Three medical marijuana groups have teamed up to support Mendocino County officials in their effort to fight a sweeping federal subpoena filed in October, seeking "any and all records" for the county's medical marijuana cultivation program, known as County Code 9.31. Last month, Mendocino County filed a motion in San Francisco federal court to quash the Justice Department's subpoena, and on Jan. 2 Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the Emerald Growers Association (EGA), and California NORML filed a joint amicus "friend of the court" brief in an attempt to protect the private patient records being sought. A hearing in the case is scheduled for 2 PM on Jan. 4, before federal District Court Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco.
"Despite telling Americans that medical marijuana patients are not being targeted, the Obama Administration's contempt for them and its intent to undermine California's medical marijuana law has been laid bare with this subpoena," said ASA chief counsel Joe Elford, who co-authored the amicus brief. "Mendocino County is completely justified in its refusal to cooperate with the grand jury subpoena and we're proud to support the county officials in that effort." The brief calls the subpoena "needlessly broad" and argued it would have "serious and longstanding repercussions" by "reveal[ing] privileged and confidential medical information...[and] undermin[ing] the County's considered and thoughtful attempts to regulate medical marijuana pursuant to state law."
In what has turned into one of the fiercest battlegrounds between California officials and the Obama administration, the US Justice Department has aggressively gone after one of the only cultivation registration programs in the state. Before the program was shut down in March due to threats of federal injunctions from US Attorney Melinda Haag, registrants were allowed to collectively grow up to 99 plants and were sold zip ties for $50 per plant to show they were being cultivated in compliance with state law.
The Mendocino cultivation program had been of longstanding interest to the Obama administration. In 2010, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the legal crop of Joy Greenfield, who was the first cultivator to register with the Sheriff’s Office in the widely popular program that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars of new revenue for the county. No arrests were made in the Greenfield raid, but all of her and her patients’ medicine was destroyed. The DEA then raided the registered farm of Matt Cohen and Northstone Organics in October 2011, destroying medical marijuana that was meant for hundreds of patients across the state.
A federal subpoena for the records of 17 patients held by the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) was quashed in 2007, after the Oregon Attorney General successfully defended the OMMP and the privacy rights of patients in federal court. However, last year the Justice Department was successful at obtaining the records of seven unknown patients from the Michigan Department of Community Health, after State Attorney General Bill Schuette failed to defend the privacy rights of Michigan patients despite such protections explicitly outlined in state law. California Attorney General Kamala Harris has not yet commented on the federal subpoena in Mendocino County.
"It was not enough for the Justice Department to shut down Mendocino's cultivation program," commented Elford. "It seems the federal government will stop at nothing to crush attempts by local officials to regulate the cultivation of medical marijuana." In a previous statement, coalition partner EGA said that these latest federal actions "undermine and chill the County's ability to effectively regulate cannabis cultivation," and "endanger the public health, welfare and safety of Mendocino County residents." (ASA, Jan. 2)
Graphic by Global Ganja Report