Medical marijuana patients and their supporters will rally in front of the federal building in Sacramento June 20 at 1:30 PM to protest a raid last week on the city's first permitted dispensary. On June 11, El Camino Wellness Center was raided by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and shut down, after having served thousands of Sacramento patients since 2008. Though no charges have been filed against the dispensary operators, the Internal Revenue Service has seized the facility's bank accounts.
"The Obama administration is betraying patients and lying to the public," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), one of the groups organizing the protest. "The president and the attorney general have said publicly that the Justice Department is not targeting state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries, but that's exactly what it's doing." Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the House Judiciary committee: "We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity with state law." However, by all accounts, El Camino was acting in full conformity with local and state laws.
Since October 2011, the Justice Department has sent letters to more than 300 dispensary operators and landlords across California, threatening criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture. Sacramento in particular has been hard hit, despite its attempt to regulate dispensaries. As a result of the threats, almost all of the nearly 100 dispensaries have closed in unincorporated Sacramento county. In the city of Sacramento, only 18 dispensaries remain of the original 34 that had been permitted, and many of those left have already received threatening letters, including El Camino Wellness Center.
In December, El Camino Wellness Center sued Attorney General Holder and US Attorney Benjamin Wagner, claiming that the Justice Department crackdown violated the rights of medical marijuana patients and was aimed at shutting down their legal supply. "Whether intentional or not, the Obama administration is pushing patients into the illicit market by forcing dispensaries to close," said ASA's Courtney Sheats. "If El Camino Wellness, a taxpaying pillar of its community, fails to pass muster with the federal government, then no one is safe."
The raid comes as several public officials have vocally opposed the Justice Department's actions, including local and state legislators, as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Betty Yee from the California Board of Equalization, which collects more than $100 million in sales taxes from dispensaries like El Camino Wellness. In December, California Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote to the state's four US Attorneys, calling the federal government "ill-equipped to be the sole arbiter of whether an individual or group is acting within the bounds of California’s medical marijuana laws..."
More than 50 localities in California, including the City of Sacramento, have adopted ordinances regulating medical marijuana dispensaries. "Local and state governments must be allowed to develop, implement and enforce their own public health laws without interference from the federal government," said Hermes. (ASA, June 18)
Graphic: Herbal Remedies