In spite of growing public support for medical marijuana, concern about overreach by the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies, and cutbacks in federal spending, the U.S. government's war on medical marijuana is raging unabated according to a survey of court records by Cal NORML.
On Tuesday, Michigan medical marijuana grower Jerry Duval, a kidney and pancreas transplant patient with severe medical problems, began serving a ten-year sentence in the same prison as the Boston bomber. Duval joins a growing list of defendants in states that allow medical marijuana who have been charged by the Department of Justice for violating federal laws prohibiting medical marijuana.
According to a survey of US court records, news stories, and case reports compiled by Cal NORML (with help from Americans for Safe Access):
• Over 335 defendants have been charged with federal crimes related to medical marijuana in states with medical marijuana laws.
• 158 defendants have received prison sentences totaling over 480 years for medical marijuana offenses. Some 50 are currently in federal prison, while more are waiting to be sentenced or surrender.
• Over 90% of the criminal cases settled to date have resulted in convictions. 10% have been dismissed. A single defendant has been acquitted. Federal law typically prohibits defendants from invoking medical marijuana in their defense.
• 153 medical marijuana cases have been brought in the 4 ¼ years of the Obama administration, nearly as many as under the 8 years of the Bush administration (163).
• Not a single pardon or clemency petition has been granted to a medical marijuana defendant by President Obama or his predecessors.
• One seriously ill defendant, Richard Flor, has died while in federal prison, and two others, Peter McWilliams and Steve McWilliams (no relation) died while being denied access to medical marijuana on bail. Other seriously ill patients who have who have been sentenced to lengthy terms include Dale Schafer, a hemophiliac currently serving 5 years along with his wife Mollie Fry, a cancer patient (pictured above); Vernon Rylee, who served nearly 5 years in a wheelchair (pictured right), and Jerry Duval.
• At least 259 defendants have been charged in California; over 31 in Montana; 6 in Oregon; 15 in Nevada; 12 in Michigan; 2 in Colorado; and 10 in Washington.
California NORML's survey does not include hundreds of DEA raids, forfeiture complaints, IRS investigations, and letters threatening civil and criminal charges to dispensary landlords. A new economic report by Americans for Safe Access estimates the total cost of these operations at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Testifying to the House Judiciary Committee last July, US Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that the Department of Justice was targeting only those medical marijuana businesses that were "acting out of conformity...with state law." In fact, the DOJ has targeted many facilities that were in full compliance with local laws and regulations. Targets have included leading collectives in Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, Mendocino, and elsewhere that have actively cooperated with local governments and paid millions of dollars in taxes. DOJ officials have ignored the protests of local officials, arguing that "state laws are not relevant to federal narcotics laws."
A host of other federal agencies are implicated in the government's war on medical marijuana.
• IRS auditors have hit the industry using unfair tax rules that deny routine business deductions.
• Invoking Department of Treasury regulations, the government has coerced banks and financial institutions into denying banking and financial services to the medical marijuana industry.
• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has ruled it illegal for medical marijuana patients to buy guns, even while funneling automatic weapons to Mexican drug gangs in its botched "Fast and Furious" operation.
• The DOJ, DHHS and DEA have rejected a petition to legally reschedule marijuana for medical use, ignoring scores of scientific studies demonstrating its value. The DEA has speciously objected that there are no large-scale FDA studies of marijuana's efficacy, even while making such studies impossible by deliberately blocking approval of the facilities necessary to conduct them.
• The National Institute on Drug Abuse has obstructed medical research by refusing to let its marijuana be used for an FDA-approved study of marijuana to treat PTSD.
• While decrying a national epidemic of fatalities from legal prescription narcotics, ONDCP bureaucrats have ignored growing scientific evidence that medical marijuana can provide many patients with safe and effective pain relief, cutting down on their use of more dangerous and costly prescription narcotics.
"The federal war on medical marijuana exemplifies government dysfunction at its worst, " says California NORML director Dale Gieringer, "If the government wanted to encourage safer and more affordable health care it would encourage medical marijuana. Instead, it has chosen to prosecute and criminalize the industry, stimulating crime and lawlessness in the same manner as prohibition, wasting taxpayers' money, and impeding Americans' access to safe and affordable medicine. If the federal government can't get medical marijuana straight, how can Americans trust it to manage their health care?"