most notably the absence of state-level regulation, which has over-burdened local governments and led to some abuses. But from 1996 to 2010, several localities had developed comprehensive programs that were successful at providing for patients, controlling medical marijuana and generating revenue for the local community.

Considered successful models by patients, the medical marijuana industry and local elected leaders, these programs were the first on Haag's chopping block. She started with Matt Cohen and Northstone Organics, a cultivation organization in Humboldt County working with the local sheriff's department in probably the most transparent partnership between the medical marijuana industry and law enforcement ever.

Next, dispensaries came under fire from behind a thinly veiled statement about being close to schools, parks or just being too big. This is despite the fact that the location of these dispensaries was zoned, approved, and permitted by the cities in which they are located and there is no evidence that dispensaries are any more a threat to schools than pharmacies and banks, both of which are robbed at higher rates.

Patients are losing safe access to a much-needed medicine, and they are now forced to revert to illicit purchases. Storefronts are being forced out of the light and back into the shadows. Many are dissolving into delivery systems, even further out of reach for the most vulnerable patients and devoid of the social and health services offered in many dispensaries.

Presumably Sen. Boxer did not know that Haag was going to engage in an unprecedented attack on the efforts of California communities to regulate and control medical marijuana when she recommended her for U.S Attorney. But now, even Sen. Boxer can't ignore the fact that the attacks are, in actuality, focused on the most well-regulated, tightly controlled businesses in the state, and it is her responsibility to help mitigate the damage.

This is not an attempt to target bad actors. It is an attempt to extinguish the medical marijuana program in California and other states. Given that these actions come after the Obama Administration -- in particular Eric Holder -- said that Federal money would not be used to target medical marijuana businesses that are in full compliance with state law, Boxer must rein in her nominee by demanding that the Department of Justice freeze all activities related to seizing medical marijuana businesses currently permitted by their cities and municipalities and allow independent review to determine compliance with state law. Sen. Feinstein and their 32 other colleagues who represent medical marijuana states should follow suit.

It is simply unacceptable to stand on the sidelines while unelected prosecutors put patients at risk, destroy jobs, undermine California's tax base, and hand large parts of the medical marijuana market back over to violent drug traffickers and crime syndicates. This issue is too big and has too much public support to ignore.

The official website for Sen. Boxer lists 41 issues pertinent to Californians right now. Missing from the list is medical marijuana. It's time for the Senate to take a stand, protect the rights of the states they represent and those who elected and are counting on them.

It's the humane thing to do.

Amanda Reiman is a policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.

HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at America's failed war on drugs August 28th and September 4th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.

 
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