February 5, 2009 / 3:11 AM / 12 years ago

Medical pot backers say L.A. raids betray Obama vow

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Several recent federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in California have betrayed President Barack Obama’s campaign pledge to halt such busts if elected, medicinal cannabis advocates said on Wednesday.

Medical marijuana is displayed in Los Angeles August 6, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents served search warrants on four medical marijuana vendors in the Los Angeles area on Tuesday, seizing more than 200 kg (440 pounds) of cannabis, edible marijuana products and about $10,000 in cash, a DEA spokeswoman said.

There were no arrests, according to the spokeswoman, special agent Sarah Pullen.

The busts, following a spate of similar raids in recent years under the Bush administration, drew fire from such groups as the Drug Policy Alliance and Americans for Safe Access, which have advocated legalization and regulation of marijuana for legitimate medical purposes.

They cited comments Obama made during his White House bid last year that he intended to halt raids of medical marijuana facilities operating under state laws.

“If it’s an issue of doctors prescribing medical marijuana as a treatment for glaucoma or as a cancer treatment, I think that should be appropriate because there really is no difference between that and a doctor prescribing morphine or anything else,” he said in a March 2008 interview captured on a YouTube video clip.

He added that expanding access to medical marijuana would not be a priority of his administration, but “what I’m not going to be doing is using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.”

Asked about those comments, Pullen said, “There has been no direction as to a change in how we ... enforce federal law.” The DEA is a Justice Department agency.

Stephen Gutwillig, California head of the Drug Policy Alliance, suggested the latest raids stemmed from a lag in new policy directives from the 2-week-old Obama administration.


“We hope these recent raids don’t represent official administration policy and that Obama will order federal agencies in no uncertain terms to stop harassing medical marijuana patients and providers in California,” he said.

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro on Wednesday reiterated Obama’s stance that “federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws.”

“And as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind,” Shapiro said.

Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington said, “The DEA shouldn’t need a memo from the White House to know that undermining the will of California voters is a waste of taxpayer money.”

Twelve states have enacted medical marijuana statutes since California became the first to do so in 1996.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 the federal government may continue to enforce U.S. law barring the cultivation, possession and use of cannabis for any purpose, even where states seek to legalize it for medical reasons.

Medical marijuana vendors have continued to operate despite hundreds of DEA raids on such establishments in recent years, most of them in California, under former President George W. Bush’s administration, according to Caren Woodson of Americans for Safe Access.

Editing by Peter Cooney

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