US Attorney Breaks Silence On Medical-Marijuana Battle - Printable Version
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US Attorney Breaks Silence On Medical-Marijuana Battle - kindgreenbuds - 03-15-2012 12:24 PM
Medical-cannabis patients and providers should expect ongoing persecution in California. However, media backlash due to the nearly half-year-old federal crackdown is affecting at least one prominent drug warrior: United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin Wagner.
Wagner broke the Department of Justice's near silence with regard to the crackdown during a candid, hour-long talk and question-and-answer session last Tuesday at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon. The $30-a-plate affair took place on the 15th floor of 1201 K Street, and inside, Wagner admitted that the cannabis cleanup was the idea of the four U.S. Attorneys in California, not Washington, D.C.
The four were upset because of what Wagner called "flagrant" marijuana sales in the state. So they declared war on medical marijuana last October, sending out hundreds of forfeiture-warning letters to dispensaries across California. His office is in the process of seizing at least one dispensary in Sacramento, while officials have closed more or less every dispensary in Sacramento County.
He reiterated that they're not going after patients and caregivers, rather interstate transporters, huge pot farmers and illicit dispensaries grossing tens of thousands of dollars per day in cash.
But the media critique of the war is wearing on Wagner, it seems. He said he counts on good press to create a "deterrent effect" in regard to cases of mortgage fraud, child exploitation, human trafficking and major gang violence. But he's not getting any of that.
"I think that the members of the press would be forgiven for thinking that marijuana enforcement is all that we do," he said. "It is far from the most important thing that we do. I have many other higher priorities that have a much bigger impact on public safety. I did not seek the position of U.S. attorney in order to launch a campaign against medical marijuana."
Wagner was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 and has been with the DOJ since 1992, primarily in the Eastern District. When he and the other three U.S. attorneys took office at the end of 2009, "We found that we were in the middle of an explosion of marijuana cultivation and sales," he said.
Federal policy didn't change, rather "what we saw =C2=85 was an unregulat ed free-for-all in California in which huge amounts of money was being made selling marijuana =C2=85 to virtually anybody who wanted to get ston ed."
Wagner said that's not what California voters approved. Stores marking up pot 200 percent is "not about sick people. That's about money."
His reaction has been "quite measured," he said. Most dispensaries just got warning letters.
"In a few instances, after ample warnings, we've brought civil-enforcement actions while reserving criminal prosecution for the most flagrant violators of not only federal law but state law," he said.
He referred to cases such as one where seven Roseville and Fresno suspects were indicted in February for growing pot with doctor's recommendations and running a dispensary as a front to traffic it to seven states in the Midwest and South.
Wagner also warned that a season of raids in the Central Valley is coming in 2012, and that mega pot farmers are on notice that if they plant again this year, their land could be seized.
He tried to make the case that pot is just a fraction of what his office does, referring to 61 indictments on mortgage fraud last fiscal year.
During audience questions, activists asked why the federal government says marijuana has "no medical use," yet the United States has patented its ingredient, cannabidiol, for treating strokes.
"What I know about marijuana as medicine you can probably put in a thimble," he said.
But health policy is not his job, he said. "My advice to you is to write your congressman."
Sacramento lawyer Alan Donato asked for guidelines for local dispensaries to avoid federal attention.
"I'm not in a position to be of much comfort," Wagner said. "You don't ask the CHP, 'How many miles over the speed limit can I go before you pull me over?'"
Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, asked if the failed drug war would ever make Wagner say "Enough is enough" to his boss, Attorney General Eric Holder.
"That's hard to say," Wagner said. "I totally understand the debate over legalization as opposed to criminalizing narcotics.
"It really depends on what the cost-benefits are. Marijuana is obviously not nearly as destructive as [methamphetamine]. The risks in legalizing marijuana may be significantly less that meth."
But prescription drugs "are the biggest, worst drug problem in terms of trends =C2=85 [and] that's a legal drug."
SN&R news intern Matthew W. Urner got the biggest attention of the lunch, asking Wagner if he ever tried the second-most-commonly used mind-altering substance in America, and if so, what he thought.
"Uh," said Wagner, "I'll say that I went to college."
RE: US Attorney Breaks Silence On Medical-Marijuana Battle - OpenSpaces - 03-16-2012 11:01 AM
Interesting article. I have a couple of questions you might be able to clarify for me.
(Federal policy didn't change, rather "what we saw was an unregulated free-for-all in California in which huge amounts of money was being made selling marijuana to virtually anybody who wanted to get stoned.")
I cannot speak to Federal policy but minus the dramatic tone the rest of this is true is it not? From what you have said I was under the impression that the lack of any formal regulation was one of the biggest problems. I cringe every time I see one of the Docudramas showing California. They make it look like anyone can walk into a store front and get their recommendation. "shit doc, the stress is eating me up" and get the reply "hell, son. All you need is some refer"
Joan Rivers got one for crying out loud. (also commented on how bad it was and how it should not be legal) All on her reality TV show no less.
(Wagner said that's not what California voters approved. Stores marking up pot 200 percent is "not about sick people. That's about money.")
Is this number real? If it is expect me to tee off on this so hard it will make Tiger Woods feel inadequate.
Guy sounds like he is probably a great lawyer. Instantly deflected any question other than the alleged offenses being investigated. If this guy would agree to a meeting you could ask what specifically he takes at issue and it sounds as if he would answer. He ducked the following question as it is so broad he could be construed as setting federal policy which is not in his offices power. Do you happen to have the full text of one of the federal complaints?
(Sacramento lawyer Alan Donato asked for guidelines for local dispensaries to avoid federal attention.
"I'm not in a position to be of much comfort," Wagner said. "You don't ask the CHP, 'How many miles over the speed limit can I go before you pull me over?'")
If all of the complaints could be reviewed as a group then you could isolate the specific issues and maybe find a pattern. Look for the subtle distinctions as opposed to the general complaints. They will all say more or less the same thing so break it down into categories. Sounds like total monies received for final product seems to be a big issue.
(He referred to cases such as one where seven Roseville and Fresno suspects were indicted in February for growing pot with doctor's recommendations and running a dispensary as a front to traffic it to seven states in the Midwest and South.)
If this is true then every advocate of a legal system should be pissed. Any poorly regulated system is open to its abuses but these are the kinds of assholes who are fucking it up for the rest of us.
What say ye there KGB? I am not overly busy with work right now so if you can find the documentation I can look it over. I am not saying I will find anything new but lets face it brother my viewpoint on how best to solve the current problems is not always in accord with most of the established groups.
Worst case is I waste some time. Best case we might see something others have discounted. Having contracted for so many years I can look back and tell you the most important thing I learned was how to write documentation to the FED.
RE: US Attorney Breaks Silence On Medical-Marijuana Battle - kindgreenbuds - 03-16-2012 02:44 PM
i've always heard people say things like "I see a bunch of healthy looking people going in to get weed, it's just an excuse for people who want to get stoned.." i think it stems from the original sentiment for the medical marijuana use, back in '96 when the law was first passed in California. let's not forget that this was 15+ years ago, and many things have changed since then. when the idea of medical marijuana was first introduced, the front runners were seriously ill patients (cancer, aids, etc.) since then, it has become more accepted, and I don't see any problem with people using it for more "minor" conditions like insomnia, anxiety, stress, etc. it is a fact that marijuana is a much safer way of dealing with these conditions than any of the pills that are being pushed down our throats. so if someone is using marijuana instead of taking sleeping pills, to me that is a valid medical reason.
having said all that, i also believe that marijuana should be legal for ALL use, including medical, industrial, spiritual, and recreational. anyone who opposes legalizing recreational use should take a look at alcohol statistics..
as far as the issue of some dispensaries being in it only for the money, and not really caring for patients, i think it is completely separate from the access issue, and only stems from the state government not regulating the industry. perfect example is Los Angeles - all we have heard for years is that the city has a moratorium on new dispensaries, it is being reviewed, blah blah blah... this has been going on for years, while no concrete regulations have been put in place, and new dispensaries are popping up on every corner. so what we have is a few "good" collectives who really try to lead by example, overshadowed by a bunch of shady shops who are only in it for the money.
RE: US Attorney Breaks Silence On Medical-Marijuana Battle - OpenSpaces - 03-16-2012 09:42 PM
I agree with you. You have commented several times that the lack of real regulation has been a problem.
Why has there been such difficulty setting standards for regulation? If one were prone to conspiracy theories the idea of leaving things vague allows them to pick and choose who gets hit and who does not with little to no justification.
As you know, I have always favored open access. Anyone of legal age to purchase intoxicants should have safe and legal access. Under age persons with a legit medical need should be able to go to the family doctor who knows the history. It sounds simple enough. Reality would show this assumption to be false.
I keep asking for specifics so the information can be used to help us here. What happens to us is the committee reviews the proposal and takes offense to something within the proposal. (last time it was the wording of one section, TWO damn words) The committee kicks it back to the floor where it dies for another year. At that point all we can do is scour through the committee notes and the notes of the individual members to find the problem and look for a solution. Obtaining the records can be a big issue at times.
One would almost find it logical to have representatives meet with the committee to discuss individual issues for adjustment and correction but this is government so there is no logic.
I was not trying to be a dick to mariejane asking for answers and supporting documentation to certain questions, nor am I trying to play Devils Advocate. I ask because I think the information could be of value to us here.
Reality TV makes me cringe because of things like this:
I caught the previews so watched the show and all I could think was "I hope the committee chairman does not see this". Fat chance of that because this goof made international news smoking pot on the street in a parked car. The rest of it was pretty funny and any time you can get Melissa Rivers in a wet t-shirt it makes for good TV.
RE: US Attorney Breaks Silence On Medical-Marijuana Battle - smithsjhn - 06-11-2012 12:29 AM
great post dude........
Good keep it up posting like this....