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Steph Sherer Headshot

Did Eric Holder Lie to Congress?

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Thursday morning, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was questioned in a House Judiciary Committee hearing about the Obama Administration's policy on medical marijuana. What he said to our Congressional representatives should be alarming not only to medical cannabis patients, but also to policy makers and the general public, because, based on all of the available information we have, it surely must be a lie.

In response to a question on Justice Department enforcement in medical marijuana states, Attorney General Holder said:

We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity with state law.

There is no way to characterize that statement except as false. The administration can say they respect state compassionate use laws, but the reality is a stark contrast to their words.

Ever since the Ogden memo was issued in October 2009, supposedly marking a shift in federal medical marijuana enforcement policy, the Obama Administration has engaged in escalated enforcement: conducting more than 200 paramilitary-style raids on state-compliant growers and distributors, threatening hundreds of landlords with criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture in an attempt to shut down dispensaries, and even threatening numerous public officials for trying to pass their own public health laws.

For the past 8 months, all four U.S. Attorneys in California have taken a keen interest in undermining the state's medical marijuana laws by forcing the closure of more than 300 dispensaries. It's simply not believable that all of these tax-paying businesses were operating in violation of state law. If they were, why didn't the state take part in the raids? Why didn't the state or local authorities issue arrest warrants? Why would state and local politicians stand up for businesses breaking state and local laws? In Colorado, the U.S. Attorney launched his assault by shutting down businesses within 1,000 feet of a public school -- explicitly citing only federal law. He did so publicly, and with great media fanfare. It's hard to believe Holder was unaware of this fact when he told Congress the precise opposite.

In San Francisco, five city-permitted dispensaries were forced to close over the last few months, despite full support from the Board of Supervisors and state lawmakers. Other San Francisco dispensaries have also been threatened by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag and feel terrorized for conduct they have been engaged in for years without incident. The public and local officials alike are puzzled by this stance especially because it contradicts the Obama Administration's purported policy -- the same policy that Holder repeated to Congress.

Elected officials are speaking out

In California, lawmakers have condemned the Obama administration's raids of legal dispensaries. State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), and Betty Yee, of the Board of Equalization, which collects more than $100 million in tax revenue from dispensaries across the state, have all made recent statements against federal raids. California Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote to all four U.S. Attorneys in December, calling the federal government "ill-equipped" to enforce state medical marijuana laws.

Wednesday, as the President visited their city on a fundraising tour, three San Francisco Supervisors penned an op-ed asking Obama to "keep the commitment he made to stop the federal government's attacks on medical cannabis." From city officials to statewide tax collectors, there is no shortage of outrage over what the Justice Department is doing to undermine local and state medical marijuana laws. Just last month, 73% of House Democrats voted against their own President's policy of raiding medical marijuana facilities.

Why does the Obama administration lie about prosecuting state-permitted medical marijuana?

The question of why President Obama is failing to keep his promise on this issue is puzzling. However, it is inconceivable that Attorney General Holder can testify to Congress that millions of dollars are being spent, and law-abiding citizens are being harmed and put at risk, and even imprisoned, all because of state law violations, when state compassionate use laws were not violated.

Eventually, the public health issues that are currently being suppressed by the federal government's medical marijuana policy will begin to boil over, and Attorney General Holder and President Obama will no longer be able to avoid addressing them. In the meantime, patients and their advocates will be working to bring that day forward, sooner rather than later.

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