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Going Backward in Drug War

Sam Sabzehzar 2011-10-15 0 comments

New federal effort against medical marijuana dispensaries will fail as have all other efforts at prohibition.

By Jim Gray  |  Retired Orange County Superior Court judge, author of book, “Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed”

Judge James Gray, speaking at the Marijuana Reform: Next Steps Conference in Hollywood, California earlier this year. (Photo credit: Medical Marijuana 411)

The four U.S. attorneys in California announced last week yet another federal marijuana program, with this one aimed at closing down medical marijuana dispensaries.

Not only will this program be as hopeless as its predecessors, it is yet another continuing example of the arrogance, hypocrisy and bullying of the federal government in this area.

There is no question that some medical marijuana dispensaries are acting outside of California law, as established by Proposition 215 and its progeny. But the answer is for those involved to be prosecuted – by the state of California, not the feds.

As for the arrogance, bullying and hypocrisy, this new program has the fully intended result of depriving the targeted dispensaries of a trial by a jury of Californians.

How so? Because it is using the IRS to disallow all deductions of dispensaries’ business expenses, and is using the FBI to send letters to the landlords threatening administratively to seize their properties if they don’t close down their tenants’ dispensaries.


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Even putting aside these issues, the practical problem is that programs of this kind don’t work. Since 1970, police have arrested 20 million Americans for marijuana offenses, of which 90 percent were for simple possession.

Nevertheless, those expenditures of scarce criminal justice resources have failed to reduce public demand or access to marijuana. In fact, virtually any teenager will tell you that, today, it is easier for them to get marijuana, if they want to, than it is alcohol.

Thus, calling marijuana a “controlled substance” is the biggest oxymoron of our day. Prohibition leaves governments with no controls whatsoever over things like age restrictions, quality, quantity or place of sale. Those important issues are left in the complete control of Mexican drug cartels, juvenile street gangs and other thugs, which is where most of the customers will go once the dispensaries are closed down.

And how is business? Today the largest cash crop in California is marijuana. (No. 2 is grapes, if you care.) Several years ago the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was quoted as saying that 60 percent of the gross revenue for Mexican drug cartels came from the sale of marijuana, and that figure probably also holds true for juvenile street gangs as well. And, of course, none of those sales are taxed.

Melinda Haag, an Obama appointee, is serving her first term as U.S. Attorney for the North District. Her previous work includes white collar crime, civil rights abuses and child exploitation. Now she endorses a system that removes children from loving homes if medical marijuana is involved.

Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for the San Francisco-based Northern District of California, unintentionally demonstrated why the new program will not work when she said, “Marijuana cultivators are converting our public lands and pristine national forests into large-scale clandestine marijuana grow operations. They are cutting down trees and plants. They are diverting streams, polluting the water table and the land with processed pesticides.”

Of course, she is right about what is happening under today’s system. But bringing the growing and selling of marijuana back under the control of the government will change that, just like it did with alcohol with the repeal of Prohibition.

Why? Because today we do not see Mexican drug cartels growing illegal vineyards in our national forests in competition with Robert Mondavi. And we also do not see teenagers selling Jim Beam bourbon to each other on their school campuses.

But those things are happening with marijuana all the time.

So what should be done?

There is a bill pending in Congress, HR 2306, that would take marijuana off the five federal lists of controlled substances and allow each state to address the issue in the manner that each deemed most effective.We should contact our federal representatives and encourage them to support this bill.

And on the November 2012 ballot we will have an initiative that will strictly regulate and control the recreational use of marijuana for adults. You can see the exact language at

Importantly, this initiative will not change existing laws about driving under the influence of marijuana, people using or being impaired by marijuana in public or in the workplace, or any laws about marijuana for people under age 21.

And the program will be administered by California’s Alcohol Beverage Control Board, just like wine, and the commercial advertising of recreational marijuana will be prohibited.

I have never used marijuana, and have no intention to do so (unless it is recommended by a medical doctor to alleviate some medical malady). But we should reclaim our rights back from the federal government to make our own decisions about marijuana. Regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it less available for children. What’s not to like?

The federal government clearly does not have all the answers, and we are mature and experienced enough to handle this issue ourselves!